All posts by NotesonFilm1

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 197 – Jay and Silent Bob Reboot

 

A trip to the Mockingbird Cinema in the Custard Factory yields a massively hyped up and receptive audience of fat white blokes for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Mike is one of them, and he’s never been harder to pick out of a lineup, laughing like a drain at the fan service and antics. José isn’t, and he was already a bit too old for Kevin Smith when he emerged in the 90s, but he has almost as good a time as everyone else there. The film is huge fun and creates a palpable sense of community, filled with friends and family, incorporating in-jokes and characters from throughout Smith’s work – it’s pure comfort food for its fans.

We think about Smith as a figure, his reputation as a writer who can barely direct, and what he takes pride in. And we look over his filmography, José thinking back on what made Chasing Amy radical in its day, and Mike suggesting that with Jersey Girl and Cop Out, Smith’s reputation, and perhaps an external factor or two (remember Bennifer?) played a part in the hostile reception for two films he found perfectly acceptable and even charming.

He’s an interesting figure, Kevin Smith, a director whose cinematic reputation is outshone by his stardom as an individual, something to which his mighty legion of podcasts and Q&As speaks – indeed, Reboot‘s UK screenings come with a bespoke post-credits Q&A, and Smith is accompanying the film around the US and Canada on its roadshow release – but his films have earned and maintained a devoted following for 25 years now, something to which the audience tonight can attest. Wherever Reboot is showing, it’s worth checking out, because with an audience as up for it as ours was, it’s a special event.

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.

In Conversation with John Gibbs

I´m an admirer of  John Gibbs’ work on the ´Long Take,´on mise-en-scène, and on style-based criticism; on his careful consideration of the implications of various choices on film style; on the ways style and meaning intersect. It´s work that often requires reading of the text in conjunction with viewing, usually before and after, and occasionally even multiple times thereafter. His videographic criticism seems a natural extension of his previous practice in prose: observant, detailed, precise.

I´ve found that, like his scholarly work in prose, his videographic criticism similarly enhances my understanding and appreciation of film style in general and the particular works his video essays explore, sometimes in ways that prove truly illuminating. As John says, it´s a means of extending both the methods and subjects of style-based criticism but with perhaps a different kind of relationship with an audience, more immediate and with a wider reach.

I was keen to talk to him about all of this and in the podcast above we discuss how videographic criticism offers new possibilities to engage with the rich texture of movies and to extend methods of style-based criticism. We explore non-linear, non-hierarchical approaches to film history, how they present new possibilities of dealing with detailed analysis of film whilst also offering greater access to criticism and the potential for a wider audience. We chat about how good video essays enable the works to speak for themselves whilst simultaneously providing particular types of analyses to criticism, new tools for teaching, and different means through which students may achieve excellence. John mentions how videographic criticism often construct a journey of point of view through an experience, more like a filmmaker than an essayist in a traditional sense and some of the these forms invite a different kind of engagement, particularly considering the different kinds of practices going on — part of the excitement — and their relationship to found footage filmmaking, gallery art practice etc.

The conversation refers to particular works of videographic criticism by John Gibbs himself and you can see them below:

 

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 200 – Luis Ospina on MUBI – The Vampires of Poverty, A Paper Tiger, and It All Started at the End

Luis Ospina, the influential Colombian filmmaker who died very recently, was last month the subject of an mini retrospective of his work by MUBI, who showed three of his films: Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty (1977, co-directed by Carlos Mayolo), Un tigre de papel/A Paper Tiger (2008), and his final feature documentary, Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End (2015), and we’re grateful to them for making these works available to us with subtitles. We begin by considering how such an influential filmmaker, not only in Colombia but across Latin America, remains so little known in Anglo-American film cultures. We talk about the ‘Caliwood’ group and how we’re so used to talking about structures that we forget how individuals make a difference. A group of young friends with shared interests get together and share a house, turning it into studios, an art gallery, a publishing house and a cinema. This group happens to include, amongst others, Luis Ospina, Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo. We’re shown how shared cinephilia leads to collaborative cultural production, one that’s left an imprint, proven to be very influential and now become part of the cultural history of Colombia and Latin America.

In Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End we see how the friendships and shared interests of these irreverent, druggy, countercultural dissidents bore fruit and left a legacy – which is not to say that structures are not important (they wouldn’t have been able to do so had they not been of a particular class, one with relatives who could afford to lend out empty houses). The film serves as an important reminder that individuals can make a difference and that collaboration is essential. Harold Innis’ observation in Empire and Communications that colonised people need to be fully conversant with their colonisers’ culture as well as their own is amply evident in the conjunction of the group’s programming and their own production.

All three of Ospina’s works are concerned with documentary, representation, ethics. In Un tigre de papel/A Paper Tiger, the Zelig-like mockumentary about an imaginary person, the form itself acts as a way of commenting on broad strands of cultural and political movements internationally that had an effect on the local and synthesises and evokes all of the virtues we admire: the playfulness, quirkiness, intelligence, the concern with politics and ethics but also fun, a pin-prick to pomposity. And we share admiration for the savage satire of Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty, a statement against the exploitation of the poor, unfortunate and mentally ill on the streets of Cali, by filmmakers keen to sell their work, and the image of Colombia that goes along with it, to Europe.

José is in thrall to Ospina’s work and the culture to which it speaks, and has boundless thoughts; and although Mike asks questions of the ethics at play in Agarrando pueblo/The Vampires of Poverty, even in a film so clearly well-intentioned and with such a valid point, and comments on weaknesses he perceives in the cinematic quality of Todo comenzó por el fin/It All Started at the End, finding it less expressive artistically than simply informative of a time, place and culture, he’s glad to have spent this time exploring Ospina’s work.

This episode has been released early (keen listeners will have noticed a jump from number 196 to 200), and that’s to coincide with yesterday’s homage for Luis Ospina, hosted by the Filmoteca de Catalunya, one we hope will be but the first of many to come.

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.

In Conversation with Ginette Vincendeau — Part II

 

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Below is the second part of a two-part podcast with Ginette Vincendeau on Jean Gabin, which picks up a little before the first part ended. Once Gabin returned to top stardom in France in ´54/55, what values did he represent/signify? Does he mean something different in France than abroad? What is it and why? Is it true he didn´t make any good films after ‘Touchez-pas au grisby’ and ‘French Can Can’? What is the significance of him being cast with co-stars so much younger than himself like Bardot and Danièle Delorme? What does ´La France Gabinisée´and ‘La Gabinisation de la France’ mean. I ask the questions but it is Ginette´s answers that fascinate and illuminate.

 

I am grateful to Will Straw who brought to my attention the special issue of Schnock which featured Gabin and which asserted, in ways that are visualised below, that ´Gabin´means something different at home and abroad and that at home he signifies a particular type of Frenchness. This lead me to ask Ginette about it and she brought up Jean-Laurent Cassely´s book, No fake: Contre-histoire de notre quête dáuthenticité, and the concept of ‘Gabinisation’, as well as Ginette´s noting of how often ‘Gabin’ is turned into a verb: Gabinise, Gabiniser…

 

Will also brought up the interview with Nicolas Pariser in the October 2019 issue of Cahiers du cinéma, which I ask Ginette to comment on in the podcast:

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My rough translation is as follows: ‘Those films from the 50s where Gabin tells off young people are cinema´s absolute evil. In Rue des prairies, he bawls out Marie-José Nat because she does nothing and wakes up late. I have a bit of an extreme thesis: I think May ´68 was because of Gabin. He became unbearable at a certain moment. The cinema I love exploded that reactionary schema. And astonishingly we find  nostalgia for 50s cinema were the old explain life to the young in quite a few contemporary French Films’

I am also grateful to Nicky Smith for noting the difference in ages between Gabin and his female co-stars, and how this trope recurred in so many films. This lead to an interesting discussion with Ginette on this issue where Ginette notes how strong that trope is in French cinema in general, can be seen in the thirties in films like Arlette et ses papas (Henri Roussel, 1934) , and continues on quite late  and in various cultural forms(e.g. Serge Gainsbourg Lemon Incest). 

You can follow up on all of these issues through Ginette´s books below:

Furthermore, I have blogged on some of  Gabin´s later films, some mentioned in the podcast, and if you want to pursue that further you can click on the hyperlinks below.

Articles:

Voici le temps des assassins/ Deadlier than the Male (Julien Duvivier, France, 1956)

Miagret tend un piège (Jean Delannoy, 1958)

Maigret et l’affaire St. Fiacre (Jean Delannoy, France, 1959)

Le clan des Siciliens/The Sicilian Clan (Henri Verneuil, France/USA, 1969)

Le chat (Pierre Granier-Deferre, France, 1971)

Le tueur/ Killer (Denys de la Patellière, France/Italy, 1972)

On clips from:

Touchez-pas au grisbi (Jacques Becker, 1954)

Razzia sour la chnouf (Henri Decoin, 1955)

French Can-can (Jean Renoir 1955)

José Arroyo

Joe Humfrey and José Arroyo on 'Climax'

Joe Humfrey and I discuss the virtues of Climax, Gaspar Noé, The Long Take and Slow Cinema.

Depth of Field

Joe Humfrey and José Arroyo talk about the new Gaspar Noé film, ‘Climax’. They explore the techniques and motivations behind the intensity of the film, as well as how it relates to the slow-cinema genre.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 196 – Knives Out

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s playful, knockabout whodunnit Knives Out has been receiving praise for its screenplay that we feel isn’t quite warranted, and isn’t much to look at either – but it’s a lark, and one that carries some unexpected sociopolitical commentary. José argues that Johnson doesn’t learn enough from the films upon which his pastiche is based, making too little of both the wonderful cast he’s assembled and the wonderful sets he’s had assembled for him, though the film isn’t devoid of flair or structural neatness. Mike was with the film more or less all the way, though suggests that it won’t play as well in the distracted environment of the home, the minutiae of the countless plot details easy to lose track of as one tries to make sense of them. So it’s worth a watch, but it’s neither as elegant nor as charming as we’d like.

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.

In Conversation with Ginette Vincendeau – Part 1

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The first of two podcasts with the great Ginette Vincendeau on the great Jean Gabin. I´ve always been a fan of Gabin´s but my interest in him was revived by the ‘Jean Gabin: The Man With Blue Eyes’ retrospective curated by Edouard Waintrop at the 1919 Il Cinema Ritrovatto  in Bologna,  where aside from more familiar classics like Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier) and Le plaisir (Max Ophüls, 1951), I also had the opportunity to see Coeur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak, 1931), De haut en bas (George W. Pabst), Au-delà des grilles (René Clément, 1948), La Marie du port (Marcel Carné, 1949), and others.

I wanted to talk about all of this and find out more about Gabin. And who knows more about Gabin than Ginette Vincendeau? Ginette is Professor in Film Studies at King´s College London. As you can see from some of her various books above, she´s written on French Cinema of the 1930s, on Gabin specifically, on Gabin films in particular (Pépé le Moko), on directors Gabin worked with (Renoir) stars and stardom in French Cinema, texts in context in French cinema, etc. No one of my acquaintance knows more about Gabin and few are as much fun to talk to.

This above, the first of two podcast, covers the period up to 1954, where after a fallow post-war period Gabin once again re-emerged as a top box-office attraction. Who was Jean Gabin? How did he become a star? What did he represent in the 1930s and how is that significant in terms of class and national identity? How central is he to 1930s French Cinema. Was he allied to the Popular Front? There´s a narrative of failure around Gabin´s post-war career. Does that narrative hold up to scrutiny? These questions and others are discussed in this first podcast. The second will deal with the period from 1954 to his death in 1976.

 

Some of my blogging and podcasting on Gabin films of this period, mostly arising from he viewing in Ritrovato, can be found by clicking the hyperlinks above and below:

 

La Bandera (Julien Duvivier, 1935)

Le jour se lève (Marcel Carné, 1935)

Martin Roumagnac (Georges Lacombe, 1946)

Podcast from Ritrovatto that touches on Gabin

gabin dietrich.jpg

José Arroyo

In Conversation with Catherine Grant

Catherine Grant is one of the scholars working in the area of video essays and videographic criticism I most admire. Her work ranges from fan videos to explorations of form, the transnational, queering, interventions into theory, materialising criticism and artistic self-expression. I very much wanted to talk to her about her work and the result is this podcast below,  a wide-ranging reflection on these particular forms of criticism, her own practice and that of other scholars who have influenced the development of her own work. With typical generosity, every reflection on her own works incites heaps of praise for that of others.

 

Video Essays by Catherine Grant in order of discussion:

‘Need something to work with and against. Footage which is absolutely beautiful. Peggy Anne Garner. Discovering some writing. An elaborate video. Dedicated to her own family’.

‘A metacritical look at videos made using split-screen’.

Insight and expression through a photograph, movement and song

Influenced by  Gordon Hon, collecting dissolves from Vertigo and slowing them down. Also by Aaron Valdez´film, Dissolve, a study of dissolves that he found on the internet archive. Such a beautiful film, the transient comes through brilliantly in it. Afterwords Mandy Merck mentioned the  American Tragedies adaptations of Dreiser. Whilst making A Place in the Sun, someone had advised George Stevens to watch Brief Encounter. Abundant Dissolves. Very interesting and lots of them.

In her video essay, she changed the colour of the film. It´s bluer, a midnight blue filter. There was an inertness, maybe due to digital copy. So she added the filter just like Joseph Cornell in Rose Hobart.

The need to be cognisant of the tension between quoting something and making something yourself.

An important dimension of Grant´s work, loosely called queering. The gesture on the shoulder in Carol and Brief Encounter.

‘Video essays materialise what are otherwise virtual spectatorial encounters. Cluster of work around thinking and feeling around the films. Transforming a  queer experience we have in our head and making it material through videographic work’

‘Dialoguing with a written tradition of film studies and art criticism’

 

Videos by others in order of discussion:

‘Really good criticism, really insightful, intertextual, influential: The Substance of Style wowed by his use of split screens.´

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‘The confidence to run things together, voice-over, speeded up, Pure Bazinian technique. Dismantling or defamiliarisng the look on a full frame. We rarely engage in peripheral spectatorship. It becomes a work of genius when he does speed up´.

On the insights of Ian Garwood on voice-over and on his generosity as a scholar

In praise of Adrian Martin´s use of his voice in this particular work by Martin and Cristina Álvarez López

Joseph Cornell´s Rose Hobart (1936):

 

The Patrick Keating video essays discussed can be found here

And Grace Lee´s youtube channel, What´s So Great About That can be found here:

We did not get a chance to talk about Grant´s other important contributions to film culture but it´s worth mentioning the invaluable  open access scholary website, Film Studies for Free, Mediático, a website on various aspects of Latin American and Iberian film cultures, and as an editor of  [in]Transition: Journal of Videographic Film and Moving Image Studies 

José Arroyo

Cine Club de Cali

We´re so used to talking about structures that we forget how individuals make a difference.  I was reminded of this whilst watching Luis Ospina´s It All Started At The End/ Todo comenzó por el fin (Columbia, 2015). A group of friends with shared interests get together and share a house. The friends then turn that house into studios, an art gallery, a publishing house and a cinema. This group happened to include, amongst others, Luis Ospina, Andrés Caicedo and Carlos Mayolo. We´re shown how shared cinephilia leads to collaborative cultural production, one that´s left an imprint, proven to be very influential and now become part of Colombia´s cultural history. Cinephilia left a legacy in Columbia, one that exceeded filmmaking.

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I was particularly struck by the programs of the Cine Club de Cali. They don´t seem much different than Film Soc programs from that era (early 70s) in most of the West: Kubrick, Chaplin, Eisenstein, Cukor, Hitchcock, Buñuel, Westerns, Czech Cinema. Jerry Lewis worship was not restricted to Paris but also flowed in Cali. The programs made me wonder when and how Latin American Cinema began to circulate and be discussed in Colombia.

 

 

The film screenings then also led to publications on cinema, as you can see below, and this is also typical of what you´d find in the West; Truffaut, Polanski, the films of Clint Eastwood, whatever of interest was then playing. Ospina himself has declared that more significant for them were B movies like Romero´s The Night of the Living Dead (1968), partly because it was cheap and fun, about zombies and cannibalism, but partly because it was also a significant and serious social critique about America and the Vietnam War.

This coming together of friends also lead to an important intervention, the creation of the Caliwood group of filmmakers, which has proved an inspiration to several generations of Latin American filmmakers now and has also left an indelible imprint on Colombia´s cultural history: the work of writer Andrés Caicedo, now translated into several languages (see images below), the films of Carlos Mayolo, and of course the work of Ospina himself. So the friendships and shared interests of these irreverent, druggy, countercultural dissidents bore fruit and left a legacy, which is not to say that structures are not important. They wouldn´t have been able to do so if they weren´t of a particular class, one with relatives who could afford to lend out empty houses. That said, an important reminder that individuals can make a difference, that collaboration is essential, and that Harold Innes´observation in Empire and Communication that colonised people need to be fully conversant with the culture of Empire as well as their own is amply evident in the conjunction of their programming and their own production,

 

For those of you who speak Spanish, the great Jorge Yglesias tells a similar story of the developments of a cinephile culture in Cuba that can be listed to here:

 

 

José Arroyo

Conor Ryan & José Arroyo on ‘BoJack Horseman’

I meet with Conor Ryan to talk about the show´s representation of mental health, as well as its social critique of Hollywood and wider American culture.

Depth of Field

Conor Ryan and José Arroyo discuss the complex and often bizarre world of Netflix’s animated series ‘BoJack Horseman’. They particularly focus on the show’s representation of mental health, as well as its social critique of Hollywood and wider American culture.

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Fast Trip, Long Drop (Greg Bordowitz, 1993)

http://www.ubu.com/film/bordowitz_fast.html

How did I miss Fast Trip, Long Drop when it came out?Sara Diamond, listed as an executive producer was then a friend of mine. And indeed I knew several of the people listed in the credits. Perhaps it´s because at the time I was moving through Montreal, Vancouver, Norwich and was then in Coventry, where I´d moved to, partly hoping to escape some of what the film deals with, without then realising there was no escape.

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Seeing it now, it seems to me no work better evokes the structure of feeling of the struggles over HIV/AIDS, what it felt like to come out at a time when gay identities seemed inextricable from AIDS in public discourse. In fact that´s how this work begins. Bordowitz finds out he´s HIV positive, then comes out to his parents as gay, then comes out as HIV later. The exploration is a personal one. He talks about his father who died young and whom he never knew after the age of four. The music of the film is all mournful klezmer. He talks about his family´s roots in the schtetels of the Ukraine, and how typhoid often attacked, wiping off entire sectors of the population, ie that the unjustness experienced by the generation, my generation, who came out and came into HIV/AIDS was not so unique.

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He asks the questions we all asked then: how to remain hopeful in the face of increasing loss. How to avoid or escape the overarching presence of death? Will our future be about just watching each other die? How to reconcile the ´fact that I´m going to die with the daily monotony of my life’; Isn´t this a crisis for all of us…why is it my burden and responsibility? Some of these questions are questions that will affect all of us as we get older, and time and history are actively discussed in the work. But these questions take on a particular urgency in the work because it´s of a time before the introduction of retrovirals, when life expectancy for people with HIV was shortened, concentrated.

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I was moved by Bordowitz´intelligent articulacy, by his youthful beauty, by the way historical footage is interspersed with role-playing, autobiography, interviews. It´s a work full of mourning and militancy.  It´s my youth. And it moves me to see all those young faces at the demonstrations, enjoying themselves and reminding me that, whilst death was all around, there was still fun, and joy, and sex…and without denying the deterioration, helplessness, death, and lots and lots of tears.

Bordowitz talks to a female friend with terminal cancer, notes that a car could run one over tomorrow, that nothing is set. Indeed he is still with us. I´m far from an objective spectator. I was moved even by those stilted moments so typical of the video art of the time and which I used to then hate. I can´t think of a work that better evokes what young gay men of a certain age in those years thought about and felt.

The film can be seen in the link at the very top. Some of you might also be interested in this lovely obituary of Douglas Crimp by Greg Bordowitz, which also arises from and connects to this period.

Thanks to Gary Needham for bringing it to my attention,

 

José Arroyo

Death of a Salesman at the Picadilly Theatre, London, 28th of November

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Gosh, gee wizz, golly, wow: Wendell Pierce is terrific in Death of a Salesman. And making the Loman family black in this production certain adds dimensions to the ‘attention must be paid’ and ´smile and a shoeshine´parts of the play, as well as the mistresses on the road, and indeed all the relations between fathers and sons. A musical production too, with jazz and funk often providing a beat to the spoken dialogue. Pierce´s customary charm and likability makes the tragic aspects even more resonant. This time, the ceiling did not fall down at the Piccadilly Theatre but the production sure raised the roof: an explosive standing ovation last night, not normal in London, particularly outside tourist season, and even for tv stars.

 

José Arroyo

Agarrando Pueblo/ The Vampires of Poverty (Luis Ospina/ Carlos Mayolo, Columbia,1977)

 

Screenshot 2019-11-28 at 08.48.33.pngAgarrando pueblo/ The Vampires of Poverty, directed by Luis Ospina and Carlos Mayolo is  a scathing satire of poverty porn, very funny, quirky, self-referential and multi-faceted. A crew of filmmakers working for German TV are tasked with filming poverty. They chase after poor people on the streets, pay children to take their clothes off and go swimming for money, pin the most vulnerable to their poverty, all the while thinking ahead to the whorehouse they hope to visit later. The film alternates between black and white and colour film to startling effect, showing the differences in information conveyed and experience incited by a simple change of stock, Throughout bystanders interrogate the filmmakers: ´why always focus on the worst. Is this the only aspect of our culture Westerners are interested in? If you´re making money off our suffering,  shouldn´t we be paid? ´At the end some of the real people who were performing the aspects of their lives most desired by Western consumers have a good laugh about it all, but not before one of them wipes his ass with the filmmakers money. Essential viewing for those of you interested in poverty porn and documentary ethics. A prime exemplar of Colombia´s  ´Caliwood´filmmaking group.

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José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 195 – Le Mans ’66

Cars, business, and a big chummy Brummie combine in 1960s California as Ford sets itself the mission of beating the all-conquering Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, in a film that has not one but two boring titles: Ford v Ferrari in the USA, and Le Mans ’66 in the UK. Mike had a good enough time to see it twice, even though it’s directed by James Mangold, for whom he has little love; José, incredibly, even welled up at the end.

Although one might expect clashes between the egos of our heroes, the Texan car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Brummie racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale), their relationship is really one of friendship, common goals, and coping with the management at Ford, for whom Le Mans is about business opportunity and making their way into the increasingly deep pockets of the American teenager. José finds Ken’s family life of particular emotional interest, the support he receives from his wife a pleasure and their arguments complex, though Mike isn’t as complimentary, seeing the film as overall too slick for its own good, failing to generate real tension in the problems it depicts. This goes for the racing, too, for which he reserves some criticism, opining that while the races are good fun and entertaining larks, they don’t convey the stresses or feeling of endurance as they should. But José, a man who cares not a jot for cars or racing, enjoyed the heck out of them, and perhaps that is an achievement all of its own.

The film offers some rather crude comic representations of Italians, the Ferrari pit crew running around like cartoons, which despite only really showing up twice do stick in the mind; and lightly poses the competition as a continuation of the Second World War, the Allies at Ford battling the Axis Power of Italy (at one point, Henry Ford II, played to a T by the great Tracy Letts, brags to Shelby about the role his factory played in building planes for the American war effort, telling him, “Go to war”). It’s an American film about the greatness of America at the height of America’s cultural standing in the world; as José describes it, their empire.

And plonked in the middle of this American myth-making is a sarcastic showoff from Sutton Coldfield, unable to keep his mouth shut except when he’s got some tea in there. Mike responded with unbridled joy to the attention to detail shown to Ken’s origins, not only in the broad, charming accent Bale employs, but also in the dialect he brings with him, talking of cheese cobs and using the phrase “round the Wrekin”, something most of Britain probably has no clue about, let alone America. Peaky Blinders may have given Birmingham a platform in modern pop culture, particularly amongst Americans, but Mike enjoys Ken here much more, ecstatic that a $100m movie that’s going down well with audiences features a Brummie as one of its heroes.

Le Mans ’66 is an honest to god charm offensive of a film, with entertaining action, performances that do the well-written screenplay justice, and even an emotional sting in the tail. Get yourself to the cinema for it. It’s bosting.

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: 194 – Permission

This year’s Screening Rights Film Festival saw a great start with Permission, an Iranian film about women’s rights, oppression, and male ego, based on the true story of Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of the Iranian women’s futsal team whose husband barred her from leaving the country to play in an international final. After the film, José led a discussion with Riham Sheble and Dr. Saeed Zeydabadi-Nejad in which the entire audience got involved.

It’s an enormously interesting film and despite its severe subject matter, a lively, enjoyable watch. Baran Kosari is captivating as Afrooz, the captain, fighting as best she can the system that allows her husband, Yaser, to restrict her movement – which is made scarier by his absence for several scenes. The film cannot possibly be mistaken for suggesting that Yaser’s actions can be justified, but gives him space to express his reasons for them, revealing the danger of a bruised male ego, especially one with the support of unjust laws that can be weaponised.

We also discuss Afrooz’s relationship with her teammate and roommate, who stays in Iran with her out of choice, with respect to the ways in which writer-director Soheil Beiraghi uses code and ellipses to circumvent his country’s censors. And Sahar Dolatshahi’s team manager catches our eye, a powerful figure who enjoys her status among the football federation, and whose sanctimonious, matronly attitude reminds Mike of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Aunt Lydia.

A film we’re very glad to have seen. Thank you to the Screening Rights Film Festival for putting the event together!

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: 193 – The Irishman

A three-and-a-half-hour epic in his signature genre, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks back on the life of a gangster, hitman, enforcer, and WWII veteran, who loses everything. There’s a familiar tone to much of the film, Scorsese getting the gang back together – Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel are wonderful to see, but perhaps the most enjoyable performance comes from Joe Pesci, his Russ a calm, knowing presence, a characterisation that feels like a deliberate defiance of the volatility we remember so vividly from Tommy in Goodfellas. The film weaves a tapestry of power structures throughout 20th century New York, incorporating the mob, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and politicians, all tied together by the wild, paranoid, braggadocious figure of Jimmy Hoffa, played by a brilliant Al Pacino in his first ever collaboration with Scorsese.

Scorsese’s use of digital technology to take years off his cast is a matter of debate between us. José thinks that the use of younger actors would have been beneficial, comparing it to De Niro’s portrayal of Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather Part II; Mike arguing that the technology convinces, facilitates a smooth telling of the story, where, had different actors been used, he might have felt like he was waiting for the ‘real story’ to begin, and doesn’t hamper the facial performances as it might have – though he agrees wholeheartedly that, in his mid-70s, Robert De Niro simply can’t convincingly kick a baker as a man thirty or forty years his junior should be able to.

José asks whether Frank feels enough guilt about having to kill Jimmy, by this point a man who’s been his friend for years. We agree that we think his emotional state is too opaque, though Mike suggests that he’s also tamping down his feelings for the sake of getting on with a task he can’t avoid. The feeling of loss and guilt that this event leads to, though, enormously affects the final half hour of the film, and for Mike it’s a beautifully moving coda to a film that, while hugely enjoyable, often felt free of a clear destination – something José disagrees with, never wondering where it was going.

We also consider Scorsese’s recent remarks on Marvel, suggesting that his perspective is a surprisingly ahistorical one, and that had he been making films in the 1950s he’d have had identical complaints about Westerns, for instance – the dominant genre of the time. But José takes time to agree with his aesthetic and artistic complaints, arguing that Marvel’s films lack ambition, and Mike suggests that his issue really comes down to a level of dominance that is marginalising films of lower budgets and greater ambition. We also discuss the fact that Scorsese has made The Irishman for Netflix, hardly the home of a lover of the cinema, as their model is Internet-based and doesn’t allow for wide theatrical releases, Mike suggesting this represents a conflict between Scorsese’s words and actions; though José argues that, as limited as it is, the film has been given a theatrical release, and one would be stupid to turn down money if it gets one’s film made, no matter the source.

But to bring it back to The Irishman, we had a terrific time and the film throughout is layered with great jokes, considered compositions, and brilliantly written, performed and directed set-piece scenes in which conversation is king, stakes are high, and power is in play. If you get a chance to see it during its brief theatrical window, do so.

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.

 

A Moment of Poetry in Far From Heaven

Seeing Todd Haynes´Far From Heaven (2002) recently, I was struck once again by the beauty and power of the work. Like with the greatest of films, new and different aspects of it catch one´s eye, in this latest instance the shot you can see above. Cathy (Julianne Moore) thinks her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is working late so she goes to his office to bring him his dinner only to discover him embracing another man. The shock of the revelation, visualised for us through a brilliant white light, makes her flee back into the darkness of the corridor, a canted angle showing her state of mind as her husband´s lover races past her.

The clip above begins in a medium close-up when she enters the elevator, shocked, out of breath, her face as if about to cry but not quite doing so. The shot then dissolves into  the exterior of the Whittaker house, her house, lights on at night, with the camera low on the ground moving up past the doorway of the house, further into the darkness, then cranes up through some bushes like in a horror film and zooms in towards the light of a window, where Cathy is framed as if in prison, looking away from the camera to await the horror to come.

It´s a beautiful shot. Why the dissolve rather than a cut? Because this revelation is the cause of her house becoming a prison instead of a home. The knowledge of one thing actualises, shapes the conditions of Cathy´s subsequent existence. The shot of her shaken with the revelation in the lift becomes her entombed and imprisoned in her home, only partly visible through a window that looks like it has bars in it. We don´t get too close to her either and remain outside. A car´s headlights, ominous, and threatening, announces the arrival of Frank.

It´s a shot in which each beat is thought through, expressive, telling us not only the story as is but through metaphor, allusion, rhymings, through a particular usage of film form, also both distilling and expanding the meaning of a moment that seems true and beautiful, finding what seems the perfect form for its expression. Seeing it again, I thought this is what poetry in film looks and feels like.

It´s a shot, that like much of the film, also brought to mind Douglas Sirk´s All That Heaven Allows (1955), particularly the moment, just before Cary´s (Jane Wyman) children arrive but after she´s given up Ron (Rock Hudson) where the camera moves from children singing Christmas Carols to Cary´s icy tears, her house also now a prison.

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José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 192 – Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

A female centred film, a sequel to film I loved with an even better cast of women than the original but in which nothing seems to work. Great performances by Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer that are cut to be as ineffective is possible. Beautiful set design, wonderful effects, all ruined by a bad script and worse direction. All the raw elements are there except the wit and imagination to bring them together effectively. It´s like a dish with superb ingredients but made from a bad recipe by a terrible cook. That it has a worthy ´We are the world´ message somehow makes it worse. The podcast makes an effort to discuss its virtues but somehow returns to the faults.

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: 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.