José Arroyo in Conversation with James Cotton

What is a producer and what does he or she do José Arroyo talks to producer James Cotton to find out: https://josearroyoinconversationwith.com/2019/01/20/jose-arroyo-in-conversation-with-james-cotton/

José Arroyo in Conversation With....

What is a producer and what does he or she do? I’ve always been confused. Films like The Butler, with its end-credits listing some 30 odd producers, don’t help clarify matters. But James Cotton does. As he says, he’s practically a Pokemon catcher in the field, having worked in almost every capacity: line producer, co-producer, associate producer, producer and executive producer. Having built up a very nice list of credits in various capacities: a writer/producer on Tom Ludlam’s Rule Number Three; producer on The Magnificent Lion Boy, Possum, Powder Room and many others; executive producer on The Chop; Line Producer on Tell it to the Bees, etc. He’s now directed a stylish and exciting action film called Tiger Claw, part of his ongoing process of learning how to be a better producer. I was lucky to catch him on the eve of sharing the film…

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 126 – The Passenger

A remarkably lean Jack Nicholson steals a man’s identity in an attempt to leave his life behind in The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni’s existentialist thriller from 1975. Though the film contains many of the raw ingredients of a Bond film or Graham Greene novel – a charismatic leading man, a beautiful European love interest, criminal activity, subterfuge and globetrotting – Antonioni cooks up a deeply atmospheric, contemplative work about identity, dispossession and escape.

In the four days between seeing the film at the BFI Southbank and recording the podcast, the film grew in José’s estimation, while Mike was captivated by it immediately, commenting on the lucid, imaginative camerawork that brings past and present together in single takes and seems to give the camera a physical presence in the film’s world, and considering the displacement of Nicholson’s character, a man living between countries and cultures. José, having watched and written on a number of Antonioni’s films back in June (links below), expounds on why he loves them and what he sees as the connective tissue of his oeuvre.

Mike describes Maria Schneider’s unnamed companion character’s similarities to the modern trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, José talks about the joy of seeing Spain in 1975, when he was but a wee nipper, and, of course, we give a few words to that penultimate shot, an extraordinary, brilliantly orchestrated long take that speaks of isolation and finality.

José’s posts on Antonioni:

L’Avventura

La signora senza camelie

La notte

Blow-up

Cronaca di un amore

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.

James Mason and Simone Signoret in Deadly Affair

 

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The Deadly Affair (1967) seemed such an enticing project: Sidney Lumet early in his career directing an adaptation of a John Le Carré novel; the great Freddie Young as cinematographer; a Quincy Jones score with Astrud Gilberto singing the theme tune; and of course a cast that includes James Mason, Simone Signoret, Lynn Redgrave and Corin Redgrave — both then very young; and the latter painfully thin — Robert Flemyng, Roy Kinnear, even the RSC performing bits of Edward II. But though I started watching the film, I lost interest and eventually ended up only glancing every so often. What kept me from turning it off was James Mason’s transcendental evocation of sadness and defeat, which I loved so much that I made a gif of it which you can see above; and Simone Signoret, evoking the anger and resilience of a woman from the middle of the last century who’s seen the worst, which you can see excerpted below. Sometimes, too often, actors are the only reason to see movies.

José Arroyo

José Arroyo in Conversation with Christopher Meir on ‘Mass Producing European Cinema: Studiocanal and its Works’

A conversation with Christopher Meir on his fascinating new book on Studiocanal and on how Europe also mass produces cinema. It’s a wide-ranging conversation touching on historical antecedents (Pathé, UFA, The Rank Organisation), the influence of the Cannon Group and Carolco in the late 80s and 90s, the business history of the studio beginning with Canal Plus, the importance of a film library and much more. Meir demonstrates how European Cinema is industrial; how television has taken the place cinema had for a mass audience, how this change has proved transformative for cinema and industrial models are also changing for television. I love works of history on media industries. We don’t have enough of them. In fact this is one of the first on a contemporary European studio. The conversation is a fascinating taster that will leave you wanting to read the book.

José Arroyo in Conversation With....

I love finding out more about the business of film and television; about the economics of production, distribution and exhibition; about the industrial histories of media industries. I wanted to read Christopher Meir’s book Mass Producing European Cinema: Studiocanal and its Works (London: Bloomsbury, 2019) as soon as I heard he was writing it; and once I began reading, I was eager to talk to him before I even finished it. This is how a Spanish-Canadian and an American ended up in a Madrid hotel room talking about the European-ness of British cinema.

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Chris explains how it was seeing the credits of Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011) that sparked his interest and begun the research that would eventually become the book. The director was Swedish and almost everyone but the cast seemed Scandinavian, Spanish, French. And this at a moment of great euroscepticism in Britain. This made him…

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Stefano Dunne and José Arroyo on Weekend (Andrew Haigh, UK, 2011)

Stefano Dunne and José Arroyo discuss Andrew Haigh´s Weekend in relation to contemporary gay culture; its themes of alienation, isolation, romance and gay subjectivities; and the sense of Britishness that permeates the work.

Is the film in dialogue with British New Wave films of the ‘50s and ‘60s: realist, kitchen sink? Are the young men angry? Does Weekend share in that sort of aesthetic and thematics? Does it hold up? Stefano discusses how it still feels raw and powerful; how he didn’t give enough credit to its aesthetics on first viewing; and how visually captivating it is.

There Will be Blog

Part of a new series of podcasts designed for this site aiming for in-depth criticism of individual films but through particular perspectives or paradigms. In this one, Stefano and José begin by discussing the film in relation to contemporary gay culture; its themes of alienation, isolation, romance and gay subjectivities; and the sense of Britishness that permeates the work.

Is the film in dialogue with British New Wave films of the ‘50s and ‘60s: realist, kitchen sink? Are the young men angry? Does Weekend share in that sort of aesthetic and thematics? Does it hold up? Stefano discusses how it still feels raw and powerful; how he didn’t give enough credit to its aesthetics on first viewing; and how visually captivating it is.

Aside from discussing the film in relation to a British realist tradition such as exemplified by the films of Ken Loach, we also discuss formal elements such…

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 125 – The Clock

Something a little different for us today, as we visit the Tate Modern to view Christian Marclay’s 24 hour long video art installation, The Clock. It’s a looping supercut of clips from film and television that involve clocks, watches, and people telling each other the time, synchronised to the real world. If you watch it at 8:10pm, it’s 8:10pm in the film too. Supported by London’s White Cube gallery, some 12,000 clips were assiduously located and assembled over three years by Marclay and his team of six researchers to create The Clock, and since its first exhibition in 2010 it’s been popping up every now and again. We jumped at the chance to see it.

The Clock‘s scarcity, ambition, and strength of concept have arguably been partially responsible for its uniformly positive reception since 2010. We, however, find plenty to criticise, including a certain imperial flavour to the overwhelmingly Anglo-American choices of source films, not to mention the whiteness that pervades the entire project and lack of imagination displayed by its reluctance to explore outside the canon. If one of the ideas behind the piece is to draw commonalities between cultures and eras, as Mike suggests, then this is a failure not just to please our sensibilities but to achieve its own purpose. The few non-English language clips that do intermittently show up serve only to highlight their own absence.

There’s also a discussion to be had about the piece’s presentation. On the one hand, housed in a vast, purpose-built room, entirely darkened, with sofas lined up in perfect geometric alignment, it’s an unadulterated joy to be in the room and let the time fly by, even when you know full well that you’ve been stood up for two hours because no seat is available and the specific time is right there mocking you. José decries the dismissive, contemptuous treatment cinema receives in art galleries, on which he has also recently written – https://notesonfilm1.com/2018/12/22/the-museums-disdain-for-cinema/ – but finds The Clock‘s presentation in this respect faultless. On the other, likely for the sake of a smooth viewing experience, the source clips have all been cropped (and in a few cases, stretched) to fit the same aspect ratio, a decision that we feel shows disrespect for the images and people behind them that far outweighs any benefit it has as to unifying them.

There are, though, ways in which Marclay manipulates the source material that we find valuable. Indeed, the entire piece assembles clips from thousands of films, and editing is what it’s all about. When The Clock edits clips together along thematic lines, such as when we see people in different films, places, and eras all taking their seats for concerts and plays at the same time, or formal exercises it plays in cutting together car doors slamming or people smoking, it qualitatively changes its source footage into something different, achieving interesting and sometimes simply swoony effects. At other times, a character in one film will pick up the phone and speak to a character in a different film (often in a different era), the piece using humorous juxtaposition to connect them. And the piece constantly edits and mixes its own soundtrack, using the source films as a basis and typically fading between them, again smoothing the viewing experience, and occasionally building a soundtrack that sits behind an entire section of clips, binding them and creating something new, such as the anticipation generated by Run Lola Run’s soundtrack at the film chases down noon. It’s at these times that Mike is most impressed, seeing a marked difference between when The Clock is a film and when it’s a film project, finding that too often is it the latter. But those moments of filmmaking are quite fantastic.

The Clock is a singular work and one we’d urge anybody to see given the chance, but with room for significant and fair criticism. Keep an eye out for it.

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.

 

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 124 – The Favourite

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose off-kilter thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer divided and provoked us a year ago, brings us The Favourite, a wild dramatisation of the power games surrounding Queen Anne’s bedchamber in the early 18th century. It’s his first feature on which neither he nor his usual partner Efthymis Filippou is credited as a writer, and that might account for its liveliness compared to his previous work, which tends to offer significant downtime in which the audience can ponder what it’s seeing. The Favourite moves rapidly and fluidly, the shifting dynamics between Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz’s Lady Marlborough, and Emma Stone’s Abigail Hill constantly exciting, with their plans always subject to change depending on who knows what about others. And on top of the intrigue, it’s really, really funny.

The Favourite offers us a brilliantly cast and even more brilliantly performing female trio, picking on a rare historical moment in which all the most important and influential people were women. (The men are all secondary, made physical jokes of, with their extravagant costumes and makeup outdoing the women’s.) Sex is always on the table and made to mean different things to different people: to Marlborough and Abigail it’s a tool to be used to manipulate and control the Queen, to whom it offers intimacy and emotional satisfaction she deeply craves and is allowed to feel she doesn’t deserve. The film doesn’t offer titillation, nor does it wish to shock or surprise with its depictions of sex or even the concept of the lesbian relationships. It’s actually quite remarkable how the film so casually avoids making it superficial and gratuitous.

We take our time to appreciate the cinematography, extraordinary wide-angle and occasionally fisheye shots that render characters, particularly the Queen, tiny playthings in a ludicrously ostentatious doll’s house. Mike remarks upon the way status is conferred by placing characters above and below each other and shooting at extreme angles to emphasise; José picks up on the costuming and its relationship to gender, mentioning in particular his admiration for Nicholas Hoult’s self-effacing, generous performance as Robert Harley, impressed by his willingness to make himself a feminised figure of fun.

There’s so much more we loved and we’re effusive throughout the podcast. And again. It’s a really, really, really, really, very very funny film indeed.

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: 123 – Roma

Much to Mike’s disdain – he throws tantrums about Netflix films – we settled in with a KFC to discuss Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a semi-autobiographical film about the live-in housekeeper to an upper middle class Mexican family. Carefully composed and inflected with a neorealist aesthetic, it’s been making countless year-end lists and is being touted as potentially Netflix’s first Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards, so Mike wasn’t allowed to say no.

The film is remarkable for depicting modern-day indigenous Mexicans, people to whose existence many outside the Americas might not have ever given any thought. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma’s star, is a non-professional actor of Mixtec and Triqui origin, and simply her appearance is interesting, let alone the film’s use of Mixtec language (Mike gets this name wrong at first but don’t hold it against him) and its development of the indigenous population as lower class workers. We consider the use of black-and-white imagery – José questioning what it brings to the film – and the ways in which the sound design and long panning shots attempt to place the viewer within the film’s environments. Mike explains a prejudice he holds against “personal” films, and José considers Roma‘s place alongside Cuarón’s previous work, and the melodrama of the birth scene.

Mediático, a film and media blog focused on Latin American, Latinx and Iberian media, took an immediate and deep interest in Roma and marshalled eight academics to each write a short essay on the film, and we refer to some of the points raised throughout the podcast. The dossier is well worth reading, will enrich your experience of the film, and can be found here: http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/mediatico/2018/12/24/introduction-to-the-special-dossier-on-roma-alfonso-cuaron/

(The links to the essays are on the right hand side of the webpage.)

In addition, the dossier refers on several occasions to Richard Brody’s review of the film in The New Yorker, in which he is critical of the lack of a voice given to the main character and finds the film asks more questions of the world it depicts than it answers. We refer to this, too, and you can read it here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/theres-a-voice-missing-in-alfonso-cuarons-roma

As for us? We find areas of interest, things to both agree and disagree with, in all the articles we read. José was deeply riveted by Roma despite a reservation or two and continues to see Cuarón as a great director. Mike was less interested, admitting that had he been watching the film alone, he would likely have turned it off before the halfway point; an issue with watching things at home that isn’t as pressing at the cinema (he wouldn’t have walked out of a screening). But that’s a tantrum for another day.

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: 122 – Aquaman

DC’s search for a cinematic tone continues to lurch between monochrome gravity and Technicolor frivolity, James Wan’s Aquaman firmly occupying the latter end of the spectrum. Although Mike has long been amused at how feeble is the concept of a superhero whose power is fish telepathy, the film has a good sense of humour about itself (even if some of the specific jokes are a little clunky) and hugely enjoyable freedom in its design, the giant seahorses a particular charm.

We discuss what’s to like and dislike about the film’s visual design and action, its message that violence is the least good solution to any problem, the welcome wisdom and calmness brought by Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren (yes, really), and its adaptation of Arthurian legend and how it fits into a recent spate of films and television programmes fascinated with monarchy, bloodlines, divine rights and so on.

Jose is overall more reserved than Mike but still announces that he enjoyed himself, and the golden rule holds true: the key to happiness is low expectations.

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: 121 – Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins is back after a mere 54 years since the first film. The kids have grown up, life has grown difficult, and a magical undying supernatural flying nanny is precisely what they need.

What they don’t need are new ideas. Mary Poppins Returns copies the structure and concepts of the first film almost to the point of parody, today’s Disney operating in a world in which people apparently want low-effort, straight-up nostalgia (as their spate of CGI-laden remakes of their animated classics can confirm). However, the film has its charms, in time the songs may become memorable – one can rarely tell on first viewing – and children are sure to love it as previous generations loved the last.

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.

Biographies by Sheridan Morley

 

 

Robert Morley flashed by on the TV yesterday and I remembered how much I loved him. Does anyone remember him in Who´s Killing The Great Chefs of Europe? Since I had a rare day with no other commitments I went on to read Sheridan Morley´s biography of him, very funny and well-written. You certainly get to know more about him but you don´t get to know him any better. After I read Morley´s biography of his father, I went on to read that of his grandmother, Gladys Cooper. And the same thing. It´s like eating brioche, satisfying and delicious but without much substance.

John Lehr is a contemporary of Sheridan Morley´s and he also wrote a biography of his father Bert, which makes for an interesting comparison, both as works of biography but also about cultural differences. John´s bio is all about finding interiority, psychological complexity, motive. Sheridan´s is all about jokes, attitudes, ways of being. Very enjoyable reading nonetheless.

james mason

I carried on with Sheridan Morley´s book on James Mason, and cumulatively the biographies led me to reflect that there once was a market for light, brief books, written by someone seemingly in the know, on film stars. This book is on James Mason but like most of his others it´s a bare outline of a life and career; very well-written but critically deficient; peppered with interesting anecdotes from people who knew the subject and who were willing to contribute to a portrait the subject would be happy with. ´Research´in Morleyland is having tea or cocktails with interesting people willing to share a piquant story that doesn´t cross the boundary into potential embarrassment. This one, like the others, provides 250 odds pages that make an afternoon disappear in a vague haze of pleasure and leaves no residue, rather like afternoon tv now. No wonder they could be churned out annually at considerable profit.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 120 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

It’s colourful, friendly, packed full of visual energy and wit. It’s also light and just a little forgettable, like a straight-to-video movie that’s made it onto the big screen. But we had a good time and find lots to praise about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

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: 119 – Disobedience

Rachels Weisz and McAdams soar in this delicate, passionate, complex drama of social pressures and forbidden love. Set in the North London Jewish community, Disobedience tells the story of two women whose love for each other is reignited when one returns home following her father’s death.

Everything is rendered complex, nothing is simple. Weisz’s anger at having been cast out of the community, McAdams’ subjugation and repression into a way of life she doesn’t desire, and Nivola’s denial and ambition are all expressed deeply and combine in intelligent and subtle ways. José is spellbound by the depth of feeling from the very beginning; Mike feels the lack of context early on is disappointing, seeing the film’s clichés rather than its originalities. And we share a certain reservation as to the film’s visual qualities, Mike suggesting the Jewishness of the story is reflected in its understatement, but again there is complexity present in its aesthetic and we appreciate its coherence.

We also like the seriousness with which the film treats its setting, the lack of condescension with which it depicts Jewish ceremonies and customs, Mike in particular finding it exciting to see authentically represented all manner of occasions and nuances of English Judaism. And the synagogue’s choir sings beautifully.

Though we don’t agree on everything, we are deeply moved and find it an enriching film. It’s very much worth your time.

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 Museum´s Disdain for Cinema

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Do museums disdain cinema? One need look no further than the uses they make of it. A recent visit to the Queen Sofia Museum demonstrated that it deployed cinema throughout its various exhibits and in various ways. But nowhere in the museum is the cinema exhibited so as the equal of any other art work. There’s a lip service paid to cinema as an art. But the museum’s practices in relation to it convey quite another message.

There was Gene Kelly in a snippet of An American in Paris in the ´Lost, Loose and Loved: Foreign Artists in Paris 1944-1968 exhibit (see picture above), which, by the way, is one of the worst instances of translation I’ve ever come across. The original ´Paris pese a todo´translates more closely to ´Paris in Spite of Everything,´a sexier, catchier, more accurate title. And there was an audience around it, finding it just as captivating as ever, in spite of the light dimming its images, the sound barely heard.

There was Yves Montand in Costa-Gavras´L´Aveau (1970) at the entrance of ´The Eruption of the 20th Century: Utopias and Conflicts´exhibit; and Gilo Pontecorvo´s The Battle of Algiers at the entrance of  the´Is the War Over: Art in a Divided World´ exhibition (see below). The clip frames the entrance to the exhibit but merely as something undeserving of attention, something one walks through to get to the ´real´art.

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There was a little makeshift cinema were the public wandering around the collection of surrealists might sit for a while and wonder at the Dalí/Buñuel Un chien Andalou (see below). And again, a small audience sat rapt. The museum keeps showing films as something for audience to glance at or pass through; yet, the walked at a fast clip through all the Dalí paintings whilst sitting for the film (though to be fair, seats are always at a premium in museums).

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There were snippets of Hans Richter and Chris Marker and animated films and documentaries on the artists showcased by the museum such as Dorotea Tanning. Cinema was everywhere as document, as illustration, as complement to the more important art and artists. But never there as art in and of itself, the greatest produced in the last 150 years.

A museum that will spend hundreds of thousands of pounds transporting, insuring, hanging, lighting, designing a visual showcase for any old Warhol piss painting treats cinema like shit.

Nothing demonstrated this better than the space given to Almodóvar´s Entre tinieblas/Dark Hideout in the ´The Poetics of Democracy: Images and Counter-images from the Spanish Transition.´ As you can see below, the film gets a whole room. The poster is well represented. The work of Ceesepewho designed the poster, is well represented…

But the presentation of the film itself, as you can see below, is disgraceful:

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It seems that when a museum conceives of an audio-visual project as high art, no expense is spared. One need only see the room and context which houses Christian Marcla´s The Clock currently on at the Tate Modern, though even there all aspect ratios of the original works are eliminated in the interests of having the edited collection fill in the same amount of space, the beauty and value of the original popular art sacrificed in the interests of the type of art that is considered to rightly belong in the museum.

This is not just a disdain for the form itself, and I reiterate, the very greatest of the popular arts, but of the people who watched it, people of all walks of life who sat moved, enthralled or bored, who found beauty and relevance in the works so cavalierly treated by what are meant to be the repositories of our collective culture. Why don’t they just pin a photocopy of a Monet, with the colours changed the way they do in the postcards they sell at the shop museum? The idea is appalling no? Well so is showing film in this way. Pricks.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 118 – Three Identical Strangers

A documentary in the hard-hitting, extraordinary revelations, true-story-you’ve-never-heard mode, Three Identical Strangers follows three identical triplets, separated at birth, discovering each others’ existences at the age of 19. At first a joyous reunion, the story takes dark twists as the triplets and their families investigate the reasons behind their separation. That’s all for your summary – we won’t spoil the story for you!

Suffice it to say, we have severe reservations about the film, and in many respects. José is particularly unimpressed with the storytelling and weak focus – there are significant obstacles that the film has in understanding what happened to these men, obstacles that are no fault of its own; however, the things the film could investigate, such as their life experiences, it shows little interest in pursuing.

Mike, more forcefully, takes significant issue with the film’s ethics and failure to build a convincing case for most of what it wants to argue. Some of what the film decries is already self-evidently bad, requiring no elaboration; in other aspects, the film seems to assume we’ll all concur, doing the bare minimum to put across a point of view, expecting us to uncritically agree rather than arguing its case. And he finds it a deeply cynical and manipulative piece of work, accusing it of unethical behaviour just as it accuses some of its subjects.

As the conversation goes on, Mike takes against the film more and more, in what can surely be described as a hard-hitting and dramatic podcast worthy of many many awards.

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: 117 – Sorry to Bother You

A surprising, imaginative comedy full of dark twists and scathing observations, Sorry to Bother Youfires us up. There’s so much going on in it that we love. It builds a forceful critique of modern capitalism, drawing on black stereotypes, animal imagery, and factory cities to develop a thesis of 21st century capitalism as thinly veiled slave labour. Everything is available for commodification and absorption by the establishment; the system is able to tolerate dissent by co-opting it. But there is a vital resistance movement, embodied exceptionally by the coruscating Tessa Thompson, and though the film depicts a deeply unfair world in which power is entrenched, there is plenty of room for hope and joy, even through something as simple as a sigh when confronted with the latest absurdity.

The film is a kaleidoscope of ideas, always on its toes, always unpredictable, absolutely restless, and although we feel it lacks a certain visual finesse and overall coherence, the benefits of its madnesses far outweigh their costs.

Hugely recommended.

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: 116 – The Marvellous Mabel Normand

Flatpack’s Silent Night series continues with a screening, at Birmingham Cathedral, of The Marvellous Mabel Normand, a programme of four silent comedy shorts from the BFI National Archive. Normand was the leading silent comedienne of her day but neither Mike nor José was familiar with her, and the programme provides a great introduction to her work, as not just a star but also a director.

We saw Mabel’s Blunder (1914), which she directed, Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913), His Trysting Place (1914) and Should Men Walk Home? (1927). Each stars Normand, and alongside her are such names as Mack Sennett, Oliver Hardy, Eugene Pallette and one Charlie Chaplin.

José finds himself in thrall to Normand’s magnetism and emotional openness, finding her incandescent with screen presence. The nuances she brings to her physical and facial performances, the way she types or jumps out of the way of an onrushing car, light up the screen and make her memorable.

Mike, it must be said, is less impressed, suggesting that she doesn’t elevate some weak material as a better actor might, though that’s not to say he sees nothing to appreciate about her performances. But what he takes away above all else is how seeing one Chaplin film amongst other silent shorts provides incontrovertible proof of his comedic genius, His Trysting Place a geyser of creativity and comic charm.

We also consider how key figures of silent comedy are remembered or not, particularly thinking of the disparity between Mack Sennett’s importance and name recognition, and how Chaplin remains a worldwide icon perhaps to an extent comparable only to religious figures. José holds forth on the talents and career of Leo McCarey, director of Should Men Walk Home?, and we discuss the programme’s newly commissioned score by The Meg Morley Trio, who performed it live during the screening.

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: 115 – Shoplifters

Intriguing, calm, witty, touching. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, winner of the 2018 Palme d’Or, is a modern-day Oliver Twist with real depth of feeling and naturalistic charm. Deceptively simple, it asks big questions of its audience, questions about family, love, loneliness, and how to live a good life.

It’s largely free of significant plot points – it begins with a very young girl, abused by her parents, being taken in by a motley crew of a family living on the poverty line, but from there takes an approach to story that is driven by character and situation. Everything is rendered complex – on the one hand, the young girl is taken in by a group of rescuers who care for her; on the other, they are kidnapping her. It would be true to say the aren’t easy answers to be found, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a harsh watch. It isn’t. There’s an impressive lightness of tone, the film refusing to wallow in victimhood, instead focusing on getting on, day to day. And it has a great sense of humour and keen eye for the romantic and emotionally open. It’s truly moving.

Amongst our praise for the film, we find time to discuss the projection and atmosphere at The Electric, a cinema we’re probably a little unkind to at times, and José orates on the relative lack of circulation of films such as these to a cinephile culture that does exist outside London and would gratefully receive more arthouse and foreign cinema.

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: 114 – Robin Hood (2018)

We argue about a film that neither of us can possibly claim is good, but in which one of us found things to like. Hot on the heels of watching Errol Flynn’s Technicolor classic a few weeks ago, we catch the latest telling of the Robin Hood folk tale, fittingly titled Robin Hood, a desaturated, guns and geezers-inflected version that transports us to a somewhat otherworldly, sci-fi-ish version of the medieval Midlands. Church and state are in cahoots, the poor are exploited – and it doesn’t look like they have much left to exploit anyway – and with Sherwood Forest nowhere to be seen, the only green thing around is Robin of Loxley.

We can both agree that no matter the intention, the film is poorly directed, though José would decry it more than Mike, who tries to look beneath the incoherent camerawork and dull set pieces to find areas of interest, such as the tangible sense of growing revolution and the charming Black Hawk Down version of the Third Crusade, complete with shoulder-mounted arrow bazookas, why not. We have good and bad words to say about the performances in equal measure, Jamies Foxx and Dornan standing out but Ben Mendelsohn and star Taron Egerton failing to meet expectations set by their previous performances. And Tim Minchin, with the best will in the world, isn’t an actor.

Mike takes issue with the film’s conception of Robin; a character learning to become the hero is one thing, but simply being nudged and told by everyone around him how to do so makes for poor character development. Little John is so significant he’s known here only as John, José speculating that as the biggest actor in the film, Jamie Foxx had the role improved at the expense of balance. We do find common ground in praising aspects of the world and visual design, but it’s always with the caveat that the direction generally works better to obscure than exhibit it.

All this and more in an edition packed with disagreement. Arguments and quibbles aplenty!

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.

Verticality and the Academy ratio in Phantom Thread

For those wanting to follow threads on Phantom Thread

Writing About Film

I twice discussed Phantom Thread in my podcast, and this brief post is a development of an observation I brought up in it. You can listen to the discussions here (the second screening involved my brother who was already an obsessive fan of the film, having seen it five times at the cinema, by the time I’d seen it twice): Part 1, Part 2.

When I saw Phantom Thread in the cinema I was struck by how it visually emphasised verticality and compressed the frame horizontally. It felt like an Academy ratio film. The film is certainly echoing or adapting classic Hollywood style, with its period setting, rich romantic plot, extraordinary orchestral score and closing credits that conspicuously fade over the top of each other. But Paul Thomas Anderson only went so far; he didn’t shoot in black and white or Academy ratio (in evoking the milieu…

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