Follow by e-mail

Showing posts with label Peter Gabriel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Peter Gabriel. Show all posts

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

'The Thief of Time' (another nupe ohm)

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

6 April

The Thief of Time

After Peter Gabriel’s ‘That Voice Again’

The stolen seconds do not tick away
When we lie embraced, excluding the day
And its other worlds of What might have been :

Not then our full reflection on the seen,
The heard, felt and drunk, the skin’s lovely sheen,
And the moans and grunts in which – some say ? –

Body truly communicates itself
To body and mind to mind, indiscrete
As penis pushes its passage, soft pelf
Touches kind, and lips seek where they can meet.

Later, cakes and ale all spent, is when Time
Makes stock-take. Asks how this was well meant ? ;
This, though said or done ill, is not a crime ? ;
Or what (unsaid by both) the mind’s intent ?

© Belston Night Works 2016

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

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Strange transmissions

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

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

11 February

This is a review of Father and Son (2003)

Sokurov is often referred to as Aleksandr, but is here credited as Alexander. In any case, his directing gives us a screen-world that mixes (as T. S. Eliot has it*), memory and desire, except that it is memory and desire and dream… Dreaming, though, where son can talk to father from outside it (and vice versa), and ask what it is like, which Russell Hoban prefigured by publishing Amaryllis Night and Day in 2001 (hardly uniquely, since it is likewise the stuff of Ursula Le Guin and Earthsea, which has its roots elsewhere).

In no way repeating Mother and Son (1997), but not disappointing those who watch Father and Son (2003) by the strength of the performances or the writing, Sokurov dwells on the awkwardnesses in life that bring us so close or so far apart (as Peter Gabriel puts it**) : British and Russian politeness / society are not poles apart, and changing the subject is just as much part of (Chekhov or) this film as is suddenly talking about the weather.

A delirious moment, of nigh-febrile intensity, begins the film, bringing us at once inside the physicality of Alexei and his dad’s life and love, both for others and for each other. To this kind of soldierly behaviour, not only Britishness may not easily relate, and so find in it the homoeroticism that Sokurov seems to have wanted to dismiss [NB link is to a review that mentions Sokurov's reaction], even if there is quite intentional ambiguity about so much in what we see.

So, in a beautifully crafted and cut-together scene, where Aleksei Neymyshev (Alexei) talks to Marina Zasukhina through, and around, the narrow aperture of a window, we do not even know for sure though we may surmise, since this is in a barracks why the window cannot be opened more widely, let alone who they are to each other, or why Alexei’s father (Andrei Shchetinin) has also come to visit. Later, the script has Alexei almost stumble upon an encounter that almost mocks, perhaps, Shakespeare’s balcony scene, yet at the same time bringing out the tension and sense of daring in wooing, as in any interaction.

To say little more, because the film needs to speak for itself and to a willing recipient, the dialogue, and Sokurov’s tight direction of scenes, both keep at the human level. Even so, the filming introduces visual distortions, say, with the tram, or has us impossibly trying to follow ‘the action’ of Alexei with, and in the company of, his fellow military colleagues, wrestling and struggling in pursuit of exercise and expertise in hand-to-hand, unarmed combat watching too closely, or trying too much to follow, and missing what else is in the film-frame.

If Chekhov is a struggle (because we cannot see, or relate to, what is unsaid in all that is said in, say, Uncle Vanya, or The Seagull), or if Pinter’s wordy silences seem awkward (which serve a similar purpose, at times, of making us aware of the underlying sub-texts to our lives and actions ?), that may disincline us to watch Father and Son. Yet one could still try it, but by giving oneself to 83 mins in the undiluted medium of cinema without trying to understand how the reimagined musical scores or its interplay with the soundscape work, or the heightening and lowering effects with light : so, surrendering, as to a dream-world that is another’s life, to what the camera shows us, chooses to show us.


* In the very opening of Book I (‘The Burial of the Dead’) of ‘The Waste Land’ (although only a cursory look at the Faber & Faber facsimile and transcript that Valerie Eliot edited soon has one wondering whether it is Eliot’s poem, or that of Ezra Pound, to whom (in 1925) it was dedicated, and who is credited : Il miglior fabbro). Whilst we are contemplating Eliot, the fact that filming took place in St Petersburg and Lisbon has given something of the effect of his ‘Unreal City’ (via Charles Baudelaire) in Book III (‘The Fire Sermon’, heading the fourth block of lines).

** To quote the lyrics of the track ‘That voice again’ on the album So (or is it So ?).

*** Symbolically, does either desire it or, rather, to continue to peer through the crack, or through the bottom of the pane ? Cinematically, which is what is posing these questions to us, the effect caught is unnerving, electrifying, and perhaps infuriating both in and outside the action, as we try to address what we are seeing…

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

Monday, 9 February 2015

Un séjour avec soju ?

This is a review of A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya) (2014)

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

9 February

This is a review of A Girl at my Door (Dohee-ya) (2014), watched at a special screening at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse), on Thursday 5 February 2015

Introductory - other important Doona Bae roles :

As the Tweet (inevitably pithily) tries to say, there are some significant roles for Doona Bae (or, at any rate, those whose existence is easily known in the West) that appear to be linked (whether that reflects the nature of roles offered to, as well as accepted by, Doona Bae).

When Nozomi, the doll that Hideo (Itsuji Atao) buys in Air Doll (2009), comes to life (as played by Doona Bae), the doll itself / herself is a substitute for a failed affair, and Nozomi is rarely quite one with the world into which she emerges (and from which she ultimately departs) except to the extent that she makes a life for herself and finds others who understand her and her experience.

The idea of a doll come to life is, at heart, just as much a metaphor* – it is up to the viewer with what the metaphorical connection itself is being made – as it is in the case of the so-called fabricants in Cloud Atlas (2012), with Sonmi-451** proving the tenets of AI, in that these created life-forms do become wholly sentient, although only intended to be unemotional, robotic drones.

That said, setting apart The Animatrix (2003) (and its engaging depiction of The Rise of The Machines, desiring equality with mankind – as foreshadowed by Samuel Butler in Erewhon), it is one that the Wachowskis, elsewhere, largely wish to resist in the Matrix world (starting with The Matrix (1999)). For Neo appears to assert a primacy of humanness / humanity – although, in the eyes of The Architect (and on some other scale), Neo may just as much be [reducible to] a piece of code as, in Jupiter Ascending (2015), Jupiter Jones is considered to be genetically identical to the mother of Lord Titus.

However, in this film, Doona Bae (Inspector Young-Nam Lee) is not playing a doll who lived, or a replicant who discovered feelings (including sexual arousal), and became a rallying cry for generations to come, but is a woman, taking care of the girl of the title(not least in the original title, where she is named). Albeit at Lee’s door is not where we first see her, for she is being bullied, and there are some tensions built into that premise…***

In any case, the girl (Dohee) is a mirror to Lee, and she is played with such great plasticity by Kim Sae Ron that one could not believe that one or two other girls had not been sharing the part – an effect not accounted for just by make-up and hair. Lee’s identification with Dohee, and her concomitant compassion and malleability / indulgence, is obvious from the start, though not the depths of – or the reasons for – it.

Whereon hangs the film, were it not that :

* Whether or not one’s constraints are budgetary ones (according to Wikipedia®, the film’s budget was just US $300,000), what the film presents as a small coastal settlement is even more obviously unpopulated than it would be compared, say, to shooting in Seoul – at least, what we see must be a small quarter of Yeosu (which research suggests is actually a city, not a town)

* Even if the script wants to explain that situation away, by saying that Koreans no longer want to live / work there, and that only the person keeping the workers there are in hand is local : in that case, what need a police station, with not a few officers, at which Lee is the ‘station chief’, if the only significant activity is aquatic in nature ?****

* In fact, the cast is so thin on the ground that, apart from the denizens of a hair salon cum village hub, and the group of people who are momentarily present when Lee moves into supposedly temporary accommodation, we have already met everyone else. (Although Lee apologizes to her landlady for the inconvenience of her unexpected arrival, conveniently there is no sign that she is ever going to be housed anywhere else.)

* The world of this film, then, revolves unconvincingly around only the workers, Dohee’s father (who is in charge of the workers, and is the somewhat erratically written and drawn father of Dohee*****), Lee’s fellow officers, and a cashier of a supermarket in an unspecified location (but, in the locality, a police officer does not even recognize Lee whilst she is busy with her bottles of water).

Doona Bae and Kim Sae Ron are both excellent in their roles. Sadly, theirs are the only ones with any substance, for not only is Dohee’s father a cipher (of parental drunkenness), but so is her grandmother – who seems strangely reminiscent of [a more aggressive version of] the one who is initially unsympathetic in Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket(2013) (which is set in Laos)…

NB Possible spoilers in this paragraph
As to Doona Bae’s character, it depends intimately, and even intensely, on that played by Kim Sae Ron, to the extent that it is questionable whether they are, apart from on the level of the attribution of dialogue, actually separable. That notion, if one were seriously encouraged to entertain it from the start to finish in the film, could have been its saving from its immersion in banality, as well as the need to believe that, although Lee is a police inspector, she is not only very naive in her personal dealings, but also lacking in being even plausibly streetwise.

By choice of film to appear in, Doona Bae seems in danger of not usefully claiming for herself the territory of the saintly fool, too good for this world, but forced to be in and of it [as in The Idiot (Idioot) (2011)] : it may suit her aesthetic to take such roles, but they do not ultimately flatter or, more importantly, use her talents. Yes, of course it is a delight to see her infectious smile break through, after sombre scenes where she is forced to be the celebrated guest at some grim event for her induction, but showing wearing ‘a mask’ can only be done so many times (even to the extent that spring water is turned into some sort of saké – or vice versa), however well Doona Bae carries it off, before it become stale.

This film, almost inevitably, reminded of Humbert Humbert (James mason) in Lolita (1962) and of the eye of the beholder, but also of many another scenario where one properly suspects that manipulation (masked by apparent innocence) is at work. For, no doubt for reasons relating to her own past, Lee trusts Dohee (for example, there is an un-ironic scene with tears, harp in the score, and Lee’s tender reaction), rather as Sean Connery does Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964). However, viewers of, say, Catalan cinema may be reminded more by Dohee of Nico (David Solans) in Son of Cain (Fill de Caín) (2013), and doubt the wisdom of Lee’s faith (however much, as heavily implied, Dohee may be the imprint of a young Lee).

The reason being that this is one of those films that opens with a car, clearly being driven a distance, with what we know – from looking towards the front of the car and through the windscreen – is literal baggage in the back. And that, perhaps, is the downfall of any sense of (surprise at) the unfolding of the story, on which it seems to have depended, whereas it all seems – without suggesting dramatic irony – so patent, right from seeing the arrival in a place with a small-town mentality. In Peter Gabriel’s words (from ‘Big Time’, on his album So) :

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out


* This has been a topos since, at least, Adam was fashioned from clay (Genesis 2:7), proceeding through the Greek mythology of Talos and of Hesiod’s Pandora, the Metamorphoses of Ovid, and Pygmalion’s statue there, Paulina’s in The Winter’s Tale, Bernard Shaw’s reimagining of Ovid in Pygmalion (and its own reimagining in My Fair Lady (1964)), etc., etc.

** Doona Bae is also credited, by IMDb (@IMDb), as playing Sonmi-351 :

*** The (apparent) failure to envisage any consequences of the isolated example of intimidation by peers is one that the plot seeks to gloss over by, much later, having Lee stated to be such a feared force (this fear seems little evident at the), and by locating the main time-period of the film outside term, so that nothing comes of it.

Maybe, but it did seem, at one point, as though the serious incident that we witness, where Lee’s mere show of authority is not taken seriously until it becomes referable to their middle school (and whether she follows it up seems doubtful – the plot just seems to have her forget about the issue) : Lee does not, at any rate (which seems to indicate a late shoe-in) raise the question with Dohee until it is unconscionably late, if something had been continuing…

**** It is hardly to be referred to on account of being a better film, but My Sweet Pepper Land (2013) at least avoids one feeling that Baran (Korkmaz Arslan), its police officer, is on anything other than a perilous, corrupt frontier (happily joined there by Govend (Golshifteh Farahani)). The world of A Girl is actually such a world, but with an implausible veneer of law enforcement, and of seeming to be a home to generally law-abiding folk…

***** Regrettably, both note-taking and IMDb let one down on crediting the actor and his role ! However, we are saved NB Link is to a summary of the plot by Wikipedia®, which tells us that he is Park Yong-ha (played by Song Sae-byeok).

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

Monday, 14 April 2014

Bubbling like it’s coming to the boil

This is a review of the Peter Gabriel / Hamish Hamilton gig-film Back to Front (2014)

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

14 April

This is a review of the Peter Gabriel / Hamish Hamilton gig-film Back to Front (2014)

This blog posting revisits the track ‘Steam’, from Peter Gabriel’s album US, on the occasion of the screening of Hamish Hamilton’s documentary Back to Front (2014), which seeks to capture the O2 Arena gig(s) on Gabriel’s tour to celebrate the album So, the seminal fifth studio LP – the film itself was viewed at Cineworld, Stevenage, on 20 March 2014

Gabriel’s lyric for ‘Steam’ (the fourth track on the album US (or, more likely, Us without capitalization), which was released in 1992) is more than the collection of lists that it may at first resemble. For, with its concatenating juxtapositions, Gabriel draws upon sources such as a phrase from The Apostles’ Creed in You know the quick and the dead (which he has rhymed with the polarity of a common form of colour-blindness in You know your green from your red), and they neatly form rhymes that never fail to please, however many times they are heard : a matter both of writing, and of Gabriel’s sure delivery of his own material.

In a way, at least for its upbeat style and tempo, ‘Steam’ looks back to ‘Sledgehammer’ from So (from 1986, on the album So ). Yet, if ‘Sledgehammer’ is a kinky sort of love song (with more than a hint of sexual aggression and suggestion*), the familiarity of knowing another person that is talked of here is not remotely sexual, let alone reverential. Rather, it seems to resemble ‘Big Time’**, but seen from the outside in – its praying to ‘a big god’, kneeling in a big church, and the claim that :
And my heaven will be a big heaven
And I will walk through the front door

So, of this other person, ‘Steam’ says :

When heaven’s doors are shut
You get them open but
I know you

Clearly enough, there is a pattern of shared experience here (a theme that gets revisited in track seven, ‘Digging in the Dirt’), one of having, in all sorts of ways, travelled together, but not – on this side, at least – very happily. Therefore, the relations are uneasy, tense, and the narrating persona finds the other character’s hypocrisy insupportable – or is it resenting the other’s, as it were, ‘lived knowledge’, and using a religious belief as a pretext for discrimination ?

In the preceding track, ‘The Blood of Eden’*** there is a reference to ‘the heated and the holy’, who seem to be in a position of judgement in a song that always suggests that it may, at least in part, concern the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It also, not just by evoking the Biblical Paradise in its title, concerns itself with religiosity :

The heated and the holy
Oh they’re sitting there on high
So secure with everything they’re buying

and :

Is that a dagger or a crucifix I see
You hold so tightly in your hand
And all the while the distance grows between
you and me
I do not understand

If ‘Steam’ does follow on from ‘Blood of Eden’***, then ‘Only Us’ seems to follow after, as a tentative assertion of searching, after finding my way home from / the great escape (a lyric that, with variations, revolves around this lyric), but (to a rhythm like a heartbeat, or a lullaby) :

The further on I go, oh the less I know
I can find only us breathing
Only us sleeping
Only us dreaming
Only us


* One is reminded of The Beatles’ track ‘Helter Skelter’, from what (because of Richard Hamilton’s sleeve design) is usually known as The White Album.

** Which speaks from the inside out, and is also from the album So.

*** It may, on the basis of content, actually begin a run of songs on the album, which form a triptych*** (or, maybe, a longer sequence of four songs, starting with ‘Love to be Loved’…)) : each track on US is a response to a piece of art, of which a reproduction is shown in the CD booklet.

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

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Time-travel and temptation

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

25 January (Burns' Night)

* Contains spoilers *

Following on from Stale old arguments about Scorsese, here is the main act...

The Dean and Chapter of Wells Cathedral may have had screenings in the nave before, but, if so, never like that of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). For one, one's admission is not usually greeted by someone, without explanation offered, handing out what appeared to be a blank slip of paper (usually, the giving or showing is the other way around). It was later found to be a piece of folded A5, but, when asked, the giver said that it was 'an alternative view' (and appeared to be a reprint of a 2* review for the film, as if its existence proved something). For another, the quality of the projection, brought from Festival Central :

There were three introductions to the film, by The Dean, by Scorsese's editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who is also Michael Powell's widow), and (on film) from Scorsese himself for this 25th-anniversary screening, from which we gathered that he had started training for the priesthood, but had not got the necessary grades (and dyslexia was mentioned). The impact of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel on Scorsese became clear, and also the fact that the novel, and the film based on it, is not meant to be a direct Gospel-based account of Jesus' life, but a work of fiction that asks questions. We, too, were invited to ask questions.

The concern about showing a Scorsese film here might have been justified, if it had been Taxi Driver (1976), or even the very immediate Life of Belfont in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - that would have been inappropriate (sacrilege ?), but there is no way on Earth that this film is blasphemous. It simply asks the question, based on Jesus being fully Man and fully God, what if temptation did not end with the forty days in the wilderness, but extended to the cross :

In essence, what if this Jesus of the film were tempted to believe that there is a parallel with Abraham not being required, having shown himself willing, to sacrifice Isaac, and that he, having abandoned wanting the comforts of a life with wife and children and been crucified, has done all that is needed of him, need not actually undergo death this way after all to save Man ? Scorsese imagines this temptation, which has been mentioned earlier, and shows us Satan peddle Jesus his lies that he is like Isaac, and another way has been found.

Theologically, we are thrown back on that moment on the Mount of Olives when Jesus asks Peter, James and John to mount watch and pray whilst he goes off a little way to pray alone (which happens twice in gospel accounts, but once here) : he prays that the cup that he is offered may be taken from him, if it is possible, i.e. that he need not undergo crucifixion. (He has already broken bread and shared a cup of wine with his disciples, saying that they are his body and his blood). The film shows Peter, although Peter is asleep with the other two, present the cup to Jesus for him to drink from (echoing the earlier scene, and invoking transubstantiation), which Jesus takes as his answer that there is no other way.

In the Miltonic vision of the early Books of Paradise Lost, between the Fall of Lucifer / Satan and the Fall of Man, a council in heaven has Jesus volunteer to redeem mankind from the consequences of his as-yet unperformed disobedience - being omniscient, God knows beforehand what will happen, whereas, in John's Gospel, we have 'The Word' being God and with God before the creation of the world (1 : 1), and God sending his only son to give eternal life to believers (3 : 16). Scorsese / Kazantzakis gives us a picture of a Jesus whose certainty as to his mission and messiahship is not constant, who has had Judas close to him before and in his ministry (suggesting that Judas (Harvey Keitel, with orange hair), not John, is 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' ?) and hired by the zealots to kill him, and who has asked Judas to betray him to the officers of the High Priest, which turns out to be just after that moment of prayer*.

The Jesus of this film already knows Mary Magdalene and has called his disciples before he goes into the wilderness, and, as carpenter, has provided the Romans with crosses for crucifixions - all of these things stress that this is not the exact Jesus of the Gospels, as well as the fact that Peter seems to have no very special role (unlike that of Judas), and that we are shown Mary both as an active prostitute, and as 'the woman caught in adultery', with no invitation 'to cast the first stone', because stones have already been cast. All of this alienates us from mistaking Willem Dafoe for the Biblical Jesus, as does our familiarity with the actor - he is not another Robert Powell, this is not Pasolini.

It is a subtle effect, for we have the necessary distance on Jesus come the purging of The Temple, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the further defiance to how The Temple is being run with the claim to rebuild 'this temple' (traditionally, following Paul ?, taken to mean Jesus' own body) in three days. We have seen the raising of Lazarus as a real and frightening struggle with the forces of death, not a casual opening of the tomb (despite the warnings that a body has been in there three days, which becomes a stark reality in this film) and calling to Lazarus to come out.

On the Mount of Olives, then brought before Pilate (David Bowie, before whose scene there is none with Caiaphas or the like), this is a Jesus who has not found it easy to discern his mission, and whom Bowie dismisses as just another to add to the 3,000 skulls on Golgotha. There, Jesus who provided the means to crucify others (and with distorted motives), is nailed up in just the same way, but beforehand, with the way of the cross, Peter Gabriel's soundtrack breaks through into its own, evoking the hubbub, mockery and jeers that we see on the screen - it is almost deafening, and there is a long moment when time stands still and Jesus is forever carrying the cross, being jolted and mocked, and it almost does not let up until Jesus is presented with the title's last temptation.

When this Jesus believes that there is another way, filmically and theologically, several things happen at once : we know that the Gospel accounts and the Christian churches say that Jesus died on the cross, we know that this sweet girl who claims to be his guardian angel must be lying (and that this is the temptation), and we will Jesus to wake up from the deception, which means that we are asking him to die for us, to be The Crucified Saviour, we ask him to give up for us the things in life that are shown desirable to him.

How curious is that, that we should want him to defeat this temptation and die ! A Jesus who even confronts Paul (whom we saw earlier as Saul (Harry Dean Stanton), and whose account of the blinding on the road to Damascus we hear), telling him that he did not die and that Paul's and the other apostles' testimony is false - neither believes the other. If the comparison is not trite, we have a celestial Doctor Who story, certainly a dream sequence, where the deceived Doctor / dreamer cannot spot the clues that he has been tricked, that he did have to die on the cross, that he cannot have what this temptation offered him.

Inevitably, we are thrown back to the temptations manifested as cobra, lion and fire that Jesus experienced in his Richard-Long-like dust-circle in the wilderness, to the doubts and hesitations to which we elsewhere see Jesus subject. Through Scorsese's film, Kazantzakis poses to us the possibility that Jesus could have been tempted on the cross, and the moment is placed when Jesus cries out (in English) words from The Book of Isaiah, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?. Some theologies want to say that, at this moment, Jesus is cut off from contact with God, and that it is in this aweful separation that the act of saviourhood consists. This film places the moment when Jesus is most human, when he most wants and is offered what everyone else expects in life, at this time.

As a theological argument about what that postulated separation means, if one accords meaning to Jesus as fully God and Man, this would not make a film**. However, led into the place of temptation by Gabriel's sweetest music, and in purely cinematic terms, seeing Jesus live our life, meet and reject Paul, and be tempted as we are is compelling film-making. This is not blasphemy or a source of challenge to Christian believers, but a heartfelt and carefully thought-through meditation, as a film, on what can otherwise seem the sometimes tired and unconsidered question of what it cost Jesus to go to his death. At the very end, as we looked up above the screen, a faint light was on The Crucifixion, Jesus on the cross and those at the foot.

All at the Cathedral and Bath Film Festival are to be commended for their determination to show this film, despite objection

More here on what Scorsese has written about the film (in Scorsese on Scorsese)...


* The accounts about Judas throwing the thirty coins of silver back at the officers of the High Priest, The Potter's Field being bought, or of Judas hanging himself have no place here.

** Surely, at its heart is Paul's Letter to the Hebrews (4 : 15), which says For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. The protesters (Wells Journal, 23 January) assert - baselessly, as far as I can see - that the film propounds that Jesus did marry Mary Magadelene (by citing The Christ Files), and seek to disprove the claim.

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

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What if we read the book from 1853 ?

A rating and review of 12 Years A Slave (2013)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

15 January

A rating and review of 12 Years A Slave (2013)

77 = S : 11 / A : 13 / C : 11 / M : 10 / P : 12 / F : 10

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)

If you think that, as films go, 12 Years A Slave (2013), despite its emotive content, is just an average piece of film-making, and patchy in places, you are almost damned before you open your mouth : people refuse to separate the content of a film, when it is such as this, from the worth of the film itself, even if it does function in large part as a medium for the story (or message).

Of course, what happens is objectionable (either crime, or people turning their eyes from it), but one cannot make out that slavery exclusively resides in the cotton-fields of Georgia, not, say, in tribes in Africa long subjugating each other's people by war or raiding, and with the well-known example of the people of Israel in captivity in Egypt. In the same way, The Roman Empire had freemen and slaves, and that goes back two thousand years, such that the New Testament is talking about slaves obeying their masters almost as a given (and which is a source for the preaching heard in the film).

The same director's (Steve McQueen's) film Hunger (2008) evokes The Maze Prison, but making a feature about the IRA hunger-strikers in the early 1980s was likely to make a modest gross at the box office (IMDb reports $154,084 at 5 June 2009 in the States, with $1,980 for the opening weekend (5 December 2008)), compared with the relative distance that one has on events 130 years earlier in Slave. As to a powerful piece of film-making, one may think that Slave does not pull any punches, but, compared with Hunger, it is all of these things - mainstream, stereotypical, and stylized in a very conventional way - and feels like a betrayal of that earlier aesthetic.

There are also scenes in the film (of which follow a few) in which McQueen seems to revel as moments, whether or not they work with the film, and so lose its direction and weight :

* For no very good reason (when he would not help her as asked), Northup, when he brings Patsey back to the drunk Epps as requested, tries to pretend that he has not whispered to her to make herself scarce (which he could have done at any point), and a ludicrous chase, in and out of the piggery, ensues - does it do any more than show Epps as gross, and that Northup is capable of a tactical misjudgement ?

* When Northup makes a request for a letter to be carried to his family, he certainly is - it is only by conceiving that he had worked out the lies of his cock-and-bull story beforehand, in case he was betrayed (but, then, he would not already have written the incriminating letter), and that he catches Epps at a good time, that it is credible that he escapes punishment or death by his excuses

* It is clever, but very foolish reasoning (as in any workplace), to contradict and show up your overseer in front of the owner, because, even if you demonstrate your cleverness by proving him wrong and that hardly justifies him finding fault to have an excuse to lynch you, you must know that he will not see it thus Your slick nigger ways

* A more subtle enemy might have got at Northup by breaking the violin that he has been given, and then showing it up as his ingratitude - that approach might have got Ford on his side and against Northup, where this one of finding fault to provoke a fight did not

* Patsey is almost definitely flogged out of deeper motives than whether she went to a neighbouring property for a bar of soap, and no one wants to flog or see another flogged, but can the irrational zeal of Epps (for once in tune with that of his wife against Patsey, whose urging renders him impotent to the task and makes him involve Northup) be yoked to the explicit reasoning of spelling out the doctrine that a man's 'property' is his to do with as he wishes (as Epps' wife would be, since she has no rights except through him, and so he early on chooses Patsey over her, if she wishes to exert herself) ?

* The uneasy moment when other men whom Northup finds on the way to the store are being strung up - maybe just scene-setting that lynching is a part of life (though that seems contrary to a film whose ethos is not to make everything normative), but a lost opportunity, with Ford's wife (who declared, when Northup and the fellow woman slave arrived, that the latter would soon forget her children) to set up some other resonance

What does not seem like a betrayal is simply lifted from someone else's vision (that of Terrence Malick) :

The vision was in the cinematographic ethos, for example the gorgeous close-up of the caterpillar that, although Epps (Michael Fassbender - also in Hunger as Bobby Sands) denies it, is causing the blight of his cotton-plants : it feeds into other moments of the film, but not in the absorbed way that the wide landscapes do of Days of Heaven, and so makes the downright ordinary photography seem gratingly poor and uninspired.

The film contains four main moments of extended dialogue, first with the weeping woman who has been separated from her children (when sold with Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor)), then when Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) makes a request of him, then when he makes a request of a white former overseer with whom he is working, and finally when he makes the same request of Bass (Brad Pitt). Certainly, the first two (whether or not the conversation is written out in full by Solomon Northup's memoir Twelve Years A Slave (in which he was assisted by a local writer, David Wilson)) sounded very stagey, trying too much to imitate the manners, language and diction of the age to be more than artificial - even if people ever did talk to each other in that way, it sounded more Shakespearean than from the mid-nineteenth century, and one felt that one was being told that these were Important Words to Heed : for example, How came you there ? How is this ? Tell me all. (I doubt it, but maybe some sort of attempt at Brechtian alienation, as when Northup arrives home and says I have had a difficult time these several years ?)

Hans Zimmer's soundtrack sought by means of rumbling, low-frequency percussive sounds, which would not have been out of place in Peter Gabriel's Millennium Show Ovo (e.g. the machine music of the track 'The Tower That Ate People'), or even The Wachowskis' The Matrix (1999), to impart a sense of menace or the like, but it lacked subtlety for a composer who had scored Inception (2010), and sounded derivative :

If this film is remarkable, and breaks ground, it would be good to know in what way, and how one's understanding is advanced beyond that of Alex Haley's t.v. series Roots in 1977, or even the t.v. film Solomon Northup's Odyssey (1984) and the slavery strand in Cloud Atlas (2012).

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

Monday, 2 December 2013

Life after war

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

2 December

This is a review of Sixteen (2013), as shown at Bath Film Festival 2013 (@BathFilm) and thanks to a complimentary ticket from the festival

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

A rating and review of Sixteen (2013)

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)

Wrongly, Sixteen (2013)* felt like it might be just too many things jostling for screen-time, which usefully put one edge – as to whether the enterprise would succeed – in the way that Jumah (Roger Nsengiyumva) must feel, and which John Bowen’s effective score accentuates (more on that later), for we have :

* A love story

* A child soldier from Congo (who, as with many who have been in conflicts, probably has something like post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD))

* The love between a mother and her adoptive son

* Petty crime that has got out of hand

* Reaching a time (the sixteen of the title) when the future has to be considered

* Fighting one’s own battles

I swear that these do all fit together, and the unifying force is that soundtrack, which – as I put it in the Q&A – moves from disturbingly menacing to uncertain to sensual, when Jumah is asked to give his girlfriend Chloe (Rosie Day) a haircut, and back again, and which has an otherworldly quality to it : writer / director Rob Brown, who has worked with Bowen before, said that what he was after with scoring the edit was understood by Bowen, but that a sound such as that of Brian Eno and others had been mentioned. (I also heard Peter Gabriel's sort of open chords.)

In my opinion, the score tautened one’s awareness of the past that Jumah brings with him, and fed a sense of how he must be feeling into what we saw – someone being attacked might have one resonance (in, say, a film like Witness (1985)), but here we were aware (from sources such as War Witch (2012)) of the brutalizing world in which he had been forced to live. Except with very low-frequency growling, it did not mask its presence, and it partly distanced us from the early shock of some events, just as Jumah might have been in situation but not wholly present in them.

This sort of character was what Brown said that he had been aiming at, and which had drawn him in other film projects, effectively someone who had certain experiences and for whom living is difficult. As a foil to him, Day’s portrayal of Chloe was perfect – one sensed that, beneath her confidence, she did, as she told Jumah, want to be helped to feel positive about herself, and that she, if she can be helped in return, has resources of trust and validation that can help him heal.

Above these two, Rachael Stirling, as Jumah’s mum Laura, acted exceptionally well how she sought to bear with him, from the moment when she comes into his bedroom and Chloe and he are resting in each other’s arms to wanting to hold him back, and not knowing what he might do : that moment when he decides who he is and what he wants feels so unstable, and we cut away to her with no certainty what might happen.

The atmosphere of the film, with this excellent score, is electric, and one even feels that, as with War Witch’s title-character Komona, there may be some sixth sense in play for Jumah to be in the right place several times. This is not an easy ride much of the time, but that tactile quality of the hair, and all the feeling that comes from the other great film with that theme, Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband (Le mari de la coiffeuse) (1990), plus the tenderness between Chloe and Jumah, soften it sufficiently.


* There are two films this year with that title, so IMDb designates this Sixteen (I) (2013).

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

Monday, 30 April 2012

The Tower of Pritter

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

May Day

Once upon a time, on his album Up (2002), Peter Gabriel included a track in which he had taken the phrase signal to noise (from the world of hi-fi) and created a song - which, of course, one can interpret as one will (just as one can, say, the song 'Wallflower' from a much earlier album: whose theme is used in Birdy (1984), a film on whose music I commented in The Future or How do you choose a satisfying film? (Part 2))

On my interpretation of what some might find a limited (because repetitive) lyric, Gabriel is clearly distinguishing between what is valuable (the signal) and what might impede it (the noise). Therefore its own message (something like, from memory, turn up the signal, keep out the noise) is just as applicable to finding the occasional real news-story amongst what else appears in a number of our alleged newspapers as it is to that convenient triangle of factors - perhaps unthinkingly beloved by those who run training courses on assertiveness or communication skills - that purports to establish as empirical fact that some very low percentage* of what we (think that we) say is in our (choice of) words**

I have given counter-examples elsewhere, but, on what level of perversity as to the power of actual words does one have to be on to think that contextual data supply all 93% of what is meant to be lacking in simply saying?:

* You're fired!

* I want you to sleep with me

* You're standing on my foot!

* You've won first prize

* This duck is delicious

* Do you mind if I sit here / take this chair?

Bombard yourself, as Splatter can (I mean Twatter), with messages from an unlimited number of people, though, and you might - amongst 'the noise' - miss someone asking you to tea / to bed / for a drink.

Or following Bassfuck in a crowded bar on your preferred mobile device, highly meaningful though I'm really sure that all of its content is, might make you unaware that you are some banknotes and a credit-card or two lighter than when you started the evening.

Remember: the value of the Internet can go up as well as down


* Usually between 7 and 11%.

** As Cher successfully suggested in her cover-version of 'The Shoop Shoop Song' in Mermaids (1990), it's in his kiss.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Future or How do you choose a satisying film? (Part 2)

More views of - or after - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

26 January

Take Birdy (1984), for instance. What decided me to see it, when it was released?

* Well, it had not been created then, so it was not the phenomenon of Nicholas Cage. (For some, it might even have started with cult film Rumble Fish (1984), for others, maybe, with - also from that year of release - The Cotton Club.)

* For me, it also was not knowing of the actor playing Birdy, Matthew Modine (born in 1959, and so older than Cage, although their film careers have run in parallel). Amongst the things that one knows Modine's acting from, he has also appeared in shorts such as:

§ Jesus was a Commie (2011) - perhaps balancing up playing Jesus in Mary (2005), which, although it looks crazy, perhaps isn't that interesting, and anyway passed me by.

§ Santa, the Fascist Years (2008)*

§ I Think I Thought (2008)

* Alan Parker's work, on the other hand, one already had reason to respect and expect things from (e.g. Bugsy Malone (1976) and Midnight Express (1978)).

* I am sure, also, that Peter Gabriel, who produced the music, was already in my consciousness - in my opinion, the CD of the soundtrack (even if one knows nothing about the film) is a worthwhile Gabriel album in its own right, well worth taking a chance on if found somewhere (which I never have, since buying my copy, and I have no idea of availability / price).

For the film itself, along with the flight sequences, it is truly remarkable!

* The album's insert has an image that I believe to be a still from the film - disturbing, haunting, as the film poster itself was.

* And last, by no means (as one has to say) least, would have been that write-up of around 140 words, on the basis of skim-reading which I have almost exclusively decided what to watch in the independent cinema world for the last eight years.

That had, for a long while, been my practice, prior to the days of seeing Kevin Spacey talk on t.v. about K-PAX (2001), I think both Matt Damon** and Ben Afleck Good Will Hunting (1997), and Geoffrey Rush Shine (1996) - none of which, I have to say, I even slightly regret having seen.

Possibly it was the trailer that led me up the garden path in those days (a bit like the film's pig), but, in any event, I was not spared Michael Palin and co. in what I found the disappointingly dire A Private Function (1984).

But there are write-ups in which one can have (or feel) confidence, and there is the one (from a local free paper) from which I quote a few choice phrases (or, in one case, whole sentences). (I don't need to identify the film, which becomes strikingly obvious - even if some of the things written didn't occur to the writer - or compiler - as such to the reader.)

in 1979, grocer's daughter Thatcher became the UK's first - and to date only - female prime minister

the film focuses on Thatcher's rise to power, right through to the present day

There are, however, a few flaws. The story contains a few boring scenes and the flashback sequences are a little muddled in places.

A great back-up cast includes Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent [etc.]

Lack of energy alone at this moment prevents me from scorning the infelicities, but:

Would you want to trust this 'review' to guide you on your way, either into the auditorium with Meryl, or off to catch Luc Besson's The Lady (2011)?

And we're not done with how The Future (2011) was falsely set up, or what one might make of this new Thatcher voice - concerning which Part 3 might have things to say...


* Why am I, for some reason, reminded of the notorious home-movies for the private consumption of a certain Disney?

** Of whom, of course, more elsewhere at 'You're now as famous as Matt Damon!', and even New allegations: Matt Damon opens my post, which have now become compulsory reading in the blog world (and, no, I won't be calling it the blogosphere - in my lifetime).