Eavesdropping at the Movies: 328 – Spencer

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

As he did with 2016’s Jackie, director Pablo Larraín explores the life, image, and legacy of a woman publicly struck by tragedy in Spencer, a fabulistic biopic that imagines a Christmas holiday spent with the royal family at Sandringham, during which Princess Diana struggles with the knowledge of her husband’s affair and the watchful eyes of both the royals and the paparazzi.

We discuss our own relationships to both Larraín and Diana, and consider how the film draws on various aspects of the princess’s public image in painting a portrait of a woman losing her mind. The film is set squarely within that mind, and Mike argues that it uses several tropes and techniques common to horror in order to dramatise Diana’s fracturing mental state. José expresses his love for Kristen Stewart’s outstanding lead performance, one that doesn’t impersonate but evokes, and conveys differing stages of psychosis with subtlety.

We don’t agree on everything, and the film isn’t perfect, but Spencer is a really remarkable, expressive exploration of an iconic figure.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 327 – Mothering Sunday

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A film of surprising delights – certainly for Mike, who hates anything that looks like it could appear on ITV – Mothering Sunday tells the story of one key 1924 day in the life of a young maid. It’s a film filled with grief and lust, beautifully shot and featuring the best of British acting, Colin Firth and Olivia Colman’s performances subtly modulated and multifaceted. It’s imperfect, failing to engage with race as it perhaps should, and a framing device feels rather unnecessary – but it’s a moving and sensitive film.

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

Thinking Aloud About Film: Encounter at the Station (Hsin Chi, Taiwan, 1965)

Encounter at the Station (Taiwan, 1965) is the last of the 5 Hsin Chi films programmed by the Anthology Film Archives in New York and available for all to see for free until November 30. It is a melodrama in the truest sense, music plus drama, with songs narrating or underlining the action at almost every moment. And what action! The film takes on every melodramatic trope possible and when you think it can’t get any more extreme it surprises you by going even further still. A young high school student falls in love with a boy at the station. On her deathbed her mother reveals to her that she is really adopted and to beware of the stepfather. And for good reason, as soon as the mother dies, he sells the young girl to a nightclub to pay for the mother’s funeral. Her love surprises her at the club and buys her out. But it’s no good, her secret’s revealed and she will be forever a B-girl. People have to give up their children, some go blind, some go mad. It’s never boring. We discuss all of this and more in the podcast below:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

The Anthology Film Archive introduces the retrospective as follows:

5 FILMS BY HSIN CHI (Nov 17-30, 2021)

Last December, Anthology presented an online series – “Taiwan B-Movies” – in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI) and the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. That series showcased several films restored by the TFAI as part of their ambitious and vitally important efforts to preserve Taiwanese Cinema, including those that fall under the category of Taiyu Pian: Taiwanese-language films produced between 195581, in which the characters speak only Taiwanese (i.e., Taiwanese Minnan or Hokkien) despite their various backgrounds in the story. During the heyday of this vibrant local film industry, over 1,000 films were produced, but less than 200 have survived. Since 2014, TFAI has endeavored to restore some of these Taiwanese-language gems. As a follow-up to “Taiwan B-Movies”, and in order to continue to celebrate the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute’s preservation efforts, we present another online series devoted to the Taiyu Pian filmmaker HSIN Chi (aka XIN Qi). Born in the Wanhua District of Taipei in 1924, HSIN moved to Japan at the start of the 1940s, where he developed an early interest in theater and cinema. When he returned to Taiwan, he was active in the theater, but in 1956 embarked on a career in filmmaking. During the next two decades he would direct or produce upwards of 90 films – including more than 50 Taiwanese Hokkien-language films – in nearly every imaginable genre: from romances and screwball comedies to crime films, thrillers, and wuxia, not to mention Taiwanese opera and even softcore pornography. Tragically, only eight of these films survive, but several continue to enjoy a cult following in Taiwan to this day. Following the decline of Taiyu Pian cinema in Taiwan in the late 1960s, HSIN turned to making Mandarin-language films, including in Hong Kong, before transitioning into a long and productive career in the television industry. He retired from filmmaking in the 1990s and turned his attention to film preservation and archiving. In 2000, HSIN was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Horse Awards. His work remains little known here in the U.S., however – a situation we hope to remedy with this online film series. This online film series has been organized in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI), and is presented with generous support from the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. For more information about HSIN Chi, including special video introductions and newly translated articles, click here: http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/hsin_chi

We have now podcast on all the films screened. The podcasts can be listened to here:

The Bride Who Returned From Hell (Hsin Chi, 1965)

Foolish Bride, Naive Bridegroom (Hsin Chi, 1967)

Dangerous Youth (Hsin Chi, 1969)

The Rice Dumpling Vendors (Hsin Chi, 1969)

Along with the films, Anthology Film Archives also offers various introductions to the films by prominent scholars such as Chi-Heng Su and Wan-Jui Wang

 

Clips illustrating the film’s melodramatic mode can be seen below, the latter one fully musical:

José Arroyo

 

The Youssef Chahine Film Club — The Will (Kamal Selim, 1939)

In Egypt, The Will (aka Determination) is often voted the greatest Egyptian film of all time, one of the greatest ever anywhere, and a precursor to Italian neo-realism. Youssef Chahine recommended it and provided the impetus for our viewing. In this podcast, we discuss how much we liked it (the representation of a whole way of life with its structures of feeling, the melodrama, the resonances it still has to contemporary life); the limits of its comparison to neo-realism; its influence on Chahine, particularly evident in Daddy Amin; and how and why its claims to being one of the greatest films of all time nonetheless elude us.

The podcast my also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

Mark Cousins talks about The Will in Story of Film. Some very interesting context for it:

A great restoration of the film (with slightly eccentric subtitles) is available on iTunes:

 

José Arroyo

Slavoj Žižek, Violence

I stopped reading a while ago and only started this because a student is using it for a project. Žižek is still ‘translating’ everything into Lacanian language. Hegel and Marx still seem to be the fount. He always states the unthinkable anti-thesis and brings out the synthesis from his hat as some form of a post-drum-roll surprise in a circus of binaries, i.e. what irritated is still there. However, I found this very funny, engaging, and truly insightful about so many things: the Paris race riots, the analysis of the cartoons of the Prophet in Denmark, Palestine, the charity of billionaires. It’s the work of someone fully engaged: he brings in movies, TV, Elton John along with all the philosophers you’d expect. It’s not everyone who could be so illuminating about complex issue whilst being so entertaining to read. Perhaps, my reading of his work previously was overly combative, expecting him to show me how he might be ‘right’. But if one lets go of this and merely reads to think, the work seems more valuable and more fun. This time, even his use of films to illustrate points without mentioning sights or sounds failed to annoy. Plus it’s short.

José Arroyo

Maigret Mystified/ L’Ombre chinoise (Georges Simenon, 1932, Penguin paperback, 1964)

Maigret Mystified/ L’Ombre chinoise (Georges Simenon, 1932, Penguin paperback, 1964)

First published in Great Britain under the title of The Shadow in the Courtyard in The Triumph of Inspector Maigret

 

Inspector Maigret is called to The Place des Vosges. Monsieur Couchet, a rich industrialist,  has been shot at close proximity in front of his safe, killed and someone has run off with the money in the safe. He must have been shot after the money was stolen as his body was blocking the way to the open safe and nothing’s been disturbed. The courtyard is open to everyone but could the murderer actually be someone in the building? Well, his ex-wife lives there with her new husband, and they have a perfect view of the crime scene. Their son is getting doped up next door to his father’s mistress in a hotel at the Place Pigalle, needs money for his drug habit and is also suspicious. Their neighbours —  two young single women who can’t stop playing a noisy gramophone; an elderly madwoman who can’t stop screaming and her sister, who can’t stop promenading the hallways and eavesdropping,  both living in one room without gas; or the aristocratic Mme and Monsieur de Saint Marc; all  seem unlikely candidates. As the concierge can’t help telling  even people who don’t want to hear, Madame de Saint Marc was giving birth at the time the murder happened. Still, 360,000 francs have been stolen and anything is possible.

Maigret Mystified is written in a simpler style than the Simenon I’m used to. Short paragraphs, linear descriptions, a plot that is perhaps too iron-tight. Yet, what I like about Simenon is all here: the noirness, the burrowing into the forbidden, the marginal, the underworld. Monsieur Couchet is now a grand bourgeois but he wasn’t always and still prefers the easy girls from the music hall or even the street; and he loves Nine, his current good-time girl, enough to name her as a benefactress of his will along with his two wives. We’re told how scoundrelly this is perceived to be, and how much Maigret admires Couchet for it.

The murder victim’s  ever so respectable first wife is only interested in money. Their son, so unloved he’s left out of his father’s will, finds escape in drug addiction. Everyone is after something and everyone has something to hide. This is all a great pleasure in itself , with the added addition now of reading how both Pigalle and the Place des Vosges were perceived to be in 1932, the latter surprising for containing a factory and also for the mixing of so many classes in the various flats.

Even underwhelming Simenon is a joy.

Additional Note:

Richard Layne has pointed out to me that what I saw here as a simpler style might be simply due to the translation and I see that there is definitely quite a difference in the 64 translation by Jean Stewart below:

The Ron Schwartz 2014 translation published as The Shadow Puppet:

…and, if you speak French, you can compare to the original below:

 

José Arroyo

Le chat by Georges Simenon (Presse de la cité, 1967)

Reading Le chat and instantly reminded of what a great writer Simenon is. In a few pages, he immerses us in the dynamics of a couple who find comfort in hating each other. She’s killed his cat; he retaliates with her parrot. She has the parrot stuffed as a colourful and constant reminder of his crime. They’re separated by class, in a world they no longer recognise as their own, constantly comparing their relationship to a previous, happier marriage, and on the cusp of their own extinction – which each fervently wish for the other whilst not quite knowing what they’d do with themselves subsequently. Simenon taps into all the senses: the taste of particular dishes and wines, the difference between sex standing up or a roll in the hay, how people smell each other, the pleasure and agony of different sounds; the corner in which sights can remain hidden; what people say, what people mean and how people understand. Simenon evokes the pleasures of a trip to the country; the geography of a Paris that feels like a village, a different one depending on what period of their lives the protagonists are remembering. There are masterful fluid shifts in narrator and the narrative is structured quasi circularly, beginning the story after the incident with which the novel ends. I found it brilliant and interestingly different from the Granier Deferre film where Gabin and Signoret are so great. 

José Arroyo

Eileen Atkins, Will She Do: Act One of A Life on Stage.

Very good theatrical autobiography. The class element, the importance of speech, the home-made clothes, the lack of food, the Shirley Temple wannabee shaking her curls and knickers at dirty old men in Working Men’s clubs; the dampness and cold of the war and immediate post-war period are all vividly evoked. The memoir ends when she finally becomes a name with The Killing of Sister George in 1965 — a long haul –so one also gets a vivid depiction of theatrical life in the 50s; repertory, walk on parts in Stratford, troupes in sea-side towns, Butlins, live television. I was glad to spend a day in her company.

José Arroyo

The Normal Heart, National Theatre, November 5th 2021

Halfway through The Normal Heart I thought ‘why is it being revived’ and ‘why here’? The COVID parallel is too blunt and doesn’t hold up. The American politics are distinct. The play is one of ideas, often crude, and activism. But it all comes alive in the second half. It succeeds in capturing the structure of feeling of the moment, the panic, the fear, the suffering, the lack of knowledge, the argument of whether not to have sex or to have as much as possible in order to build up immunity; how it all seemed so unfair and so incomprehensible. How activism and alliances found a way, but too late for far too many. It put me in that moment and reminded me of all those I loved and lost then and it got me in the end, and the audience too: the actors were rewarded with an enthusiastic standing ovation and I with an answer to my initial questions

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 326 – The French Dispatch

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s love letter to The New Yorker, is, as you might expect, a charming way to pass a couple of hours – but not as funny or as tight as we might like, and certainly a disappointment in the light of his last two films, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs (although, in fairness, reaching those heights even twice, let alone a third time consecutively, would be a big ask for anybody). Still, despite The French Dispatch‘s pleasures, some gorgeous imagery and a terrific, star-packed cast, we’re left asking what it’s all about, really – is it more than a vaguely diverting trifle based on Anderson’s favourite publication? And why can’t an ode to an icon of American sophistication be set in America?

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 325 – Last Night in Soho

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated psychological horror, Last Night in Soho, reaches cinemas, and we dive into its themes, its visual magnificence, its relationship to the era and environment it portrays… and its problems. It’s impossible not to admire this film for its lush cinematography, impressive special effects, and the best of its performances, but its screenplay leaves a huge amount to be desired, not just in how it conceptualises the world and people it portrays, but also, more simply, how clumsy it is in telling its story, bafflingly dropping entire character threads that seem like they obviously have places to go, and handling at least one secondary character’s entire subplot very poorly. We discuss the film’s dream logic, or lack thereof; its fear of the very lure of the grimy world it needs to show us, and the moralism that accompanies it; how it trades in nostalgia of Sixties Soho, despite being keen to exhibit is dark side; and the thematic simplicity of almost everything – things are good or bad, to be loved or feared, and room for complexity, there is none.

With all that said, it’s still a very enjoyable couple of hours, a discussion piece, and thanks to its fabulous imagery and in particular the performances of Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith, easy to recommend.

P.S. Mike would like to acknowledge that he is aware that in the course of speaking too quickly for his brain to issue timely corrections, he wildly overstated how much the ghostly figures in Last Night in Soho are referred to as “blank” or “blanks”. It happens maybe once or twice, if he remembers rightly, and in passing. But he asserts that nonetheless, their faceless, amorphous, anonymous design and relentless, zombie-like behaviour does make them a fair point of comparison with the Blanks in The World’s End. So nyah.

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

 

Peony Birds (Huang Yu-Shan, 1990)

A discussion of Peony Birds, part of a strand of films by women directors or films focussing on women that is a most welcome additions to the Taiwan Film Festival in Edinburgh. It is also a slight historical corrective to what may be seen as the ‘all-boys’ account of New Taiwanese Cinema from the 1980s and 1990s. In the podcast we discuss, how Peony Birds an inter-generational film focussing on mother-daughter relationships that deal with themes of love, money, class as well as differing perspectives on similar actions. Richard and José are divided on the film itself, with Richard perhaps more persuasive on the film’s virtues.

 

The podcast my also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

 

 

Hayley Scanlon has written a very interesting piece

The trailer for the film can be seen here:

Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh 2021 — Wrap-up

In our final podcast on the Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh 2021, we praise its programming, its accessibility, and its decision to also include live events alongside the digital. We also delve into other types of films in the programme not covered by this podcast so far, Pai Jing-jui’s Morning in Taipei (1964) with its similarities to Humphrey Jennings cinema and the ‘city symphony’ films of the 1920s and with its superb new score by Lim Giong; Den Nan-guang’s 8mm Home Movies; and we delve with considerable depth into Chen Kuo-fu’s The Personals (1998) , a film anyone interested in issues of gender and sexuality will be interested in seeing (it has a fantastic queer moment very relevant to current discussions, see bottom of post). The podcast can be listened to below:

The podcast my also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

 

A queer moment from The Personals:

Power relations in looking:

Listeners might be interested in following up on these reviews of The Personals:

This one by Shelly Kraicer

This trailer for Morning in Taipei gives well evokes the film:

 

José Arroyo

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 324 – Nosferatu (1922)

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

In a chilly outdoor screening at the Coffin Works in Birmingham, we indulge in Nosferatu, F. W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionist classic. José’s seen it many times, Mike never in its entirety. We discuss how this 100-year-old film holds up today and still entertains a general audience, its differences from and similarities to Dracula, its source material, and more. Including how cold it was. Mike only wore a t-shirt.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 323 – The Last Duel

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Don’t believe the trailer, which gives a poor impression of what’s in store: Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic is lighter on the action than you’d expect, and, for a blockbuster, formally adventurous. Based on true events that took place in 14th century France, The Last Duel tells the story of a lifelong feud and a sexual assault… then it tells it again, and then once more. Three perspectives are brought to bear on the events, those of Jean (Matt Damon), a soldier and vassal; Marguerite (Jodie Comer), his wife and the daughter of a treacherous lord; and Jacques (Adam Driver), his oldest friend, and squire to a count – each controls a third of the film, shaping the story as they understand it. It’s an ambitious project, drawing consciously on narratives and discourses around patriarchy and sexual assault whose importance to our cultural conversation have become increasingly established in recent years – but does it work?

Richard Brody’s review of the film in the New Yorker helps to shape our discussion, and can be found here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/the-last-duel-reviewed-ridley-scotts-wannabe-metoo-movie

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

The skill evident in a moment of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out

FI saw  Blow Out again this week, and what I noticed was the skill evident in even the relatively ‘minor’ shots. This is a visual illustration of an instance (It might have been quicker to read and more precise had I written it. But it was quicker to do this way and hopefully the point will be more vividly and accurately illustrated):

José Arroyo