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Showing posts with label Hitchcock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hitchcock. Show all posts

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Beginning, not with the birds and the bees, but the psychiatrists and the psychoanalysts…

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

16 August

An article in The Guardian (@guardian) sets out to tell us something that its writer thought of serious import, about, despite the elapse of seven decades, the static representation of ‘female shrinks'…

Perhaps, in its tag-line, the description ‘female shrinks’ might just have left it ambiguous whether psychiatry per se is what was really meant here.

However, the words below the tag-line, which introduce the piece, and its opening words (both as quoted¹), plainly use the word ‘psychiatrist’ : yet Dr Constance Petersen, in the person of Ingrid Bergman², is repeatedly and consistently defined by reference to the professional term ‘psychoanalyst’.

So, sadly, referring to 'psychiatry', in this article now, is not exactly interchangeable with talking about psychoanalysis – even if it might once have been in the mid-1940s, with a lesser emphasis on medication ? – and is probably almost on a similar level to calling an astrologer an astronomer (or vice versa)… ?

More to come, where we may actually review the film, or come onto the question whether films ever really represent – or set out to represent – psychiatric practice…

When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting (1997) (and both appeared in, the latter as ‘Chuckie’ Sullivan), can we any more just take at face value that Dr Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) really is literally to be taken to represent even some sort of maverick psychologist ?

Can we do so any more than view Dr Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) in Spellbound (1945) as really being a practising psychoanalyst of whatever age, who has never been in love before, but falls for John Ballantyne (then in the mistaken guise of Dr Edwardes) within a matter of hours ?

This piece may have ended abruptly, but see also Whatever you mean by calling something ‘sexism’, take a look at Spellbound (1945)

End-notes :

¹ Respectively, Seventy years separates the Hitchcock’s film with [sic - on both counts] the DC blockbuster, but the social attitudes towards women psychiatrists they exhibit have barely altered, and A sexless female psychiatrist, devoted to her work, encounters a fascinating mentally ill man. Suddenly, she is awakened to the joys of love and devotes herself to her patient, abandoning her profession in a sensual ecstasy of criminality. Women psychiatrists : they’re driven mad by love.

¹ If, just if, Alfred Hitchcock had ever meant us to forget for a second that this was Ingrid Bergman on screen, would he have cast her – and not someone relatively anonymous – to be utterly convincing as this psychoanalyst, who breaks (as far as one can judge, but somehow actually gets away with it) all the professional rules in the book ? !

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

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Report from Cary Grant Comes Home for the Weekend Festival 2016 : Notorious (1946) at Averys Wine Cellars

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
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8 July

This posting will accrete into some sort of collage account of 'A Grand Day Out' in Averys Wine Cellars, Bristol, for the launch event of Cary Grant Comes Home for the Weekend Festival 2016, with a special screening - with wine interludes, and cheese and bubbly preludes - of Notorious (1946)

Attending this event had only been proposed and then booked, on the day, on a train to Bristol Parkway, as a much-delayed birth treat for The Agent's maternal...

When Cary checks his e-mail / voicemail - or gets that text-message ? - we already know the bad news for Ingrid and him...

Andrea Riseborough as Colette McVeigh in Shadow Dancer (2012)

To come, in the Festival itself, on 16 and 17 July :

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

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Camera Catalonia at Cambridge Film Festival 2014 Part II : Q&A with Jesús Monllaó, director of Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
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1 October

* Contains spoilers *

Jesús Monllaó brought his first feature, Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), to Cambridge Film Festival (@Camfilmfest / #CamFF) on Day 9 (Friday 5 September 2014) as part of this year’s Camera Catalonia strand (curated by Ramon Lamarca, pictured left below in front of the film-poster, with Jesús on the right, in a shot taken by colleague David Riley)

Ramon Lamarca and Jesús Monllaó before the poster of Fill de Caín,
by and courtesy of David Riley

Opening gambit

Before the 34th Cambridge Film Festival’s screening of Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), Ramon Lamarca kindly introduced @THEAGENTAPSLEY to Jesús Monllaó that evening : if you have read the review, you will know that comparisons had been drawn with Good Will Hunting (1997), and with the suspenseful Alfred H., and not be surprised that they were pleasing to Jesús (who has since had a chance to read the review in full and liked it).

After a good-natured meeting of minds and sharing of humour at the busy hub that is Festival Central (in its home every year, for 11 consecutive days, at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturhouse)), and before parting, the hope was expressed that the audience of Screen 2 at Festival Central would take the film well. So that proved, with a full house, and almost everyone both seeming engrossed, and then staying for the Q&A.

If you have watched such a vibrant film for review purposes on even a 15.6” laptop screen, you want to see it again projected to see what it looks and sounds like – as Jesús had said, knowing which City he was in and that he some people would have seen through his trickery with the plot, he hoped that they had enjoyed the journey :

Spot on, because it does not matter at all that you know what unfolds (but do not read much further on, if you have not already seen it – or do not mind spoilers), and, second time around, one could appreciate both the construction, and the full range and subtlety of Ethan Lewis Maltby’s score. (One says ‘appreciate the construction’, because (as the review envisaged) one could view Son of Cain with a murder-mystery mindset* first time through, or when watching again, to see how what happened had been set up.)

Jesús Monllaó answering audience questions with Ramon Lamarca,
by and courtesy of David Riley

Interviewed first by Ramon Lamarca with composer Ethan, Jesús was on fine form, engaging expansively with questions, and wanting others to have credit for their work (please see below). He told us that he had had some resistance, but had insisted on Ethan to write the score, their having met when Jesús was studying the art of film-making in Canterbury more than a decade ago.

And it turned out that choosing a Mahler adagio (the fourth-movement Adagietto* (in F Major, Sehr langsam) from the Symphony No. 5), for the night scene with the family in the car, not only coincidentally accorded with where Ethan’s interest in music had first been sparked (by hearing Mahler in live performance), but also with Ramon’s love for the composer’s works… As Jesús told us, he had originally wanted to use the Poco adagio, marked Ruhevoll, from the Symphony No. 4 in G Major, but the cost of using that track had been prohibitive (and led to using the Adagietto, as more affordable).

Love was in the air generally, indeed, because Jesús (as other directors have been keen to do this year) wanted to stress that 90% of what mattered most had been done by other people. Though, equally, he had found that, having acquired the rights to the original novel, he had to fall out with its writer, Ignacio García-Valiño, on account of the offensive e-mail that he wrote on being shown the first draft of the script (and which, Jesús told us, he still has).

Happily, though, he later related that contact was re-made with the novelist, who saw the film in April 2013 and loved it, publicly writing so. In the event, Ignacio died fourteen months later : the fact he saw his novel filmed and liked it, despite the former confrontation, gives us some comfort now that he’s gone.

Back with the music, we heard from Ramon’s questioning how the texture / density had been ‘stripped back’ for all but the last ten minutes, paring down instrumentation – sometimes, as Ethan told us, by removing an instrument during mixing that had originally been recorded as part of a larger ensemble recorded, but edited down in this way. In this connection, Ethan was asked about the use of harmonics, bell-like sounds and a high-pitched part that might have been a high soprano or an instrument (he told us that it had been a guitar-sound), and said that each film-project requires him to determine the palette that he is going to use at the outset.

Ethan Lewis Maltby, far right, during the Q&A,
by and courtesy of David Riley

Usefully, which we might not have otherwise aptly appreciated, Jesús said that he had taken away all the recorded sound for the last seven minutes, leaving just the score, where Ethan had had full rein to break through, as the closing scenes unfold – one’s lips are sealed, but there is chess at their heart…

Later, as there was a Festival dinner-date for Jesús to make, and a departure for Brighton in the afternoon, it was agreed to meet The Agent at Corpus Christi the following morning for a more formal interview.

Middle game

Just after the appointed hour, the two indeed met and then headed to the corner of Pembroke Street, where Jesús’ wife and young son were finishing coffee at Fitzbillies.

At mention at the table of the idea of taking a boat on the river, an offer was made of a punting-trip, and so began their adventure on the Cam…

Now continued here


* A curious word, mindset, and one which seems fitting for Nico… ?

** Afterwards, Jesús shared that he had wanted the Mahler not only because he liked it, but also as the kind of music that the character in the original novel listened to : I wanted to pay homage to the novel with little details that would connect both media.

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

Monday, 12 May 2014

From the archive : Much-delayed review of Max Barton’s No Magic – performance 6 March 2010 !

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

As one who came to Cambridge’s ADC Theatre (Amateur Dramatic Club (@adctheatre)) that night clutching book 6 of Harry Potter (HP and the Half-Blood Prince), it was a distinct surprise – not to say ‘spooky’ – to find that the performance opened with Potter, and, within moments, Max Barton, as his own Harry, crying out Expelliarmus !.

In the flyer’s write-up, the play’s origins in Barton’s reading of Jekyll and Hyde are made explicit. However, for anyone with a background in the world of mental-health, they make one wonder whether, in his premise for the work, he has mistaken the symptomatology of multiple personality disorder (as it tends to be called, rather than split personality) for that of paranoid schizophrenia*.

In fact, the suspicion turned out to be justified, because, although it was suggested that Harry might have been hearing voices (as those with the diagnosis of schizophrenia commonly, but not invariably do (auditory hallucination)), there was great weight placed on the notion that he was acting under the name of Edward Catcher (we do not learn Harry’s surname) as a distinct personality, who has distinctly violent, even murderous, inclinations. [Touches of Hitchock’s Psycho (1960), not to mention Powell’s Peeping Tom from the same year ?]

As the drama unfolded, any belief dissipated (although it did occasionally revive) that Barton might have seen a more subtle parallel between Hyde and the apparent subject of his own work : it had been initally fostered by the fact that the programme notes, despite the flyer’s suggestion, did not mention Stevenson after all). There was also an increasing feeling that the seeming similarities with Sebastian Faulks’ novel Engleby**, itself clearly set in Cambridge, might be more than coincidental, and that maybe, when it came to the involvement of a lawyer in Harry’s unfolding case, implausibly so. Yet, Faulks’ novel, too, appears to have, as its proper subject personality disorder, its possible origins, and its public understanding.

Interestingly, in the scenes with the lawyer, and in Harry’s prior experiences at some unnamed Cambridge college, there was an allusion to the finding attested by an apparent body of research – the link, because skunk is a highly concentrated form of hash (specially cultivated for being stronger than the ‘traditional’ forms of hash), between its use and the onset of schizophrenia. Or, perhaps more properly, the sorts of psychotic experiences to which this label is frequently applied. What made this allusion relevant was the way in which Barton’s text appeared to suggest is that there might be a cynical manipulation of such research findings, by the legal profession, to exculpate the guilty from full responsibility for their crimes – a topic more fully and knowingly dealt with by Faulks’ eponymous Corpus graduate (Harry does not get to graduate).

The way in which No Magic and Engleby both fight shy of specificity are also, one can only believe, more than chance: Faulks renames a well-known pub in Bene’t Street, but, at the same time, makes it so clear, from the choice of alternative name, which one he is referring to, as one of Engleby’s largely solitary drinking haunts, that one wonders why he has bothered. Likewise, although Barton himself is at Cambridge, we are only told in a wry way that Harry is there, in a running joke, carried off to great effect by the cast. There is, though, no way of knowing at which college the 'real' Edward Catcher was an undergraduate (although, for no good reason, one suspects Fitzwilliam).


If completed, this review would have dealt with the subjects whose headings follow, but the fact that it did not is why it is incomplete… [However, recollected comments, in square brackets such as these, have been added - there was some contemporaneous correspondence with Barton, which, when located, may provide more detail / confirmation] :

1. Blocking / staging
[The most vivid moment was one that reminded of the infernal scenes in What Dreams May Come (1998) (not to say Doré's illustrations of Dante), and the terror of Event Horizon (1997), in an effective combination of latex and lighting***]

2. Acting
[The principals were probably fine, with Barton as Harry****]

3. Ensemble
[Almost certainly generally tight enough, even if some scenes could have been dwelt on less in the playing]

4. Text
[As mentioned, there was a certain teasing coyness about where this place (Cambridge) might be, which suited the likely audience congratulating itself that it was 'in the know' - hard to remember now whether Barton's evocation succeeded, probably in the midst of in-jokes, in portraying a more recognizable Cambridge than Larkin did Oxford in his undergraduate novel Jill]

5. Further comments about pathology
[Only that the attempt to cover similar ground to Faulks also gave rise to somewhat cynical attempt to take down the whole justice system by association - a matter much in people's minds with Yewtree just now]


* A useful confirmation can be found in the published diary of Phoebe Pluckrose-Oliver, who was the show's producer :

Last night I was up until 1am in the Homerton auditorium making 3.5m by 2m frames out of Lycra and scaffolding for the set we’ve devised for the play. [...]

The frames are an important part of the set for the play, which is called ‘No Magic’. Written by a second year student on my course, Max Barton, it’s about an undergraduate who develops paranoid schizophrenia.

** Hutchinson, London, 2007.

*** This aspect seemed to have attracted favourable comment from Nathan Brooker, the (more-timely) reviewer for Varsity (though issue 731 seemed to be having a dig and /or private joke with the last of its (festive) Predictions : Max Barton will resurrect his verse-comedy No Magic).

**** The resource of is interesting...

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

Saturday, 1 March 2014

L'Étranger ou L'Inconnu ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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1 March

This is a review of Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du Lac) (2013)

For some who might wish to know, this film contains no female roles and probably as much graphic sex as Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

Amongst other things, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin showed that nothing quite evokes the quotidian as showing that, day by day, people choose to do the same thing (in this case, parking in a sandy spot with a few trees), and a shot of that place and a car drawing up can also be used to denote the passing of time – and to disrupt that easy sense of denotation*. That rate at which time passes can, in itself, be used to play counter to the audience’s expectation of how quickly events should happen, what should happen, what we should see :

This film leaves us in no doubt that we see what director Alain Guiraudie wants us to see, but that may not feel a positive experience for us, even if reflection suggests that confronting us with a slow pace, much fairly promiscuous sex, and the absence, otherwise, of much other than sometimes tense conversations might be calculated to unsettle. Hitchcock, it seems, would have done it that way, although perhaps his script would have had filmic goals, in particular an ending, that this one does not.

If our sex-life is not of a nature (the film calls it ‘cruising’) where people could be talking with someone new and then head inland to caress each other within minutes and have penetrative sex, such uninhibited actions present a challenge – not in terms of whether one wants to watch gay sex, as in what anything more significant might mean**. Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), who says that he has done all this before on holiday and does not seem much interested, values Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) as a person to talk to, maybe over dinner or a few drinks, a feeling that may be shared equally, although Franck’s deepest desire is to find someone whom he fancies who is not already involved (and, for no apparent reason, dashes off after someone when the two first talk).

Someone gay who also watched this screening said that even knowing about a man what Franck knows about Michel (Christophe Paou) would not have stopped him being attractive and a desirable partner (whether or not the actual Michel is, who seems like a more serious type of Tom Selleck). Given what Franck does know, that seems surprising, in the way that Peter Gabriel (on his album Up) characterizes the audience of his fictitious Barry Williams Show, I love my daughter’s rapist, etc.

What matters, though, is that – of brief origin though it is – Franck feels love for Michel, albeit after the event. We will never know why Michel did what Franck knows about, we will never know what happens at the end of the film, we just see Franck relating to him, knowing that he did it. The film does build tension (though not without a running joke at the expense of the man with his shorts half down and, hand on his penis, likes to watch), and a script and a film-maker can withhold things from us*** – as said, it is made abundantly clear that we are shown what Guiraudie chooses, and that this is not a film that, unlike life, ends tidily.

However, does the end justify the means, just gradually – and effectively – stirring us up about something and leaving us hanging… ? OK, so life is not neat, we do not always know what happened and / or why, and Ingrid Bergman may not always escape the clutches of James Mason into the arms of Cary Grant, but can the point of resisting that resolving temptation just be to involve one in something (unreal) that one could not know anything about otherwise, and then suddenly say that whatever happened next is just unstated. If so, Haneke does that better, many, many times, not least with L'Amour (2012).

Haneke, however, does just not refrain from telling us definitely what is happening only at the end, but throughout – we may come to a conclusion, say, about the character or behaviour of Georges, but it deliberately may be one of several. This is where Stranger by the Lake (and it might be worth considering who we consider ‘the stranger’ of the title to be) leads us on, and then slams the brakes on at the end**** – yes, we know that several things may occur on the given facts, but why is it apt just to leave us with them ? Not that it matters much, but the film feels a little as though it may have broken faith with its audience :

I will show you this, which leads to this, which leads to this, and, when matters have become really critical, down come some pseudo-philosophic shutters, closing off what we might not know definitely in life. Yet one can be sure of two things. One, that, because of what has happened, someone will have to decide, beyond the scope of the film, what then took place and why. Two, that, as this is not life, we were allowed to see and hear things (such as Henri and Franck’s conversations), and have a perspective, which is just denied by this ending, which is therefore arbitrary.

Not so much Reader, I married him, as Reader, I’m not telling you any more after all.


Or maybe it does make for a genuinely suspenseful ending after all - in the sense Nous sommes suspendus...


* As when there are no cars when Franck arrives, or when we see him walking down the path to the lake without arriving.

** In Nymphomaniac Volume I (2013), for example, two friends between them have sex with a score of men on a train just in a contest over a bag of Smarties.

*** We know nothing outside this place, and even the representative of authority keeps making visits here, at all sorts of hours, rather than taking a fairly ad hoc and low-key approach.

**** The Woman in the Fifth (2011) does so, but for a different reason that relates to the novel that it adapts.

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

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Scorsese’s hesitation about Kazantzakis

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
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8 February

This posting relates to a special screening at Wells Cathedral on 25 January

The last temptation is for Christ to get down off the cross and live the rest of His life as a normal human being
(Scorsese on Scorsese*, p. 124)

In his chapter in about The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) in this book, Scorsese talks about his collaboration with Paul Schrader, and how the latter produced a ninety-page script in four months (p. 117). Having been introduced to the original novel by Kazantzakis by Barbara Hershey and David Carradine in 1972 (p. 116), Scorsese says that this is what interested him about making a film of it :

I found the representation of Christ, stressing the human side of His nature without denying that He is God, the most accessible to me. His divine side doesn’t fully comprehend what the human side has to do; how He has to transform Himself and eventually become the sacrifice on the cross – Christ the man only learns about this a little at a time. In the whole first section of the book, He is acting purely on human emotions and human psychology, so He becomes confused and troubled. […]
(p. 116)

Talking about his own belief in relation to portraying Jesus in the film, Scorsese writes :

I believe that Jesus is fully divine, but the teaching at Catholic schools [Scorsese says that he has drifted away from the Church over the years, and is no longer a practising Catholic] placed such an emphasis on the divine side that if Jesus walked into a room, you’d know he was God because He glowed in the dark, instead of just being another person. But if He was like that, we always thought, then when the temptations came to Him, surely it was easy to resist them because He was God. He could reject the temptation of power in the desert; He could reject especially the temptation of sex; and He could undergo the suffering on the cross, because He knew what was going to happen, what death is all about.
(p. 124)

About involving Schrader by asking him to write a script, he comments :

Knowing that Paul Schrader and I have close affinities, I thought it would be interesting to see what a Calvinist approach to the book would be. It’s a very long book and I wanted a normal-length film, not a six-hour mini-series, so I thought Paul would be able to strip away all the unnecessary elements. The whole relationship between Mary Magdalene and the Apostles and how they were fighting with each other, all that was fascinating, but couldn’t be put in the film. […]
(p. 117)

Schrader and he discussed the treatment of the miracles (and the importance of the supernatural existing alongside the natural), and depicting Jesus terrified by them, not smiling (p. 118), as he gradually realizes that they lead to the cross (p. 120). For Scorsese, the key scene, when Jesus knows that He is God, is the raising of Lazarus, where Jesus is momentarily pulled into the tomb (the symbolism is clear), before leading Lazarus out (p. 143).

Scorsese acknowledges that some people have said that the book is more Kazantzakis than Jesus (p. 143), but he did go to the trouble of meeting the writer’s widow, and of exploring his life from staying in a monastery on Mount Athos to the books that he wrote in the last ten years of his life (p. 145).

Those who want to say that the film is blasphemous (see below), because it shows Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene, seem not to bear in mind that neither Kazantzakis, nor Scorsese, is subscribing to the theory that Jesus actually did have a family with her – this is the content of the temptation, the ‘last’ of the title, that both book and film are about, but it is not saying that it happened, but what if Jesus were tempted on the cross to believe that he did not have to die there to fulfil his purpose ?

These are very different ascriptions to Kazantzakis and Scorsese, but those levelling the criticism seem slow to understand the difference. Regarding the relationship that the book puts at the centre of that last temptation, Scorsese has written :

One problem I have with the book is the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. If there had to be sexual temptation, it could be another woman; for it to be Mary seemed kind of obvious. And the fact that she became a whore specifically because he rejected her is almost as bad as the Hitchcock movie I Confess, where Montgomery Clift becomes a priest basically because he was jilted by Anne Baxter. As the young priest whom I adored when I was young said, that doesn’t happen, because you have to have a vocation otherwise you’d only last a week in the seminary ! I Confess is an interesting movie nevertheless, but I found a similar difficulty with Kazantzakis.
(p. 143)

Yet Scorsese seems not to have been put off, and writes about what he hoped for from the film :

[...] I found this an interesting idea, that the human nature of Jesus was fighting Him being God. I thought this would be great drama and force people to take Jesus seriously – at least to re-evaluate His teachings. […] So through the Kazantzakis novel I wanted to make the life of Jesus immediate and accessible to people who haven’t really thought about God in a long time. I certainly didn’t think the film would destroy the faith of those who believe strongly [Editor’s emphasis].
(p. 124)

The cynical may doubt Scorsese’s sincerity in the passages quoted above : of course, his motives and beliefs may be questioned, if one thinks that making the film is itself blasphemy. Here are two letter-writers points of comparson (they are said to have appeared in the Wells Journal on 23 January 2013 [sic]) :

One does not have to consider a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine as worthy of contemplation, despite any dubious claims to artistic merit either.
Paul Arblaster

The film’s photography and musical score are of good quality. The 1936 Olympic games stadium in Berlin was of good quality too. This is hardly the point.
Fr Ewan, Po Wo and Donna-Marie MacPherson

So Nazis, and a deliberate act of provocation, are the chosen points of reference ?


* Faber & Faber, London, 1996, p. 124.

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