Eavesdropping at the Movies: 191 – Monos

Comparisons to Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies are inescapable in Alejandro Landes’ captivating Monos, about a group of teenage soldiers, stationed on a Colombian mountaintop, whose relationships and leadership break down during a descent into the jungle.

We think about its central imagery, Mike arguing that one image above all speaks for the film as a whole, and its allegorical qualities, José considering the character of the American hostage and the impact of American foreign policy and cultural influence on these kids’ mentalities and environment. Mike suggests that the engrossing experience of watching the film may outshine its thematic substance, but nonetheless we highly recommend it and urge you to see it at a cinema if you can.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

‘The Soundscapes of Jóhann Jóhannsson’ by Alex Hobbs

Alex Hobbs discusses Laurent Jullier’s notion of the “film-concert” in relation to the work of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Depth of Field

According to Emilio Audissino, referencing the work of Laurent Jullier, the typical mainstream film has become a “film-concert”: an event “in which the sound elements are being foregrounded to such an extent that the enveloping and saturated aural experience […] is one of the biggest attractions”.[1] Expanding on this, Rossella Valdrè describes the film-concert as a “sensations bath” designed to provoke an intense emotional and physical response from the audience by creating or imitating a “growing similarity between emotions felt in reality or at the cinema”.[2] However, she quickly dismisses the film-concert as only applying to a few specific films and asserting that cinema is not purely “an amusement park”.[3] Similarly, Audissino frames his discussion of the film-concert as a criticism of mainstream cinema. He mourns the reduced importance of music in film, which he suggests has been undermined by new digital technologies that allow hundreds of…

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In Conversation with Dolores Tierney on the films of Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón

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Emilio Fernández and Roberto Gavaldón are two of the great directors of Mexican Cinema´s Golden Age. Dolores Tierney is a Senior Lecturer in Media and Film at Sussex University and an internationally renown film scholar who has written an important book on the work of Fernández, Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins, and who has also written extensively on Gaváldon.

If Fernández´films are already well known, Gavaldón´s work is having an incredible and long over-due revival this year, with retrospectives  in New York´s Lincoln Centre and the San Sebastian Film Festival, His work also featured heavily in the Salon Mexico: The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema retrospective at the BFI earlier in the year and  the Cine Doré in Madrid, whose programme names him ´The King of Mexican Melodrama´, is currently showing a range of his films.

As Dolores writes in Emilio Fernández: Pictures in the Margins (Manchester University Press, 2007):

For seven years, from 1943 until 1950, Emilio Fernández (1904-1986) was regarded as one of the foremost puveyors of Mexicanness,’ as one of the most important filmmakers of the Mexican film industry…, and as one of the most famous filmmakers in the Western world. His distinctive, ‘authentically Mexican´ visual style — developed over an extensive collaboration with photographer Gabriel Figueroa of thirteen years and twenty-two films — was praised for bringing international attention and prestige to the Mexican film industry…At the height of his career in the 1940s he was loved by audiences and critics alike, not only for bringing international attention and artistic glory to the Mexican motion-picture industry but also for defining a school of Mexican films. Indeed, he underscored and in some ways initiated this approach to his work by repeated claiming ´!El cine mexicano so yo¡/ I am Mexican cinema´

 

In his introduction to La fatalidad urbana: El cine de Roberto Gavaldón (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2007), Fernando Mino Gracia writes:

What would Mexican cinema be without the the sure look — distant, reflexive — of Roberto Gavaldón. We would have lost no less that the most rounded, audacious and finished oeuvre, one that explains a fundamental period of Twentieth Century Mexican cinema, that which covers the period of the end of the Second World War to the start of the 70s. Because Gavaldón is the the filmmaker who best diagnosed, over the entirety of his work, the pulse of a society in the process of consolidation. Nothing was the same by the end of the 1950s and Gavaldón was a privileged witness and chronicler. A mirror which re-works with complex subtlety the inequality of that society and which today, for better and worse, gives us sustenance (p. 19, trans my own).

 

The podcast below is a wide-ranging discussion on the films and careers of Fernández and Gavaldón with the hope of drawing attention to these immense works of world cinema and also to Dolores Tierney´s invaluable writing on both of these directors.

In the podcast, Dolores and I discuss the work of each director, their collaborations with leading stars such as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores Del Rio, María Felix, Arturo de Cordova; Melodrama, Mexican Nationalism and its discourses, how the films, be they noirs or melodramas or even rural sagas, fit into a post-revolution political project whilst also being dialogue transnationally with classical Hollywood cinema.

My hope for the podcast is that Dolores´enthusiasm will lead you to the films and that my own will lead you to Dolores´invaluable work on them.

 

Those of you wishing to pursue further links might enjoy this video essay by Dolores Tierney and Catherine Grant on the ´cabaretera´films of the period.

 

I have also written on several Gavaldón films and you can pursue links here:

La Diosa arrodillada/ The Kneeling Goddess (1947)

La Noche avanza/ Night Falls (1952)

Camelia (1953)

La Escondida (1956)

Macario (1960)

…and on a couple of Fernández films:

Las Islas Marias (1951)

…and you can see the incredible clip from Fernández´Victimas del pecado (1951) here:

José Arroyo

 

In Conversation with Martha Shearer on ‘New York City and the Hollywood Musical: Dancing in the Streets’.

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I so loved reading Marthat Shearer´s New York City and the Hollywood Musical: Dancing in the Streets that I wanted to talk to its author to find out some more about it whilst hopefully also drawing attention to the work. The result is the podcast below:

In the podcast Martha and I talk about the origins of the work in an earlier study of Gene Kelly, Irishness and Urban Space; how the choice of New York seems self-evident considering the preponderance of its presence in the American Musical. I was delighted at how the book takes on figures and aspects normally marginalised in traditional studies (Bing Crosby, Mae West, the Fox musical). We discuss the influence of Richard Dyer´s ‘Entertainment and Utopia’, how in the musical places are made to feel intense and joyful, so how does that fit into the cities themselves? The book brings genre studies into dialogue with urban studies, geography and the history of how those concrete material places are being transformed. It correlates the history of those material transformations to a history of their representation.

 

We talk about the concept of nostalgia and its relation to time and place. the influence of the work of David Harvey and Fredric Jameson to the methodology of the study and the significance of the choices that structure the study (Urban Space and the Origins of the Musical, The Neighbourhood Musical, The Nostalgia Musical, Broadway and Times Square etc.) Finally, we end with a discussion of Martin Scorsese´s New York, New York; how the conflict between the leads are also conflicts between different forms of entertainment: De Niro, Art; Minnelli, showbiz. Jazz is pure, masculine, art. She´s pop culture. Those two positions, the forms of urbanism associated with those kinds of styles becoming irreconcilable.

An interesting and wide-ranging talk which I hope will whet your appetite for the book.

 

José Arroyo

William Blake at Tate Modern

The William Blake show at the Tate is so well-curated and richly illustrated that I haven´t been able to process it properly and will return to see it again. My main thought was that the style and the visualisation of people, creatures and worlds (alternate, divine, hellish, spiritual and earthly, monstrous, carnal) are so modern they would fit right into contemporary comic books and graphic novels. A look at the display in the bookshop quickly convinced me I was not the first person to think that.

 

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Song Lang (Leon Le, Vietnam, 2018)

A melodrama, subtly told, about a love that becomes impossible, with a resolution in which the audience knows more than the characters.

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The film is set in 80s Ho Chi Minh. Dung (Lien Binh Phat) is a ruthless enforcer for a debt collector. He meets Linh Phung (Isaac), the star of a Cai Luang opera, when he threatens to burn their costumes if they don´t pay up. They meet again when Linh Phung gets bullied in a bar and they both end up fighting the thugs. Linh Phung´s keys get lost and he ends up spending the night with Dung, playing video games, telling each other the story of their lives, and articulating a shared passion for music, and particularly Cai Luang, a type of popular opera that turns out to be a key to the past of both.

Song Lang, the title of the film, ostensibly refers to the percussion instrument used in Cai Luang. The percussion is supposed to guide the opera and its protagonists down a moral path in life. Ostensibly Song Lang translates literally into ´Two Men´. So here we have two characters, both played by local pop star phenomena, trying to find a moral path through a traumatic history, a shared love of art, the pursuit and abandonment of artistic purpose and drive, and the unfolding of elective affinities, a friendship of the heart, that is also imbued with incipient desire.

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The feelings of the characters are expressed through opera (Cai Luang), very beautiful, full of feeling, expressing what the characters can´t. I love the showbiz milieu, the campiness of it, and it combines well with the harshness of the life depicted. The most striking thing about this film is the imagery, every composition is interesting, evocative, expressive. Both itself and also conveying mood, feeling. I was very moved by it. I like the way it melds flashback, comic books, video games, all to evoke a way of life, background, texture, the way that the characters are fleshed out, given histories. The two protagonists are meant for each other but can´t be. And one will never know how close it came to being, or what the other one really felt and did. A beautiful melodrama which brings to mind in different ways the best work of Wong Kar Wai and Richard Linklater.Screenshot 2019-11-07 at 10.29.21.png

LGBTQ audiences may have reservations about the end but I think the melodrama recquires it and I personally loved it. Moreover, Song Lang is a great film,  one that will last, though you probably won´t get many opportunities to be seen on a big screen. See it while you can.

Playing as part of the Q-Film Weekender at the Northampton Playhouse

José Arroyo

Madame (Stephane Riethauser)

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Madame is Caroline, a ninety-year old self-made woman who´s countered and overcome sexism all her life with wit and with humour. Her grandson Stéphane is now victim of  homophobia. when he tries to overcome that which he´s internalised, he finds his grandmother externalising it for and onto him.  The sufferings of grandmother and grandson both stem from sexism. But as the film unfolds and he comes to accept his homosexuality, she becomes part of the problem. Will their love overcome his insistence on being himself?

A beautiful documentary. A love letter from a gay grandson to his grandmother, and to my knowledge, unique in covering this thematic. It´s beautifully structured and narrated, with a poetic voice-over that gets at the heart of the sexism in society, founded on homophobia, and so encompassing that it makes Stéphane turn against himself and against nature. That it´s so beautifully conveyed is extraordinary. The filmmaker is lucky in having so much audio-visual material, covering his whole life, to draw upon. But it takes artistry to give it such poetic shape, to make the strong and pointed political implications seem so simple and to give the impression that they unfurl so naturally.

Madame and her grandson are both very charismatic, which helps. If the film had nothing else, that alone would make it watchable. But there is so much more: the narration, the structure, the editing, the choice of music, the gentle and insistent attempts to understand oneself and each other. Very beautiful.

Playing as part of the Q-Film Weekender at the Northampton Playhouse

José Arroyo

Carlos Saura´s photographs at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid

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Everyone knows Carlos Saura´s work as a filmmaker: Cría cuevos, La caza, Los golfos; the peerless flamenco trilogy with Antonio Gadés: Bodas de sangreCarmen, El amor brujo; and so much more. I knew he´s been celebrated as a photographer. But I did not really know that aspect of his work and I was really bowled over by it. His 1950s ones are classics but very powerful to see enlarged. The Chaplin pictures are intimate and beautiful, I include a selection of others like the one of Margot Fonteyn in Seville and the Lola Flores and Buñuel just because they´re fab and I imagine some of you will be interested. Such a great exhibition. His notebooks, full of drawings, water-colours, compositions, plays on light, are a real demonstration of the preoccupations of a 20th century visual artist, and I include a sampling as well.

The 50s:

 

Geraldine Chaplin:

 

The notebooks:

 

The famous:

 

The family, the man, the movie cameras:

 

Fascinating Fascism:

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José Arroyo

´Defiant Muses: Delphine Seyrig and the Feminist Video Collectives in France in the 70s and 80s´at the Queen Sofia, Madrid.

Images from the great ‘Delphine Seyrig Defiant Muses ‘exhibition. The greatness of the exhibition is in conveying a range of feminist practices, collective and social, international, ranging from issues on abortion to sex work to trans performances of classic American plays, to the liberation of video as form, to the value even of unproduced feminist film projects (Calamity Jane). And a range of relationships between women (Duras, Ulrike Ottinger, Agnès Varda, Simone de Beauvoir and so many more whose names don´t mean as much to me. I was delighted to see Jean Genet speaking up for Angela Davis and the Black Panthers as part of the work produced by Seyrig and the feminist collectives she was a part of.

 

Here is the program: defiant muses 1

defiant 2

defiant 3

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defiant 5

defiant 6

 

Plus some more images and text I thought some of you might find interesting:

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 190 – Sorry We Missed You

Returning to Newcastle after shining his coruscating lens on the inhumanity of the benefits system in I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach now casts his eye on the gig economy and the exploitation of workers in Sorry We Missed You. A struggling dad and husband gets a job as a delivery driver, coerced into handling unfair responsibility and meeting impossible targets, with the stability of his family bearing the brunt of the stress.

José argues that Sorry We Missed You only tells us what we already know; Mike contends that its dramatisation makes it scarily real. We’re in agreement that it’s not especially interesting filmmaking, though, José suggesting that Loach doesn’t trust images to convey what he wants. And José has never enjoyed his depiction of the working class, finding it unrealistic at best, with no joy or love available to his films’ victims, though he agrees – with some relief! – that there is love in the central family here. Although there’s a lot to criticise in his often mechanical filmmaking, we agree that Loach makes meaningful films with which he sincerely wants to make a difference, and that’s admirable to say the least.

If nothing else, Sorry We Missed You inspired Mike to try and do one nice thing for a stranger upon leaving the cinema, and that must mean it’s a work of genius. If, however, you are already someone who does nice things, then you may find it less inspiring, though it is in some respects vital. It won’t do you any harm to wait until it’s shown on telly though.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 189 – Ring

A horror film that everyone knew about when Mike was a teenager, but nobody seemed to have seen, we finally see 1998’s Ring – or Ringu, to transliterate the Japanese title. It’s been beautifully restored in 4K and we were keen to see what all the fuss was about.

And, truthfully, we’re left still asking that. Its influence is obvious, Mike suggesting that alongside 1999’s The Blair Witch Project it defined a new generation of horror cinema, but we don’t find it all that creepy, let alone scary. We suggest a number of factors in its iconic status: its place in the West as a foreign curio, an oddity; its brilliant conceit, a videotape that gives you seven days to live after you watch it, giving it an urban myth quality, rather like the found footage form of The Blair Witch Project convincing people of that film’s reality. And perhaps what was different and interesting about Ring at the time of its release has become commonplace enough to no longer appear so.

However, none of this is to say that we disliked the film, which would be a lie. It remains an intriguing and compelling mystery that makes excellent use of its central idea and creates some truly iconic imagery. We’re glad to have finally seen it, and if you have any interest in horror, this 4K restoration gives you renewed reason to revisit, or visit for the first time, this foundational film.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes. We are also on Spotify as Eavesdropping at the Movies

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Tino Muchina & José Arroyo on ‘Austin Powers’

Tino Muchina and I chat about Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged me (1999)

Depth of Field

Tino Muchina and José Arroyo discuss the joys of Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged me (1999) and the wide range of intertextual references within the film and consider whether the film is a homage to and celebration of past styles as opposed to a mimicry and empty parody. Particularly speaking in terms of its relation to Sixties Britain and the nostalgia this evokes in audiences.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 188 – Bait

Shot in black and white on a clockwork camera from the 1970s, the hand-development of its 16mm film resulting in scratches and unpredictable changes in exposure, and its soundtrack entirely post-synchronised, Mark Jenkin’s Bait is audiovisually suffused with atmosphere and texture, and not a little dreamlike and weird to boot. It tells the story of Martin, a Cornish fisherman struggling to cope with the upheaval of both his region and his life specifically that results from an influx of middle-class settlers. He’s sold his family’s cottage to a family of outsiders, his brother now uses his fishing boat to take tourists on drunken stag parties, and Martin snarls and growls his way through dealing with these changes.

It’s clear that we’re meant to see Martin as a hero, but he’s tilting at windmills – though perhaps that’s WHY he’s a hero – and José argues that the film is deeply conservative, asking, for instance, why it’s so bad that Martin’s brother adapts to his changing environment by taking tourists on trips. Mike argues that the family of newcomers is too caricatured, so keen is the film for us to see them as invaders who fuck everything up, and thinks about the film’s parochialism in the wider context of Brexit – the unfriendliness to outsiders displayed here speaks to anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the UK; is there a difference between the way the Cornish in Bait feel and the way Brexiters throughout the country feel? Perhaps there’s a tension between the relative power and privilege of the “invaders” and “invaded” that we don’t resolve, but in overly simplistic terms we don’t emerge from the film feeling entirely on its side.

Jenkin’s cinematography and editing beautifully conveys what there is to love about Martin’s way of life, concentrating on manual labour and his close-knit community. José suggests that the film looking the way it does makes it feel as though it’s already an object from the past, with the romance, nostalgia and loss that goes along with it – just as it depicts the decline of its way of life. It also puts us in mind of Italian Neorealism, José bringing up Visconti’s La terra trema, Mike thinking of De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, and we’re indebted to Mark Fuller for offering a perspective on Bait‘s place within a tradition of similarly claustrophobic coastal dramas, such as Gremillon’s The Lighthouse Keepers, Epstein’s Finis Terrae, Flaherty’s Man of Aran, and Powell’s Edge of the World. Mike also considers the film’s visual and tonal similarity to Aronofsky’s Pi, thinking about how effectively that film places the audience in the main character’s headspace, and suggesting that the visual design here does the same.

Bait is a considerable film, one that speaks deeply to the loss of a certain way of life and the anger and resentment to which that leads. But the film doesn’t appear keen for this resentment to be questioned, and we feel it needs to be.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

Alex Hobbs & José Arroyo on ‘Mandy’

Alex Hobbs and I discuss Mandy

Depth of Field

Alex Hobbs and José Arroyo talk about ‘Mandy’, the psychedelic revenge drama directed by Panos Cosmatos which rocked festivals last year. They discuss the film’s distinct visuals, the source of Cosmatos’ nostalgia for 80s horror, and his challenging approach to masculinity within revenge films and the horror genre more widely. Alex is particularly interested in the score, composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, and why so many critics have described the film as a “heavy-metal horror”. Occasionally, Alex and José also gush over Nicolas Cage’s performance, which miraculously strikes a balance between deranged and delicate.

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‘Raw’ (2016) Review by Polina Goupalo

Depth of Field

Like its chosen
subject, Raw is surrounded by
mysticism. Opening at the festival circuit back in 2016, rumours spread far and
wide about the impressionable French horror film which left audiences vomiting
and fainting in masses. But for all its media furore about the horror and gore
on-screen, Raw is one of the most
humane cannibal representations in cinema.

Considering the film’s
subject matter, however, the exaggerated reports aren’t surprising. As the
director herself puts it, “It’s too close.” Cannibals are commonly placed in
the same supernatural realm of horror as vampires and zombies. From scientific
experiments-gone-wrong to ‘savage’ tribes living outside of civilisation,
cannibals have often been presented as the Other. But the reality is that cannibals
really do exist and they’re biologically no different to us, which is why we
find them so disturbing. With all the films attempting to understand murderers
and incest, Ducournau unapologetically tackles the…

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