Archive for October, 2008

Possessions never meant anything to me…

October 28, 2008

Wednesday 22nd October 2008

Glory Daze (1996)

Shallow, cliched and barely amusing. But somehow I just about managed to enjoy this. Enjoy is a strong word perhaps, but the film gently stirred some nostalgic rose tinted memories of the mid-1990s, and inspired me to stick on some NoFx records.

I find as i grew older, and as time marches on, the 1990s as a decade hold much more resonance. Grewing up I always used to look on at the knowing reverence people threw at the 1980s and couldn’t understand it, but I guess at the age I am, the 1990s is my version of that. It was as I have hinted at in previous posts probably almost as bleak a decade as the 1980s, in the first half at least, where politics and society is concerned anyway. But as a person the 1990s was the decade that I made the leap from bright eyed primary schooler, throw gawky teenagedom and nudged at nascent adulthood. I had the majority of my defining young moments in that decade and obviously there it means a lot to me. So for that reason I am drawn to cultural artifacts of that era even if, as often is the case, they happen to be a little cringesome. Glory Daze can probably be filed under that category.

Ben Affleck plays that young adult who is just not ready to grow up yet and as embarrassing as it is, that was me in the late 1990s. I remember one particular night at the end of June 1998 lying in my room listening to OK Computer, being depressed because most of my friends were at Glastonbury and I wasn’t allowed to go, and pondering how sad it was that we had to grow old. For a while I became a modern Dorian Gray and felt that beyond the age of 18 I should either find a magic portrait to keep me young forever or just end it all…

Of course 10 years later I’ve obviously done neither, but please allow me my own version of staying young forever by indulging in the sickly sentimental ‘yoof’ movies and music of my teenage years. Bring on Before Sunrise, Reality Bites, Dazed and Confused and Nofx, Screeching Weasel, Millencolin etc etc etc… Good Times. Good fucking times….. I think…

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There’s a Man Goin’ Round Takin’ Names

October 28, 2008

Tuesday 21st October 2008

Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)

Today was an inspiring day, both in the conversations I had and the things that I saw. I feel inspiration flowing through me at the moment and I only hope that I can channel all this into something worthwhile. I rounded off a long but fulfilling working day with a trip to see Terence Davies’ luminously brilliant Distant Voices, Still Lives – a film that has, I’m sorry to say, passed me by for years.

Oddly I was stultified as to what to say about this film for almost a week. I have to be fair also been incredibly busy with London Expo and what not. But there was something undefinable about Davies’ film. It seemed merely to exist without demanding too much of the viewer. Perhaps thats just a convenient excuse that I’m employing to avoid analysing this film, I don’t know…

What I can say is that it was a beautiful film. And coming from me that is saying something. I normally find British cinema, paricularly of the bleak Northern, snapshot of the working class variety a little…well…bleak… I’m a big fan of the ‘kitchen sink’ gritty realism and the documentarists such as Humphrey Jennings and later the Free Cinema movement. But somehow, beyond that I find more contemporary accounts of British life a do little for me. Davies’ film of course is not strictly contemporary, being 20 years old, but its in my lifetime at least. But anyway yes, I digress. I found this film completely inspiring and beautiful, not because of what it represented perhaps but due to the syle of representation. The film is fundamentally a musical, with the ensemble cast gently crooning songs of the 1940s/1950s around pub tables, but its so subtle and seamless that you barely even notice the songs drifting through the film. But by the end they somehow make this a more inspiring portrait of a group of lives that otherwise would be dreary and hopeless…

Here’s to sugar on the strawberries!

October 17, 2008

Thursday 16th October 2008

The Swimmer (1968)

I went in on this film completely blind, other than that I knew it starred Burt Lancaster as someone who swims through people’s swimming pools to get to his house. I was expecting a pleasant meandering little melodrama at most.

It started of much in that way, I was a vaguely amused by the quaint and quirky nature of the plot and characters. Burt Lancaster’s character, Ned Merrill, appears from nowhere in his trunks besides some old friends’ pool. The conversational too and fro-wing that ensues is typical of the 1960s American middle class. Everyone is very jovial and they all call each other ‘darling’. Burt Lancaster’s dialogue was slightly odd, but I put this down to poor acting! Ned suddenly realises that he can swim from pool to pool across the county all the way to his house, where his wife and lovely daughters are waiting for him.  Fairly quirky, but fairly straightforward nonetheless.

Pretty soon however the film develops into one the most dark and brutal character studies I’ve ever seen. It gradually becomes clear as Ned splashes from pool to pool, that he is actually insane; and evidently due to the reaction he receives from people who have known him more recently than the old friends he meets initially, he has upset most of these people in a big way too. Suddenly all the things that I’d previously took for quirkyness, such as the plotline, or Ned’s dialogue are seen in a completely different light. He’s not kooky he’s an utter nut job.  And now I’m also left questioning where he had actually appeared from, out of the middle of nowhere in his swimming trunks and nothing else. A mental home? Prison? Its all left gloriously ambiguous, but of course the wife and daughters waiting for him are long gone by the time he reaches home, and the house dilapidated and overgrown.

Its funny I think of some of the scariest men in celluloid history – Norman Bates in Psycho, Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter – and I’d actually be tempted to put Ned Merrill up there with them. He didn’t kill anyone (at least not in the lifetime of the film, but where are his wife and daughters?), but he just had that really unsettling quality that unfortunately accompanies those who have lost control of there mental faculties.

Of course ultimately it was all just terribly sad. The film, and the original story by John Cheever, supposedly serves as an allegory. For what I’m not too sure. It just seemed a thoroughly dispiriting existential slice of life.

* Theres actually loads more I want to say on this film but I have to get to work. Might add some more later!

Getting lost in London…

October 14, 2008

Tuesday 14th October 2008

Bigga Than Ben (2008)

‘Sacha Baron Cohen it isn’t.’ These aren’t my words, rather those of some dickhead on imdb, doing absolutely nothing to dispell the notion that anyone that posts on said website has as about as much filmic knowledge as Rob Schneider’s left elbow. Bigga Than Ben is a rather gritty insight into the unseen underbelly of immigrant life in London, which yes in its first couple of acts is occasionally blackly comic, but there isn’t a scene of naked fat guys wrestling to be found and that anyone could even compare Bigga Than Ben to the frankly piece of shit film that was Borat is just sad

That said I didn’t actually think Bigga Than Ben was great movie. I felt it lost its way half way through. The ducking and diving in the first two acts was great viewing but when the relationship of the two main characters Spiker and Cobakka fell apart, so did I felt the film’s narrative.

On a personal note, having heard director Suzie Halewood speak about the film after the screening telling of her trials and tribulations in making it, I was greatly inspired in my own efforts to make something for myself of artistic significance. But what sustained my interest in the film and what continued to weigh on my mind post viewing was this expose of that part of the city populous that we walk past everyday, but perhaps rarely stop to think about their raison d’etre. We get so caught up in bemoaning imigrants, legal or otherwise, that rarely do we ever stop to think about why these people here. And I don’t just mean because Britain has a soft touch immigration policy, but what has pushed these people here from their formal abode? Undoubtedly, your average immigrant road sweeper in London has lead a more fascinating life than John Smith from down the road who was born, lived and died in the same leafy suburban town. But we never stop to think about that, we just see the foreign face and move on.

Traveling home on the 25 bus I pondered on how it was unsurprising it is that this hidden part of London life remains so. Trying to view London from a tourist’s or, dare I say it, an immigrant’s viewpoint; all I could see almost from Covent Garden, where I caught the film, to my home in Whitechapel was tall gray office blocks and Pret a Mangers. A world in which the immigrant population is generally found keeping your office tidy whilst you sleep or serving you your chicken caesar sandwich at lunch. Blink and you miss it. But somehow a significant proportion of the country still manages to complain about it.

I now suddenly want to know the story behind every single diaspora, and more importantly behind the individual faces that we’d otherwise pass by unknowing, uncaring.

Pitter Patter Goes My Heart…

October 14, 2008

Monday 13th October 2008

Gardens of the Night (2007)

An interesting Monday evening at the London Film School. I had no idea to what to expect about this film, having not heard anything at all or about it, or much about the director Damian Harris, other than that he directed The Rachel Papers in the late 1980s and was the late Richard Harris’ son. I almost didn’t go to this screening at one point, but was damn glad I did.

The film was particularly bleak and harsh, taking in as it did child abduction, paedophilia, child prostitution and a whole host of other storylines which err about as far away from feel good as you can get. Yet strangely this film did make me feel good. It never suggests for a moment that the world we live in is anything less than a horrible never ending succession of harsh indignities and evil people wanting to exploit you. The key is how one deals with things, particularly when faced at a crossroads. The key character, Leslie, in Gardens of the Night comes to a point where she is forced to decide between continuing the cycle of abuse and violence that has inflicted her own horrific life to this point, by inducing another child into a similar situation. Or, alternatively, she must decide to break the cycle – by guiding the child away from the horror and thus going some way perhaps to saving herself. Of course, the latter is a lot easier said than done. When abuse and terror is the only life you know, it must become ingrained within your psyche and you may well see no logical reason as to why others shouldn’t suffer as you have. Breaking free of the only life you know, whether it has been a horrible life or not will always be a trial.

Obviously in our own buttoned down sheltered lives we’d hope that we never have to face the horrors that the characters in this film are forced to go through, but we’re all engaged in seeking to do whats right both for ourselves and those around us. Every day we have to make decisions and quite often the easiest path isn’t always the ‘right’ one. For my own self I took one decision last night that was hard for me to make and I absolutely just about almost took the infinately easier path, but I psyched myself up, took the difficult route and even if nothing comes of it, I feel far better for having taking it.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand, Gardens of the Night does not currently have a UK distributor attached to it. According to Damian Harris this is because most distributors walked out after the first 10 minutes or screenings, so harsh was the film’s opening. If they had have seen the whole thing through as I did though they would have been rewarded with an ultimately ambiguous but in my view absolutely optimistic life lesson.

The lesson? Don’t always take the easiest decision and don’t walk out on a film after only 10 minutes.

Defects in a defect’s mirror…

October 13, 2008

Sunday 12th October 2008

What We Do Is Secret (2007)

There are some things you desperately want to have a positive experience with but you know in the back of your mind that its a distinct possibility that you won’t. Always willing to be pleasantly surprised but knowing from experience that things don’t always turn out ideally. I think that’s my attitude to socialising at the moment. Conveniently for the purposes of this post, it also happens to be my experience of viewing biopics/reading biographies, particularly of those that you admire or hold fascination with.

What We Do Is Secret tells the story of ‘seminal’ LA punk band The Germs and specifically their ill-fated lead singer Darby Crash. I was eagerly hoping for this film to be something special not because I particularly admired Darby Crash, but because The Germs as a band are so criminally overlooked generally in cultural history of great music that they deserve a bit of decent exposure.

Sadly the whole film just seems to miss the point a bit. It skirts around lots of things a makes stabs at superficial explanations of why certain people act the way they have. But on the whole, it all seems – for want of a better phrase – ‘wishy washy’. Forever erring on a sensationalist style but not really ever delving into the truly fascinating character traits exhibited by some of the characters at their disposal. For instance, I find Darby Crash’s wider reasoning behind his ‘five year plan’ ending in his death, and his free-form Scientotlogy tinged education as far more fascinating points of study than the rather ineffectual gay  suggestions and the rather trite and soundbitey rock star posturing that we get in the film.

Saying that, some of the live scenes in What We Do Is Secret were excellent and Shane West genuinely makes a good stab at portraying Darby, its just a shame he suffers from poor direction IMHO.

If you seek a stylised account of a tragic modern artist I’d direct you to Control. If you want a satisfying account of the culture behind the punk/hardcore scene I’d read a book like Dance of Days or Our Band Could Be Your Life. And hell, if you really want to be inspired by a musical tale of the 1970s you really couldn’t do much worse than Almost Famous. I don’t know if i’m missing the point of the consumption of such cultural artifacts, but they should be inspiring – one way or another – and sadly What We Do Is Secret merely inspired me to want to make better films than the people out there already.

Under neon loneliness…

October 9, 2008

Thursday 9th October 2008

London (1994)

Today was an interesting and pensive day. I’m hopefully clawing my way out of my milieu, and now thats being replaced with a sort of contemplativeness that perhaps I feel more comfortable with. This was aided by a viewing of Patrick Keiller’s brilliant London, viewed at the London Film School, and followed with a Q&A with Mr Keiller himself. I first discovered London and its follow up Robinson In Space on DVD only a few months ago, but it was great (if a little depressing) to view it again in the light of everything i was discovering via my thesis.

The film is a psychogeographic jaunt around the city and environs of London over a period of 9 months in 1993. Its incredibly evocative of its period, taking in John Major’s relection, the ERM fiasco and the day in day out IRA bombings of the city, which bizarrely have almost faded from my memory. Its not so much a tribute to the city as a deeper more ingrained imagining of what London was, will and could be. Its strange, but viewing the film again I realise that that period was of course rather bleak – not just because of those newsworthy events I’ve just mentioned but a more entrenched bleakness that just seems to persist throughout the ages in this country and perhaps most personified in this city of ours.

What I mean is, the 1980s always, despite the glitz always seem to have that inherent bleak sheen across it. I have fond rose tinted memories of being a young kid in the 1980s but really those memories are of watching cartoons which were overworldly and obviously not contingent with the reality around me, which in actual fact was Thatcher, Cold War dragging its feet, Chernobyl etc. The 1970s similarly just invokes grim notions of 3 day working weeks, miner’s strikes, glam rock – just pure austerity all the way. You can keep going back in this way through recent British history and the same inherent bleak quality is often all that comes across in our memetic association of any given decade.

Then of course instead of falling back, one must jolt ourself back into the present. And what do we have today? You know what I’m getting at. The same old shit. Today on the radio, they were interspersing the usual chatter about the credit crunch with a discussion on euthanasia. In other words, its so bleak in today’s world that we should actually all be helping each other kill ourselves.

This is all very negative right? Well today I had another nostalgic imagining of a completely different kind which was rereading Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram. This ‘magical’ reminiscence on Britpop and the Glitter Underground, has enough sly and wry in-jokes to make it knowingly nostalgic rather than sickly sentimental. And even though I wasn’t totally convinced at the strength of the book itself, by the end of it I was totally caught up in the authors’ and characters’ obvious whistfulness for this period. And I began to remember all the great great great times I had in the late 1990s, and there it hit me, something had broken through that hymen of bleakness that had persisted otherwise. What was it? Was it really all down to Liam, Patsy, Tony Blair and Cool fucking Brittania? We’re they actually right all along? Well partly actually yeah. I think what really picked the country out of the cultural slump it was in was that self-celebrating zeitgeist. I guess you could say exactly the same thing about the swinging sixties cultural revolution. You wouldn’t necessarily say that about punk in the 1970s and 1980s as that was arguably more about anger and bitterness. And we certainly don’t have anything of the kind today.

So maybe thats all it is. We don’t need multi-billion pound bail out programs for the banks, we need another cultural reinvention of Britannia. But the problem is we have already exceeded our limit. Flower power and Swinging London just about saved one generation in the 1960s, whilst Britpop and Cool Brittania lifted the country again from its doldrums 30 years later. But can we re-invent the wheel another time? As David Kohl says in Phonogram: ‘One return – one magnificent return is a myth… Someone lurching back again and again with nothing but past glories to ram down everyone’s throat isn’t a goddess anymore’.

So maybe we really are all screwed this time…


He remembers those vanished years. As though looking throusth a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

October 7, 2008

Tuesday 7th October 2008

In The Mood For Love (2000)

Today has been a much better day. A good hard working day which always makes me feel lifted, a delicious free lunch, and a pleasant jog home during which the weather wasn’t entirely awful. I decided to reward this good feeling with finally dusting of Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love which I’ve owned for years as part of the Tartan Wong Kar Wai boxset, but must be one of the only people I know who has never seen it.

It was a somewhat confusing but stunningly beautifully shot film. I’m not sure I really understood what was happening at first and probably missed a few nuances due to my exhaustion from jogging home. But fundamentally it revolves around a couple who meet in their tenement building and gradually form a relationship whilst their respective spouses are absent.

At first I couldn’t really make out what the fuss about this particular film was all about but what really drew me in was the camerawork. I loved how almost every shot began with a space devoid of human characters until the actors almost accidentally blundered into shot. It was tinged with this really stylised realism, if thats not a contradiction in terms. The attention to detail was really special as well and the why in which the camera was drawn to seemingly insignificant points.

Stylistically I felt it owed much to Ozu and especially to Antonioni, in particular L’ecliisse and the rest of his ‘dossier of decadence’. The way in which the two lovers drifted into each other’s lives and seemingly had a profound effect on each other, but then the rest of the world continues as normal around them. The final scene in which  Chow visits Angkor Wat in Cambodia on his own several years later was really reminiscent of the final scene in L’ecliisse (aka one of my favourite scenes in a movie ever).

Ultimately considering I was in a cheerful mood, I found this a profoundly sad film. Its stayed with me but I’m struggling to find words to portray how I felt about this flick. I think its the sort of thing I need to revisit. Anyway I’m brain and body dead so time to sign out for another day…

Faith in the future…

October 6, 2008

Monday 6th October 2008

Linha de Passe (2008)

A rather bleak monday, and a rather bleak evening film. Or is it? I was initially drawn to Linha de Passe because of a rather catching one sheet I kept on seeing on the undergrounf, on closer inspection I see its the new film from Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas and I’m pretty much sold. I loved The Motorcycle Diaries so I had reasonably high hopes for this film.

I stumbled out to watch it at the Genesis, having run home from work, becoming completely exhausted in the process and developing a fairly hefty headache. My mood was not great still today, we’ve jumped full on in gloomy wet winter like conditions and I’m not sure I’m all prepared for it yet. My mood upon arrival at the cinema was not lifted by the sadly typically annoying Genesis clientele. I wonder if there is any baser form of human being than the two characters in the row next to me who laughed inanely at three commericals in a row – thats not movie trailers – but commercials? Maybe the couple in the row in front who thought it was appropriate to talk in loud voices almost throughout. Hell truly is other people sometimes, misquoted or not.

So how did Linha de Passe tally up to my mood? The film seemingly takes its cue from Neo-Realism, being slightly reminiscent of Mama Roma or even Ladri di Biciclette. It follows the lives of four brothers (seemingly from different fathers) and their pregnant mother who tries to pick up the slack of their lives. One is a footballer, desperate to make it to the big time, an other has found Jesus but struggles with his faith, one is a courier falling into crime, and the youngest is desperate both to ride (and drive) busses and moreover to find his father. As I said on the surface it is bleak, and interestingly considering its Brazil, the Sao Polo depicted here features not a single seen of sunshine. Its so grey it could almost be London, almost.

I found it a particularly liminal film in many ways – the characters all exist upon the edges of society, wanting to progress forward but never quite making it. The film itself seems to skirt between bleakness and optimism, hit home by the different stories of the different brothers.

Ultimately though it seems a film about faith. Faith that despite whatever our lot is, or whatever a mess we’ve made of our lives, that there’s a possibility that things could maybe some day get better. Thats pretty much all we can hope for, right now and always.

Stupidity has saved many a man from going mad….

October 5, 2008

Sunday 5th October 2008

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

So it is here I start my cinematic pilgrimage. Why start with this particular film, one of which I’ve seen several times before? It just felt right really. I watched Chinatown earlier this morning, a feature legth documentary on Aleister Crowley yesterday, and on friday I caught Tropic Thunder at the Genesis, and earlier in the morning found myself at a screening of new anime flick Sword of a Stranger. Any of these could easily have been my first post, but I wasn’t filled with any urgent inspiration till today.

I caught the film at the NFT, desirous of something pleasant to do indoors on this most gloomsome of autumnal rainy sundays. For those who haven’t seen the film, A Matter of Life and Death is Powell and Pressburger’s WWII set allegorical evocation of love and fate which unravels as David Niven’s British airman Peter David Carter accidentally manages to cheat death after plunging from his plane, all because Marius Goring’s not so grim reaper manages to miss the body in the devilish English weather. On his borrowed time on Earth, Peter falls in love with with Yank girl, June. But soon the mix up becomes clear in the celestial plane and Peter must barter for a second chance in the ultimate court of justice.

I want this blog, more than anything to be an emotive account of my movie watching habits, rather than just a standard review, which you can of course get just about anywhere. I want you to understand why it is I’m watching a particular movie on a particular day. There will presumably be a fair bit of personality coming out with that. Not that I want this to be some kind of emo miserablist diary where I complain about how desperately unhappy I am so I watched Garden State and now I’m going to tell you about how that film is like basically my life! No thats not what you are going to get (I hope). I like to play my cards pretty close to my chest in life, so I probably won’t be moping and moaning too much on here….

Saying all that, I was a little maudlin today. I was miffed a little that I’ve found myself spending my first free weekend since finishing studying, spent in much the same fashion all those study weekends – i.e. pretty much in my own company. Admittedly this was much down to my own making (I believe I may be slightly institutionalised and not ready for supra-socialisation yet) – I probably could have gone out with people had I really wanted to. Anyway, I found myself today wanting to do something pleasant with my Sunday. I journeyed first to the Tate Modern through the horrifically sodden streets of London. Whilst in the Tate I first pondered wether I was the only person on my own in their but then a greater feeling of numbness came over me whilst viewing the modern and contemporary pieces hanging on the walls. I don’t want to make sweeping statements about modern art, but I find a lot of it really rather bleak, maybe thats an intentional comment on modernity, but almost nothing I saw pleased me in any way.

What has any of this got to do with A Matter of Life and Death you might ask? Well the point is, that more often than not, what I appreciate in art is romanticism, something which was almost completely absent from everything I saw in the Tate, but of course finds its outlet everywhere in Powell and Pressburger’s canon, be it the actual amorous romances featured in AMOLAD or I Know Where I’m Going, or perhaps more importantly the mystical romantic landscapes that appear everywhere in P&P’s work. In short I wanted to view something suggestive of a greater, timeless, more sublime notion of existence – a diversion from my current milieu… And to be fair I got it. There is not so much of the sublime mysticism of A Canterbury Tale or I Know Where I’m Going but there are a whole host of beautiful shots none more so than the vast celestial court and the emblematic ‘stairway to heaven’. And actually what we find in AMOLAD is mysticism tempered with pure science, as shown by the intertwining of the celestial court and the operating theatre where Peter is under the neurosurgeon’s knife, and in Roger Livesey’s character Dr Frank Reeves who acts kind of like a medieval magus combining science and mysticism. Reeves is a village doctor who lords over his village viewing it Godlike through a camera obsura, he also unquestionably accepts Peter’s fantastical story whilst at the same time suggesting the exact medical diagnosis needed. Its this fluid interaction between solid reasoning and and the unquantifiable that makes the film so fascinating.

Ultimately I think the film did have the desired effect, my mood has slightly improved. Interestingly though, for a film over 50 years old which was meant to serve as a diversion it was funny how contemporary some of it was, namely the Britain V America theme in the celestial court. The film suggests that the two countries are indellibly intertwined, and the current economic climate which of course is all America’s fault reminds us that this is still the case…