Category Archives: Uncategorized

Un couteau dans le coeur (Yann Gonzalez, France, 2018

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Yann Gonzalez’s Un couteau dans le Coeur is a film I feel I should like. It’s got so many element I love in it: a late 70s setting, a porn milieu akin to Jean-Luc Cadinot’s; a lesbian story of amour fou; a gay serial film akin to Cruising but done from a queer perspective; a whole array of fluidly gendered characters; the kitschyness of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures; Vanessa Paradis giving a great performance as the central character; Nicolas Maury, so gloriously campy in Dix pour cent, and just as good here; and even Félix Maritaud, my new heartthrob, playing a heroine addicted porn star. And yet, it doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts.

 

Vanessa Paradis is Anne Parèze, a producer of gay porn who’s recently been left by Loïs (Kate Moran), the woman she loves, and the editor of her films. As Anne is driven crazy by this stab to the heart, her stars are killed one by one, and in rather gruesome circumstances: a knife shooting out of a dildo is the weapon used to stab one up the arse, another through the throat and so on. Who’s killing Anne’s stars? We see someone wearing a mask doing the deed, we get little experimental montages of the negative of the images, there are some allusions to Sixties Hammer horror, there’s a crow and a feather and a cemetery and ….I don’t care. Nothing generates suspense. Gonzalez is very good at dialoguing with a history of camp, of gay porn, of gay cinema. He’s wonderful with actors and indeed with tone: he beautifully captures that 70s soft-core look and attitude, but somewhere along the line I stopped caring about the people, the themes or what would happen next, even when it’s revealed that self-hatred is the motivator and even when the queers in the audience get their revenge.

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From ‘vivre de l’air et d’eau fraiche/air and fresh water  to ….

 

I found Un couteau dans le coeur a disappointment. But I’m not sorry I saw it and indeed it’s made me eager to see more work by Yann Gonzalez.

 

José Arroyo

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 149 – Game of Thrones, Last Episode

For the first time, Eavesdropping at the Movies is not talking about a film… or is it? Game of Thrones spent eight years and countless millions of dollars in pursuit of cinematic production values, visual spectacle, and the world’s unquestioning fealty and attention. Is it television? Is it film? Is it something in between? How can we even talk about it if we can’t define our terms?

Well, after 73 episodes, HBO’s epic, brutal, violent, sexy, melodramatic fantasy has finally reached its conclusion, and everybody’s been watching. José’s been watching it since it started. Mike’s been watching it since last month. Did it end well? What made it interesting to watch? How did it change over the years? What of Podrick? All these questions and more might be answered in this spoilerific conversation.

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.

El hijo del sueño (Alejandro Alonso, Cuba, 2016)

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Julio Cesar left Cuba as part of the Mariel exodus in 1980, contracted HIV and disappeared from view. This beautiful film, made up of postcards and pictures, is Alejandro Alonso s attempt at a re-encounter with his uncle, a putting him back in the picture. The film´s style evokes a hazy memory of things unsaid, half-remembered, all enveloped by very strong bonds and much love, pieced together through postcards he sent home, family pictures, and textured sounds. It´s very moving and brings together many histories: political exile but also those kinds of exclusions, structural, that seem to appear once the suspicion of homosexuality makes itself felt. Part of a cycle curated by Dean Luis Reyes for Rialta magazine and featuring beautiful sound work from José Homer Mora.

The film can be seen here:

El hijo del sueño

 

A preliminary note on Sauvage

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I finally got around to seeing Sauvage last night. I have no doubts as to the greatness of Felix Maritaud´s performance: brave, varied, intense, transparent. If he can breach the glass ceiling of polite homophobia, he´s headed to stardom. But I´m not sure I liked the film. The film´s depiction of male prostitution seems complex and true to the life. I liked the frankness, the combination of romanticism and grit, the film´s treatment of love, sex and longing. But I didn´t find the freedom dramatised by the film´s ending convincing; and it lacked the poetry and lyricism one finds in Genet, which the film references. There will surely be more to come after a second viewing.

José Arroyo

The ending of Jacquot de Nantes

 

Screenshot 2019-05-12 at 07.57.22.pngI suppose no one can ever know what goes on within a couple. But I do hope someone writes a biography of Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda so we at least get to know a little more than we do now, which is that they met, fell in love, had a child to accompany that of Varda’s from a previous relationship, broke up, got back together in the end. We also know Demy was bisexual. To what extent is Le bonheur autobiographical, if not in plot, in feeling? We know that Demy was dying of AIDS when Varda filmed him for Jacquot de Nantes, something that Demy then wished to be kept secret. And we know that she loved him. Her camera caresses his hair, his face, his body, it pans through his skin, mottled with liver spots, and then on the off-chance you thought she didn’t love him enough, she sings him Terrain vagues by Jacques Prevért, with its beautiful connotations of land and sea, but also of incertitude, of a proximity that ebbs and flows but which nonetheless offers a love to drown oneself in:

Terrain vagues

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Au loin déjà la mer s’est retirée,
Et toi comme une algue,
Doucement caressée par le vent,
Dans les sables du lit,
Tu remues en rêvant.

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Au loin déjà la mer s’est retirée,
Mais dans tes yeux entr’ouverts,
Deux petites vagues sont restées.

Démons et merveilles, vents et marées,
Deux petites vagues

Deux petites larmes

pour me noyer.

 

I’ve translated loosely –I’m no poet, it can only be loosely — as follows:

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

In the distance already the sea has withdrawn,

And you like an algae,

In a bed of sand gently caressed by the wind,

Dreamily stir,

 

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

The sea has already withdrawn into the distance,

But two little waves remain in your half-opened eyes.

 

Demons and wonders, winds and tides,

Two little tears,

two little waves,

to drown myself in.

 

 

 

It floors me each time, making me wistful, sad — no one’s loved me like Varda loves Demy — and leaves me admiring: If no one’s loved me like Varda loves Demy, maybe one can learn to love as lovingly, fully, as openly and acceptingly as she.

José Arroyo

Benny Moré in Agnès Varda´s Salut les Cubains!

A film composed mainly of photographs edited together to music and a celebratory narration voiced by Michel Piccoli, with Agnès Varda occasionally interpolating  qualifying commentary like pointing out to us how Cuban men possessively drape their hand over the shoulders of their women. The photos were all taken from December 1961 to January 1962, four years after the revolution. They´re very beautiful and cover a wide range of Cuban culture and society: the revolution of course, illustrated with wonderful photographs of Fidel (above left), Raúl, Ché; but also cigar factories, educational campaigns, volunteer drives, ordinary people in museums or dancing in the streets; the cultural figures of the day from Alejo Carpentier to Wilfredo Lam (above centre). We also get to see a marvellous scene of a very young Sara Gomez, here Varda´s assistant, later a celebrated filmmaker in her own right, dancing (above right). My favourite of all is the marvellous sequence of the great Benny Moré, el bárbaro del ritmo,  singing ´may only Cuban women caress your face´, wishing you that luck and singing of the joy in his. It´s glorious collage of sights and sounds, rendered even more poignant by Moré dying in between the photos being taken and the film being released. A real treat.

José Arroyo

A quick note on Paul Lynde and Cloris Leachman

Seeing Doozy las week led me to this very trashy book on Paul Lynde (top left), where I found out he studied at Northwestern with a class that included Cloris Leachman, Patricia Neal, Charlotte Ray, Jeffrey Hunter etc. Which led me to this new biography, also very trashy, of Leachman, forever Phyllis to me. What I found interesting about her book is how, at ninety, she still vividly remembers very specific scenes from films like Waterloo Bridge (Mervyn Leroy, USA, 1940) and how often the films that most deeply affected audiences are not what are ranked and re-ranked as ‘best’. Not a new thought but still an under-explored one. Also Lynde and Leachman, instantly recognisable nationally at the height of their TV fame but never the biggest stars, are still a very powerful evocation of childhood for anyone who grew up watching television in North America in the 70s.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 148 – Avengers: Endgame

A big one. The Marvel Cinematic Universe closes a chapter – kind of – with Endgame, a three-hour behemoth that concludes stories that have been told over 21 films in 11 years. It’s elegiac, both of its characters’ fates following the end of Infinity War, and of itself, offering a good deal of fan service to its vast, devoted audience, some members of which have grown up knowing nothing other than the MCU as the dominant mode of cinema. We take our time to discuss it in a two-part podcast.

The first part is, as usual, recorded upon our return from the cinema, the film still ringing in our ears. We saw it in a packed screening, the room filled with excited fans from whom the film elicited exactly the vocal and rich emotional responses that bring such occasions to life. Though three hours is a demanding duration by anyone’s standards, and could certainly be seen to speak to a certain self-importance, the film makes very good use of its time, particularly in the opening hour, in which we are given copious time to understand the ways in which the world has changed following Thanos’ fatal snap, and the remaining Avengers’ responses to it all. We discuss whether the Russo brothers, the film’s directors, offer much by way of creative visuals – to Mike, the film’s visual core is simply about scale, while José remarks that some of the compositions appealingly evoke comic book panels. Mike brings up the way the MCU overall has to some degree always been about competition between Iron Man and Captain America, and how Endgame concludes that both in the story and metatextually, giving Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans respectively their own emotional moments.

The second half, recorded three days later, largely builds on a roundtable article in the New York Times, in which five of their pop culture writers discuss both Endgame itself and the MCU’s impact on cinema culture over the last decade. It brings up a number of interesting subjects, particularly those that consider the MCU as a cinematic phenomenon rather than the specific content of the stories themselves.

So. It’s a big film and a big podcast to go with it. We found it worthwhile to take our time to think over some of the cultural issues the MCU raises, and as for arguing about this character or that scene, well, sometimes it’s fun to indulge.

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 brief reflection on Varda

 

Been going through Varda´s films recently, The Beaches of Agnès is the most recent, and there´s always a moment where a reflection, a memory, a kindness, makes me well up. But reflecting also that one of my younger selves, much more judgmental, would have been irritated by the playfulness, the self-conscious artyness, the constant and self-conscious invocation of high culture, one detects name-dropping enveloped in proclamations of love, possibly read her being so much in the picture as a kind of self-indulgence or narcissism, perhaps read her bricolages as a lack of professionalism. Perhaps. Some of that is still there. But I´m glad I´ve developed into being open to being moved by this work now.

José Arroyo

Le bonheur (Agnès Varda, France, 1965)

 

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What is happiness to Varda in Le Bonheur? Family, nature, children, eating together, a job well done – be it joining a piece of wood or sewing a dress — good sex, different kinds of sex, dancing, pop culture, cinema, Mozart, a house thoughtfully arranged with flowers, plates and pots; all of which evoke a hand-made joy; post-impressionist picnic scenes like those of Renoir and Manet, the work of Chagall. But also the pop culture signified by the music of Sylvie Vartan or Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau films. . The journey into, out of, and perhaps back into happiness is that of François Chevalier´s (played by a very handsome and soft-spoken Jean-Claude Drouot) but Varda visually focusses on what was then a female and domestic sphere, on work then, and mostly still, done by women: sewing, crocheting, ironing, cooking, breastfeeding (see images below).

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Happiness is a recurring concern for Varda. At the beginning of Jacquot de Nantes, she reads from Beaudelaire’s Le Balcon,  ‘I know the art of evoking happy moments. Those vows, those scents, those unending kisses.´But then the poem turns, ´’Will they be born again from that unfathomable abyss like rejuvenated suns rise to the heavens from the depths of the sea? Oh vows, oh scents, oh unending kisses! The night was growing dense like a wall and my eyes glimpsed yours in the dark. And I drank your breath – Oh sweetness; oh, poison! And your feet fell asleep in my fraternal hand. The night was growing dense like a wall’.  A cycle of passions, deception, development, and finally a move into compassion, fraternity, a different kind of love, a nostalgic elegy. This is different than what we see in Le bonheur but one does detects a patterning, a recurrence of elements.

 

 

For Varda´s protagonist, happiness requires a will, you have to want to be happy, and you have to seek it, know what you want and arrange your life and your home so that it might find a place there. Also, for François, happiness is not a zero-sum game, it can be added to infinitely. Such a view has a price, particularly when one is being honest about it and especially when one forgets one is a social being and one´s actions have an effect on others. Varda has commented on how she imagined the film as a vibrant, ripe, summer fruit with a worm in it.

 

Friends have insisted that those all too pleasing images of an all too perfect life look too much like an advertisement and must be read satirically or ironically. I think they can be, indeed this is such a great film that it lends itself to much thought and many different interpretations, but I don’t think they should particularly. The film is pre- Second-Wave Feminism, after Simone de Beauvoir´s The Second Sex (firs published in France in 1949) but before Varda´s own consciousness-raising, which she has spoken of as taking place in California through the late sixties and early 70s and which later found filmic expression in L’une chante, l’autre pas (1977).  Moreover, Varda’s own commentary on the film in the much later Les plages d’Agnès speaks of sincerity:

 

But I also prefer to see the images of happiness as sincerely felt and meant: why shouldn´t those beautiful children, friends, family, picnics,  a snuggling couple at ease with each other, etc depict and evoke happiness? They´re a delight to see.

 

The pleasures of culture

Few films conjure up such images and fewer still attribute them to the quotidian, the female, the working classes. And it´s not as if reading the film as sincere is equivalent to reading it as stupid. From the initial credit sequence onwards, the worm in this Eden is visible, alluded to, imaged, placed there to make you think without exactly telling you want to think about it. See below, for example of how the editing in the credit sequence alternates a perfect sunflower facing the sun (left) with the imperfect, parched and bowing down specimen we see on the right.

 

 

One of the things I found unusual in the film is how untroubled François is when he accidentally falls in love with someone other than his wife, Thérèse (Claire Drouot). Emilie (Marie France-Boyer) is a career girl, works at the post office. She´s free and he´s  not her first she tells him. He´s honest with her about still loving his wife  and his children (played by Drouot´s real-life wife and children) but they fall in love.

A man being in love with two women at the same time is the subject of a million songs. A woman being in love with two men at the same time is a different proposition in a culture. But this is a woman´s take on the man being honest and not lying about his feelings and his actions yet also demonstrating that those actions are not without consequences. They might destroy lives. But, Varda seems to say, love trumps tragedy.

 

 

 

The film is formally brilliant, with a choice of imagery and cutting that makes it feels as the type of work that seems to flow directly from an individual consciousness into yours, a quality I at least tend to associate mostly with writing. Note how in this scene, where François and Emilie end up having coffee together the choices of imagery, focus and cutting both attribute desire to each character, clearly articulating the difference between thinking and saying, whilst conveying to us, the romantic inevitability of their coupling.

The first image is of ´Le Castel´one of the two cafés, Emilie has suggested to him. The second is of ´Le Chateau´´which she´s re-iterated is the better one. We see he´s made a choice, has followed her advice and is there when she arrives. ‘Is honey what your wife prepares for your lunch´, ‘You could say that, she´s a good cook and she´s kind’ Note how as the camera goes back and forth between them is a sign that says ´Bouche d´incendie’. There´s definitely a heating up, but will it be put out? No, as they discuss, the focus racks and fixes our eye on the sign behind them. She likes the country and she also likes dancing and cinema says Emilie as the film shows us a tray of beer and crème de menthe, starting a patterning of visually illustrating what the characters are feeling, which is not quite the same as what they are saying. She will see a couple kissing, as she wants to kiss him. He focusses on the heart pendant she´s wearing: this is not just a sexual thing for him. Though the scene will cut away to signs that say ‘Temptation’, ‘Mystery,’ These signs will re-appear in the scene, not always in focus. It´s signifcant too that when they talk about whether to go to the castle, and he prefers to be outside and she inside, we cutaway to an image of them in each place, already a couple, but one out of focus, one that´s yet to come into being, new next to the sharp focus of the old castle.

 

 

 

 

The editing in the sequence above, where François first goes into Émilie´s partment is equally noticeable, the shot/reverse shots as she opens the door like the quickening of a heart, the sense of excitement in the encounter replicated and evoked by editing. I also love the cuts to the layout of the place and its belonging, which is not point-of-view so could stand in for either his checking her out or her consciousness of the state of the place and in fact evokes both. The dialogue she´s given is still remembered by women who saw the film upon first release, is transformative and frames our understanding of everything that´s about to happen: ´’I love you also and don´t worry. I´m free, happy, and you´re not the first. Love me.’ That she declares herself so, that she makes the first move is important. She´s a modern woman. Thérèse is not. ´What happiness!´he says. But for whom?

 

 

 

 

Another brilliant scene in the film is the one of the dance, its importance signalled to us by the screening going dark for a few seconds beforehand. The music is gay. We first see some young ladies dancing. Then we cut to François and Thérèse, then the camera moves left racking the focus so that the characters get blurry as they go from one side of the dance hall to the other. That gliding of the camera back and forth, coming in and out of focus, will then show us Émilie dancing with an unknown man, Francois dancing with an unknown woman, François shifting to the right and dancing with another unknown woman, Thérèse on the left with an unknown man. Eventually, inevitably, François and Emilie dance together on the right, using the dance as cover, cheating right under the wife´s nose. In spite of the hight talk and high ideals, there´s the worm. Eventually François and Thérèse get reunited on the right side of the tree…but things have happened…not above board, as Thérèse is at this point ignorant of them whilst François and Thérèse are all too aware. This back and forth also has a lulling progressive effect. All these pretty colours, all this pretty dancing, unfolding over time into a kind of treachery underneath societal observances.

I´ve heard women speak quite negatively of the scene between the couple where he speaks his infidelity. It´s certainly unusual in cinema that relationships are seen to be negotiated thus. He tells her how happy that other woman makes him feel; how he still loves her; and how he´s willing to give up that happiness he experiences with the other woman if it makes her unhappy. It seems to me a sensible discussion, one not at all unusual in gay relationships, particularly the longer lasting ones. Yet emotions are not sensible and the head and the heart are often at odds. Is this the reason for the mystery that follows?

When Jean-Claude tells his wife about this new love a month into the affair she seems to initially accept it but five minutes later she´s dead. Did she commit suicide? Did she slip? Varda isn´t clear.

 

 

The cutting in the clip above also beautifully evokes inner feeling at that moment when François discovers the body of Thérése. Time broken up, disbelief, fractured realities. Then the cutaway to Thérèse, arms extended fro the water, clearly wanting to live, but the shot distance means we can´t see too clearly and the design, with large trees framing a far-way action making vision difficult. These things are hard to understand. Did she jump? Dis she slip? If she jumped, she clearly regretted her decision, as we see her trying to hold onto a branch…in vain. That flashback is attributed to no one and is clearly the film´s objective narrator, ie. the storyteller, ie. Varda. It´s also an insert that complicates everything, makes it more intereting; in every interpretation of the scene, François must share some blame, but the extent of it differs depending on the interpretation.

What Varda does underline is that a little while later Jean-Claude is just as happy, with his children, but now with Thérese as his wife. Some people find the images in the film kitsch. I don´t. Just because happy families have now become the preserve of advertising doesn´t mean that they´re not worth representing and re-imaging. And advertising doesn´t show us the work around the house in the ways that Varda does, the patient ironing, sewing, the joy in a bouquet of wild-flowers and a brightly painted room. And certainly Varda isn´t trying to show in order to sell.

Are wives so easily replaceable? It only takes François a few few months to get back to Émilie, that summer whose duration is suggested by the length of the shot showing that first family vacation without Thérèse. I think the film is more complex than that. It shows us his being in love with Thérèse and then him being in love with Emilie. He loves his children. He things he could love both. But his adventure destroys his first family, puts his children at risk, alters his life. Can love, aside from being sexual and romantic not also be practical? I think Varda dramatises a much more complex understanding of love than some interpretations would have it.

The Eastmancolour (above) which is so fragile and turns to red so quickly has been gloriously restored and affects one almost physically. It is a joy to behold the colours Varda has chosen, those glorious yellows, vivid blues, the reds and purples and greens.  But it also makes us more clearly see the autumnal tones of the ending images, even as the vivid read of the children´s clothing recall a similar country walks with Thérèe at the beginning  (see below)Screenshot 2019-04-19 at 00.17.49

Le Bonheur is a film that, worms and all,  makes me happy, and part of the reason is because one rarely sees a working class family depicted thus, in a nice if modest home, with beautiful children, surrounded by family and loved ones, taking pleasure in the simple things, the countryside, flowers, a drive in a car, eating with friends, loving. The kitchen here is not for heart-sinking drama but for cooking, sharing, feeding, loving.

It´s a beautiful film, a great film; one to return to over and and over again, one sees different things each time, and each-reviewing enhances the pleasure in seeing it.

José Arroyo

 

Richard Squires and Abigail Addison on ‘Doozy’ at Flatpack

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Chuck Jones dismissed Hanna-Barbera cartoons as illustrated radio. But in a wonderful video essay , Sound in Hanna-BarberaPatrick Sullivan demonstrates how the fluidity of the plot of Hannah-Barbera cartoons made up for the static imagery; how plot elements like crashes were relegated off-screen and conveyed through sound accompanied by a jerking image; and how sound in general and voice in particular where the main vehicle through which action, meaning and feeling were conveyed.

I had occasion to reflect on this once more when seeing Richard Squires’ Doozy which takes Paul Lynde´s voicing of villains in Hanna-Barbera cartoons (The Hooded Claw in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop; Mildew Wolf  in It’s the Wolf; Claude Pertwee in Where´s Huddles?) as a jump start to an exploration of queer villainy, hysterical masculinity, animation — the film has conceived and designed its own villain ´Clovis´in that very distinctive Hanna-Barbera style —  and the inter-connectedness of voice, characterisation and star persona. ´Where does the character end and the actor begin?’

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Richard Squires and Clovis at Vivid Projects

In an interview with Alt Kino, Squires recounts that the character of Claude Pertwee in Where´s Huddles was this, ‘archetypical confirmed bachelor type who seemed like the first closeted gay Hanna-Barbera cartoon villain, really. So when I started researching Where’s Huddles a little bit more, I realised it was this actor Paul Lynde who had voiced all of these cartoon villains and then I started to research him a little bit, having been vaguely aware of him in Bewitched´.

Lynde is perhaps less well-known in the UK than in the US. I grew up watching him on TV in re-runs of films like Bye-Bye Birdie or his recurring appearances in supporting parts in some of the biggest television hits of the sixties: The MunstersBetwitchedI Dream of Jeannie, Love American Style. He had his own TV show for a while, The Paul Lynde Show, but that only ran for a season. He usually played supporting parts but was nonetheless one of the most famous faces and voices in America at that time, partly due no doubt to his being the central square in the popular game show, Hollywood Squares. 

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The way Lynde walked, talked, his mannerisms, his double-takes, his acidity and bitchyness, all-evoked queerness at a time when sexual relations between people of the same sex were forbidden, illegal and where being found out could have cataclysmic consequences. Yet, it was almost as if he couldn´t help himself, his ripostes in Hollywood Squares often crossing boundaries and effectively outing himself over and over again. I suppose  Kenneth Williams is a similar figure occupying a similar role in Britian. That combination of evoking queerness, the conflict between hiding and asserting it, the treatment he suffered as a result of it, are all evoked in the film, often building up from little moments, asides.

Doozy is not a biopic of Lynde but it is very brilliant at evoking how a homophobic culture both deploys and destroys that type of figure and that particular person in that particular time. Megan Christopher has written that, ‘the campy villain is undoubtedly one of the biggest staples of traditional animation; this trope runs through film and television alike, regardless of audience and story. From The Lion King to The Powerpuff Girls, Gravity Falls to Wreck-it-Ralph, the comedically limp-wristed bad guy is an intrinsic part of American society’s casually homophobic output, setting up an environment where these behaviours are automatically associated with social ills´. 

One of the things that make Doozy so interesting is that it´s hard to categorise. Part essay film, part documentary, with many sections of animated characters foregrounded on documentary backgrounds interspersed throughout, the film uses Paul Lynde´s voicing of three characters in Hannah-Barbera cartoons as a means to explore masculinity, queerness, social convention, what a voice can express and what a society can at first repress and then destroy. How a society can make that queerness part of the very fabric of children´s television whilst nonetheless slowly poisoning the person conveying it. These topics and more are discussed in the podcast below which is made up of two parts: the first a conversation in a pub with director Richard Squires and producer Abigail Addison just before the Flatpack screening at Vivid Projects; the second is the Q&A session following the screening. It can be listened to by clicking on the play button below:

Richard Squires and Abigail Addison will present Doozy at the Department of Film and Television, The University of Warwick, on May 7th at 4.30 and participate in a conversation with Dr. Julie Lobalzo Wright on the film.

 

José Arroyo

 

In Conversation with Salma Zulfiqar

Salma Zulfiqar is an artist who has worked on women’s rights, human rights and humanitarian issues around the world – with decades of experience working for the United Nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. She´s been Birmingham-based for the last few years and I´ve been admiring the projects she´s been involved with, from the Migration blanket installation, to the ARTconnects workshops she´s been offering all over the country and abroad.

 

The combination of art, activism and community, all with the aim of informing and empowering people, usually migrant or refugee women who are in vulnerable and precarious situations seems amazing to me, and I´m awestruck by the success with which Salma Zulfiqar has constructed and disseminated both the work and the idea across various formats (books, talks, workshops, installations) and in all parts of the city, from Foyle´s, to Grand Central, the Council House and many universities. You can see what Salma has been doing in her own website: http://www.salmazulfiqar.com/

Salma has also participated in the debate on migration in the House of Lords, contributed to policy discussions on migrants and refugees,  and been chosen as one of the inspiring Birmingham ´Women Who Dared to Dream´. She is also currently a finalist for the national Asian Women of Achievement Awards 2019. The Migration Blanket installation will be exhibited at the Venice Biennale at The Palazzo Bembo on the 12th of May with an ARTconnects workshop taking place at The Palazzo Rossini.

Salma  has recently created artworks based on the research by University of Warwick entitled: ‘Routes to Peace?’, based on a previous research project led by Dr Vicki Squire from the University of Warwick, Crossing the Mediterranean Sea by Boat which brings to life the stories of 10 refugee women from Syria and Africa. Salma will be speaking on ´Research, Art and the Politics of Migration´at the University of Warwick on Saturday May 16th

The ‘Routes to Peace’ project highlights the dangerous journeys the women made when crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach safety in Europe. ‘Routes to Peace? is an event in two parts; a conversation exploring research into the stories of people who have to leave their homeland in search of peace and safety, and a workshop that encourages the audience to explore these stories creatively. A workshop arising from this project will also be held in London on May 21st.

The above are the reasons why I wanted to talk to Salma and they form the basis of the conversation in the podcast below:

 

José Arroyo

In Conversation with Richard Dyer at Flatpack

14-_eagle-tun600x400mm.jpegA conversation with Richard Dyer to mark the 50th anniversary of his move to Birmingham, where he lived for most of his adult life and where he produced much of his celebrated work. Many thanks to Ian Francis and Flatpack for their foresight in marking the occasion. I too had the foresight to ask whether the conversation could be recorded so that those of you who could not attend the event might nonetheless be able to listen in. However,  I then lacked the wit to press the record button on time, so the first five minutes or so of the conversation are missing. In the end you did have to be there I guess, although it´s not a great loss: what´s missing is mainly my fulsome introduction, which he has no need of, and which merely expressed what everyone else feels about him and his work. The conversation is all too brief but touches on his activism at the GLF, the Arts Lab in Birmingham, his arrival the Birmingham Centre for Cultural Studies, his early work on Gays and Film with Jack Babuscio, Stars and White, with some commentary on entertainment, musicals, ‘In Defence of Disco’, filmgoing in Birmingham in the 70s and an introduction to Mai Zetterling´s Loving Couples (Sweden 1964)

The conversation can be listened to here:

Thanks to Ian Sanderson for the photo.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 146 – Todos somos marineros

Todos somos marineros (in English, We’re All Sailors) was partly inspired by a workshop in which a group of students spent eight hours discussing the opening line of The Merchant of Venice, and a news story about three Russian sailors left stranded in a Peruvian port due to the sudden bankruptcy of the company they worked for. Writer-director Miguel Ángel Moulet developed a story about just that predicament, a story in which two of the sailors are brothers attempting to find their place in the world, stranded in the coastal city of Chimbote, able neither to go home nor to establish a stable life in Peru, living in limbo, tentatively making connections with the locals.

Moulet is a graduate of EICTV, the Cuban film school, where José visits and spends a few days teaching every year, and this is how we come to bring this podcast to you, José having been screened Moulet’s debut feature recently and keen to share it with us. We’re far from the first to see it, the film being on the festival circuit and already having picked up a number of nominations and awards, including the prestigious FIPRESCI Prize at the Toulouse Latin America Film Festival. A screener was made available for us to watch, and we’re so grateful that it was, as it’s a beautiful, sensitive film.

That line from The Merchant of Venice reads: “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad”, and that simple thought informs the tone and themes of Moulet’s entire film. Todos somos marineros is a story about isolation, displacement, loneliness, and a kind of all-encompassing, ethereal sadness. The central four characters pair up throughout the film – the two brothers, Tolya, the elder, who feels a degree of paternal responsibility towards his younger brother Vitya; the cafe owner and her delivery boy, Sonia and Tito, who function as a kind of surrogate mother and son; Tolya and Sonia, who are in a loving relationship, and Vitya and Tito, who grow close and whose relationship leads to the film’s climax and quiet cliffhanger ending. These pairings are developed and expressed subtly, intelligently, and with heart.

The film makes significant use of long takes, both moving and still, and doesn’t exactly discriminate between when they should and shouldn’t be used. At their best, these shots allow the performances space to breathe, contribute to a delicate, slow pace, or help to convey a rich sense of the characters’ environment; at their worst, they distract from or even obscure what the film is showing us. There’s also use of a trope in which the film opens on a flashforward we’ll return to later, one that effectively establishes a strong mood and mystery but which Mike argues is not purposefully used, and which detracts from the film’s later scenes. (At least, that’s his argument for why he didn’t grasp what was going on in the film’s final third.) On the other hand, there is simply gorgeous cinematography by Camilo Soratti, his camera capturing dense, diffuse natural light infusing the air over Chimbote with extraordinarily beautiful colour and texture. And, overall, Moulet’s direction exhibits a strong control of tone, the film surging with the sense of sadness and loneliness so crucial to it.

There’s more besides all of this to discuss, and we take our time to do so. Todos somos marinerosis an imaginative, rich debut feature that is deservedly earning praise and winning prizes. There’s no predicting if and when it will come to a cinema near you, but if you do get the opportunity to see it, we urge you to jump at it.

José spoke to Miguel Ángel Moulet recently, and their conversation (in Spanish) can be heard here.

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: 145 – Dumbo (2019)

The latest of Disney’s CGI-driven remakes of its classic hand-drawn films, Dumbo features a rather cute elephant with too little screen time and two abysmal child actors with far too much. Tim Burton is on paper the ideal director to mine the circus setting for visual and situational surreality, splendour, and threat, and to a degree he does, but in comparison to the work that gave him his signature – Beetlejuice, the Batman films and Edward Scissorhands – Dumbo is milquetoast to say the least. It’s a film of rote sentimentality and far too little humour, clumsily treading that weird Disney line of plagiarising its own classics in the name of reimagining them, and despite a flourish here and there, and the best efforts of Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito to inject their scenes with life – and the considerable cuteness of the cute little cute elephant – its emotional sterility and lack of imagination are summed up in the way it concludes by setting Keaton’s mad futuristic circus entirely ablaze, a pointless climax, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But the elephant is quite cute.

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: 144 – Us

Mirrors and doppelgangers and dual meanings and symmetries abound in Jordan Peele’s Us, in which a family of four is terrorised one evening by a family of four identical copies. Like Get Out, Peele’s 2017 debut, Us is hyper-aware of its genre’s ability to make use of bold metaphor to offer coded commentary on social issues.

We find more room for a variety of interpretations in Us than in Get Out, and our conversation ranges from talk of race and its importance or lack thereof, consumer culture and materialism, cultural items and icons, including and especially Michael Jackson, someone who embodies duality better than perhaps anybody, the 1986 charity event Hands Across America and the competing ideas conveyed by its imagery, and far more. We also find the time to discuss and praise Lupita Nyong’o’s incredible pair of central performances, creating two fully embodied characters, the technicality of her physical acting always perfectly evident but never distracting. She’s extraordinary.

We have our problems with it, including its structure, lack of scares, and some imagery that we find lacking in meaning or clarity, and it’s a less tight and cogent film than Get Out, which we ultimately agree is superior. But it’s ambitious, intelligent, witty, original and rewarding. See 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.

In Conversation with Jorge Yglesias

 

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Jorge Yglesias is a poet, writer, literary translator, film critic, and a much loved friend. He’s the head of the Chair of Humanities and professor of Film History and Aesthetics of Documentary in the International School of Cinema and TV (EICTV) of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. He was awarded the National Prize for Film Criticism (1998, 1999, 2003), the National Prize for Literary Translation (1998), the Unesco Prize for the Best Translation of Pushkin (1999), the Austrian Literary Translation Prize (2000), and the Literary Translation Prize of the College International des Traducteurs Littéraires de Arles (2002).

In this podcast, which is in Spanish, we talk specifically about his development as a cinephile and his work as a teacher at EICTV. THE EICTV does not offer a film studies degree. Its role is to develop professional filmmakers. So, how and why does he choose the films to be screened? What kinds of film cultures does he defend and try to propagate? His programming for the annual ´Rare and Damned´cycle of screenings has become legendary. How did that develop and what is the rationale behind his choices. All that and more is the subject of this conversation, in Spanish.

For those of you who don´t speak Spanish, I´ve translated the bulk of the conversation as follows:

Jorge Yglesias did not take to the cinema immediately. The first few times, he had to be taken out crying. The violence scared him or made him cry. It was only at the age of ten, at the beginning of the sixties, that he became captivated,  and he remembers screenings of  a Tarzan film and Huckleberry film with pleasure. He loved action/adventure. Later, as a teenager, when he began to be interested in culture more broadly, he discovered another cinema. He attempted to learn, with friends, began to read some books and started going to the Cuban Cinematheque in Havana.

 

The cinematheque then screened lots of silent films. There were even films from the first two decades of cinema. He went every day. In the context of its resources, it was a superb programme. He was  lucky in that, a year after he started attending,  they undertook a two-year cycle, programming a history of cinema from Meliès to Godard. They´ve never repeated it since. But for him it was a chance to see classic films in chronological order. And the basis of his knowledge of cinema started there.

 

It was a type of learning that was individual and collective. Dozens of people  got to know each other, others he only knew by sight. But they formed a clan. They thought of the cinematheque not only as a place to develop a hobby but as a kind of  temple. And they also passed around copies of books by Bazin, Sarris, Lotte Eisner. There weren´t many books.  Certain magazines started circulating. His formation started there. And, always very important, the basis of knowledge, was an interchange of ideas, interpretations, even basic information, amongst the friends he made at the Cinematheque and beyond.

 

Alongst with visits to the Cinematheque, Yglesias started writing, translating, listening to Classical music, all of that forms a conjunction of elements in his development. He began writing late. Firstly he wrote a few things to read amongst friends; then,  after the age of thirty, he published film criticism in Revoluccion y cultura, eventually being given his own weekly column. But that didn´t last long. He hasn´t written much on film. He would have liked to have had time only for that. But, he says, he only likes writing about things he likes. If he´s bored, he gets blocked and traumatised. What he´s too modest to mention, but which is stated above, is that he nonetheless won the National Prize for Film Criticism three times.

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In the late 80s and early 90s Yglesias started attending the Film Conferences at  Camaguay, where he began meeting many other  writers on film. One day,  at  EICTV, which he had visited a few times earlier to take out the odd film or see friends he met with Jorge Molina, head of what was then named the cultural section of EICTV, who organised and taught classes on the history of cinema, Latin American Cinema, etc. They were waiting for a professor who was going to arrive late and Molina offered the classes to him. The professor in fact never arrived so Yglesias stayed. He ended up giving  classes for various month, part time. His situation remained like that for two years. The school is a practical filmmaking school. But he started a branch of theory, he started giving classes on film history. Four or five years later. They offered him the post as Head of the Humanities section of the school, where he´s now been for almost twenty years, teaching History, Criticism, Theory.

 

He had little to no experience teaching. He had to learn. He aimed to find a way of teaching that could be attractive but very rigorous. He began trying to expand and understand with greater depth some filmmakers, some cinemas and also in some sectors that are not so visible. There are many any parallel lines in film history that don´t cross each other. He begins to be interested in that cinema that isn´t a commercial cinema. One characterised by its creators constructing something distinct in terms of style or a cinematic world. With this in mind, he begins programming his ´Raro y Maldito´/Rare and Damned’ cycle. The first film he programmed was Werner Herzong´s  Even Dwarves started Small,  very anguished view of the world. The cycle became very popular. He began creening films not too well known in Cuba such as Bella Tarr´s or that of Czech animator Jan Švankmajer.

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He basically screens the type of cinema that most interests him, that he defends, one that makes demands on the viewer. He says that even students who want to go into commercial cinema will benefit, and he tells of a screening of Natural Born Killer (Oliver Stone, USA, 1994) where an American teacher leading a workshop at EICTV said, ´if you know experimental cinema you will recognise these two elements´´that are used to resolved a narrative problem. It´s a tool. Musn´t be disdained. One must know it. Documentary Film Students get a workshop on experimental cinema. And this takes place during the Havana Film Festival and most students prefer to forego it and  attend the workshop. Yglesias sees himself as a bridge to ideas and chooses to programme films that offer a life experience to spectators as well as students.

 

I ask him what he considers essential for students learn. He begins with his own experience. A film like Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, USA, 1941). He knew it was one of the most important films in film history, he liked the story. But he didn´t really understand why it was so important. If you don’t know film history, if you have´t read on narrative, form, style, then you don´t know´,´he says.. It was a cinephile, a little older than he, who explained it to him. You always need someone to explain things to you. He recounts the experience of watching Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, USA, 1959) for the first time. There were cine-clubs everywhere then, even in factories, and he ended up travelling quite far in order to see it. But he thought Imitation ridiculous. How do you know that Douglas Sirk is who he is without someone showing you? What are the tools, the key?. It´s important that someone be a guide. It might not be essential but it certainly quickens understanding. Expressionism, the Swedes, Silent cinema, that was a very useful base, a path. ´I´ve tried doing a history without chronology but I´ve never quite cracked it,´he says..

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His programming choices are highly deliberate, and he often spend hours discussing what to show. Screening a  film for educational purposes is different than to merely screen commercially or even to screen for a cinematheque. Student are in a process of discovery, and are often less prepared than even  a cinematheque´s audience. He likes to show films like Resnais´Providence (France, 1977) or Last Year at Marienbad (France, 1961) as a way of discussing memory, time, imagination. Students come with other experiences of seeing, often not the most beneficial, lots of series, and they´re often captives of those experiences, He likes going from a classic to contemporary. But what is a classic now? Those things have changed from the time he started. Antonioni is now a classic.  Films from the nineties. That form of categorising changes a lot.  Yglesias also likes to programme  the films most discussed the previous year. ´We´re very lucky in the school to have access to them and often able to screen them before they´re officially released.

 

´My impression is that there are fewer places today where a programme that could serve as a teaching tool that reflects film history exist. There are not too many spaces for showing or for writing. Often, even the journalism is very poor, Cuban journalism at the moment is poor, it´s harder to achieve a formation now than when I was a teenager. The cinematheque isn´t what it was, the audience has changed. It´s difficult to create spaces and nourish audiences. We´re living through a  transitional moment with lots of problems. The school is different: the best cinema in the world is exhibited here, and I´m proud of it. Students have won prizes in Rotterdam and so on and they ask for their film to be exhibited here, and of course we do it.´ It´s an honour for me to show the film here,´ say students. Yglesias, modest as he is, is very proud of that.

‘Over the years, this programming accumulates  a weight, is acknowledged. A program like this would be of great value if it could be shown elsewhere in Cuba’.

´One doesn´t do something just to do it. One does it because it has sense and purpose. There´s a desired effect. ´Rarors y malditos´/ Rare and Damned’ screens only once every two weeks but has had  a huge impact. For me it was a test in how a complex cinema, not easy, could fill the auditorium’.

‘Students want the films to hook them. The film didn´t hook me, they say. But you can´t wait to be seduced by the film. You have to force yourself to participate, to engage with it. You have to hook it. I´m not saying that film is a punishment. But you have to learn. You haven´t been forced to be here. This is not a labour camp. You chose to be here, you applied, you were selected, you have to synchronise yourself to the culture. ´

A much shorter conversation than I would have liked,

José Arroyo

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies 143 – mid90s

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is a small, charming hangout movie about LA skater culture in, as the title suggests, the mid-90s. For Mike, while it’s entertaining and engrossing, it’s somewhat unoriginal, but José completely falls in love with it. It’s certainly 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.

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies – 142 – Shazam!

I´ve recently returned from  three weeks of teaching in Cuba and the Dominican Republic and I wanted to return with a nice easy watch. Shazam! obliges. The latest DC movie follows a teenage orphan given the ability to transform into a thirty-something Action Man at the shout of a single word. It’s light, colourful, a little corporate but what can you do? It’s just what a jetlagged man needs.

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 Miguel Angel Moulet

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In conversation with Miguel Angel Moulet, in Spanish. Everyone will want to know more about this young Peruvian director once his debut feature, Todos somos marineros/ We´re All Sailors gets more and better seen. It´s currently doing the festival rounds and has already picked up an enviable array of  prizes, including the FICPRESI, the International Federation of Film Critics prize at the Toulouse Latin Amerincan Film Festival.

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For those of you who don´t speak the language, the gist of the conversation is as follows. The film arose out of a class on adaptation: He wasn´t too sure what to do and then he went to an inspiring class by Manfred Pfister who gave a two-week workshop on Shakespeare´s The Merchant of Venice. The first day, about eight hours or so, was spent discussing the first line, which is Antonio saying:´ In sooth, I know not why I am so sad´. From that starting point, time passed. He then developed a story that happened in two places, a boat and a port. Then he saw a news story on TV where three Russian sailors were stranded in a boat in the port when the company they worked for went bankrupt. They were left without  water and electricity and went into the market in town every few weeks where they were gifted enough detergent and vegetables to get by. When asked what they did to avoid boredom, they said nothing, they already knew each other well enough to make chat unnecessary. When asked if they wanted to return, they said yes, but without enthusiasm. They were just as happy to stay. So he set a relationship between two brothers stranded in a boat in a provincial port town of Chimbote, which is about five hours from Lima.

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It´s a very beautiful film visually, with extraordinary cinematography by Camilo Soratti, exploring very current themes: the Rotterdam Film Festival catalogue included this suggestive sentence: “Without any heavy-handed comparisons, we can clearly make out the contours of a global diaspora: the rootless army wandering the world in search of a place to survive.” The film also treats the many kinds of love, sexual, romantic, but also fraternal through which we they try to break through an isolation that nonetheless can only be momentarily pierced and which overhangs the film as a kind of sadness made bittersweet by a love that is nonetheless heartfelt. There´s a dramatisation of internalised homophobia also, the results of which have unintended consequences. It´s a moving film, that well conveys not just people and a story but entire structures of feeling of a particular place in a particular time. This conversation with Miguel Angel Moulet is very much an initial and exploratory one of how the film came to be. We tried to not be too specific on the film so as to not spoil people´s pleasure once they see it. As an aside, the town of Chimbote, where some of the film was shot, should offer thanks to the filmmakers: the images of the town, and particularly of the light, are enough to make anyone want to visit. The podcast can be listened to here:

A podcast review from Eavesdropping at the Movies will follow shortly, as will a more extended review from myself,

José Arroyo