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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child

This is a review of The Gospel According to Matthew (Il vangelo secondo Matteo) (1964)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

31 May (updated, with Scorsese's comments, 1 June)

This is a review of The Gospel According to Matthew (Il vangelo secondo Matteo) (1964)

Faces (and what – whenever we look at a face¹ – we think / imagine about that person²) are central to this film, though we start, with nothing to tell us so beyond the narrative of Matthew’s gospel, with a medium shot of the pregnant Mary, a virgin whose husband then takes an angled path off into the distance, and at a pace from the humble dwelling where we see her. The contrast is with when we see faces of the disciples, and of Jesus and others, later on :

The casting has been said to have been, in many cases, from those whose families were rooted in Sicily, but the truth of that claim matters relatively little : the actors have been chosen with care, and Pasolini has the camera gaze on the variety of faces that we see. Yet not as if they were subjects for Renaissance portraits, but as the portraits themselves – in this film, which speaks in the language of bearing, attitude, and gesture, as well as with the intensity of the repeated challenge to ‘normality’ of Jesus’ words on the lips of Enrique Irazoqui (who plays him³), the striking feature is the vividness of human expression :

Indeed, we may have the impression that Jesus’ mother Mary must have spoken, but we probably only hear her crying at the foot of the cross, for that opening interaction with Joseph was wordless, as it is when Jesus is told that his mother and brothers have come, and it is in her presence and pose that she is fluent. (For the novice, a book such as Baxendall’s Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy⁴ is an invaluable starting-point.)

By contrast with Mary, at times the film seems like a torrent of teaching from Jesus, with the familiarly gentle Sermon on the Mount (as it has come to be known) at a pace that challenges us to keep up with it, and thereby provokes us to see the innovation of this catalogue of assertions. Pasolini famously came at making this film not from the position of a believer, but supposedly having been struck by the story when he read Matthew’s gospel in a copy of the New Testament (i.e. the first gospel that he would have come to) , when waiting in his hotel for someone delayed by the attendant traffic of a Papal visit :

It is actually irrelevant how Pasolini came to the text, but crucial that he seeks to tell the gospel as it is written, and so effectively leaves us to determine – as we might with the credibility of many a film – what we believe, for, by showing it, he is really not slanting one way or the other whether this happened or who this Jesus was. (That said, IMDb makes this wayward suggestion to the contrary (as if Pasolini could / should have used the whole text) : Pasolini shows Christ as a marxist avant-la-lettre and therefore uses half of the text of Matthew.)

Saying that, his choice of music for the soundtrack is telling, because he builds on some cornerstones of Western tradition (as well as giving a spirit of otherness, in veneration, with the Gloria of the Congolese Missa Luba) with works such as Bach’s St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) and Mass in B Minor (BWV 232), in particular the Donna nobis pacem, as well as Mozart’s famous final Requiem in D Minor (K. 626) and – apparently when Jesus heals the two demon-possessed men (Matthew 8 : 28–34, but with no evil spirits entering into the pigs, perhaps for obvious practical reasons) in – Anton Webern’s Fuga (Ricercata) a 6 voci for orchestra (from Bach's Musikalisches Opfer (BWV 1079)).

Pasolini takes the grand sweep of the gospel, and gives it to us in a run-time of two hours and seventeen minutes. As observed above, when this film was clearly not attempting, ahead of its time, to be Powell in Jesus of Nazareth (from 1977), he inevitably omits things, but it is far harder than, for example, with some aspects of the relationship between Judas and Jesus in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), to say that there is a (potentially) revolutionary Jesus here – if so, the earthquake and darkening of the sun that Pasolini faithfully gives us are suddenly on a symbolic level, and represent the unstoppable force of history (as seen from the Marxist perspective)…

What, it is to be suggested, is that Pasolini makes a further gesture (to that mentioned above with The Sermon on the Mount) in the direction of challenging us with Jesus, and who he is and what he said, by making a remorseless montage : with tight editing, it has Irazoqui delivering saying hard on the heels of saying, not a few of them those that Jesus’ disciples might have called ‘a hard saying’ (John 6 : 60). Using different dress for Jesus, and immensely varying both the lighting (on Jesus and his background) and the scene, Pasolini might be hinting at the duration, over space and time, of Jesus’ ministry, as well as his claims that his kingdom is not of this world (reported in John 18 : 36), an evanescence of the world that we know in the monochrome juxtapositions of dark and light.

Sourced from Scorsese on Scorsese³ since writing the above :

[...] The biblical film that made the biggest impact on me, when I was at film school, was Pasolini's The Gospel According to St Matthew, which in Italy was just called The Gospel According to Matthew.


Pasolini's use of faces was marvellous. It reminds me of Renaissance art even though it's in black and white, and I love the music - the Missa Luba and Bach. Just compare his Christ with Jeffrey Hunter[⁵]. He doesn't act walking, he is walking; it's not self-conscious and yet it's very determined.


This European style [of early Rossellini], in its simplicity, gave me the key to be able to make
The Last Temptation of Christ. The images have to resonate and be very, very strong.


The strength of Matthew's language comes out very clearly, and it's purer because it doesn't try to make it a straight story from beginning to end. There are no transitions between scenes, characters come and disappear, then reappear in no dramatic way.


He's a very strong Christ, you're either for Him or against Him, and some of the sermons do give you the sense of being yelled at and beaten down. [...]

[p. 136]

Much of what Scorsese makes explicit in these quotations (last read in January, in the chapter on The Last Temptation of Christ) is alluded to in the response to viewing the film above (or in the notes below).

In conclusion, these are the principal way-marks from the silent opening (with Jesus yet in the womb), to the other side of death, tasking his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28 : 18–20, usually known as The Great Commission) :

* Joseph leaves the pregnant Mary and goes into town, where he encounters a group of boys, and, dreaming, sees the angel

* Later, after the unfussy visit of The Magi (alongside the spiritual Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child), the angel appears again, telling Joseph and Mary to go into Egypt

* Then, in a landscape like that of china clay mining, the angel returns, saying that the man who wanted Jesus killed is dead, and that it is safe to go back

* Roaming over the faces of the disciples

* Through to Jesus’ ministry – baptism

* Returning, again and again, to John the Baptist in prison

* The Sermon on the Mount

* The leprous man’s face is suddenly healed – the fig tree that Jesus curses is shown withering straightaway – a lead into the saying about the mustard-seed / mountain

* Crippled man also told not to tell anyone

* The demon-possessed men (Webern’s music)

* Montage of teaching

* Palm Sunday (Missa Luba)

* Before the Chief Priest in the courtyard – the mood is edgy at that hearing, and before Pilate, with the camera back and forth behind the heads

* More emotion on Judas’ sense of betrayal than that of Peter ?

* Focus on the (wordless) grief of the older Mary, falling over, being helped up - her face – leading the way to the tomb – the stone falls over and the grave-clothes are there, then the angel appears

* The angel – timeless – curls - vaguely masculine, though feminine ?

* During the blackout, our eyes and ears are on alert

* The Great Commission


¹ As we do all the time, but seldom as unfleetingly as in the fourth Godfrey Reggio / Philip Glass collaboration, Visitors (2013).

² As Kit Downes says, Cats are persons

³ According to Martin Scorsese, in Scorsese on Scorsese (one in Faber & Faber's excellent series, where directors have conversations that have been edited to be by film (or group of films)), Irazoqui was a Spanish law student (ed. Thompson, David and Christie, Ian, Faber & Faber, London, 1989, p. 136).

⁴ Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1974.

⁵ In King of Kings (1961) (briefly discussed by Scorsese, loc. cit., p. 131).

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

Friday, 30 May 2014

The spirit of Alice ?

This is a review of Spirited Away (2001)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
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30 May

This is a review of Spirited Away (Sento Chihirono kamikakushi) (2001)

As one will see, the original title of Spirited Away (2001) is longer, for it contains both names by which the principal character is known (Chihiro and Sen) :

Many a writer has dwelt on names,from, Shakespeare having Edgar in King Lear, say, become Poor Tom (or Viola adopting the name Cesario, when she pretends to be a male youth) to the question of the name of the narrator of Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman* to T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Naming of Cats’ (in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (as also brought to us by that Lloyd Webber)), or the significance of the names Ged and Sparrowhawk in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (and other kindred writings).

Earthsea is relevant, because Goyo Miyazaki, son of this film’s writer / director, made Tales from Earthsea (2006) for Studio Ghibli, and one cannot conceive that the Le Guin books were not part of Hayao Miyazaki’s universe, too : not that the idea of the real name for something, which, if lost – or, more relevantly lost to another – has a bad outcome, does not also come to us from the Kaballah, or the wood […] where things have no names from Chapter III of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (to give it its proper title, and whose author was not Lewis Carroll, but he called himself so…).

Spirited Away even has a significant character called No Name**, one of several to cause mayhem at a strange sort of spa. Yet we have to get there first, and Chihiro’s father seems to think himself first a rally driver, then an explorer, and it is his wife and he, not their daughter, who want to go down the symbolic tunnel (= the birth cannel, a horizontal equivalent of Alice’s falling into Wonderland) : although we believe that Chihiro’s parents are behaving like children, who could expect to be prey to a sorceress such as The Odyssey’s Circe, we do unkindly agree with the early description of Chihiro as a cry-baby.

And with babies, such as Bo, we have another seeming Carroll reference, for his Duchess (in Chapter VIof Wonderland) not only has a baby, but one that also turns into a pig. Yubaba, Bo’s mother, as well as being a sort of Thatcher figure***, resembles John Tenniel’s drawings for the Duchess (as engraved for the book) – Mari Natsuki provides the voice for her and her sister Zeniba, who appears to be a twin, if not in character and temperament, in a power-struggle with Yubaba.

A baby, whose pacification is the mother’s object, is also so rich in meaning from, amongst others, Freudian theory to Terry Gilliam’s animations and, of course, Eraserhead (1977). What is unavoidable here is that Bo is massive, and, when he returns after the trip with Chihiro to see Zeniba, Yubaba is surprised that he can talk, which, whatever all this means in the world of the film that Miyazaki has scripted, strongly hints at Bo having been infantilized by his mother :

One is reminded of Hugh Kenner****, being drawn into analysing the names of the characters in Beckettt’s play Endgame : although he finds a pattern in the fact that Hamm could be ‘hammer’, Clov -> French ‘clou’ = ‘nail’, etc., and we are clearly meant to congratulate Kenner for his ingenuity, he abruptly decides As so often, we are being teased by hints of system, not to be much pursued. How far, then, does one go, because oriental culture is, of course, at least as much to do with, say, dragons as the world of Earthsea, and Le Guin is therefore taking her lead from it in the origins and nature that she gives to these creatures ?

So probably it is only at enormous length, and weighing all the possible sources and influences, that one could attempt to enter into the creative place where Miyazaki drew up this world on the far side of the tunnel – maybe he actually saw, somewhere, a railway running through the water, and enlarged the conception. Yet he may also have had Carroll in mind again, this time Chapter III of Through The Looking Glass (And What Alice Found There) (to give it its proper title) :

Here we have a Guard, asking for tickets (and the dislocation of scale that it brings about, in In a moment everybody was holding out a ticket: they were about the same size as the people, and quite seemed to fill the carriage.), and a very queer carriage-full of passengers altogether (‘There was a Beetle sitting next to the Goat’, etc.). Plus there is the language of criticism, for the dream-like inadequacy of Alice’s not having a ticket, mixed with puns, mishearings, and even a chorus of a great many voices. Chihiro is clearly in the mould of Alice (and her archetypes), for additionally she :

* As Alice does, with the Caucus-race (Wonderland, Chapter III), reverses roles with her parents – they have the childish impulse at the start to explore, which Chihiro dreads and so is urging caution, and Alice seems ever more serious than the Dodo, Duck or pontificating Mouse

* Is plucky, and, despite people mocking or chastising her (e.g. being called, according to the English sub-titles, a klutz two or three times, especially by Lin, although she wants to help), gets to the end of her journey – which, as in the case of both Alice books, is home***** (or, equally, Kansas in the case of The Wizard of Oz (1939), where Dorothy’s uncle, amongst others, has become transmuted into The Scarecrow in her dream, delirium, dislocation)

* Is given, therefore, the same hard time that Alice is, but shows her mettle and her other qualities – as well as finding a long-lost companion (lost in memory) in Haku

* Recognizes Haku when transformed, helps him in reciprocation of his help and in valuing him for who he is, and rights matters with Zeniba – Alice, too, is almost ever the peace-maker in the face of the irascible (The Duchess has been mentioned above, but there is equally The Red Queen), not to mention the homicidal Queen of Hearts

* Comes to the point where she relates to the logic of this other world so that she can grudgingly impress Yubaba and secure being able to leave it – in Alice’s case, it may just be trying to shake sense into The Red Queen / Dinah, but that is because Carroll’s world is a far more ostensibly and consistently dream-laden one (as Oz is, too, not least with those drowsying poppies)

Thus, Spirited Away is awash with possibility, and probably nineteenth-century parallel (Carroll’s Duchess has a frog doorman…), but it is far from being about mere story (or fantastic creatures) – or worth watching just for that. Seeing Sen negotiating the main building (for Chihiro is become Sen by now), when the principal emphasis is on ascent, one notices, even only out of the corner of one’s eye, a floral panel on the woodwork – or, as Sen, led by Haku, hurries through the gardens, one can go with the speed. Yet it will always be there, they will always be going where they are going, and one can actually luxuriate in what seem to be azaleas, lilies…

Elsewhere, in quiet moments, Miyazaki more obviously shows us a painter’s view of things – featherings, shading, effects so unlike the near-static depiction of the characters, however fantastical, gluttonous, or repulsively disgusting. Not just a Zen view, but also contrasting the muddy, slimy reality of this allegorical resort (money-laundering, corruption, and greed spring instantly to mind) with the other world and its values and reality. As commented on in reviewing The Wind Rises (2013), where these touches of colour are lighter and fewer, one can imagine an artist’s studio, where the artist reserves certain faces, details or tasks, but delegates the other work to assistants, who can be trusted to do it of a piece : can one not easily imagine Miyazaki, who doubtless did not carelessly call his enterprise Studio Ghibli, painstakingly paying attention to the features that he best wants portrayed ?


* Tristram being the wrong name, with all that follows from it, as well as Sterne adopting, at his friends’ urging, calling his property at Coxwold Shandy Hall after his work in progress.

** Which reminds one that Wilkie Collins gave that title to one of his novels, because names are powerful, and not having one can be devastating.

*** One can contemplate the points of similarity easily enough, but does the name Yubaba only contain the childish word for ‘baby’ in the English form ?

**** In A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckettt (Syracuse University Press, 1996, pp. 120–121).

***** Even if Alice gets back either by challenging the pack of cards to be any more than that, or shaking The Red Queen until she becomes Dinah…

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

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Mr Allen's not for fading...

This is a review of Fading Gigolo (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
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27 May

This is a review of Fading Gigolo (2013)

Or even – O Brother, Where Art Thou ? ! – Turturro !

Fading Gigolo (201?) is a romp from John Turturro, doing a Woody Allen of writing, directing and acting – not as well crafted as Allen’s own triumphs such as Broadway Danny Rose (1984), and not quite mastering, say, the light and shade of that film*, but suffused with charm, wit, elegance, and seductiveness :

In fact, on that latter point, we feel as if we might be straying into the territory of Dangerous Liaisons (1988), with a strand of the plot whose rationale (albeit necessary) seems not wholly obvious. At other times, until they conveniently dissipate, it feels as if the Kafka-infused spirit of Scorsese in After Hours (1985) is upon us, mixed in with a bit of sectarianism from Witness (1985) for good measure.

Moving on, as these moments of menace – not least with a comic turn from Bob Balaban as Sol, trying a line of legal argument that does not appeal to his client – are momentary, there is much to like more in the way that the film has been put together : one can see Murray (Woody Allen), if one likes, as Cupid, as well as Bongo the pimp, to benefit Fioravante (John Torturro), but what matters is the immediacy of the cinematography, with features made of windows and the light coming through them, of objects and people seen through each other, or one foregrounding the other, or dwelling unashamedly on Sharon Stone’s or Allen’s face.

Likewise, two scenes with dancing are delightfully choreographed, with the characters and the moving camera, causing the background to shift behind, first, Torturro and Stone (as Dr Parker), and then Sofía Vergara (Selima) with him), and – in evocation of many a film, yet feeling fresh – against, through and into a carousel. Yet Torturro’s greatest resource is almost certainly Allen’s timing and acting – where maybe he has been more exacting with the 78-year-old, and required more takes, than Allen did of himself in, say, To Rome with Love (2012) (as Allen is notorious for calling it a day not to miss sport such as The World Series).

One says ‘almost certainly’, because Torturro’s own nuanced role as the less-shallow, slightly melancholoy one of the pair, is rather fine, and it has been written in such a way that the scenes with Allen and him largely fit them well. Vanessa Paradis, as Avigal, has an element of ‘the mysterious woman’ about her, which is refreshingly different from using Stone to remind us, in the guise of a dermatologist, of famous attire / poses from the likes of Basic Instinct (1992) : it is clear enough why Fioravante can perform for one, but fall for the other.

Ending on a light moment of flirtation, complete with a colourful orchid and a beverage being made that seems irrelevant, the film cements the central pairing in our mind, under their fictitious names, and gently points the lesson of friends looking out for each other. We have long forgotten the bookshop that had to close, but Murray, in keeping it going so long (even if it did give Fioravante some work), was clearly missing his métier all this time, with his skills of networking, smooth-talking and making deals – which, with Danny Rose, is where we came in…


* Not that we equate The Mob with Brooklyn’s community of Hassidic Jews, who convene a religious court at the instigation of Dovi (Liev Schreiber – Ted Winter from Salt (2010))…

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

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A blow to the head

This is a review of Concussion (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
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26 May

This is a review of Concussion (2013)

* Contains spoilers *

Look, empty sex is better than no sex, right ?
Shelly [groupie] to Sandy Bates
(Stardust Memories (1980))

Advertising ! The most subtle form of which can be posters, those images (and words) that you take in, in passing, every time you go to the cinema – even on the way to the desk to buy a ticket for something else – is a huge part of cinema (for good or ill). Obviously, we know that the best star-rating will be chosen (even if the publication, say Good Housekeeping (or Gardener’s Weekly), then has to be credited in tiny and dark lettering), and the choicest praise :

So what do we make of an Internet-based reviewer having called Concussion (2013) 'like a feminised American Beauty' and being quoted ? Cynically, the reviewer may have hoped that, by alluding to the pretty famous collaboration between Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey in that feature from 1999, there would be some interest in his words. However, not perhaps as if the film’s distributor cared (too much) about the relevance of the comparison when deciding to put them across the centre of the poster (with the film-title colour-highlighted), the resemblances hardly seem patent…

No rose-petals, only a momentary scene (in actual sleep after sex, not of someone luxuriating in those roses) that resembles Spacey’s (Lester Burnham’s) fantasies of said under-age Beauty* – and who, if Lester’s character has been feminized, is he in this film** ? Presumably, Robin Weigert (as Abby), though it is not immediately clear how, when she does not die, grooms no one, etc. (although it does fall out that she gets to sleep with someone whom she already thinks cute).

The reality of this film is that, as is so often the case, it may seem to look the other way in the face of the specific meaning of the medical term ‘concussion’ (even if that meaning may be different in the States, as with how ‘psychotic’ is used there to denote ‘psychopathic’ (so causing much misunderstanding here)). According to NHS Choices :

Concussion is the sudden but short-lived loss of mental function that occurs after a blow or other injury to the head. Concussion is the most common but least serious type of brain injury.

At the beginning of this film, Abby has not hit her head by falling off a bicycle, for example, but, at best, been hit by a ball that she did not see coming (and hit on the face just above the cheek). Who knows what that means to Stacie Passon, as the screenwriter, whereas the word is popularly used to characterize a symptom, and so Abby, after the event, describes the few days after her accident as hazy.

Nothing new, we learn, in her deciding to do up what her usual collaborator Justin calls a shit-hole (in the form of a loft in the city of New York, work on which she commutes in to supervise from Jersey), because she has done so half-a-dozen times before***. Suddenly, probably conveniently attributable to this concussion, she tells Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky (sic)) that she is unsure whether she should tell her partner Kate that she has slept with a prostitute (another woman) there : as he seems quite casual, which becomes readily apparent is true, there is no knowing whether confiding in him - rather than in one of her actual friends - is normal.

In any event, as if Abby did not have enough understanding of him to know how he would take what she says, Justin seems to know more about what the ground rules might be of her relationship with Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) than Abby does herself, asking (not in these words) whether it is agreed that it is all right to stray in search of sex, or that it is agreed, but not to be talked about : Abby seems floored by the very question, not to mention momentarily so when he follows up, hearing how it had not even been that good for her, with his suggestion that she should try another woman whose details he has…

So begins a Nymphomaniac-(2013)-like slippery-slope slide into more and more of the same, for slimmer and slimmer reasons (the original one just evaporates)****. Or is it in homage to the aspects of boredom in Belle du Jour (1967) – although there is no real sense of a compulsive or addictive behaviour, let alone S&M ? In this respect, Concussion fits better with Jeune et Jolie (2013), though there the much younger protagonist Isabelle’s (Marine Vacth’s) motives remain deliberately opaque.

Abby’s homosexual version of what Isabelle embarks on begins with the useful fact that Justin is dating The Girl (Emily Kinney), and that she, both needing the money for law school, and having to conceal how she has got it for the same reason*****, has this undertaking that he just comes right out and mentions. Yet, apart from the fact that Jolie offers relatively little sense of danger in what Isabelle is about (whereas Abby clearly needs to veto ‘number five’ wishing to meet again), the set-up, and François Ozon’s direction of it, is otherwise unquestionably far more interesting :

Abby’s engagement with her ‘clients’, when it is not more like mothering or soft counselling, resembles – and even sometimes is – sex with friends. Yes, we like it that she is allowing herself something that she was lacking and needed, and there is that familiar model of ‘the tart with a heart’, but there is ever the sense that she is riding for some sort of fall, that she is a Walter Mitty without a happy landing.

For here, unlike Isabelle’s initial and ambiguous desire to get losing her virginity out of the way, the roots of what Abby does plainly lie in her partner : whilst Abby has little to do other than vacuum whilst reading a book (as if either would really get the necessary attention) and other things domestic, Kate seems, by contrast, far too focused on work, and other practicalities, even to think of intimacy.

Let alone desiring (or feeling the need for) sexual closeness / release (and, in that stereotype of the homosexual couple, Kate is portrayed as much more masculine than Abby (on which, more below)). It is this situation that – with almost no relation to the head injury (which must, chronologically, be some way ago, since Abby has had time to find, buy and start working on the property) – drives the opening move in the plot.

It also represents wanting something other than the (safe) functionality of her life : even an actual treadmill is there, in the hall, as a symbol of daily joining the regular group of women – putting themselves through it, with some fervour, on exercise-bikes, for Pilates, during the school-run... It’s almost a wonder that the Lou Reed track ‘Take a walk on the wild side’ was not used in the soundtrack, for the film cannot resist an excitable man at a party, who drapes himself over the stairs, quizzing Abby about how she first realized that she was a lesbian (as if, with his salaciousness, the moment has not arisen before – as if she, being so cheery about talking about it, would not have told him).

Yet, at the end of this film, it is as if Prospero thumps his staff, and declares Our revels now are ended, when Kate somehow gets access to the loft and surprises Abby there, naked and asleep. The space that Abby has created is no longer hers, and she may have stolen a frolic, but she is become a cringeing, guilty Caliban again, saying I’ll do anything you want. For, with a powerful family lawyer for a partner, and the risk of losing her part in their children’s lives, she knows that she is no better placed than when the trio who torment Malvoglio are caught, and she capitulates.

And we are left with that title Concussion, and what it was that writer / director Stacie Passon thought that this film was saying :

Or is it that concussion will be the couple’s unspoken excuse for Abby’s ‘aberrant’, ‘family-neglectful’ behaviour, which is in the past now – except that, as she alludes to, she will still see Sam around. Is that where she is Beauty’s Lester, that she dreams herself outside the humdrum, which she cannot ultimately avoid… ?

And there are now some speculations about the film's cinematic genesis - of a spoilery nature - here...


* Although it is not a fantasy (other than on the part of the film-maker), and it is greeted, when witnessed, with some rather curt directions ‘to cover up’ (clever play on words, there, from someone prepared to forgive in return for some sort of forgetfulness : almost in the vein of, say, some bargain for life purposed by a Hardy character, which is not so much trivially selling a wife as securing her safe purchase !).

** Or is the feminization, at any rate, that the couple under strain is a lesbian one ? and what difference would it really have made, if it had not been, but Kate had been a man ?

*** Nothing exactly tells us when that last was, or why – except impliedly to be home for Maren and Micah (as, according to
IMDb, the children are called) – she has not been undertaking this activity recently.

**** And self-destructively neglecting the school-run.

***** The privileged pragmatism of the legal practitioner : founding a career in a supposedly upright profession on the proceeds of crime...

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

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Richard Hamilton at Tate Modern

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 May

This exhibition at Tate Modern (@Tate) is about to finish (on Monday 26 May).

Its curation is almost as curious sometimes as some of the objects (or their juxtaposition) in the recreated exhibition, which Hamilton organized for The Festival of Britain in 1951, Growth and Form (in Room 1) :

Perhaps, somewhere, there is a room-guide equivalent to the text that appears, in the free exhibition booklet, to describe Room 1 and 2, but, if so, it is well hidden* - the appearance is of walking into Growth and Form with nothing to explain what it or its relevance are. It is good to show these things (as was also done with other exhibitions, a few months back, at the ICA (@ICA)), but there needs to be an introduction. A small ante-room with a video-loop, perhaps (if such footage exists) of Hamilton talking about the show, might have helped place it for visitors.

In any case, though Hamilton may have been (since he was nothing if not someone who observed carefully) ahead of his time in intuiting forms of patterns of growth in - to name but a few - plant, crystalline and shell development, structure and growth that have since been linked to fractals or The Fibonacci Series, this may not be the best place to start with him, nor may it be Variations on the theme of Reaper (1949) (in Room 2) (please see below).

For, in the choice of exhibits, display and interpretational material, one simple question seems not to have been asked (or, if so, the answer not carefully enough considered) :

Who is this Hamilton retrospective for ?

Is it something that, as with the big Damien Hirst show, people could wander into and around, such as they did past and even through his severed cow and calf, and make of it what the immediacy of the canvases, objects and videos conveyed*** ? Or, if people are to be able to value Hamilton's contributions to the British art scene and beyond, do they need a little more guidance (which the Hamiltonian enthusiast - keen to see some works live, but with a greater initial idea of these things - could ignore, if he or she wished (as could any level of visitor in between)) ?

In relation to Reaper, it is not as if we are being chronological, since it pre-dates Growth and Form by two years, but then, as with many recent Tate shows, we do generally adopt that approach by period : in the meantime, after the 1951, we have confronted the visitor with fifteen etchings of a reaping-machine, from all sorts of angles, and with varying techniques and levels of detail.

In this connection, the following point, which is made in the Introduction, would be more aptly drawn to the visitor's attention here :

He often produced several versions of a particular work rather than a single 'finished' piece [this suggests, however, that the versions have the status of sketches or maquettes, rather than being complete in themselves], and throughout his career explored new printmaking methods and digital techniques.

However, as the Introduction has been placed on the wall, the assumption is that the visitor has read and digested it, or seen it the booklet presented at the door, by the time that Room 2 is being viewed... Hate it also as a kiddies' version as one might, what is often said about Cubism is arguably as relevant here, e.g. that there is a response to Einstein on relativity and / or Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle*** in giving us multiple views of a face - or a reaper.

As to this choice of exhibit, maybe there is merit in something produced whilst Hamilton was still at the Slade, maybe not (would one normally go as far back as art college ?), but there seem to be no obvious answers to the following questions in choosing or presenting the piece :

Where does Reaper fit into an account of Hamilton's entire work ?

How does the visitor know that it has that relevance ?

One may hate the description of Hamilton as 'the father of Pop Art' (not least as, in connection with the Bridget Riley exhibition in 2003, Tate was keen to put her in a different relation to art history than that of a pioneering exponent of Op Art), but one is in danger with coming out of this show not knowing (though Room 5 says quite a bit about Pop Art - at this stage) :

* What Hamilton did as an artist

* What his importance was to other artists or the art world

* His significance to appreciating Marcel Duchamp - though some explanation seems to be here, in (the booklet for) Room 8 - and, more importantly, who Duchamp was and what it was that Hamilton valued

* Likewise Kurt Schwitters and the Merzbarn ?

* Why one has seen five or six times the image mainly known as Swingeing London 67 [this one is (and owned by Tate Modern) - what do the four or five others add to seeing it ?

The Tate has not only long owned Hamilton’s reconstruction of what is often, in brief, referred to as Duchamp’s Large Glass (properly called La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (1915–1923), but has for many years had it on display at Tate Modern without (or without adequately – except here) explaining that this is not Duchamp’s original work***, which is too fragile to move (and in Philadelphia). Here, at last, matters are a little less unclear, but does one get much notion of the significance of what Duchamp had been working on between 1915 and 1923 through what is written in the room-note and shown in display-cabinets ?

In other words, who would know what Hamilton was doing in reconstructing this work – and why – who did not know already ? And what does the exhibition do to explain Hamilton’s involvement with the publication The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp (Arts Council of Great Britain, 1966), what it is and why it was published ? Yes, there are two copies, one displaying the green cover, the other the title-page, but nothing other than the sketchiness of the room-note to convey the answers to these questions to the visitor (the Tate web-site, linked to here, is a different matter altogether) :

1915 – 1923 / Reconstructed 1965 – 1966 / Lower panel re-made 1985

The glaringly unstated sub-text of all this is that not only did Hamilton curate a Duchamp show for Tate, but went about reconstructing the work for it : maybe all this is there, if one buys the book of the exhibition, but what, then, is the point of the exhibition itself, if not to explain the exhibits and what significance they have qua exhibits… ?

Work in progress - more to come...


* The last of these, too, were well hidden - which may be shorthand for saying that they had been put somewhere unideal, too. In this show, the Introduction did, as one checked, appear on the far side of Room 1 (Growth and Form), actually on one wall of Room 2 - with the room-guide for both Rooms on the wall where one went into Room 3...

** The spirit of Heisenberg is tacitly evoked later on (Room 7), with exposures of figures on a beach that have been enlarged over and over, and achieving greater proximity only at the cost of precisely the detail sought.

*** However, Duchamp did inscribe Hamilton’s reconstruction, as if it is the equivalent of the original. Here is what the Tate's web-page for the work much more usefully tells us :

The reconstruction took exactly a year to make. When Marcel Duchamp came to London for the opening of his exhibition, he agreed to sign it and inscribed it on the back 'Richard Hamilton | pour copie conforme | Marcel Duchamp | 1965'.

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

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The touchstone of Paul Valéry's 'Le Cimetière Marin’ ?

This is a review of The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu) (2013)

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24 May (updated 30 May)

This is a review of The Wind Rises (Kaze tachinu) (2013)

Knowing nothing about the film, except glimpses of a trailer, one was intrigued by a Tweet from director and film writer Mark Cousins :

Billed as Hayao Miyazaki’s last film (but ‘Never say Never’), and running to a lengthy seven minutes more than two hours*, it takes as its obvious theme the modernization of Japan between The Great War and what became The Second World War, with the repeated linguistic tic of how many years behind the country is than, say, the technology and aeronautical design of Germany. (There was also an ominous mention, not least because of Pearl Harbor, of whether a bomber would have the range to strike the States.)

For various reasons (on which @CamPicturehouse’s Hitomi has provided guidance), Miyazaki took this as his broad subject : one is that, although his earlier animations have not necessarily embodied the stuff and models of this technology, he has always enjoyed them; another that, presumably drawn by the interest, he is partly adapting a Japanese short story (‘The Wind Has Risen’ by Tatsuo Hori) from 1937, partly his own manga, which had some basis in Hori's work, so some matters can be laid at their door of those sources. Except, of course, that Miyazaki, whether directly or via his graphic interpretation of it, chose to adapt this writing at all…

Less specific in the film is the important matter of flying and of dream, though, of course, animation itself can be well-nigh dream itself : so one can, say, portray the vegetative excesses of Akira (1988) (or, even, of Miyazaki’s own Princess Mononoke (1997)) without a fraction of the costs that, when using a camera to capture live action, would be involved in post-production. (And blood need not look much like blood, so one can be gory, but without the body’s fuel-carrier being a shockingly brilliant scarlet, whereas most non-animation films, whether or not brains are blown out, want to be as convincing as possible.)

Flight, too, can be portrayed without the danger and cost of real period aeroplanes in flight – and so, Jirô Horikoshi’s aeronautical idol Caproni, with his 'beautiful dreams, can witness his multi-winged creation crumple, on its maiden trip, with relatively little effort (and, with it, his first hopes for mass passenger transport). Yet, at the same time, the film is not, of course, even going to mention how such efforts in aircraft design would lead to the bombing of Barcelona, by the Italian Air Force, in the Spanish Civil War (on which Eyes on the Sky (Mirant al Cel) (2008) tellingly meditates).

Here, because Jirô is, from the first and obviously**, a dreamer and consorts with his idols when asleep (although, as in the case of Junkers, with others in waking life (whose fellow engineers proudly say Das ist unser Stolz***), some depth is added, if not to his character, then to his obsession with ever improving on powered flight. (Yet one should not for a moment imagine that he faces dark nights of the soul, such as John Adams’ opera Doctor Atomic ascribes to Oppenheimer as author of [the technologies behind] those bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki…).

Cousins’ observation about the adults is too right. Not only is the behaviour often that of children, but, as the film unfolds, they even physically resemble ageing in reverse****. With time / changes in policy, but for reasons never explained (as with that non-apparent round-the-world trip***), Jirô becomes quasi-officially persona non grata, but it takes his boss to realize and rescue him under his own roof : so, in the well-worn groove of the eccentric boffin (stylish in a lilac suit) who does not deal with the small things (e.g. Alan Turing, or John Nash in A Beautiful Mind (2001)), he is too busy mentally in likening fish-bones from his habitual lunch to designing aircraft struts (and he eats the same lunch, because he likes it, and sees no reason to introduce variation).

A moment of tenderness is telling, because, although committed to his work into the night, he is also committed to the promise to keep hold of Nahoko’s hand : he accepts it less as a limitation, than as a challenge to be the best single-handed slide-rule***** user. As he delivers the line to her, one feels that he is undercutting any possible gallantry in the gesture (though it is both still given and received) – how can love exist in such matter-of-factness, even passed off as humour ?

Which is the film’s dilemma, that, with a main character both emotionally and teleologically distant, what real rapport can there be, and does it have to fall back on other big gestures, moments of poppies on the screen that feel as though they have been scanned from a Monet (plus - from a different Nash family from that mentioned above - a moment evocative of Paul Nash's canvas as a war artist, Totes Meer (c. 1941)), and a painterly palette of peachy skies behind aerofoils cutting through, and being supported by, the air ?

The Wind Rises, from its printed source, takes this line Le vent se lève ! … Il faunt tenter de vivre ! from the start of the last stanza of a fairly long poem by Paul Valéry (of twenty-four six-line stanzas) : Jirô and others keep repeating the words, as if they are a touchstone. To us, out of context, what do they mean, and what are they short for ? In the poem, called ‘Le Cimetière Marin’ (and set in a coastal cemetery), it is not certain that they stand being carved out in this way to stand for the whole. Which is maybe what, all along, this film is trying to do …


* The film’s duration is mentioned, because, by contemporary standards, that is getting long for an acted feature – and, if one’s, as it were, 'animation stamina' is not all that it might be, it could be tiring to watch at that length when there is relatively little to stimulate the eye – even blackouts do not have the same effect when they are used, at the end of an animated sequence, to introduce a rest for the eye before the next.

** There is little doubting that the opening sequence will end with him waking.

*** Narratively, Miyazaki then makes the film hopelessly unclear where Jirô is next (or when), with what seems an Alpine location against whose rising backdrop he meets Nahoko, because we have been told in Germany that he is to separate from the rest of the party, because the organization wants him to see the rest of the world.

**** With a multi-player production such as this, as in the great Renaissance studios, this touch may be by Raphael himself, whereas these others, although in his style, are by his assistants.

***** A device whose purpose will not be lost on every generation, one trusts.

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

Nicholas Collon conducts at Cambridge Corn Exchange

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23 May

Apologies that, at the time of the Vaughan-Williams-focused preview of this concert at Cambridge’s Corn Exchange (@CambridgeCornEx), it was overlooked that The Royal Philarmonic Orchestra (@rpoonline) is the Orchestra in Residence.

Under the baton of rising conductor Nicholas Collon (increasingly guesting with big orchestras, as well continuing The Aurora Orchestra), we had a programme of Britten, Elgar, and Vaughan Williams. (And the RPO return next season with highlights such as Stravinsky’s Suite* from The Firebird, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2…)

Four Sea Interludes – Benjamin Britten

The programme note tells us that Britten resembled Stravinsky*, in conducting the Interludes as a separate entity days after Peter Grimes’ premiere.

Titled ‘Dawn’, ‘Sunday Morning’, ‘Moonlight’, and ‘Storm’, they evoke not only moods, which crucially punctuate the opera, but also a location in time and space : Collon was wisely unhurried with ‘Dawn’, not led on by its beautiful surface appeal, and getting an unfussy, clean, but sweet, sound from the RPO – allowing the resonant brass and rumble, as of swell, both to contrast with the rest of the ensemble, and come together.

In the next portrait, the cross-beats and near-dissonances were a delight, with the chromatic slide excitingly brought off, and filling the moment both with energy, and that trio of bell-notes, doom, and dread. ‘Moonlight’ was again controlled, daringly awaiting those fresh piercings of light from space : yet the xylophone that – with the harp – captures them ends with tortured motifs against the strings.

Finally, Collon built not the noisiest ‘Storm’, but with the strong natural suggestion of possibly going higher. He brought out the laughter in the brass, and ended crisply and exactly. A refreshing first course !

Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85 – Edward Elgar

Another work (as the symphony is) in four movements, but a good contrast with the Britten, because of the different emotive qualities of the solo cello part, not least under Guy Johnston (who was playing because of Julian Lloyd Webber’s unlucky forced retirement), who, amongst other things, expressively brought to this well-known work :

* Pacing, and an inward interpretation, of the first main theme, but reaching out for brighter things, and bring it back with electricity

* Unforced string-tone, and a plaintive, guitaristic feel to plucking strings

* A teasing tremolo, as if of a young animal playing

* A lightness of touch in sustained passage-work

* Singing, not shouting, the famous melody-line, with Johnston leaning into the instrument, as if hearing the music within it

* Moments of quiet, leading to a different mode of projection, where some single notes just spoke volumes

* The physicality, and swaying, of playing after a theme that felt full of weariness and preoccupation

* A sense of rumination, and ending with a voice resolved to follow its own counsel before reprising the main theme and a momentary tutti at the close

Symphony No. 3 [no stated key, and first entitled A Pastoral Symphony] – Ralph Vaughan Williams

At the outset, a light, floral feel is weighted by the bass, then joined by Vaughan Williams’ beloved obbligato violin. Nicely balanced playing and phrasing suggested the magical, yet tinged with something indefinably other. Collon ran the first two movements together, which, when the Molto moderato ends (after sensations of a gently drifting swell) with the moving, plangent reediness of the oboe, makes sense for introducing the horn sonority.

In the strings, Collon brought out hesitancy, uncertainty, which developed into an uneasy sense of anxiety. Whatever exactly the trumpet calls may mean, the pianissimo was pregnant, and reminded of the composer’s words (describing Boult’s conducting**) : it was a positive, sensitive pianissimo, full of meaning and tension.

Next, the Moderato pesante seems to break through the tension, rising to its lovely main theme, but Collon held course, allowing no slackness in the brass theme (accompanied by cymbals). Gloriously sonorous brass intervals then heralded the carol-like coda.

For the Lento finale, Collon had soprano Sally Harrison placed off stage, singing wordlessly in an unshowy but haunting way. After the well-located harp melody came feelings of richness, an excitement that gave way to tenderness, revisiting previous themes, and a soaring sense of pride. The song recurred, and the strings faded away.

However many knew this work, people seemed both quietly attentive to it and appreciative of the RPO and Collon’s skill.


* Though unclear whether it is that from 1911, 1919, or 1945 (as Stravinsky, as an ambitious composer, was forever making arrangements).

** The final movement of Symphony No. 6.

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

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

By way of an introduction to Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 3 (originally A Pastoral Symphony)

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22 May

Cambridge Corn Exchange is to be praised for giving us, in Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 3 to-night, something out of the ordinary. For, despite Sir Adrian Boult’s still impressive recordings*, and championing by Andrew Manze (such as Boult did : he premiered this work) with Symphonies 4 to 6 at The Proms two years ago (and previously with The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra), the knowledge of Vaughan Williams is not, where it should be, in people’s minds, and the music in their hearts.

The works speak for themselves, if given the opportunity, and it is the composers whose reputation needs championing, in fact. But we must beware of switching one orthodoxy about what was originally called A Pastoral Symphony (and, as with A London Symphony, only numbered later, as well as not seeming to be expressed to be in any key), which is now that it is a form of relection on war :

Perhaps we did not know, as Martin Furber’s brief sleeve-notes for the CD release of the Boult recording* tell us, that Vaughan Williams had served in France, and that it was there, in 1916, that he first made sketches for the symphony (A London Symphony had been first performed in 1914). The question is : does it add to, or detract from, the symphony to try to connect it to the war, since Vaughan Williams had stated that its predecessor was absolute music, and in 1920 suggested, in a prgramme note, that it might better be called Symphony by a Londoner.

By all means, we want to listen to what broadcaster Stephen Johnson says that he has researched about Vaughan Williams and his time, but, most of all, we want to listen to the music…

So here is a suggestion for those new to this symphony. If one had to pick out an instrument that is redolent of each of the symphony’s four movements (although Vaughan Williams always loves trombones and writes stunningly well for solo violin) they would be, respectively, oboe, trumpet, flute and harp (as well as human voice). See the contributions being made by each instrumentalist (vocalist) at the time, and hear where they fit into the whole, both the whole of the movement, and of the accruing piece, and what Vaughan Williams is expressing by them.

Listen hard, though, for Wikipedia informs us that ‘It is scored for a large orchestra including:

* Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, cor anglais, 3 clarinets (in B♭ and A; 3rd doubling on bass clarinet), 2 bassoons

* Brass: 4 horns (in F), 3 trumpets (in C, 1 doubling on natural Trumpet in E♭), 3 trombones, tuba

* Percussion: timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, celesta,

* Strings: harp, and strings.'

There is now an outline review of the concert, too, here


* The one of this symphony, from 1952, with soprano Margaret Ritchie providing the wordless solo in the last movement and The London Philharmonic Orchestra takes some beating. Boult had given the premiere thirty years earlier (on 16 January 1922).

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

Can you just put the tops back on these jars, please ?

This is a review of The Trip to Italy (2014)

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22 May

This is a review of The Trip to Italy (2014)

* NB A very crude headline, from The Trip (2010), is quoted *

There were things riding on The Trip to Italy (2014), where they had not been earlier at Cambridge Film Festival for The Trip (2010), and it easily won the double.

Afterwards, in the Q&A broadcast by satellite from one of the London Picturehouses, Steve Coogan gave credit to director Michael Winterbottom for the whole being greater than the sum of the parts (though Coogan twice succeeded in avoiding that classic formulation), which Rob Brydon (@RobBrydon) humorously undercut by saying that he disagreed, and that it was just a matter of pressing play and record. (Winterbottom was in the audience, but was not taking part, which Coogan impishly attributed to wishing to appear profound, and so not saying anything that might give a contrary impression.)

What Winterbottom has done with both films is to craft something in cinematic terms whose essential premise has also given rise to six-part series of thirty minutes : for the films feel like films, not cut down in any way from something else, and it appears that there is material in the film that is not in the series and vice versa, alongside what is in both (at any rate, that was what seemed to have been said when The Trip screened at Cambridge).

This film reverses the roles a little from the earlier one, with Coogan not so much the know-all who has learnt facts and quotations to throw into the conversation and impress, but a man with ‘a hiatus’ that conveniently leaves him free to accompany Brydon (one which, it turns out, he hopes will not extend into winter), whereas we see the latter succeed with wooing and work. [We should, however, be calling these semi-fictionalized sides to Coogan and Brydon by the names Steve and Rob, so that when we can tell at a glance whether actor or role is meant…]

For the Steve who pontificates triumphantly in the abbey ruins in The Trip, or who wondrously meets someone with a newspaper bearing the startling headline STEVE COOGAN IS A CUNT, bears a resemblance to Coogan, but only as a starting-point for bringing friends Rob and Steve together for a week of driving, joking, eating and thinking in an invented newspaper commission to cover some culinary hot-spots. The Steve of that film definitely wants to impress more, but, when Coogan said in the Q&A that he tried to learn a couple of quotations from Byron each night to throw into the next day’s improvisation, there is little knowing which is Winterbottom’s creating a persona for Steve, or Coogan embellishing it.

What, though, is clear is that Steve is perfectly de Niro at the lunch on Thursday, and that, in reverse role, Rob truly cracks him up with his inventiveness as Parky : in the Q&A, Brydom let us into the knowledge that he had done it so well, because he had been fired up by some antagonism with Coogan, and, when he felt it just working out, went with it. Who says that it is just oysters that can be irritated to produce pearls ?

When asked about how making the two films compared, Brydon said that this one had been more convivial, and Coogan readily agreed with him, repeating the word. Brydon also said that he had been surprised, in the first one, that Coogan would just suddenly declare We’re not using this !, and so seek to gain control over the material – from which we gathered that there was none (or less) of that this time.

In giving the pair Alanis Morissette’s debut album Jagged Little Pill from 1995 to have with them in the car (though skipping the already much-ridiculed track ‘Ironic’), Winterbottom* seemed, they thought, to be off key. However, they then realized that it worked, and that, in 2014, men of their age would be revisiting it** – simply the resource of that album gave them scope, over several car journeys, for :

* Speculations about how to say ‘Alanis’ (because Steve, with his flat in LA, says that names are pronounced in the States as one chooses) – and then Rob points out that she AM is Canadian

* Then wondering whether, if the name Alan made it there, it would be stressed on the second syllable, and making it long vowel-sound – ‘My name is Alahn

* Singing along to a track, or interjecting comments between the words, or wondering where Avril Lavigne stands in relation to AM

* Steve’s comment about the sort of interesting woman whom Morisette once represented, but to whom one would now say Can you just put the tops back on these jars, please ?

The delightful thing is that, when Steve overlooks that Morisette is not from the same part of North America, it is so seamless that we do not know whether Steve has been led astray by Coogan or by Winterbottom. Likewise, when they are boarding the ferry in the direction of Capri, Steve makes a comment about what an instrument-case is made of – as if, from his reply, Rob could care. It may be Steve / Coogan showing off his knowledge, but he is calling what is obviously too small to be anything other than a case containing a cello a double-bass.

With beautiful scenery and cinematography, Steve grumping at having to take photos of Rob with various Byronic or Shelleyean inscriptions (until, that is, the photographer from last time turns up again), and the sheer good-humoured balance of reflecting on mortality*** and enjoying the present, there is plenty enough to enjoy – with all the references to films and stars, with even a Mafia vignette woven in as Rob’s guilty, vengeful dream towards Steve****, The Trip to Italy is a delightful way of enjoying two men being together against the backdrop of history, their usual lives, and their desires, summed up in the shimmering waters off Capri into which Steve and his son dive.


* Who had made the car a Mini so that they could make reference to The Italian Job – and, of course, to Michael Caine, on imitating whom Steve delights in giving Rob a masterclass in The Trip

** Coogan insisted on correcting Brydon that they are not both 49, because he has not yet reached his birthday (Happy birthday for 14 October, Steve !).

*** With Brydon even, to Steve’s feigned / Coogan’s real disgust, giving his Small Man Trapped in a Box voice to a supine figure in a plastic box at Pompeii, and then having the Small Man agree with him about Steve being square (This is a real person, Steve says) : as the scene goes on, the humour wins through, at Steve’s expense. (Steve had the last laugh, because, in the Q&A, Brydon realized that his vocal chords would not let the Small Man out just then…)

**** A question by Tweet, via host Boyd Hilton, asked what each man thought most of the other. Brydon said that he had grudging respect for Coogan, who, hesitating to reciprocate, said (and seemed genuine) being at ease with what he has / who he is, amplifying that this is something that he has improved on, but Brydon is still better at doing.

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