Originally published as:
The William Blake show at the Tate is so well-curated and richly illustrated that I haven´t been able to process it properly and will return to see it again. My main thought was that the style and the visualisation of people, creatures and worlds (alternate, divine, hellish, spiritual and earthly, monstrous, carnal) are so modern they would fit right into contemporary comic books and graphic novels. A look at the display in the bookshop quickly convinced me I was not the first person to think that.
A melodrama, subtly told, about a love that becomes impossible, with a resolution in which the audience knows more than the characters.
The film is set in 80s Ho Chi Minh. Dung (Lien Binh Phat) is a ruthless enforcer for a debt collector. He meets Linh Phung (Isaac), the star of a Cai Luang opera, when he threatens to burn their costumes if they don´t pay up. They meet again when Linh Phung gets bullied in a bar and they both end up fighting the thugs. Linh Phung´s keys get lost and he ends up spending the night with Dung, playing video games, telling each other the story of their lives, and articulating a shared passion for music, and particularly Cai Luang, a type of popular opera that turns out to be a key to the past of both.
Song Lang, the title of the film, ostensibly refers to the percussion instrument used in Cai Luang. The percussion is supposed to guide the opera and its protagonists down a moral path in life. Ostensibly Song Lang translates literally into ´Two Men´. So here we have two characters, both played by local pop star phenomena, trying to find a moral path through a traumatic history, a shared love of art, the pursuit and abandonment of artistic purpose and drive, and the unfolding of elective affinities, a friendship of the heart, that is also imbued with incipient desire.
The feelings of the characters are expressed through opera (Cai Luang), very beautiful, full of feeling, expressing what the characters can´t. I love the showbiz milieu, the campiness of it, and it combines well with the harshness of the life depicted. The most striking thing about this film is the imagery, every composition is interesting, evocative, expressive. Both itself and also conveying mood, feeling. I was very moved by it. I like the way it melds flashback, comic books, video games, all to evoke a way of life, background, texture, the way that the characters are fleshed out, given histories. The two protagonists are meant for each other but can´t be. And one will never know how close it came to being, or what the other one really felt and did. A beautiful melodrama which brings to mind in different ways the best work of Wong Kar Wai and Richard Linklater.
LGBTQ audiences may have reservations about the end but I think the melodrama recquires it and I personally loved it. Moreover, Song Lang is a great film, one that will last, though you probably won´t get many opportunities to be seen on a big screen. See it while you can.
Playing as part of the Q-Film Weekender at the Northampton Playhouse
Madame is Caroline, a ninety-year old self-made woman who´s countered and overcome sexism all her life with wit and with humour. Her grandson Stéphane is now victim of homophobia. when he tries to overcome that which he´s internalised, he finds his grandmother externalising it for and onto him. The sufferings of grandmother and grandson both stem from sexism. But as the film unfolds and he comes to accept his homosexuality, she becomes part of the problem. Will their love overcome his insistence on being himself?
A beautiful documentary. A love letter from a gay grandson to his grandmother, and to my knowledge, unique in covering this thematic. It´s beautifully structured and narrated, with a poetic voice-over that gets at the heart of the sexism in society, founded on homophobia, and so encompassing that it makes Stéphane turn against himself and against nature. That it´s so beautifully conveyed is extraordinary. The filmmaker is lucky in having so much audio-visual material, covering his whole life, to draw upon. But it takes artistry to give it such poetic shape, to make the strong and pointed political implications seem so simple and to give the impression that they unfurl so naturally.
Madame and her grandson are both very charismatic, which helps. If the film had nothing else, that alone would make it watchable. But there is so much more: the narration, the structure, the editing, the choice of music, the gentle and insistent attempts to understand oneself and each other. Very beautiful.
Playing as part of the Q-Film Weekender at the Northampton Playhouse
Everyone knows Carlos Saura´s work as a filmmaker: Cría cuevos, La caza, Los golfos; the peerless flamenco trilogy with Antonio Gadés: Bodas de sangre, Carmen, El amor brujo; and so much more. I knew he´s been celebrated as a photographer. But I did not really know that aspect of his work and I was really bowled over by it. His 1950s ones are classics but very powerful to see enlarged. The Chaplin pictures are intimate and beautiful, I include a selection of others like the one of Margot Fonteyn in Seville and the Lola Flores and Buñuel just because they´re fab and I imagine some of you will be interested. Such a great exhibition. His notebooks, full of drawings, water-colours, compositions, plays on light, are a real demonstration of the preoccupations of a 20th century visual artist, and I include a sampling as well.
The family, the man, the movie cameras:
Images from the great ‘Delphine Seyrig Defiant Muses ‘exhibition. The greatness of the exhibition is in conveying a range of feminist practices, collective and social, international, ranging from issues on abortion to sex work to trans performances of classic American plays, to the liberation of video as form, to the value even of unproduced feminist film projects (Calamity Jane). And a range of relationships between women (Duras, Ulrike Ottinger, Agnès Varda, Simone de Beauvoir and so many more whose names don´t mean as much to me. I was delighted to see Jean Genet speaking up for Angela Davis and the Black Panthers as part of the work produced by Seyrig and the feminist collectives she was a part of.
Here is the program:
Plus some more images and text I thought some of you might find interesting:
Returning to Newcastle after shining his coruscating lens on the inhumanity of the benefits system in I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach now casts his eye on the gig economy and the exploitation of workers in Sorry We Missed You. A struggling dad and husband gets a job as a delivery driver, coerced into handling unfair responsibility and meeting impossible targets, with the stability of his family bearing the brunt of the stress.
José argues that Sorry We Missed You only tells us what we already know; Mike contends that its dramatisation makes it scarily real. We’re in agreement that it’s not especially interesting filmmaking, though, José suggesting that Loach doesn’t trust images to convey what he wants. And José has never enjoyed his depiction of the working class, finding it unrealistic at best, with no joy or love available to his films’ victims, though he agrees – with some relief! – that there is love in the central family here. Although there’s a lot to criticise in his often mechanical filmmaking, we agree that Loach makes meaningful films with which he sincerely wants to make a difference, and that’s admirable to say the least.
If nothing else, Sorry We Missed You inspired Mike to try and do one nice thing for a stranger upon leaving the cinema, and that must mean it’s a work of genius. If, however, you are already someone who does nice things, then you may find it less inspiring, though it is in some respects vital. It won’t do you any harm to wait until it’s shown on telly though.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
A horror film that everyone knew about when Mike was a teenager, but nobody seemed to have seen, we finally see 1998’s Ring – or Ringu, to transliterate the Japanese title. It’s been beautifully restored in 4K and we were keen to see what all the fuss was about.
And, truthfully, we’re left still asking that. Its influence is obvious, Mike suggesting that alongside 1999’s The Blair Witch Project it defined a new generation of horror cinema, but we don’t find it all that creepy, let alone scary. We suggest a number of factors in its iconic status: its place in the West as a foreign curio, an oddity; its brilliant conceit, a videotape that gives you seven days to live after you watch it, giving it an urban myth quality, rather like the found footage form of The Blair Witch Project convincing people of that film’s reality. And perhaps what was different and interesting about Ring at the time of its release has become commonplace enough to no longer appear so.
However, none of this is to say that we disliked the film, which would be a lie. It remains an intriguing and compelling mystery that makes excellent use of its central idea and creates some truly iconic imagery. We’re glad to have finally seen it, and if you have any interest in horror, this 4K restoration gives you renewed reason to revisit, or visit for the first time, this foundational film.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes. We are also on Spotify as Eavesdropping at the Movies
Originally published in Sight and Sound; London Vol. 10, Iss. 12, (Dec 1, 2000): 16.
Tino Muchina and I chat about Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged me (1999)
Tino Muchina and José Arroyo discuss the joys of Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged me (1999) and the wide range of intertextual references within the film and consider whether the film is a homage to and celebration of past styles as opposed to a mimicry and empty parody. Particularly speaking in terms of its relation to Sixties Britain and the nostalgia this evokes in audiences.
Shot in black and white on a clockwork camera from the 1970s, the hand-development of its 16mm film resulting in scratches and unpredictable changes in exposure, and its soundtrack entirely post-synchronised, Mark Jenkin’s Bait is audiovisually suffused with atmosphere and texture, and not a little dreamlike and weird to boot. It tells the story of Martin, a Cornish fisherman struggling to cope with the upheaval of both his region and his life specifically that results from an influx of middle-class settlers. He’s sold his family’s cottage to a family of outsiders, his brother now uses his fishing boat to take tourists on drunken stag parties, and Martin snarls and growls his way through dealing with these changes.
It’s clear that we’re meant to see Martin as a hero, but he’s tilting at windmills – though perhaps that’s WHY he’s a hero – and José argues that the film is deeply conservative, asking, for instance, why it’s so bad that Martin’s brother adapts to his changing environment by taking tourists on trips. Mike argues that the family of newcomers is too caricatured, so keen is the film for us to see them as invaders who fuck everything up, and thinks about the film’s parochialism in the wider context of Brexit – the unfriendliness to outsiders displayed here speaks to anti-immigrant sentiment throughout the UK; is there a difference between the way the Cornish in Bait feel and the way Brexiters throughout the country feel? Perhaps there’s a tension between the relative power and privilege of the “invaders” and “invaded” that we don’t resolve, but in overly simplistic terms we don’t emerge from the film feeling entirely on its side.
Jenkin’s cinematography and editing beautifully conveys what there is to love about Martin’s way of life, concentrating on manual labour and his close-knit community. José suggests that the film looking the way it does makes it feel as though it’s already an object from the past, with the romance, nostalgia and loss that goes along with it – just as it depicts the decline of its way of life. It also puts us in mind of Italian Neorealism, José bringing up Visconti’s La terra trema, Mike thinking of De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, and we’re indebted to Mark Fuller for offering a perspective on Bait‘s place within a tradition of similarly claustrophobic coastal dramas, such as Gremillon’s The Lighthouse Keepers, Epstein’s Finis Terrae, Flaherty’s Man of Aran, and Powell’s Edge of the World. Mike also considers the film’s visual and tonal similarity to Aronofsky’s Pi, thinking about how effectively that film places the audience in the main character’s headspace, and suggesting that the visual design here does the same.
Bait is a considerable film, one that speaks deeply to the loss of a certain way of life and the anger and resentment to which that leads. But the film doesn’t appear keen for this resentment to be questioned, and we feel it needs to be.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
Alex Hobbs and I discuss Mandy
Alex Hobbs and José Arroyo talk about ‘Mandy’, the psychedelic revenge drama directed by Panos Cosmatos which rocked festivals last year. They discuss the film’s distinct visuals, the source of Cosmatos’ nostalgia for 80s horror, and his challenging approach to masculinity within revenge films and the horror genre more widely. Alex is particularly interested in the score, composed by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, and why so many critics have described the film as a “heavy-metal horror”. Occasionally, Alex and José also gush over Nicolas Cage’s performance, which miraculously strikes a balance between deranged and delicate.
Like its chosen
subject, Raw is surrounded by
mysticism. Opening at the festival circuit back in 2016, rumours spread far and
wide about the impressionable French horror film which left audiences vomiting
and fainting in masses. But for all its media furore about the horror and gore
on-screen, Raw is one of the most
humane cannibal representations in cinema.
Considering the film’s
subject matter, however, the exaggerated reports aren’t surprising. As the
director herself puts it, “It’s too close.” Cannibals are commonly placed in
the same supernatural realm of horror as vampires and zombies. From scientific
experiments-gone-wrong to ‘savage’ tribes living outside of civilisation,
cannibals have often been presented as the Other. But the reality is that cannibals
really do exist and they’re biologically no different to us, which is why we
find them so disturbing. With all the films attempting to understand murderers
and incest, Ducournau unapologetically tackles the…
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Todd Haynes’ ‘Far from Heaven’ comes as close
as it can be to channelling the bygone era of Hollywood social melodramas of
Douglas Sirk reworked for today’s audience while revising its themes to become
more relevant now more than ever. As a matter of fact, it actually improves
upon Sirk’s work. It’s the best and boldest 50’s melodrama never made from that
decade from its artistry to its intellect that masterfully explores racial issues,
classism, gender roles and sexual orientation through the lens of 1950’s
America in a single cohesive package.
The film sees the Whitakers in the suburban
small town of Hartford, Connecticut. We follow
Cathy Whitaker (played by Julianne Moore), a mother and loving wife to Frank
(played by Dennis Quaid) in a seemingly perfect all-American family of two.
What could go possibly wrong for Cathy? Well everything. On one night she shockingly
discovers a secret that’s harbouring…
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Climax is not a film you watch. It’s a film you experience.
Gaspar Noe’s films usually achieve glittering condemnation: ‘disgusting’, ‘gratuitous’ and ‘repellent’ are just some of the common adjectives audiences and critics have found most applicable to his filmography. However, early responses suggest Climax has managed to sway viewers into a new-found appreciation for the divisive director.
So, why the new-found approval? Don’t be fooled into thinking that Climax is a tame imitation of his former efforts, if anything, it’s quite the opposite. What has perhaps been influential in this being Noe’s best received film since I Stand Alone is his willingness to indulge in the style that has so often repulsed audiences. His depraved violence amidst daring neon colours, pulsating electronic soundtracks and indulgent camera-work no longer acts as a side piece but the main attraction itself. It’s perhaps the lack of narrative that lends itself to the…
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“real horror is not about jump scares, that can be fun for a moment, but I’m more interested at looking at what is dark in humanity and what is actually horrific. Which is not what we necessarily think of the genre these days.”
Robert Eggers’ The
Witch (2015) is a modern gothic horror masterpiece. The film is a
suspenseful and claustrophobic supernatural horror that relies on an unsettling
atmosphere over the cheap scares and gore tactics that the genre has now become
associated with. Eggers, as writer and director, creates an authentic image of
an archetypal 17th century puritan family in new England, tested by
the paranoia and hysteria brought about by religious fundamentalism in the face
of dark and difficult circumstance. Horror
is offered not only through the fear of the supernatural but also of
accusation culture and distrust in the family home.
Although having a run time of only 93 minutes the film has a measured slow-burning pace, building up tension and suspense, while not leaving all the action for the third act. In an interview for the Guardian Egger’s stated that:
“real horror is not about jump
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Lars Von Trier’s 2000 film Dancer in the Dark is one of two halves, both in execution and vision, which ultimately overlap and merge as the film progresses. The “musical”, starring Icelandic singer – songwriter Bjork and iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve, follows a poor, working class mother named Selma (Bjork) who often day dreams and escapes the harsh realities of her life by imagining she is in a musical, her big passion in life other than her son. This dreaming is exacerbated and made all the more vivid by the fact she is losing her sight due to a degenerative disease. When Selma discovers that the disease is hereditary and her son will also fall victim to the illness we follow her on a journey to try and cure him at all costs despite the cruel interference of others and the risk of death.
I say the film is…
View original post 444 more words