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Showing posts with label Ken Loach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ken Loach. Show all posts

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Michael Berkeley's Private Passions on Radio 3 - with Ken Loach (work in progress)

Michael Berkeley's Private Passions on Radio 3 - with Ken Loach

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2019 (17 to 24 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

10 November

Comments on film, music in film, and film-making from Michael Berkeley's Private Passions on Radio 3 - with Ken Loach (work in progress)

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

Sunday, 2 August 2015

For posting 1111, a portal-page to the TAKE ONE interviews...

More views of or before Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

17 October

Interviews conducted for, and published by, TAKE ONE, a Cambridge-Film-Festival-based and mainly on-line ( / @TakeOneCinema [formerly]) publication [except at the time of Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest / #CamFF)]

An accreting series of links, by order of interviewee's name (date of publication is in square-brackets, and the film-title links to the IMDb (@IMDb) web-page for the film) :

Claudio Zulian [23 September 2015] :
Interview with Claudio Zulian Anthony Davis spoke to Claudio Zulian, the creator of the film BORN, which screened at this year’s Cambridge Film Festival. [BORN follows the 18th century adventures of coppersmith Bonaventura, his sister Marianna and the rich merchant Vicenç, in the disappeared neighbourhood of El Bornet in Barcelona.]

Daisy Hudson [14 January 2017] :
Half Way We spoke to Daisy Hudson whose documentary chronicles her family’s devastation when they find themselves at the mercy of the housing crisis. [HALF WAY chronicles the experience of a family of three women trapped in a homeless limbo.]

Desiree Akhavan [20 September 2018] :
Interview with Desiree Akhavan Anthony Davis spoke to Desiree Akhavan at the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse recently after the screening of her film THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. He began by asking whether she had been influenced by ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST or GIRL, INTERRUPTED

Dunstan Bruce [17 October 2014] :
A curious life We spoke to Dunstan Bruce at Cambridge Film Festival this year about his documentary A CURIOUS LIFE, which follows the winsome Jeremy 'The Levellers' [@the_levellers] Cunningham on a trip down memory lane via squids, folk-punk festival mayhem and the Battle of the Beanfield

Hammudi Al-Rahmoun Font [9 January 2015] :
Font's Othello Anthony Davis spoke to Hammudi Al-Rahmoun Font about his entertaining and provocative Catalan adaptation of OTHELLO, screened at CFF2014

Otel.lo (Othello) (2012) ~ ~ @otel_lo

Ken Loach [6 June 2014] :
In conversation with Ken Loach Ken Loach visited the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse with his new film JIMMY’S HALL; Anthony Davis spoke to him about journalistic vitriol and corporate propaganda

Laura Rossi [17 October 2014] :
Interview with Laura Rossi Anthony Davis spoke to composer Laura Rossi about her experience writing music for BFI Silent Film JANE SHORE (1915), currently touring the UK

Magali Pettier [28 August 2015] :
Addicted to Sheep Anthony Davis spoke to Magali Pettier, farmer’s daughter and director of ADDICTED TO SHEEP, which follows a year in the lives of two sheep farmers.

Mar Coll [27 September 2014] :
[Appended to Rebecca Naghten's] review of We All Want What's Best For Her (2013)
Anthony Davis spoke to director Mar Coll after the screening, focusing on the mental-health-related themes in the film. (An extract of the interview follows.)

Marc Quinn / Gerry Fox [23 July 2015] :
Interview with Marc Quinn & Gerry Fox [Although there is now a link to the full interview] On 23 July the Arts Picturehouse screened MAKING WAVES, a documentary in which Gerry Fox records one year in the life of Marc Quinn. The film delves into the nature of creativity, following Quinn across the globe. Shortly before the post-screening Q&A we spoke to director Fox and subject/artist Quinn about his notorious “shit-head”, his bromance with Fox and the film’s examination of Quinn’s Warhol style “assembly line of art workers”.

Raf V. [11 February 2018] :
Vlogumentary joy with Rafael V. In his 2017 documentary JOY, vlogumentary maker Rafael V. asks what it means to be happy – where can we find joy ? A few months on from the film’s release, Anthony Davis caught up with Rafael to discuss his personal approach to cinéma vérité, reflect on what he learned from making this film, and find out about his next project.

Toby Amies [6 November 2013] :
Interview with Toby Amies Filmed predominantly in his cave, haven, call it what you will, of a council flat, Toby Amies’ touching portrait follows ageing maverick Drak [self-styled Drako Zarharzar] as he goes about his everyday life, or rather his every second. Anthony Davis spoke to Toby Amies following the screening at Cambridge Film Festival.

William Fowler [12 October 2012] :
Interview with William Fowler Following the collection of works, featuring or directed by Bruce Lacey, that he brought to the 2012 Cambridge Film Festival, I spoke to William Fowler, who is Curator of Artists’ Moving Image at the BFI (British Film Institute [@BFI])

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

Monday, 14 July 2014

You need a Grand Budapest sticker to go abroad...

This is a follow-up piece to a review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

14 July

Isn't he superb, @WaterbabyFlower @Saffronscreen ! My second time, but his own timing is grand, and Anderson's script / detail nigh perfect

This follow-up piece to a review of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was written on watching it again at Saffron Screen (@SaffronScreen) : it is less in the nature of a second review, than a rumination on the film's themes and ultimate import

That deft substitution, of a clean ashtray for a dirty one, is only a moment, but it says what's at the heart of The Grand Budapest Hotel ->

The ashtray is mentioned because, at the bottom of the fresh ashtray, we see – which were effaced by butts, ash, soot¹ (if only as temporary deposits) in the dirty one – the essentials of The Grand Budapest Hotel : the crest, and the ‘GB’ within its swirls, its initials.

-> That moment and when GustaveH. trivializes Zero as a migrant, before realizing what he fled as a refugee and apologizing in remorse / GB

Throughout the film, we are reminded that Gustave H. (personified by the words, manner and decorum of Ralph Fiennes – abruptly swearing like a trooper, but with a heart and caring attitude of gold) is a creature of the past, a man who wants to preserve the things that not only matter to him, but which he also believes do (or, at any rate, should) matter in absolute terms². Yet, as he travels both to, and back from, Schloß Lutz with Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), he realizes that the future is coming, and, rather than intending to keep the utterly fictitious³ Boy with Apple for the rest of his life (as he first states), he quickly revises his plan to have them sell it and run away to The Maltese Riviera.

Gustave H. offers a share in this to Zero, who tries to haggle before they agree on a deal, which (as an element in Anderson’s mockery of legality during the film⁴), he dictates to Zero, as if something noted on the back of a cocktail menu suffices for a binding contract – as such a man of his word might, if only to safeguard the interests of the other party (who need only, if memory fails, produce the memorandum of agreement (as, with good reason, such a document is called)).

The deal is to include inheriting from Gustave H., but it is only later – at the other crucial Tweeted moment – that they come to see each other as brothers. More interestingly still, they become equals, with Gustave deferring to Zero with his proposal to escape on the motorbike (just after Zero has saved his life), for which the trigger was Gustave’s heartfelt remorse, having realized how he has maligned Zero by imagining insulting reasons for his originally leaving his homeland. (And, if we are honest, we have all allowed ourselves, through disappointment, envy and the like, to judge wrongly by appearances – we trusted that we know the story from what we [thought that we] saw, only to be proved quite wrong.) :

The second time, near the end of our nest of stories, that Gustave sticks up for Zero, there is a different feel to the confrontation that we see. Which is not just because the ZZ militia are menacing⁵, on whose black uniform Gustave commented unfavourably just before (and which we can easily construe as the SS, with the formerly independent Zubrowka (the brand-name of a Polish vodka), maybe masquerading for The Sudetenland, if not more likely for Austro-Hungary, hence Budapest ? – there is further consideration, below, in an Epilogue).

The two other elements in this scene, which are intimately related to each other, are how close our awareness is of the point of view of the narrator, older Zero (having dinner with the younger Author (Jude Law)), which is on the surface of the story at around this point, and also the much greater esteem in which Zero, travelling with his bride Agatha, is held by Gustave, and vice versa (as long as Gustave does not flirt with Agatha !). Gustave is no longer instinctively protecting Zero as a lobby-boy (in training), but altogether as a friend, brother, and former refugee from violence (and we maybe sense that Gustave himself could be the last of these, too).

We know quite clearly that Gustave has his foibles, such as self-interestedly courting and bedding the wealthy female guests, but it is humanity, and his charming mix of naivety and streetwise cunning, that shines through. Right at the outset, with just baldly calling Author the person through whose words and eyes, as Tom Wilkinson (and then Jude Law), Wes Anderson wildly abstracts the story, he challenges us as to whether we are going to believe all this.

Of course, by the end, Gustave and the whole cast is indelible (with Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and others taking star turns), even if refracted through Zero, and through him as he ages, and what (according to older Author) older Zero then tells younger Author – of course, none of this ever happened (as we may sense with Stefan Zweig’s writings), but it feels as though it could have done, on some level - where Mendl’s is a make of cake (apparently, the principal confection is a Courtesan au Chocolat).

Is the film just Andersonian entertainment, or is it saying more to us amongst the sight-gags (such as that cheeky Schiele painting, or the rib-tickling skiing / sledding sequence) ? As with Moonrise Kingdom (2012), there are patent depths amongst the humour – the pairs of young lovers have the same frank awkwardness (e.g. Zero giving Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) the gift, in which we have another ‘Z’, with his having dedicated it ‘From Z to A’), which in no way detracts from their love, but the sense of doom that is in the earlier film (and lifts (somewhat)) only enters in earnest with the ZZ. At the same time, the trigger-happy firefight with the ZZ set off by Dmitri (Adrien Brody) reminds of easy-spirited boneheaded moments in films such as Westerns from the 1960s, or skits on them by the likes of Mel Brooks or Woody Allen (all looking back to the era of The Keystone Cops / Kops), and is part of making this grand hotel seem utterly real (with that shot of the glass ceiling, amazingly unscathed by gunfire !).

The hotel, though, and the other-worldly, old-fashioned decency and good manners of its concierge, what about them… ? When older Zero says, effectively, that Gustave had been, even then, fighting a rear-guard action for such principles, are we not reminded a little by the initials GB in that ashtray of our own Great Britain ? Billy Bragg, on the album England, Half English (especially in the song ‘Take Down The Union Jack’), certainly wants to pose questions about the ‘greatness’ of Britain (and such honours as Orders of the British Empire), but is it possible that Anderson is being as political with this film – that his ‘bloody immigrant’, as Gustave first really sees Zero, is our refugee, our asylum-seeker, condemned for years by an element of the British press, and mocked along with human rights ?

Well, Anderson’s non-specific / generic ‘Author’ is British, and his younger self, at the end (and as if ashamed of himself, and how he came by the basis for writing a book called The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we see at the beginning with the Author's young fan), relates how he did not ever see Zero again (after nerving himself to ask, through curiosity, what he thinks an impolite question, just before M. Moustafa and he part that night), and how he continued ‘his cure’ for a long time elsewhere in the world – whereupon the layers of narration promptly unwind again.

Put crudely, he came to this hotel that smacks of The Eastern Bloc, and, having what he wants (and which gets a statue erected to him in due course, and admiring hotel-key-bearing fans), casually absents himself : at times, M. Moustafa feels as though he has told too much, whereas, for young Author, it is the standard British mode (more so perhaps in that era than now) of getting away from feelings that are ‘near the knuckle’ by just suddenly closing down.

Anderson would hardly be the first writer / director to get our attention on issues such as what makes a refugee by setting the film / play / novel somewhere else : we see it in Ken Loach / Paul Laverty’s Jimmy’s Hall (2014), just as we did in the former’s Land and Freedom (1995) (collaborating with screenwriter Jim Allen), and we equally see it in Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, tackling in Philomena (2013) issues that are not unique to that time or that Irish setting. (It is perhaps, there, too easy to get riled and identify with the fictionalized reactions of Steve Coogan as Sixsmith, whereas the film, as The Railway Man (2013) also desires, seeks for us to identify with the response that Philomena, and Eric Lomax, find within them.)

But, of course, the fantastic Fiennes is overflowing with lusciously camp aristocratic British manners, but breaking into hilarious coarseness when he cannot quite see the point of maintaining the illusion : Anderson’s gives him, and us, hope in The Order of The Cross Keys, which embraces everyone, and is a lifeline that feeds both the plot (with the elaborate arrangements to meet doomed Serge (Mathieu Amalric – an actor with a perpetual look of surprise)), and restores Gustave’s bonhomie, aided by puffs of his precious Air de Panache (the joke / clue is in the name) – as he said to Zero at the sewage-exit and with mortified self-disgust, I smell ! (and Zero, with a sniff, concurs).

Perhaps an appeal to the fair-mindedness that once mattered about being British. For, in this film, if Gustave had not saved Zero, Zero could not, in return, have saved him – and been around to tell the tale… In Gustave H., and despite the brilliant humour and wonderful high jinks, cannot Anderson be seen to be asking the British (amongst others) a question ? :

Gustave, in his decency and striving to put people at his ease, embodies a notion of Britishness that, if not gone already, is soon to disappear – are we happy to lose it, if we do not look beyond our stereotypes of immigrants, and our ostrich-like (it-is-not-my-business) failure to stand up for our fellow human-beings when we can (as we also see exemplified in Loach and Laverty’s portrayal of the real-life Jimmy Gralton…) ?


Finally, it is mentioned above that Zubrowka, which is clearly stated to be an independent republic (so there is an act of war by the invading ZZ forces), shares its name with that of a brand of Polish vodka.

Here, Anderson is certainly playing with us, just as he is by ending with a grand sequence for balalaika orchestra over the closing credits (he usually dispenses with opening ones) – which suggests, despite all the Germanic names, that maybe we are further into Eastern Europe – and likewise by having Vivaldi transposed for mandolins as a stately musical accompaniment to when we are ‘getting to know’ the GB.

To close, here are some hints at what is recollected of a few other ways in which Anderson has laid little jokes or clues (beyond such running jokes as Gustave quite casually saying Uh-huh every time that he is asked if he is who he is, until he finally and superbly loses his rag and magnificently swears in exasperation !) :

* The resort where the GB is appears to be called Nebelstadt, which crudely translates as Fogtown – we see the fog at the observatory, and earlier when the stag-statue is introduced with the first sight of the hotel's façade

* Why are we stopping by a barley-field ?, asks Gustave on the train to Lutz (also called fucking Lutz) : which begs the question how, when the ground is covered with snow, Gustave knows what sort of field it is, or calls it that :

Well, die Gerste is German for ‘barley’, so a field might be Gerstenfeld – or, as der Acker also means ‘field’ (our word 'acre', plural die Äcker), one might be reminded of Gerstäcker, a character who is part of K.’s maddening experience in Kafka’s unfinished novel Das Schloß (The Castle - a link here for those to whom it is unfamiliar, despite Michael Haneke’s excellent film), as well as the fascinating life of Friedrich Gerstäcker, one-time proprietor of a hotel in Louisiana during his first travels in the States.

* Made by Mendl’s, though Gustave has little time for Mendl himself, we see a confection that is at the root of much gleeful mischief, as cakes bribe Agatha’s - then Zero and Gustave’s - way into anything (despite an iron-heeled regime, whose forces just end up shooting at each other), and also provide the way out of confinement, too, as well as being a soft landing for Agatha and Zero (just as, in Moonrise, Suzy and Sam are faced with plummeting, but spared) :

The friar Gregor Mendel is the most famous bearer of the name, as the man who experimented with pea plants and discovered something about inheritance between different generations – the contraction to Mendl is a habit of alpine regions (amongst other places), and so the name itself appears to be a diminutive of die Mandel, meaning ‘almond’ (a significant ingredient in marzipan, of course)

* We go to a Schloß, Schloß Lutz, where Gustave pays his respects to an Anderson regular in Tilda Swinton (the embodiment of the functional and largely soulless Social Services in Moonrise, pushing papers, etc., and just doing a job) :

The jokes at the coffin (and on the train to Lutz) aside, Swinton is splendid as this 84-year-old with zest – maybe that name Lutz reminds us, deep down of the jump in figure-skating of that name, and thus prepares us for the snowy antics / acrobatics to come (as we are unlikely to see it as a short-form of Ludwig, with the connection to Ludwig of Bavaria’s fairytale Rhineland castles, of which the GB is, of course, reminiscent) ?

* Last, we have Gabelmeister's Peak, which translates as Forkmaster's, since the place-setting in German is das Messer (knife), die Gabel (fork), and der Löffel (spoon) (one of each gender)

As if all that were not enough, there is an interesting piece about the film's locations from The National Geographic...


¹ As we know, through having seen it, crushing the cigarette to extinguish it produces the former, and with it, that sooty residue, unlike true grey ash.

² A film such as The Way Way Back (2013), through Sam Rockwell as the attractive Owen, shows a similarly encouraging father-figure to a slightly younger equivalent of Zero in Duncan (Liam James). Or The Book Thief (2013) has Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) as a new, kind father to the very much younger Liesel (Sophie Nélisse). (One could go on and on, with ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) in The Color of Money (1986), or Pacino as Lt Col. Frank Slade in Scent of a Woman (1992), etc.)

³ Model and artist are named (separately), as those who stay to read credits – and therefore see and hear the balalaikas (one with a boar within a boar, another people by chimneys of industry) – will know… This state of affairs is quite as we would expect of an Anderson film, and of this world, because of what he created in and for Moonrise Kingdom (2012), but employing the just as real Noye’s Fludde (Benjamin Britten, Op. 59) (and many other Britten works), alongside (as here) a score by Alexandre Desplat : the Wikipedia® entry for the film says more about why Britten is important to Anderson...

⁴ Both in the person of Jeff Goldblum as Deputy Kovacs, with the attempts that makes to get Dmitri (Adrien Brody) to come to heel (the second of which is more costly), and when, for example, Gustave insists on interviewing not only Zero (a sly little echo of Beckettt’s Endgame with all those zeroes ?), but also Agatha - or when he tries to tell the same thuggish Dmitri that the legal nicety is that his mother’s house is not his until after probate.

⁵ This, though, without the physical brutality – and the first pair of bloody noses – of the earlier encounter with authority (until Henckels, played by Edward Norton, intervenes, which he does on Gustave’s customary personal level of grace, courtesy, and gratitude).

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

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A safe space […] where we can dance ?

This is a review of Jimmy’s Hall (2014)

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

2 June (updated 3 June, following Ken Loach's masterly Q&A, as hosted by The Arts Picturehouse's (@CamPicturehouse's) own Jack Toye (@jackabuss))

This is a review of Jimmy’s Hall (2014)

Director Ken Loach first began working with screenwriter Paul Laverty on Carla’s Song (1996), then My Name is Joe (1998), since when (including this one) they have made ten further films together*. Their previous film was The Angels’ Share (2012), but, certainly once we are out of Glasgow, it occupies significantly different territory in terms of historicity and emotional depth from that of Jimmy’s Hall (2014) (even if it is rooted in the world of rare malt whisky, and lost or ‘mothballed’ distilleries) :

The Angels' Share romps with its central conceit, whereas Jimmy’s Hall broods over its. In between, Loach made The Spirit of ‘45 (2013), though…

The opening sequence proper – with just a rill of bright water as variation from the slow process of Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward) and his effects, being hauled along the winding road – complements other moments of transit in the film, just as 1922 (located by the ‘ten years earlier’ of a caption to come around ten minutes later), is an adjunct to understanding where we have begun : parallels, paths, not mapped out, but taken (not lightly), and then What are the sequelae… ?

The story-telling montage has told us much already, with news-reel footage** from New York City of the early-to-late 1920s, showing the boom and bust of The Great Depression : when, after a pivotal moment a good while later on (to which we return anon), Jimmy refers to what happened with The Wall Street Crash, we both have those images, and they have already helped us understand his own history. Personal experience as motivation for campaigning for change, but pitted against the masters and pastors (as we heard them succinctly referred to) and what they wish to protect.

Without a doubt, in Jimmy’s impassioned plea to reject greed in favour of motives such as love, Loach and Laverty are appealing to our times of austerity and downturn. They are pointing the lesson that – though, of course, the film never uses any such word – sustainability, and people being able to have something that they can rely on to ground a worthwhile life, are what being alive should be about, not facing eviction for missing a payment of rent…

In Jim Norton, as Father Sheridan (on ‘the pastor’ side of things), Loach has gone with an inspired choice, casting Father Ted’s Bishop Brennan as the man from the church who is pushing, with landowners / high-ups such as O’Keefe (Brían F. O'Byrne), for the status quo, even embracing (in words, at any rate) the cause of Irish country dancing so that he can denigrate American jazz for (supposedly) seeking to supplant it. Norton has more fire, of a zealous kind, just in his eyes than many another actor would have in the whole of enacting a towering tirade, and he makes a perfect complement for Jimmy (and has his foil in Father Seamus).

Yes, the exact detail may be fable, with exaggeration, conflation or invention, but no one is claiming that this is a bio-pic (whatever defines one), any more than with Saving Mr. Banks (2013). It is a telling of the origins of The Pearse–Connolly Hall 1922, Co. Leitrim, filmed on location there, and in Co. Sligo (which, Ken Loach seemed to be saying in the Q&A, was where the replica was built). It is the telling of Jimmy Gralton (who died on 29 December 1945), even if, in part, fictionalized.

At the start of the film, when the cart has had to interrupt the dancing that Father Sheridan later affects to approve, Jimmy apologizes for having missed ‘Charlie’s funeral’ (his brother) – it is just a fleeting moment, as his mother acknowledges the words, but it hints at exile, exile where his mother may have been under the care of pastoral visits from Sheridan. Loach, who is sceptical of authority and what it does to people’s motives (as in the powerful film Hidden Agenda (1990), set in Northern Ireland at the time of the troubles - and, interestingly, with Jim Norton again and centrally, as Brodie to Brian Cox's well-intentioned Kerrigan), makes Sheridan much more than a one-dimensional figure of self-interest in utilizing police, the landed classes and even the visit of The Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri, and the 31st Eucharistic Congress to further his aims : whatever arm-waving his fellow priest Father Seamus (Andrew Scott) may make, it is he, though not wavering from his opposition, who comes to a grudging respect for Jimmy’s courage.


Laverty’s story-telling also makes us work, needing to listen to what else is said in passing, and giving us, without compromise, the politics of the 1920s and 1930s, following the end (of which captions told us) of The Civil War : the world that he shows has a vivid disconnection between the rule of law (represented by the court and its judgements) and what happens when power is exercised on the ground, but concertedly coming together in the closing scenes. Just as with the earlier films referenced (in particular Land and Freedom (1995)), we may not exactly follow the ins and outs of the political machinations, but we see again the broad thrust of unholy alliances, betrayals, and seeking self-determination.


At the centre of this world, for part of the time and offering hope (as does the enthusiasm of Marie (Aisling Franciosi)), is Oonagh (Simone Kirby), and our piecing together her story, in the context of the reasons for Jimmy’s absence and return. In particular, the heightened reality of the moonlight scene - if one surrenders to it - is electrifying, and part of the sure use of light in this film***, as also when Jimmy sets foot in the building, and starts opening the shutters. At one point soon after, not necessarily through our inattention, but seemingly in a wish to show how little separates the two initial time-periods, we hesitate, because the subdued colours are suddenly gone (though their brilliance was always suggested by Oonagh’s hat, as she cycles away in the gloaming from Jimmy's homecoming), to say when in time we are.

The credentials of Jimmy’s Hall to be a well-made feature are compounded by little technical things such as sparing use of soft focus, but varying the depth of field from a tight one (within which faces are brought in and out of sharpness), or a more generous one to encompass the wider sweep of a scene – and the full-throated whirl of the dance (inside the hall, as against outside on the road), whilst letting us imagine that we see Jimmy show us some dance-steps, but doing much of it by suggestion from the waist (or thereabouts) up.

Other hallmarks to notice are the quality of the writing and editing, the extent to which – in the two scenes where there is discussion in the hall – the debate is on multiple levels (as in Land and Freedom), for and against, and how violence (or the threat of it) tinges the hope that Jimmy’s supporters give him, and he finds in Oonagh. The performances from Ward, Kirby, Norton are strong, and committed to the truth of this film as one feels that McDonagh and his crew, led by Brendan Gleeson, are to that of Calvary (2014).

Ultimately, how we respond to this piece of work here should depend less on what Jimmy’s politics (we see him take stock when leafing through a book by James Connolly) may have been than on his principled care for others : though Loach and Laverty present scant favourable view of the likes of Sheridan and O’Keefe, they give enough idea of the complexity of the political situation in The Republic, and, as with The Spanish Civil War (in Land and Freedom), how alignments and changing coalitions not only affect the course of history, but individual human beings.


* Sources : IMDb’s page for Laverty, and Loach on Loach (Faber & Faber (ed. Fuller, Graham), London, 1998, p. 78) in the excellent Faber series where directors talk about their films, broadly chronologically.

About Laverty, Loach says Then Carla’s Song came out of the blue. Paul Laverty, who had been working as a civil rights lawyer in Nicaragua, got in touch with us about doing a script after he had been there [p. 105].

** As deftly assembled as in Spirit of ’45 – or, for that matter, interspersed in the two time-periods of Land and Freedom (1995) (Loach working with Jim Allen, just before starting with Laverty).

*** Several people in the Q&A commented on how well light had been used, and Loach had nothing but praise for cinematographer Robbie Ryan (who is not even given a credit on IMDb's web-page for the film !), who, we were told, had largely used available light (shooting on Kodak stock).

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

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Forty-eight, going on fifteen

This is a review of A Story of Children and Film (2013)

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

26 April (updated 28 April)

This is a review of A Story of Children and Film (2013)

Mark Cousins (@markcousinsfilm) came to Cambridge with his film A Story of Children and Film (2013) (@ChildrenandFilm), which he told us that he had not been intending to make after – as he described it – six years making, and two years editing, The Story of Film : An Odyssey (2011).

The film was here both in its own right, and to introduce a series of films – The Cinema of Childhood – that has been curated by Cousins and by Filmhouse (@Filmhouse) (which was sourced with the assistance of Neil McGlone (@NeilMcGFilm)) and which has been showing since at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse) (of which there are reviews here of Palle Alone in the World (Palle Alene i Verden) (1949) and Bag of Rice) (Kiseye Berendj) (1998)).

Cousins had previously been at The Arts for the showing of the last part of Odyssey (which had been screened in full in preceding weeks), and of his new film What is This Thing Called Love ? (2012), and had been an agreeable and interesting guest.

This time, as well as eloquently introducing Children and Film and explaining how it had come about and how personal its genesis had been, Cousins was not making special pleading for the way in which he had constructed the film* : he had simply realized, in looking at the filming that he had done (in his home and with the camera in a static position) of his nephew and niece, that the patterns of behaviour that they showed, as they got used to the camera and, together and singly, played, gave him a way of being reminded of the roles for children in the best films that feature them, rather than those that impose an adulthood on a child before its time :

As he suggests at, Cousins contrasted the sweet perfection of Shirley Temple (Curly Top (1935)) with the young girl who puts on a family entertainment with Esther (Judy Garland) in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and who is allowed to make mistakes and be out of key, as, of course, many a child would.

At the same time, Cousins is not singling out St. Louis as a film that we would necessarily go to, but wants to introduce us to examples from all around the world from Senegal to Sweden, and also reminds us to look again at others that we may already know, such as Ken Loach’s Kes (1969), Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955), David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946), Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), and even Spielberg’s E.T. : The Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

Punctuated by returning to the Cousins’ flat for more development of what is happening with the relatives on screen, but looking first, by paying a homage to where Vincent Van Gogh lived in Provence at the end of his life, at the world that the painter created in his work as he interpreted his surroundings, Cousins wants to remind us that making a film is projecting a visual and aural view of the world (and the poetic element in what he said to us was patent). Those views, and real life in Cousins’ home, do provide a contrast and a structure – if we can take them on their own terms, and accept, when he tells us, that he did consider other structures to this film, rather than using the original one, but found that nothing worked as well.

Children and Film, though it has a shorter running-time and is a very different type of film, is as demanding of us as Slavoj Žižek is of us in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), because Cousins does not slacken his pace or his use of terms to describe the camera’s movement or position, and ideally one needs to see the film several times over to take in all that he is not only saying at any one point, but to absorb the action in the clips, and the information such as the film’s name, translation and where and when made.

An excellent reason to order the DVD from Dogwoof (@dogwoof) (available from 28 April), but, in the meantime, the list of films featured can be found here :

The film was also reviewed here by Amanda Randall (@amandarandall5) for TAKE ONE (@TakeOneCFF) at Cambridge Film Festival in 2013

To correct an omission

Those who know Cousins' camera-work will be well aware that he is a skilled cinematographer, but the quality of the images, their framing and composition, when he had travelled on to the Isle of Skye is beautiful : a real treat where it comes, because what has gone before has been the footage captured in the flat and clips from his chosen films, even if the opening, which seems a while away now, had been in Provence. (Whether he had linearly been contemplating the possible significance as a frame for this film of his niece and nephew at play, and had developed detailed ideas by the time of his time on Skye, really does not matter, for, in a sense, this is a story just as even any memory that we have is, a way of telling to the world what happened.)


* Cousins had the large sheet on which he had worked out the connections between films with him, which those daring enough to approach afterwards were able to see close to.

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

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Don’t play hide and seek with reality !*

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9 March

This is a review of a special screening (from 35mm) at The Arts Picturehouse (@CamPicturehouse), Cambridge, of Ken Loach’s Hidden Agenda (1990), as presented as part of the series ‘Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories Season’ ( by the University of Cambridge’s CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities)

The invited guests of CRASSH’s own Hugo Drochon, historian Tony Craig and film producer David Hickman, introduced the film and usefully put it in its political and cinematic context. That said, the film was made a quarter of a century ago, and what we might know now (assuming that Sinclair is right that there is a consensus) about the truth of claims that there was a Tory smear campaign against Harold Wilson may not have been available at the time of this film (and in 1998 – please see the title cited, below) – or not easily to director Ken Loach (or Jim Allen – please see below). (Hickman stated, both before and following the screening, that he thinks that Loach did believe the story about a smear.)  

Besides which, although Loach has close relationships with his writers, Jim Allen is solely credited with producing the script (i.e. not as a co-writer with Loach) : if, therefore, it were germane that talk in the film of a Wilson plot does not accord with the evidence that we have (for it may not be germane, if this is a fiction - please see below), Allen as well as Loach must presumably have ‘bought into’ that notion at the time, even if only enough to make it a part of the skeleton on which the piece is built.

And, historically verifiable accounts apart, the basic message remains : rubbishing others and their reputations can and has been used throughout history by those seeking power (or seeking it for others, e.g. from the US operations with various regimes in Central America to Julius Caesar and Ralph Fiennes' film Coriolanus (2011) (as based on Shakespeare)), irrespective of what are asserted as laudable reasons for so doing.

In other words, the film need not just revolve in its own world, but can be a paradigm for how power is sought, gained and held. This is probably what Loach means in his description of the film (quoted interviewed by Graham Fuller as part of the favoured Faber & Faber series on this blog, Loach on Loach**) :

I guess it’s best described as a fiction inspired by fact

Earlier, Loach talks to Fuller, the book’s editor, about the film’s critical reception, saying that :

You hope some of these notions [sc. about what British forces or public servants have done] linger with people in the audience, but in terms of public debate it’s very difficult to get anything started. One of the ongoing frustrations of film-making is that you try to put out a set of ideas or a piece of evidence in front of an audience, while being as gripping and as entertaining as you can, but critics never deal with the substance or follow up on the questions you’re asking in a film.

Is this why you regard most film criticism as decadent ?

I think so, yes. The critics will examine the brush strokes, but they won’t stand back and see the content of the painting. I don’t know why that is.
[Ibid., pp. 82–83]

Paradigm or not as the film may be intended to be, it is, as Hickman pointed out, beautifully lit, using available light – not strictly so, as he explained afterwards, but as near to it as could be, and a model that, he observed, has been taken over by Hollywood in the interim. (Regarding watching the print, Hickman observed how different the scene looks when Harris is partly in darkness, and then comes into the light, with which the DVD version does not compare.) In the introduction to the chapter in which he deals with, amongst other films, Hidden Agenda, Fuller explains where the film and Loach’s collaborations fit in with his career to date :

Following the critically acclaimed and appropriately controversial Hidden Agenda (1990), their [sc. Loach and Allen’s] initial film collaboration, they went on to make Raining Stones (1993) and Land and Freedom

[…] The third factor [in ‘this not unextraordinary renaissance’]*** was the teaming of Loach and Barry Ackroyd, who has photographed all of Loach’s features since Riff-Raff and has brought to them the kind of uncompromising visual rawness that had been lacking from Loach’s films in the Looks and Smiles era. Ackroyd’s cinematography restored to Loach’s and his writers’ world its aesthetic integrity. […]
[Ibid., pp. 78–79]

To contemporary viewers, Brian Cox and Maurice Roëves may be very familiar faces****, from which we can take some comfort in this sinister scenario, and both seem just right for their roles (supported, in the former case, by John Benfield (as Maxwell)) – even physically, Cox has the solidity to be a high-ranking policeman (which we believe will translate into moral and intellectual weightedness), Roëves the wiriness that fits a man on the run. The triangle of principals is completed by Frances McDormand, who shows singular self-determination and sheer spunk as Ingrid Jessner, the woman whose partner, with Harris, is at the (apparent) centre of matters. Unknown to her, and to Kerridge and Maxwell, everything about them has been researched, and they are less the investigators (she with a civil liberties group to which her partner and she belong, he to the police force) than the investigated.

We have high hopes, almost alongside Loach, that Kerridge will do the job with which he has been entrusted, and not worry about putting a few noses out of joint, as we see him happily doing for much of the film. The nub of the film is to lead us to understand how limited his room for manoeuvre is, hence the relevance to a season about conspiracy and the theories that postulate its existence : it is a moot point whether all who infer 'hands at work behind the scenes', and hence a hidden agenda, embrace the terms ‘conspiracy [theorists / theory]’ to describe themselves and what they believe happened or is happening, or whether it is a term of abuse***** from those who dismiss both theories and theorists. Not always from a position of power, such as that from which the film’s Sir Robert Neil (Bernard Archard) and Alec Nevin (Patrick Kavanagh) address Kerridge, but usually with derision.

As the film’s tension builds from that point, one wonders whether it is going to end, for Ingrid, as for a young-seeming Meryl Streep in Silkwood (1983) – or for Harris… In the event, one is reminded of those shocking moments in other depictions when the ground has, stealthily and step by step, been taken out from someone... until the teetering denouement is, because of the physics of gravity, an inevitability – for want of a better analogy, a demise of the kind that David Carradine (as Bill), in Kill Bill Volume 2 (2004), is unaware of facing.

Loach and Allen tell their story with care, and are, for example, content to show us Harris amongst the vividness and noise of the Orange Order parades, but without telling us till later who he is, because they trust that we will recall him and his behaviour. Kerridge and Ingrid are both intended to invoke our sympathies as seeking the truth, although they take different paths and end up diverging (which, of course, only adds to the drama).

This is a film that looks very good cinematically, and still has much to say, Sinclair’s objections as to its historicity apart (it is a document, of a sort, of its own time, however we judge Loach’s politics and where they have him lean) – both emotionally and as to how the world works. As to what Allen and he sought to weave together, perhaps the final word should be left to Loach (continuing the short quotation above) :

It’s very close in the depiction of the murders that were carried out by the RUC and in the corrupting effect of the British presence in Northern Ireland, but the whole issue of fact or fiction gets quite tricky at this point, and I’m not sure we solved it altogether satisfactorily – or the attempt to weave together the Stalker elements with the conspiracy against Wilson.
[Ibid., p. 84]


* As Kerridge (Brian Cox) is told, before he is ultimately manipulated into accepting the reality propounded by the film’s conspirators (rather than exposing the reality behind it) : for, as they candidly tell him, they did what they did, it cannot be undone, and they did it – and still think it – ‘for the best’. (The old Machiavellian-style ends over means argument…)

** London, 1998, p. 84.

*** The second being sympathetic producers Rebecca O’Brien and Sally Hibbin.

**** Cox, for example, from Menenius in Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011) (as well as the voice of disembodied and recreated Alan Watts in Her (2013)), and Roëves from the Chief Inspector in Brighton Rock (2010) (or even Colonel Munro in The Last of the Mohicans (1992)).

***** Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3) has renamed its late-night arts programme Free Thinking, but there were times when to be called a freethinker was meant in a wholly derogatory way.

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

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The ferocity and frailty of war

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21 November

97 = S : 17 / A : 16 / C : 17 / M : 15 / P : 16 / F : 16

A rating and review of Land and Freedom (1995)

S = script

A = acting

C = cinematography

M = music

P = pacing

F = feel

9 = mid-point of scale (all scored out of 17, 17 x 6 = 102)

* Contains spoilers *

This film, set relatively early in the Spanish Civil War, not only has some gorgeous music by George Fenton, which only momentarily attracts one’s attention when it should not, but some very good acting and scripting. Director Ken Loach, working with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, fills the screen with the immediacy of faces, and, at the times when David Carr (Ian Hurt) is part of the militia (POUM), immerses one in the vibrancy of that life and comradeship.

Loach also puts a distance on it, by the medium of (what turns out to be) David’s granddaughter Kim reading the letters that he sent back from the front, with a deliberate alienation that he is somehow able to send back photographs of those alongside whom he is fighting – despite never seeing a camera, one might come up with an explanation where he gets films developed on leave, but it seems wiser to infer that Loach intends it symbolically.

The effect of those photos being looked through puts the events that are being so vividly shown, and with such a colour palette, back into history as ‘old photos’, along with the folded press clippings : unless we can stop and think, clearly the latter had not been sent with the former, but have ended up together as a subjective account along with (in the newspaper) a supposedly objective one.

Hurt is never better than when his voice is heard reading his letters aloud as Kim looks at them, and the images from abroad. On screen, probably deliberately, he seems a shadow of what we hear, which makes him perfect to be afloat in a world of politics and coalitions that are convenient only for a time – there may be a film that does not leave one confused about the rights and wrongs of the situation, of which Eyes on the Sky and The Forest are but two, and in need of a reliable history*, but Loach captures the incomprehension of people who find themselves on opposite sides.

The scene around the table in the town in Aragon that has been liberated is telling : Loach has the local people at the centre of the scene, but, at the margins, three pondering shots of members of the militia in civvies and casting glances, or speaking quietly, to each other. Before they are invited into the discussion, this makes it look like a mistake that they have been given nothing to add, but, afterwards, they make quite clear that they have views, the differences in which feed into the succeeding action.

Add to this guilt, the horrors of war and of retribution, a love story (Blanca, full of conviction, well played by Rosana Pastor), and needless death, and there is a powerful film, which maintains its pace, and does not deliver short on how divided those united against the fascists were. Loach, although he is known for left-wing inclinations, pulls no punches on that account.


* Before the screening at Cambridge Film Festival, curator of the Catalan series, Ramon Lamarca, helped alleviate some difficulty regarding the anti-fascists and the International Brigade, whereas the husband whose family is at the centre of things is, although a conservative, not for that a fascist. The town shown being captured, which may be Mirambel or Morella (whose people are thanked in the credits), appeared to be the local town in the Catalan film.

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