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Showing posts with label Eraserhead. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eraserhead. Show all posts

Monday, 24 July 2017

I didn't know the art world, I didn't know living... artists existed ~ Marc Quinn

This is a review of David Lynch : The Art Life (2016)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

This is a review of David Lynch : The Art Life (2016)

David Lynch with Jack Nance during the making of Eraserhead (1977)

Film-references (in alphabetical order) :

* Calvet

* Heart of a Dog (2015)

* Marc Quinn : Making Waves (2014)

* The Confession (2016)

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

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Some remarks about Mulholland Drive (2001) (and Mulholland Dr. (1999))

Some remarks about Mulholland Drive (2001) (and Mulholland Dr. (1999))

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

19 August

Some remarks arising from a screening of Mulholland Drive (2001) at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge, on Thursday 18 August at 9.00 p.m. (and about Mulholland Dr. (1999))

Nowadays, Nicolas Winding Refn¹ seems to want to go by the cypher above (which, one learns, one may not rightly call a monogram)...

However, is he, by curating some films that have influenced him, for participating Picturehouses (@picturehouses), showing that he is not a worthy heir to Igor Stravinsky... ?

Whoever’s work they really were (or were then thought to have been), it seems that Sergei Diaghilev commissioned Stravinsky to turn some libretti and scores that he had from Naples and London, and which had been attributed to Pergolesi, into a ballet for his Ballets Russes. Again, whoever’s music Stravinsky’s Pulcinella (1920) was then thought to have been (or based on – and, not surprisingly, it does not appear that Stravinsky said otherwise), it has been known for at least the last forty years to be his adaptive reworking / re-composition of those originals (as well as being considered the first work of what is usually called his neo-classical period).

The relevance of alluding to Stravinsky above lies in a sentiment that, it seems (and in mutated forms), has been ascribed to, or adopted by, many since before T. S. Eliot, but which is here quoted of Stravinsky :

Igor Stravinsky said to me of his 'Three Songs by William Shakespeare', in which he epitomized his discovery of Webern’s music : ‘A good composer does not imitate ; he steals.’

Twentieth Century Music²

In fact, does NWR, commending films to us such as Mulholland Drive (2001) (which is arguably Lynch stealing from his own t.v. film and other antecedents), really just show that he has not dared to steal, only to imitate ?

In other words, is the faulty notion behind Nicolas Winding Refn Presents... this one ? That it is as if Stravinsky had not only done very little with the Pergolesi materials to re-embody them as his own, but had also, and without good reason, allowed those facts to be known before their time.

Whereas Stravinsky himself was too good a self-publicist¹ for that, and, first allowed the Pergolesi name ‘to stick’ by arranging the work (in collaboration with Paul Kochanski) for violin and piano, publishing Suite d'après des thèmes, fragments et morceaux de Giambattista Pergolesi (1925)³...

Postlude :


¹ Interviewed by Danny Leigh (@dannytheleigh) for The Guardian’s Film section (@guardianfilm), in Nicolas Winding Refn: 'I bring the singular, the narcissistic, the high art', NWR told Leigh – seemingly inconsequentially, as Leigh’s next paragraph is about meeting him next in London, a year later – about a young man whom he found bleeding nightmarishly in urban Los Angeles, and whom, along with another man (already there), he attempted to help, but the man died (and He had never seen anyone die before) :

He told me this story a few weeks later, still in LA. I asked if he had felt emotional. ‘No,’ he said. Nothing ? ‘Strangely nothing.’ The next morning ? ‘Nuh-uh.’ He sipped juice through a straw. ‘But later,’ he said, ‘I was happy. Because I got a fucking great idea for a scene.’

² Twentieth Century Music : Its Evolution from the End of the Harmonic Era into the Present Era of Sound, Peter Yates. Random House, New York (1967). Pantheon Books, p. 41.

³ Later, as well as an eight-movement Pulcinella Suite (revised in 1965), he produced arrangements, in collaboration with Gregor Piatigorsky and Samuel Dushkin, respectively, called Suite italienne for cello and piano (1932-1933) and violin and piano (1933).

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
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

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)

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Going for the double

This is a review of The Double (2013)

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

5 April

This is a review of The Double (2013)

Anyone who is familiar with the trailer for The Double (2013) (though we should know that trailers are not made by the film-makers) is not going to expect Dostoyevsky’s novella to be any more than a jumping-off point for the film (as Thurber’s story is for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)), but what the trailer does do is to suggest misleadingly* that the latter is also a benign, and less dark, study in the nature of inadequacy.

Particularly at the start (before we meet Simon James’ double), it feels as though co-writers Richard Ayoade (who also directs) and Avi Korine (from that family whose members brought you, amongst other things, Spring Breakers (2012)) have ‘mashed up’ sources such as those that follow (although that feeling of making reference, or borrowing, does dissipate somewhat over time, as the propulsive nature of the telling takes over (please see below)) :

* Gogol’s story ‘The Overcoat’ (some see Dostoyevsky’s work, four years later, as a rebuttal of Gogol’s works)

* Yury Tynyanov’s Lieutenant Kijé (as popularized in Western Europe by Prokofiev’s Suite, Op. 60, distilled from his film-music)

* Brazil (1985)

* Rear Window (1954)

* Elements of Lynch (not least the feel, look, and sound of the world of Eraserhead (1977))

* Even The Apartment (1960)

Without saying more, one will see – unless one guesses – what aspects of the film correspond with the earlier material to make this disturbing whole, driven along by the Glass-like rapid string arpeggios of Andrew Hewitt’s score, or the low-frequency rumbling that makes the corridors seem so unnerving …

And that apart from other disturbances in James’ life of the kind given by Sally Hawkins in a nice authoritarian cameo, let alone the increasingly hostile security guard (IMDb puzzlingly says that it is ‘rumored’ that this was Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s role), or the grumpy service in James’ local café (asked why he comes back here, he says that he is ‘loyal’ – and one cannot conceive of James doing anything very domestic in his flat, with utensils that look to be of grandmaternal origin).

In an early scene, in an underground train equally devoid of comfort (or a sense of the common good), we imagine that it must be a nightmare of the type in (1963), or a parody of one – James is, in what is established here, seen to be so labile that we have to hope hard that he can show himself as in the Mitty film, and maybe wonder whether he is more in the vein of Ronnie Corbett’s Timothy Lumsden in Sorry !.

In this film, partly because we are influenced to identify with Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), partly because we look for an emergence into real life of The Replicator** (in the form of Paddy Considine), which James says is his favourite t.v. programme, we invest a hope in what might happen. We believe that Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) might respond to James (whose interest in her is reminiscent of that of Josef K. in Fraülein Bürstner in Kafka's The Trial ?), if he knew the right thing to do, and we believe in the notion from Roxanne (1987) (and its more illustrious antecedents) that he might he helped to, and for, his own good.

It might have been fun if Wasikwoska had doubled the part of Melanie, played by Yasmin Paige, to mimic Eisenberg’s duality : as it is, we are offered an insight into her character’s fragility, which has been exploited by a knowledge of that of James, and we see her torn, although not in a way that is not unusual in cinema (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) ?), between what attracts everyone else and the likelihood (which, with Marilyn’s Lorelei, fatally attracts, or at least fails to repel) of getting hurt.

Of course, the theme of betrayal by a seeming friend is an age-old one, pre-dating Judas, and which has resonated ever since, in, for example, the tables being turned on K. in Kafka’s The Castle by his assistants (themselves a form of substitute). Here, far more was possible with the topic of identity theft than the film encompasses, and it prefers to stay within the general bounds of what is a person and what about a person is perceived to make him or her worthwhile.

In the end, subverting the messages of James’ powerlessness (as we provisionally thought that it had to), it offers the sort of Pyrrhic victory*** that we know, for Ray, from In Bruges (2008). It is not unlike many other endings (e.g. from episodes of Star Trek (original series only, please) or Dr Who, amongst others), and so concludes the piece, nowhere near Dostoyevsky (unless we make some massive inferences), because there had to be some ultimate resolution.

That said, principals Wasikowska and Eisenberg are both excellent, and the film is not without an effect from how it contrasts the homeliness and colour of her flat with that of his, as well as from Hewitt’s score, and the levels of tension that it gives to this cheerless universe.


* NB Contains a spoiler As does IMDb : A comedy centered on a man who is driven insane by the appearance of his doppleganger (sic).

** Shades of The Reprisalizer from Matthew Holness’ A Gun for George (2011) ?

Here, the t.v. series is a sort of Orwellian distraction from the predominant greyness of life in this place and time, though it is less clear that it is a degraded world of the kind that Gilliam’s referenced film gives us, or a reimagined instance of the early computer age a parallel for the world of the pre-Soviet government department.

The real Replicator in the film is Hannah (probably in more senses than one), because she is a junior member of the copying department, operating what some might describe as a steam-punk take-off of the large and clunky Xerox® machines from the late 1970s : James and she are amongst the few of an age in this organization. Her boss tells James that any sensible person would want two copies (which proves to be astute, although James does not want another he), not just the one that, as a pretext for being there, he keeps coming up and asking for.

*** You could even posit a reference to the scene with the Patronus across the lake in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)…

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

Monday, 17 June 2013

How Time views After Hours (1985)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

1 June

This story had to be told - one way or another, although it was written for New Empress Magazine's issue (number 10), with the theme of Time in cinema, it resisted inclusion.

Finished, it would have looked at Eraserhead (1977) and seen whether Brazil and After Hours (1985) were both indebted to Lynch, but had gone in different directions with it (a bit like particles flying out from a sub-atomic collision)...

In late 1983, there proved not to be the sustainable will – or, with it, the money – for Martin Scorsese to make The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), which he had also insisted had to be shot in Israel (adding to the cost). As he says in Scorsese on Scorsese (Faber & Faber, London, 1996 (updated version)), he sublimated his rage at the studio for thinking Christ ‘not worth the trouble’ (as Barry Diller at Paramount told him, apologizing for not saying before that they were pulling the plug) : he looked around for another film to make.

Not being able to see himself make either, Scorsese turned down Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Witness (1985), and so ended up, again, in the world of independent film with After Hours and, ultimately, with Fassbinder’s cameraman, Michael Ballhaus. Before then, a few things happened on the way…

In New York, Scorsese got to see a script that he liked. It was owned (i.e. they had the film option) by Griffin Dunne (Dunne played Paul Hackett, the male lead) and Amy Robinson (who had appeared in Mean Streets (1973), and was, with Dunne, a co-producer of After Hours). In his own words, Scorsese started reading it and really liked the first two or three pages. I liked the dialogue […].

This is where things got interesting, because Scorsese had apparently been told that it had been written by Joseph Minion in a class at Columbia University (and been given an A in the Graduate Film Program), whereas that seems not to have been the whole story.

Even I, as a fourteen-year-old, learnt the basic rules of plagiarism : even if others had not also decided to lift material for their essay from the introduction to our edition of Julius Caesar, which made ‘the borrowing’ obvious, one could not simply pass off something as one’s own, and had to cover one’s tracks. (Either that, or acknowledge one’s sources, of course*.)

In this case, as blogger Andrew Hearst reveals (linked from the film’s Wikipedia page), there was a radio monologue called Lies, written, performed and broadcast by one Joe Frank for NPR Playhouse in 1982. On Hearst’s blog, it can be heard in full, and runs to around 11 minutes, providing the broad synopsis for around the first one-third of After Hours.

One might just about be able to listen to it and not be spot the relation to After Hours if one had not seen it recently: were it not, that is, that bagel-and-cream-cheese paperweights made of plaster of Paris are a bit of a give-away (even if a five-dollar bill flying out of the cash-cradle, and through the window, of a taxi and leaving Hackett without cash is not already). Where I cannot agree with Hearst, because what he writes does not take account of how screenplays get written and end up in production, is what he makes of the evidence.

Hearst writes ‘Minion’s IMDb credits are pretty thin after the early 1990s, so his career seems to have been really hurt by this, no surprise’. It is, of course, an easy assumption to make, but do we know that Minion was credited with the screenplay as the (willing ?) fall guy for someone else’s theft of the plot, because there appears to be nothing against which to check the story about the screenplay and the Columbia course ?

The real mystery is that anyone would attempt to pass off Lies in the guise of After Hours without changing some very significant details, some of the more obvious of which have been mentioned. Is it, so we are being encouraged to understand Minion, that we have to imagine him inexperienced and greedy, and so getting himself a bad name by miring the picture in the litigation that Hearst talks about ?

I have not looked for evidence of the court case, not just because it is so long ago (and I would not know where to look), but also since, if there had been an out-of-court settlement, only the fact of the case’s existence, which we probably suppose, would have been apparent. Scorsese, of course, makes no mention of the issue in interview, and even the injured Frank, according to Hearst, was being reticent to name the film that paid him off.

All that we have to hope is that he got a good settlement, because, comparing his performance and the film, it is all there, right down to the characterization of Rosanna Arquette (as Marcy), whom Hearst described as ‘interested and indifferent at the same time’. As for what happened to Minion, there seems to be a bigger elephant in the room than that :

Dunne makes a perfectly good, nervy Hackett, and the film gets good ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, but, looking at Dunne’s career and judging it from IMDb’s page for him, he seems to have achieved more as director and producer than the rather bitty parts and t.v. work on the other side of the camera.

Yes, things happen - or do not happen - in a career quite unfairly, and maybe After Hours, as the Rotten Tomatoes figures show, had the critical appraisal, but insufficient popular appeal, to allow Dunne to move on from there.

Or maybe there was no moving on from a persecution-complex character such as Hackett, hounded by highly organized vigilantes within hours of visiting the area, giving off signals of being attractive to women, but dangerous, and ending the film dusty and dazed back at the office where he began it.

The all-too-often quoted opening words of ‘Burnt Norton’ from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – which lose significance out of context – have a place here, in looking at what, if I am not mistaken, is a film directed by Scorsese that made too little impact on its release :

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

I have not seen Dunne in anything else, but I am grateful to him for wanting to get this film made and being Paul Hackett, and I am sure that others will be for what he has produced or directed since.


* Which I do not think that the film credits do with an even bigger theft, that of a story by Franz Kafka that he incorporated into the scene in the Cathedral in his unfinished novel The Trial (Der Prozess), where Josef K. is told a parable about the law, Vor dem Gesetz (Before the Law). The story is lifted straight into the film in the context of the bouncers to the club that Hackett needs to enter, and it feeds into the film's uneasy quality of persecution, witch-hunt and - although Dunne is not Jewish - maybe anti-Semitism.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

What sort of beast is Dark Horse?

This is a review of Dark Horse (2011)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 July

This is a review of Dark Horse (2011)

One is not exactly left, as David Lynch arranged in Eraserhead (1977), with a feeling of being uncertain what, if anything, has happened, and it's not quite the ending-after-ending impression left by how the Lord of the Rings trilogy winds up in and with The Return of the King (2003), and yet both elements are there: the latter promises resolution, the former confuses such a notion with presenting, amongst other things, a head being turned into an adjunct for pencils.

As Lynch's film did, therefore, there is a questioning in Dark Horse of what 'a story' in a film is for, whether it is to satisfy and lead us, a bit like a classical sonata, from some sort of stasis into the turmoil of a movement in a minor key and back into the catharsis of the closing outer movement, or whether its roots are in the New Wave and before, which, in Buñuel's case, gave us, at the time time when the wave was breaking, the puzzle of The Exterminating Angel (1962).

Just about anything has been fitted into that pattern of things going bad and turning good again, from 10* (1979) to You've Got Mail (1998) or, as I recall, One Fine Day (1996). Much more interesting is when Scorsese gives us, in After Hours (1985), a film that takes us back to where we began, but with an amazing and satisfying - not from moral or plot point of view of - artistic resolution, in a whizz around Paul Hackett's office. Or Gilliam - when he could still be gutsy - with that sickening moment inside the cooling-tower at the end of Brazil (1985).

Subverting building up to an ending - or the expected ending - is one thing. Some view life as linear, and expect the beginning to be at the start. Others might prefer the sort of narration that Betrayal (1983), pretty close to the stage-play, gives us, and might relate more to a muddle of dream, day-dream, imagination, and sheer fantasy, such as, probably more convincingly than Dark Horse, films like Allen's Deconstructing Harry (1997) (or, for that matter, Stardust Memories (1980)) give us.

Though I do not think that writer / director Todd Solondz is aiming at that here: this is not Thurber's Walter Mitty gone slightly more wrong, but has, as it develops, really far more resonance with something very different, a sort of US Enter the Void, but without certain embellishments.

Rather implausibly, you might infer from trusting what I am saying, IMDb seeks to sum up this work in a sentence as:

Romance blooms between two thirty-somethings in arrested development: an avid toy collector and a woman who is the dark horse of her family

Hell, if that were what this film is about, it wouldn't deserve the time of day! These are superficialities, substituting for an appreciation of what the film implies about the creation and distinegration of personality, hope and desire. It is possible that reviews are more on target than what I have quoted, but I don't think that I want to trust having to wade through many opinions that will just criticize this film for not being what it is not - if, though, they were misled by IMDb's said 23-word snapshot (probably little worse than many a trailer), perhaps it is fair for them to air their grievances there.

Confused - probably stunned - as I was when I came out of Dark Horse and incoherently tried to formulate a response in talking to Jon, who was ushering, I gratefully received his affirmation of that feeling, and I shall, at some point, be following up his recommendation of Solondz's Happiness (1998)...

This review is dedicated to Jon, with thanks


* Which, before Baywatch, might have been seen as exploitative (probably of Bo Derek), if it didn't arrive at a convenient moral ending.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Running down Eraserhead

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

12 March

Another special screening tonight - in a series (whose existence didn't quite pass me by, but nearly) about the depiction of monstrosity on screen - of David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977) this time.

We had a bit of an introduction (which threatened to be a bit more of an introduction than I was happy with, but thankfully - as I infer - someone must have waved frantically from the back to cut short what was, as was admitted to us, a speech with the potential to go on all night), and then the film.

Philip Kiszely, who teaches at the University of Leeds (and also runs a publication about punk and post-punk) was our culprit, but he was to be forgiven for the even-handed way in which he conducted the discussion afterwards. His closing words of advice to those who had not seen Eraserhead before was to consider stopping eating the popcorn now, and that he would have wanted to take the seat nearest the door!

It was Screen 3, so the most intimate of the Arts Picturehouse's dark rooms at around 120 seats, but there was still a good attendance, at which Philip was - perhaps for effect - a little surprised, that people who had (he did a straw poll) not seen it before were still turning out to see Eraserhead after 35 years: did they know what they were letting themselves in for?

As a host, Philp was enthusiastic, giving us pointers in references to film noir and in how Lynch had put the film together piecemeal as funds permitted. He also said that Lynch had said very little about what his intentions in making <i>Eraserhead</i> had been, what meaning or message it had had for him, but that he had tantalizingly revealed that he had been reading The Bible at the time, and that one verse - which, of course, he did not specify - had been at the root of it all.

As I have said, he was also indulgent to the pure Freudian interpretation that, with contributions from some, was going later, where everything was a phallus, and Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) in fear of castration. So be it, but strange, as I remarked to Philip at the end, that Freud has so much less credit outside the worlds of film and literary theory, and certainly not in practice...

Monday, 12 March 2012

Just call me Stetson!

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

12 March

For some reason, as I headed to to-night's screening of Eraserhead (1977), I was thinking of accommodating people's wishes, as well as disabilities, at work - out of regard or respect for them.

Someone with whom I once worked, and who chose to be called what is best rendered as Sham (though it was not written that way), was effectively reminding one every time that the abbreviation used meant Fake - not too inapt, as it turned out. (I now know someone else whose choice of name also challenges me to think what can be behind selecting it.)

I went on to think that it would be o so tempting to tell people that I now wanted to be known, say, as Pencil*, and to seek to get them to do so - without explanation.

Or, failing that, without the real explanation**, but with some nonsense about William Penn, founding Pennsylvania and my family's origins being in the stationery business there...


* This was the strangely prescient part, in view of the film that I was about to see, with a scene involving the manufacture of pencils, by adding a rubber to the end.

** Although I can be sharp, I also get very blunt.