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Showing posts with label Psycho. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Psycho. Show all posts

Monday, 7 March 2016

Two now-celebrated film directors talk via an interpreter

This is a Festival review¹ of Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015)

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

6 March

This is a Festival review¹ of Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015)

Two film directors, both of whom later turned out to have been near the end of their careers (and lives), agreed to meet for week-long interviews, the younger man [François Truffaut] asking questions, via an interpreter [Helen G. Scott], of the older [Alfred Hitchcock] : the result of their meeting was not only deepening friendship, but also Truffaut's book Hitchcock², of whose existence and history Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015) is right to remind us.

Frontispiece of Truffaut's Hitchcock

Hitchcock / Truffaut is a documentary that is worth watching for what it tells and shows, though not always for how it chooses to do so (please see below). Also, more importantly, because one could easily tease out its various strands³ [which are identified in the end-note] and ask whether one or more could have been given more weight - with the others as subsidiaries, or not included at all.

Since Leeds International Film Festival asks one to rate everything from 1 to 5 (5 being the best), one agrees to slot into that snapshot way of thinking, and - as there had been better films – one eliminated giving it 5, but then it had to merit 4 (as it certainly was not 3). In fact, it is deserving of being scored as 4 just to hear Martin Scorsese talk with masterful intelligence about Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), which, whatever its aims may have been, is the heart of film : his analysis makes us delightfully aware of the cinematic stature of both Hitchcock and of him.

What this Tweet says may, indeed, be what publicity for the film wants to tell us, and, in some senses, we do get a good feel for how all those interviews went – as well as how some of the ironic photography came about, including that used for the poster (in the Tweet above). (If we want to know what resulted from all that interviewing, though, one reads the book itself², of course [and the film does not much tell us how, or how much, the interviews - as conducted and recorded - were 'tidied up' for publication].) On other levels, hearing simultaneous translation prominently taking place at some length can, for those with some ability in French, be confused and confusing, just in the way that watching a film in, and with sub-titles in, one’s own language can be a distraction (even without any discrepancy between them...), if one is needlessly drawn to reading the latter, rather than listening to the voices and what they are saying :

As the whole point of using the footage was to give that sense of the interviews in progress, Helen G. Scott translating simultaneously into French needed to be audible, but it might have been better suited to Hitchcock / Truffaut’s purposes to adjust the volume of her voice, and that of the two men, for its English-speaking audience : relatively speaking, did we actually need to be able to concentrate on (a) Hitchcock and on (b) what Scott translated Truffaut asking or commenting to him (and less so on (c) her translating Hitchcock’s words for the benefit of Truffaut, and on (d) what he said for her to translate for Hitchcock) ?

Presenting the material, just as it was, and expecting the viewer to accommodate to it was one thing that deprived the film of being rated 5. Another, already alluded to (above), was that of director Kent Jones insufficiently deciding, and being clear about, the relative importance of the five or so strands within the film³ [identified in the end-note], and it has been said that Scorsese’s contribution is vital to its appeal and worth. (It does not quite fit in the last of these broad strands, as, unlike some of those interviewed (one just happens to recall Wes Anderson⁴), Scorsese was working in film at the time, and got to see Vertigo through being in film circles, since it was not available otherwise.)

The end-note⁴ has just mentioned that Hitchcock / Truffaut seems too keen to prove to us that it has people who make comments (under one or more of its strands) whose opinions actually matter, and (above) that it seems too undetermined, in what it ends up saying, about what is important : at the danger of overpraising Scorsese’s words, he was actually seeing films such as Vertigo alongside, and without needing the insights of, the Truffaut book. So the film has us stray, without being either sign-posted or having a justification, into valuing Hitchcock’s direction (and his work of preparation for a shoot) as if it is somehow just part of the thesis that the book importantly benefited both Truffaut and Hitchcock’s reputation.

Finally, no doubt it did, but that does not, in and of itself, prove to make a good reason to order the book, expecting from it a good filmic read. Historically, the re-valuation of Hitchcock that it achieved may have been overdue, but it does not mean that the exchanges between the men come off the page (as against in the live segments of interview that we see) with vivacity, or even that some of the territory into which either man wishes to take us may be of interest (except to them) : by contrast, in the Faber & Faber series that may owe it its origins (where film directors are interviewed about their work), a title such as Woody Allen on Woody Allen⁵ takes more time on each film, by usually devoting a chapter to one (whereas five or six are looked at in each of Truffaut’s chapters).

As the sub-title suggests, Faber & Faber's Hitchcock on Hitchcock : Selected Writings and Interviews (1995) offers something different

As against the Truffaut book, cinematographer Stig Björkman’s conversations with Allen have been more closely edited, for its chapters to be flowing and thematically arranged within them, of which one has far less sense with Truffaut's Hitchcock. Although Truffaut did produce a revised edition, Björkman and Allen have had the luxury, since the first UK edition⁵ (it originally appeared in Sweden, in 1993) of re-visiting the work with the passage of time and the appearance of new films. It survives the test of being readable and informative now, whereas – for all the significance of Truffaut’s – maybe it does so not have so much to say now... ?

Post-script :

To dilate, as an antidote to the above, on considering Hitchcock / Truffaut in wider terms [from ‘Actors are cattle’: when Hitchcock met Truffaut, Stuart Jefrries writing in The Guardian (@guardian)] :

'In the book of the interviews,' says [Kent] Jones, 'Hitchcock came over as stilted and formal, which you can hear he isn’t.

Thanks to critics such as Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Godard and indeed Truffaut (all of whom who would become the iconoclastic hipster directors of the Nouvelle Vague), cinema for the first time became, as director Olivier Assayas puts it in Jones’s film, self-conscious. For the first time, it reflected on itself as art rather than dismissing itself as mere entertainment. The Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews were part of that revolution.


¹ Seen, during Leeds International Film Festival (@leedsfilmfest) 2015, at Hyde Park Picture House (@HydeParkPH).

² Hitchcock by François Truffaut, with the collaboration of Helen G. Scott : Secker & Warburg, London, 1968. (First published as Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock : Robert Laffont, Paris, 1966.)

³ * Contains spoilers * :

(1) How Truffaut (and his peers) came to esteem the films of Hitchcock, and for Truffaut to approach him with his request

(2) Their correspondence leading up to Truffaut’s visit

(3) The interviews themselves and artefacts of those sessions

(4) The resultant book Hitchcock / Truffaut** and the effect that Truffaut desired from it, i.e. for an appreciation of Hitchcock’s films as works of film-making, not merely as entertainment (not least of all what made them work as ‘thrillers’ in the first place)

(5) Plus some 'talking heads' - other directors, or writers or critics, few on the screen long enough for their contribution to amount to more than bulking out the numbers.

⁴ If, as one is glad to do, one knows films of Anderson’s, there is another form of distraction, but this time on the screen : not only do we have this director (or writer, critic, etc.) identified by a caption (which is always useful, and can easily be taken in), but, in another part of the screen, a short list of films, publications, etc.

The tendency, then, is is to wonder why this film has been mentioned, but not this one (rather than focusing on what Anderson is saying…). So who is this film for that, there and then (rather than built into the credits ?), it needs to be sure of establishing the credentials of those who are shown saying how important Hitchcock or this book of interviews is ?

Stylistically, there is a like tendency, which comes out strongly at times, towards having too much archive / documentary material in view at once : we do not simply have a text on the screen for us to be allowed to read [such as Hitchcock’s quite gracious response to Truffaut - although that actual letter was accepting, but short]. Rather, at the same time as highlighting passages in it, the visual-design of Jones’ team over-busily has it transit across the screen, as well as changing the focus, and shifting us on, by moving other pieces of original material into play : almost akin to some Harry-Potter-like notion of an interactive museum, where, as the Hogwarts portraits do, the exhibits have a life of their own – perhaps entertaining or enchanting, but not an aid to concentration (or low anxiety) ?

⁵ Faber & Faber Limited, London, 1995. (It was originally published as Woody om Allen.)

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

Saturday, 14 November 2015

They moved away the highway : Hitchcock and Herrmann in Psycho (1960) (work in progress)

This reviews Psycho (1960), with live score from Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall

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

13 November

This work in progress is a review of a film, with its score played live, at Saffron Hall (Saffron Walden, Essex) : Psycho (1960), performed by Britten Sinfonia, under the baton of Anthony Gabriele, on Saturday 10 October 2015

To be truthful, Psycho (1960) had not seemed Saffron Hall’s (@SaffronHallSW’s) ideal choice for World Mental Health Day (#WMHD = 10 October) – even if a colleague, in mental health, thought it a hoot (rather than a dire mistake that was likely to give rise to great offence)…

In the event, and in crucial respects (to be explored further below), Psycho was not the film that one remembered – as many a film may prove to be, when watched again… ? What the sum of Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates, Joseph Stefano’s screenplay, and Robert Bloch’s original novel did and does is much more nuanced than a merely reductive recollection wanted to say – all of those things make the film far more about culpability / criminal responsibility than about a stereotypically negative view of people in states of mental ill-health. (Does Hitchcock feel much nearer to what he believes in, about the mind, with Marnie’s (Tippi Hedren’s) motivations, and with her being mistrusted and misinterpreted by Mark (Sean Connery), in Marnie (1964) ?)

This part is intended to be non-spoilery*

Seeing a film after more than thirty years, but having seen clips from it at Cambridge Film Festival (@Camfilmfest) in 2011, when Neil Brand (@NeilKBrand) presented his illustrated talk Knowing the Score, about Bernard Herrmann and his film-scores, one was surprised both by how much, and how little, was recalled :

As well as the major crime, and what happened in the Bates house towards the end, one recollected well the apparent dénouement, the lengthy exposition by an expert (or an imagined one ?*) just before the closing sequence of shots. However, maybe its significance - in relation to those same shots - had been missed, at the time, or overlooked by more vividly remembering an explanation for what Norman Bates did, and who he was, that seemed tenuous… ?

Indeed, it is tenuous, but in fact that is rather the point of it, and why we might be interested in what follows it in the film. Looking at Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho (first published in 1959**) confirms that he intended something loose and artificial about understanding Bates in that way, because Bates’ view of himself, and how others will see him, from the start pervades how it has been written (which leads up to Chapter Seventeen, the three-page conclusion to the work that the film parallels) : the exact level of Bates' self-awareness (which we might gloss as ‘insight’) may be uncertain, but that of his self-reflexiveness is not.

The film with its score played live

Psycho (1960) is introduced by music that serves as an overture (over the title-sequence), and which is not only full of swirling motifs (which are suggestive of the hesitation and guilt that are to wrack Marion in the opening part of the film [one notes that, in the novel, she is not Marion, but Mary]), but also presents the pattern of strokes that we are to hear later, when she showers. In this way, Herrmann is (as is so often his way – which is, of course, not to suggest that is not also that of Hitchcock) aurally preparing us for what is to come, just as does the inspired, but frenzied, title-sequence (we may remember the energy of that of Vertigo (1958)).

Just being aware throughout of Britten Sinfonia’s (@BrittenSinfonia’s) skilled string-players, arrayed below the screen, we could already sense Herrmann’s work of composition far more immediately than through any sound-system (although the soundtrack, with the music-tracks stripped out, continued to be heard through the speakers). The ensemble normally has a leader (or director), rather than a conductor, but being under the very experienced baton of Anthony Gabriele (@MaestroGabriele) was needful : having the instrumentalists and him before us really heightened our appreciation of how the film had been scored, both when they were playing, or, by being in waiting, thereby making us aware of how Hitchcock and Herrmann (the man, par excellence, of beautifully disconnecting harmonic progressions) had let silence speak. (One important unscored moment is when Marion has been forced to rest – please see below.)

It is a story which begins, at least, with immense specificity (as a crime-story might ?) : we have panned, and homed in on that building in Phoenix, Arizona, and that very room within it – a precise, named Friday (Friday, December the Eleventh - the year will come later), and even the time in the afternoon within it (Two Forty-Three p.m.). (Perhaps Hitchcock, too, when we are still in the mood for expecting when and where he will make an appearance himself, prepares us for Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates : just in one shot, at the window of the hotel-room, does he momentarily give us a premonition of Perkins ?)

From Marion Crane’s conversation with her lover Sam (John Gavin), who will be flying back out of her life soon, we judge that (whatever the passion that they have just indulged) they are in an affair that does not seem to be going anywhere : the nearest suggestion (itself prescient ?) that we have that he will ever really be with her is when, referring to the question of alimony, he suggestively says I’ll lick the stamps. (Despite the tawdriness of having to be together in this room, they are dogged by the question of what is respectable - which really means ‘affordable’, because he cannot see any way to afford to leave his wife for Marion.)

Dogmatically, if not purely fatalistically, these establishing sequences of the film have Marion saying that one cannot buy off unhappiness with pills (and we also hear views about what happens When your time is up). All very relevant to society's life since influential books such as Prozac Nation (published by 1995), and yet with increasing numbers of prescriptions of such so-called anti-depressants, for patients expecting to escape ‘unhappiness’. When we meet the client of Lowery Real Estate, the dandy with the boot-lace tie and so significant for the plot, he even declares Unhappiness ? I buy it off ! (whose, one might ask ?) : already, Psycho (1960) has so much to say, for 2015, that we may have overlooked before…

We need to pass over the flirting at Lowery Real Estate, and its connection with power and money (though it is relevant to how Norman perceives / chooses to perceive [the character of] Marion Crane - not least as an ornithological taxidermist). In showing the temptation, and the distinct tease, of the cash in the envelope, which sits on the bed where Marion lives (as if it were a person or a lover : Sam, but suddenly become ‘affordable' ?), Hitchcock – excusably, because inexplicitly ? – plays with us just as much with her, as he also does with and through Alice in Blackmail (1929), and the question whether, if we could, we would try to distance ourselves from the scene of a crime…

What turns out to be Marion’s crime is one thing, and that of Norman Bates another (quite other), but Hitchcock involves us, and engages us, with what possibly connects them. For he keeps unravelling the skein of guilt, but keeps something back – because somehow one is reminded of Macbeth, and Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care, in a film where Sleep has a role to play. An idyll of just silence comes when Marion has had to pull over to rest – and, when she awakes to find that she has succumbed to sleep, everything is suddenly tense, because she also finds a traffic-cop looking in at her : he is in intense close-up, and with his expression impenetrably uncertain behind large, dark shades.

This moment, too, serves to set up eventually meeting Perkins, and how he interacts with Marion as Norman, and to inform their conversation both when she is first at the motel, and then in Norman’s parlour, as typified by this exchange :

Traffic-cop : May I see your license ?

Marion : Why ?

Traffic-cop : Please...

Before this moment, arguably the most prominent visual – though much else may have distracted our conscious attention from it – has been Janet Leigh’s (Marion’s) very alert and wide eyes in the car***, intensified by her lashes as we watch her drive. This was in the montage when, over and over, she imagines what has been happening since she left town, which we hear in the intensity of the score, and as voices that are talking about her : an embodiment of a guilty conscience, for her and for us. Almost inverting how, in life lived outside the construct of a film, trying to sleep may be a time when memory crowds in and prevents it from happening (we can find ourselves tired, but not sleepy ?), Hitchcock gives us Marion, needing to press on in the dark, but dispirited and discouraged by these night-time thoughts, which sap her energy and resolve – that is a representation of depression and its exhausting effects (apt for #WMHD2015).

Far, far more could be said about the unfolding of this day on screen, with Marion’s seeking to escape the attentions of the cop (and, thus, her guilt personified), and finally arriving where she does, 15 miles from Fairvale : in all this, Herrmann’s score is naggingly there, with worrying how will what she did with the car help, and how much is she torn – by driving on, and by the darkness and the rain – as to whether she can do, or wants to do, what she is attempting. (In fact, is stopping at Bates Motel just fatigue again, or is it partly that she might plan to contact Sam and ask him here… because she does say to Norman about going into town to eat ?)

Having arrived here, though, there was delicacy now brought out in the Sinfonia’s playing, and also a depth of intonation and feeling : unlike those first audiences of Psycho, probably we know where this is going to unfold towards, but that is not important to watching Hitchcock, because following the craftsmanship in how he takes us there is part of the journey, and the mood of the music is tender, as Marion is shown to her room.

More to come...


* In a section to come (which may end up as a separate posting on Unofficial Cambridge Film Festival), quotation will be made from Robert Bloch's novel Psycho**.

** First published in Great Britain in 1960 (Robert Hale Limited, London).

*** They will remind us of Perkins' eyes, right at the end of the film, as well as of when we last see Marion...

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

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Un cane e il cuore ?

This is a Festival review of Heart of a Dog (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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12 November (Tweets added, 19 December, 26-28 May 2016)

This is a Festival review of Heart of a Dog (2015)

This is a review, resulting from a screening at Hyde Park Picture House (@HydeParkPH), Leeds, during Leeds International Film Festival (@leedsfilmfest, #LIFF29)

Heart of a Dog (2015) is personal, but universal, and Laurie Anderson provokes us to examine our thoughts and feelings about the mortality of others, and that of ourselves. What we have to know in her film, we will - over time - be told, but we most need to give ourselves over to its visual aspects, which, for some, might be a testing fifteen minutes or so of confusion, unless they learn to be able to yield to the purely cinematic nature of what is to be seen*. For, although there is a narrative to this work, it is not just or even the one that we may take it to be, and images and words are allusive in ways at which we can only later begin to grasp, maybe not whilst still in the cinema.

Hearing excerpts of the soundtrack, through the ministry of Fiona Talkington’s (@fionatalkington’s) recent fortnight on Radio 3’s (@BBCRadio3’s) Late Junction (#LateJunction), had created a little apprehension about what watching Heart of a Dog (2015) - what might it be like, and was it going to be any good ? However, what had been heard was a pale shadow of the film itself, but it did usefully preview some of its meditative and authorial traits, as well as introducing the characteristics of Anderson’s composed sound-world. This film is in the league of complete works of art, which meant that what had been broadcast proved somewhat misleading about the strength of the whole : if one knows Psycho (1960), Herrmann’s score may be divorced from it and evoke its scenes with success (or, for that matter, the soundtrack could – as Scorsese suggests in Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015) – be removed without affecting the power of, and story contained in, Hitchcock’s shots).

Anderson’s principal presence is in a voice-over, which takes a while to materialize, and is sometimes silent for periods at a time. (Perhaps because of an issue with the DCP, or with the audio-system, that emanation did not seem altogether seamless ?) Again, it makes this film hers, but it does so quite without forcing it or her beliefs on us. Although she consults her spiritual teacher, and reports what her teacher told her, this is not even in the nature of confession, or of imparting immutable truth, but as one wanting to understand what it might be for another to die – and, thus, for Anderson herself to die – and to present that as a matter for consideration and enquiry.

That other may (initially) be a dog, and Anderson and others who know Lolabelle may have been guided to decisions with which some might take issue (i.e. as to what was right or clinically best for her), but we should not be put off by that : the question of this death and dying is not an isolated, maudlin one, but opens out to ask what we perceive of life, and what it and reality could consist in. When Anderson talks to us, she is gregarious in this role, and willing to share – whether it is through her wry humour, or by expressing her pain or uncertainty, that is what she wants to convey, rather than any claim to insight or to observations with which we cannot find a relation.

In some moments, where Anderson is choosing to be sparing with spoken words, she lets other aspects of the film talk to us : the richness comes through in a sort of surrender, in which one senses that she probably surrendered her own preconceptions about what this film was to be, along with artistic judgements of a highly conscious kind, to the organizational forces within memory, pattern, and illusion. The images, and recollections as to their shifting shape, colour, and formation, are what remain with us after this film – the strong sense of an artist engaging deeply with issues about our relations with each other, and what, in them and in us, make us who we feel ourselves to be.


* One can read, in the comments on IMDb, the horribly literal expectations of Leviathan (2012) that it is accused of having disappointed…

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

Monday, 12 May 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

** Hutchinson, London, 2007.

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

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

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

Saturday, 6 April 2013

‘Let’s abuse each other !’ (Waiting for Godot, Act I)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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6 April

If – God forbid ! – I were to wish to express the notion that the Prime Minister is a bad man, motivated by self-interest, how might I say it to Cameron’s face ?

I can’t emphatically say the natural You’re evil !, because the first syllable, with its diphthong, is hard to control at any volume when making sure that the message is abrupt and clear, so I might resort to three sharp, distinct jabs, You are evil !, and then add to it, You are selfish and evil ! (or vice versa).

But how cowed by this will he feel, because he can just brush off the adjectives, knowing that he is a pure and noble breed¹ ?

Think of when you are in the car, or cycling, or on the pavement, and someone else using the road does something stupid. You might serenely and calmly turn your countenance to the fact that you have had – as the case might be – to brake suddenly, softly murmur How stupid…, and resume your assumed walk through life with the Buddha.

More likely, I suggest, is that you will react differently, and not resort to our earlier formulation, You are stupid !, at all, but to the You stupid x !, where – probably depending on the level of your non-Buddha-restrained frustration, indignation or even anger – x might be man, woman, etc.², sod, bastard, twat, prick, and so on³.

At this point, it is worth noticing that many adjectives that, according to this pattern, occupy the place of our own ‘stupid’ are bi-syllabic, such as ruddy, bleeding, bloody, sodding, fucking, useless, hopeless, etc., and can therefore be rattled through and over : they have their weight, but as a qualification to our chosen engine of conveying, e.g. You priceless fucker / shite / wanker. (One can, of course, say (probably if relevant) You bald git !, and there is, in great, fat, dumb, proud, crass, etc., a whole battery of monosyllables, but the stronger qualifying words seem to be polysyllabic.)

OK, so what is this exercise – even if some may find it fascinating – of considering condemning Cameron all about ? Well, I want to look at the words of insult that some of the bloggers on mental-health regard as taboo because they stigmatize those with mental-health issues. For example the terms lunatic, psycho, mad, crazy, loopy, demented, and psychotic.

If someone gets called a fucking psycho, that is one extreme, and it may constitute any number of things from a drunken mate approving a reckless act of violence to, say, the critical characterization of a risky piece of driving. (We use words in context, and, in the first example, this may be part of the mythology of the mates’ behaviour, and so not be understood anything other than positively.)

There is a stage further, though, such as in the arena of taunting or threatening – or even administering – violence to a person who is known (or believed⁴) to have a mental-health condition. That reinforces a message that (beautified) goes along the lines We don’t like you or want you around because of who you are, what you do, and what it means for you to be here where you are not welcome.

However, I believe that some words have been denuded of any real malice, unless they are deliberately used offensively : I would suggest that, with enough energy, being called a pretty table-leg could, if anyone wanted to say it, be invested with and convey disregard, disdain, and disgust.

Or take this, from Soda Pictures’ booklet for New British Cinema Quarterly (where Eryl Phillips talks about making – planning to make – Gospel of Us, a three-day theatrical event to tell Christ’s Passion in and around Port Talbot) :

The ambition of the piece was bordering on madness – to attempt a film of it all was either a mid-life crisis or just lunatic

At least two of the words or phrases ‘mid-life crisis’, ‘madness’ and ‘lunatic’ explicitly suggest poor judgement through mental ill-health, but does that, in itself, make it insulting as such to those with that experience ? I’d draw the line in favour of those things being OK, whereas to have written this would be different, I think:

The ambition of the piece was bordering on demented – to attempt a film of it all was either a psychotic episode or sectionable

The insult, there, is to belittle psychosis (by likening it to the feelings of alienation from one’s life that usually fall short of needing even medication), to draw the vague word ‘demented’ (usually meant to signify dangerous violence, and attributed in the popular imagination and vocabulary to mental-health conditions) into the mêlée of meaning, and to cheapen the real and highly threatening and frightening matter of being sectioned by mentioning it in the context of a film that would be hard to make.

What I am hoping is not so much to have demonstrated that when Jon Snow, in writing about the Philpott case, called Philpott 'a lunatic', it was not stigmatizing the whole mental-health community, but to have started a debate about whether that word (and others, some of which I have mentioned, or even given in examples) can ever be used, or must always be pounced upon...


¹ In what turn out not to be Paul Weller’s words, but those of Ray Davies (David Watts).

² Or, as my father was wont to say, ‘individual’.

³ Enterprising individuals** might learn a whole string of them, or play a sort of melody, on a scale of them, in increasing and receding severity, such as :

man shit jerk sod cunt drip bum twat .

⁴ A sort of guilt by association or mistake, as in Max Frisch’s Andorra.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Psychopaths - or just killers ?

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

21 December

* Contains spoilers *

It might be a cover-all - or a cop-out - to have psychopaths who are just crooks or who have some need to kill, or to have them interchangeably mixed up with 'the mental and deranged', yoking in anyone, indeed, who might have been in hospital, but I think that, as a product, Seven Psychopaths (2012), had no starting point for knowing what one is.

The States muddles up anyway the notion of psychosis and psychopathy, but there was nothing to suggest that this confusion was really responsible. Not that the film fared any better, in its own terms, as my various Tweets have suggested...

And now, at the risk of repeating the above, the review of Seven Sycophants :

There are many films, few as famous as (or even La Dolce Vita), where the film is about making a film (or the like), from Shakespeare-dervied and Cole-Porter-instilled Kiss Me, Kate (1958) to On the Road (2012) or recent Catalan film VOS (2009).

The makers of Seven Psychopaths must have believed – or wanted us to believe – that they were doing something new with the notion of a film that is either within, or which is, the film, but VOS is much more engaging and inventive, and Hit and Run (2012), for all its unevenness, had more laughs - or, rather, had laughs, rather than spaces for them, since I snorted just a dozen times through the course of the film, and six of them were purely in disbelief at the writers’ apparent estimation of my credulity.

The States has its own definition of what the word ‘psychotic’ means, denoting psychopathology (hence Hitchcock’s Psycho, whose Norman Bates kills woman for little reason other than that he can, and had a bad time with his mother), but this film used a very generalized notion of the latter concept, little more than the violent (and / or crazy) bloke in the local who famously ‘is a real psychopath’.

Perhaps for this reason of being confused (which can also be excused on the basis that it is a comedy), the poster had the tag-line ‘They give demented psychotics a bad name’, insulting though that would be to anyone in the UK with an experience of psychosis, and even though this film is funded by Film Four. Now I’m not saying that organized crime might not give opportunities for those who like killing or hurting people, or that it is really of any importance whether Marty (Colin Farrell) or Billy Bickle* (Sam Rockwell, who keeps trying to muscle in on the screenplay), understand what either a screenplay** or a psychopath is, because the clever conceit is meant to be that the film is writing itself or they are writing it as it goes, and so that doesn’t matter.

It then becomes conveniently irrelevant whether what Marty waves around in the desert is a draft of a script, whereas he was previously working on – and not getting very far on – an outline (and, in the only moment where he gives any evidence of writing or being a writer, had not got beyond writing ‘Ext.’ and another couple of defining characteristics of the opening of the scene).

Before that, a message being left for him asks for where what he is working on (as if he had never been required to pitch more of a concept than a numerical group of crazies to interest this unknown caller). Again as if, in a world where a writer writes his friends and himself in a film and they have no independent existence, anything can happen, not the realities of how, in the prominently displayed letters of ‘H O L L Y W O O D’ at the start, its studios work.

This might be for the rationale behind how, in successive shots, it is night and the Buick has just exploded, and then it is abruptly day and it is still on fire, i.e. that in some sort of meta-fictional world anything can happen, but that theme is played far more effectively in VOS, and without the sentimentality allowed here, but with distance : when Hans is with Myra, his dead wife, we have sad music and even a clarinet in its chalumeau register, and, later, plangent solo piano when we are asked to feel something for a dead or injured person.

Farrell’s part is to look shocked and, often enough, to drink to induce reactive amnesia, Rockwell’s to have a suppressed smile always playing rather irritatingly on his face (and be a very unlikely choice of friend), whereas Christopher Walken (as Hans***) is – almost literally – a wraith with a husky voice, with a twisted sort of humanity to match Marty’s.

Against all three, Woody Harrelson as Charlie Brooker is a scarcely mould-breaking combination of the seemingly ruthless and abusive leader, who, although his mouth is the vehicle for much maligning of races and creeds, is soppy about a dog. This is where the comparison with Hit and Run comes in, because Bradley Cooper’s Alex is a far more sinister gang-leader than Charlie, because, even if Charlie shoots Hans’ wife, he is allowed to drop his front far too soon, as if the writing is playing it for (non-existent) humour.

Irrespective of how many psychopaths the film does actually deliver, Billy appears to invoke and encourage danger and killing just for its own sake, or, supposedly, to help the plot along for his friend Marty. Claiming, as Marty does twice, that he is just Billy’s friend may seem an implausible passport to safety, but Farrell’s character has very little to offer, except non-violence and to be an anchor, except in the shade of Billy and to be known as his friend, who is the real originator and creative force, his passing marked by plangent piano…


* Yes, you read that surname aright !

** That said, they are meant to be in film, that alleged industry, so they should, of course, know.

*** To me, not a very Polish name, even if meant to naturalize ‘Jan’.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

What does the word 'stigma' tell anyone ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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25 July

These are some further thoughts about what meaningful message, if any, is given to the public by talking about the stigma of mental ill-health*.

I suspect little more (and who judges a book by its cover - don't we all?) than titles of texts such as, being quite random, The Tao of Pooh, The Road to Wigan Pier, The Dancing Wu Li Masters or Lady Windermere's Fan.

Yes, they identify something, and not always exclusively: for example, film convention is to write Psycho (1960), not least as it was re-made**.

Do titles / names do any more than identify***? Only, I feel, if they are apt, rather than arbitrary (remember the times when no one knew what counselling was, and everyone had to explain that they weren't seeing a counsellor to get advice?): as my footnote says, the titles that Breton gave to Gorky's paintings seem apt, as does The Canterbury Tales.

Contrast that with The Merchant of Venice, because many people (we have probably all still heard of Shylock) would be pressed to say who the person is to whom the title relates. Do we want that sort of confusion, if we are talking about the very real effects that other people's attitudes (not always conscious) have on almost every detail of the lives of people with an experience of mental ill-health?

For those attitudes get translated into a behaviour with as many points on it as most spectra, from which, maybe:

* funny looks

* crossing the road to avoid

* suddenly halting a lively conversation

* name-calling

* telling stories to councils, the Department for Work and Pensions, social services, TV Licensing, the RSPCA, etc.

* excrement on the car / through the door / over the fence

* damage to property, pets, plants, etc.

* putting burning paper through the door

* personal physical attack

* arson (burning paper through the door that 'works')

* murder (where death is not the result of the arson)

That's for the home-life of that person - home, or feeling that one has one, being much of what is left. Since the chances are that, if he or she had a job, an enforced hospital stay led to another spectrum of behaviours, ending in dismissal or resignation. (Home, that is, if an arsonist - or a violent partner - left any home remaining, other than the streets.)

A grim picture? Not an exaggerated one, though, because all of these things do happen, and one thing can lead to another - after all, who is an expert in responding non-provocatively to that sort of attack on who one is and what one has?

No worse considering it than the fact that the mental-health community shudders every time some violent or fatal crime is associated with the perpetrator's mental ill-health, because a backlash is feared. I come back to that phrase:

Who one is and what one has

That is what we want to protect****:

Who one is can so easily and so subtly be under attack, a stealthy attrition that is upon one before one is aware of it, just as is what one has, mentally or, in physical / emotional terms, the little that one calls a home, family, or friends, all of which have a tendency to slip away, if they did not already at whatever breakdown is (the Peer Support Workers call it psychiatric challenge).

Stopping a world continuing to exist where these things happen and are casually - or callously - taken for granted is what combating stigma should work for:

The verbs to traumatize and to stigmatize (both from Greek, so they have a similar ring) are closer than we realize, and using the word 'stigma' - to me - says not nearly as much.

We are stigmatizing people for things that they did not choose to happen. They are not weak, they do not deserve it - if it meant anything to our society any more to say it, we would know that There (but for the grace of God) go I.

This is the significance of talking about one in four people - not that one gets into a four where there already 'a mad person', so that one is magically safe, but that the former slogan of The National Lottery applies: it's not you yet, but how do you know that it won't be?

We must not traumatize people further for what has already left them traumatized - if we were human beings in any real sense, we would stay with them while they seek to tell their stories, weep with them over what has happened already, and help them to heal, and to feel healed, not judged, criticized, abused, spat out and scapegoated.

And, above all, we would burn that stupid slogan out of our hearts, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.


* Or whatever one's preferred term, as, sadly (in a way), there is no agreement even on that: e.g. mental distress (Mind), mental health difficulty (One in Four magazine), mental illness (NHS), etc., etc.

** Re-made, apparently, unhelpfully faithfully, according to one person who could not see the point of re-enacting the old screenplay.

*** Hesitating to dilate on what is added (or lost) when a visual artist calls every work Untitled, although I will recount how a symbiosis occurred between a painter and a poet:

André Breton, spokesman for the Surrealist movement and a poet and novelist, came to know Arshile Gorky and his works. The two men had a good relationship, such that Breton wrote about and gave rise to titles of many of Gorky's later works

With a good (i.e. apt) title (like The Canterbury Tales), can it be separated from the work, because it is now part of it (and of its meaning)?

**** Even if the dismissive (and damning) ways of some consultant psychiatrists can make the job harder, right at the outset, of that person believing that he or she will not always be like this, always need medication, never get back to work, because it is too stressful.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Experiences of Festival events

More views of - or at - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
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24 September

I shall (try to) be kind first, before being cruel – but, sadly, the latter is deserved.

Neil Brand’s voyage through and sample of the film music of Bernard Herrmann (Knowing the Score) was, despite the numerous technical hitches (most of which, as Neil suggested, can be blamed on the stubborn spirit of Bernie that we came to glimpse that afternoon): the on-screen presentation and the examples chosen were clear, Neil identifying the various instruments and effects as the clips ran (audio only for Psycho, with Neil talking us through the instrumentation for strings on screen) was instructive, and, above all, the enthusiasm for and energy involved in explaining the subject were patent.

Contrast that with an event called The Tartan Terror, and one is at the other end of the spectrum. When I came to write about this ‘evening’, which my friend Punyaketu and I decided to spend somewhere else (even in the face of some well-chosen segments from films distributed by Tartan: we saw part of Irreversible, Old Boy, and Man Bites Dog), I was reminded of James Naughtie in King’s chapel, supposedly interviewing another James, composer James MacMillan – as Naughtie made one well aware, he knew his interlocutor (or, more accurately, intended interlocutor) from other encounters, but, one hopes for MacMillan’s sake, not ones where Naughtie coasted, and dilated endlessly before asking questions that: were not worthy of the ticket-price that some had paid, did not leave them much space for the time that they, too, were supposed to have to ask questions, and seemed to leave the other James cold, too, though he did the best to enliven with his answers a session that was becoming dead on its feet.

Now, I wouldn’t suggest that prior consumption of alcohol played any part on either occasion, but Peter Bradshaw fell into exactly the same trap, snaring himself on the belief that, simply because something (not always very fluently – lots of ‘um’s and ‘uh’s, especially at the beginning) was coming out of his mouth, it needed to be said and said until he could think of nothing else to say.

Frankly, it does not matter whether this was billed as Hamish McAlpine (funnily, like MacMillan, another Scot, though I think that he described himself as a pretend one, after an introduction that was in danger of swallowing the whole night) in conversation or being interviewed, it was neither. It was self-indulgent and not interesting (or simply another case of the questioner forgetting why he is (meant to be) there), and, when McAlpine did (get allowed to) start speaking (after lengthy digressions or irrelevant anecdotes about being with directors at Cannes), Bradshaw was speaking affirmations (or even contradictions) into his microphone, rather than just letting the man who was meant to be his guest – and, after all, the focus of the event – talk in peace.

I gave it 1 out of 5, and had a much better conversation of my own somewhere else instead! (And I hope that poor McAlpine isn't left terrified to be invited to do anything else similar, where he might be given the opportunity to saw something...)