Category Archives: Uncategorized

Overview of Burt Lancaster’s Career

An overview of Lancaster’s career that highlights his noir period in the late 40s, his contributions as a producer, and his late-career work in auteur cinema. A version of this was given for Westminster Libraries and updated and expanded for the Film and Television Stardom module at the University of Warwick.

 

 

Female Film Stars on the cover of Time

A surprisingly small number of female film stars made the cover of Time between 1930 and 1969; barely one a year, and men appeared more rarely still. I have not included actresses who appeared on the cover due to their success on Broadway, such as Ethel Merman, Shirley Booth, Ruth Gordon and others

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 269 – Small Axe: Education

 

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

Small Axe ends with what, based on his 2014 profile in the Guardian, we take to be a tale partially inspired by Steve McQueen’s own childhood. In Education, a young dyslexic boy, Kingsley, is transferred to a school for the “educationally subnormal”, a real practice in the 1970s that disproportionately involved black children. The institution to which he’s sent is barely a school, the children left unsupervised by bored teachers and allowed to run riot – but it’s covertly investigated by a group of activists hoping to fight and end the system.

Mike relates to the film, recognising in Kingsley’s mum the same righteous anger and desire to fight for her son that his own mum showed for him as a youngster, and to its evocation of British school life. (It may be set twenty years prior to his school years, but British kids have had to perform London’s Burning on recorders and tambourines since time immemorial.) The aesthetic evokes the era vividly, the visual quality of the images, the shot selections and editing all perfectly emulating the look of Play for Today, the iconic anthology series. And as with the rest of Small Axe, a concise historical struggle within Britain’s wider racist society is effectively rendered complex…

… up to a point. Though the situation and its effects are complex, the characters are mostly fairly one-note, and the film’s ending is rather pat – even a little phony, though it’s forgivable for this series to want to end on a hopeful note. Still, it’s an intelligent, thoughtful film that fits in perfectly amongst the rest of the series, and as we have throughout, we implore you to watch it all.

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

A brief note on Bridgerton

I’m generally a supporter of blind casting — love it in much Shakespeare — but am having trouble with it in Bridgerton. If slavery and colonialism is to a considerable extent what funded this class of people and their lifestyle it seems dodgy to me to cast people of colour as Dukes etc in in the series, somehow making black people not only complicit in but actual beneficiaries of the slavery and oppression of their like.

I did end up watching the whole series and very much enjoyed it in the way that I enjoy the rest of Shondaland. But this aspect remans a niggle and I plan to read Kristen J Warner’s The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting, which I’ve been told is excellent.

 

José Arroyo

A brief note on How To Get Away With Murder

Into the second season of How to Get Away With Murder now and completely immersed in Shondaland. Viola Davis is ferocious in the lead and the show itself is glossy, melodramatic, unafraid of trashyness and yet well-dramatising all the modish issues of the day: the show is very sophisticated on issues of race and gender, and on various representational levels; poverty, social inequality, broader issues of social justice are so far largely absent. In the first season Viola Davis covered up the murder of her husband whilst juggling an affair with Billy Brown. In this season Viola goes full steam on with Famke Jenssen. I like the narrative trope of returning to a primal scene of murder, sometimes as a flashback sometimes as a flash-forward in almost every episode. I love seeing stars of yesterday appearing in key parts (Cecily Tyson, Elizabeth Perkins, Angela Bassett) and given space to make an impact. Every chapter begins with a set of questions seeking solutions; every ending is a cliff-hanger. it’s compulsive, glossy, sexy. Perfect for this time of year.

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 267 – Small Axe: Red, White and Blue

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, or Spotify.

Another Steve McQueen rendition of a true story, Red, White and Blue examines institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police, as did Mangrove – but from the inside. Leroy Logan, a research scientist, applies to the police with the express intention of combating its attitude and behaviour towards black people, in part because of his father’s own abuse at their hands.

The theme of black British identity runs throughout Small Axe, and here it’s intriguingly augmented by imagery of the Queen; we discuss how it can be interpreted, including as a symbol of the common nationality the Windrush generation ostensibly shares with British-born white people, and a painful reminder of the fact that that shared identity is not truly embodied, and also as an icon of the establishment Leroy hopes to disrupt and improve. We also concentrate on Leroy’s relationship with his father, which frames the entire film, and how their attitudes, experiences and understanding of each other intersect.

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

Crosses: A Response to ‘Lovers Rock’ by Chris McNicolls

First, crosses. Crosses everywhere. Big and small. This film seems rife with
what appears to be the ultimate Christian symbol. But crosses are ancient
ciphers, they don’t only represent the crucifixion and they don’t only belong
to Christianity. Crosses, crossroads, and crossings, are deeply embedded
in Afro-Atlantic cultures and rituals. (e.g., Robert Johnson, the legendary
blues guitarist is said to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroad in
return for his otherworldly skill and technique). The various crosses in the
film not only hold the Christian significance of hope and salvation but also
raise questions of oppression and captivity. (As Martha begins her journey
by bus [out of Babylon?] she observes through a window an old black man
carrying a large white cross on his shoulder, a deliberately emblematic
image that seems to stand Kipling on his head “Take up the white man’s
burden”). These various crosses also function as symbolic passages:
passages of belonging and identity, crossings between worlds,
intersections between past and present (the presence of the past), body
and soul, matter and form, the living and the dead. These various crosses
suggest an alternate cosmology along with alternative spheres and forms
of existence. This, we see in the film’s bold exploration of music and dance.
Second, music and dance. Music and dance are fundamental to this film,
and they seem to be scripted into the film in such a way as to highlight a
kind of movement of return, a kind of passage and return to a more original
time and place, a more heightened spiritual realm that remains
nonetheless deeply rooted in the bodily-material sphere (I’m here reminded
of Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal [1939], a work that
evokes a nostalgia for an imaginary homeland of the spirit). Thus, within
the film’s unflinching carnality we also witness a sublime ascent, a crossing
over that takes place through an abstractive movement away from very
recognizable forms, first in the popular song-form (verse/chorus/bridge),
e.g., (“Kung Fu Fighting” (Carl Douglas) “He’s The Greatest Dancer” (Sister
Sledge), “After Tonight” (Junior English), “Mr. Brown” (Gregory Isaacs),
“Silly Games” (Janet Kay), etc. These are all songs with recognizable lyrics
and strong, recognizable melodies accompanied by recognizable body
movements and dance-floor moves (kung fu postures, disco poses , slow
grinds, etc.). But these soon give way to a second, more stripped back,

instrumental, percussive and rhythmically driven minimalist dub aesthetic.
In this deepening of the Afro-British aesthetic, the music is stripped bare of
words and melody and is held in place in the lower register solely by drum
and bass. (“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter”).
Guitar and horns and keys are interjected percussively and rhythmically,
and like the dancing that now accompanies it, they appear distorted,
floating in sonic, otherworldly fashion. (This is made to happen through
delay, feedback, and reverb, etc.) And so with “Minstrel Pablo” (Augustus
Pablo), we begin the ascension, the crossing over from the material to the
spiritual, the worldly to the ascetic. Couples give way to individuals dancing
by themselves but within a collective. And the dancing is fierce,
transcendent, the mood majestic and eternal. The song now on heavy
rotation is “Kunta Kinte Dub” by The Revolutionaries. (Remember
“Roots”?) To maintain this ecstatic moment, the record is rewound three
times. By the time the music and the dancing crescendo, arms are lifted
and there is a repeated, collectively euphoric shout of “Jah Ras Tafari.”
(The lifting of the arm in this manner is an old Kongo gesture, a way of
touching the most elevated moment of the sun to gather up the energy and
force of the divine. Yet, this ancient Kongo gesture of the dancers is equally
deeply intertwined with the Christian-Hebraic tradition: “Sing unto God, sing
praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his
name JAH, and rejoice before him.” [Psalm 68: 4]).
We’ve just been to “church,” an electronically, sound-system driven version
of a “binghi” (an all-night drumming session) and have witnessed a
collective, spiritual transformation.
As the young protagonist Martha boards the bus to return home, who does
she see? That old man again, and he is reassembling that big old white
cross to lift once more on his shoulder. We’re reentering Babylon, but not
quite the same way as when we left.

An Audio-Visual introduction to Lubitsch focussing on The Shop Around the Corner.

An Audio-Visual introduction to Lubitsch focussing on The Shop Around the Corner, and more formally on endings in cinema.

 

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 26: The Ring Seller/ Biya el-Khawatim

A discussion of one of Youssef Chahine’s most enjoyable films, The Ring Seller/ Biya el-Khawatim. It can be seen on youtube via the link above. The work was originally written for the stage by Assi and Mansour Rahbani, the latter, the husband of The Ring Seller’s star, Fairuz.  We discuss the film in relation to Chahine’s oeuvre, to national and transnational cultures, to the musical genre in relation to theatrical operetta and zarzuela but also in relation to films like Powell/Pressburger’s Oh…. Rosalinda! and Arthur Freed musicals. The podcast can be listened to below.

I have included some of the images discussed in the podcast below:

 

I also enclose this musical number to illustrate the bit of the discussion about the handling of crowds and dancing.

 

Netflix offers this little film which gives a flavour of the oeuvre: ‘This video is a tribute to the work of one of the greatest international directors, whose films have won many awards inside and outside the country .. Youssef Chahine. This is a compilation of some of the immortal scenes from his films, “Al-Masir, An Egyptian Hadota, Alexandria Leh, Alexandria Violin and Violin, Al-Muhajir and Conflict in El-Mina”, All of them are now showing on Netflix. (The preceding is a google translation which does not quite get the titles right).

This is the other Fairuz / Rahbani brothers film. Unfortunately it’s muted at points, maybe music copyright problems. But seems much more realistic than the Chahine one

 

José Arroyo