Category Archives: Uncategorized

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 378 – The Menu

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

The Menu is a smörgåsbord both of scenes, its plot dropping ideas as soon as it picks them up in its rush to entertain, and of styles and genres, with black comedy, satire and horror combining. But while it’s witty and engaging, it’s also inconsistent, unfulfilling, and, although the flights of fancy with which it imbues some of its action are good fun, fairly trite. As is way The Menu thinks of the food it mocks, so is the film itself: it looks delicious at first blush but fails to impress under scrutiny. And such small portions!

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

Thinking Aloud About Film: A Time To Love/ Sevmek Zamani (Metin Erksan, Turkey, 1965)

We were so impressed by Metin Ersksan’s Dry Summer (Susuz Yaz, 1963), that we decided to continue exploring his work. We’ve just seen A Time to Love/ Sevmek Zamani (1965), and remain impressed. This is the first in-house restoration by MUBI and fully understand why they chose this particular filmmaker and this particular film as a calling card for this new venture. Indeed we are grateful that they did so.

Antonioni Style

A Time to Love is an easy film to parody: an artsy, philosophical film about love and art, distinctions between being and appearances, class and alienation, traditional and modernity; greatly influenced by the art cinema of its day, particularly the work of Antonioni. But, if one gives oneself over to the style and sensibility of the work, one finds it’s a work of depth, texture and beauty as great as any produced in Western Europe in the same period. We talk about all of this and more in the accompanying podcast:

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

José Arroyo

 

In Conversation with Josh Bullin on UNSILENCED: THE RESILIENCE OF QUEER CINEMA

I was very excited to discover Josh Bullin’s new programme of queer films scheduled to be presented at the Rio Cinema in London from November 24th to the 5th of December: Unsilenced: The Resilience of Queer Cinema, A season of films which explores contemporary queer cinema from nations where regimes remain openly oppressive towards LGBTQIA+ identities. These hidden gems are a celebration of the persistence of the queer communities in these countries and remind us of the injustices not far from home that need to be fought against.

In this podcast we talk about the individual films –WET SAND (Elene Neveriani, Georgia, 2021) , LEITIS IN WAITING( Dean Hamer, Joe Wilson & Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu; Tonga/USA, 2018) GRACEFULLY (Arash Eshaghi, Iran, 2018) & MEMORIES OF MY BODY (Garin Nugroho, Indonesia, 2019) — but also about the rationale for the programme as a whole. What goes into curating such a programme? Why are some films chosen and not others. What does a curator do? And what are the hopes for the resulting event? An illuminating discussion of what promises to be a fascinating event.

The podcast may be listened to here below:

 

The films will be screened at the Rio Cinema in London: 

The full programme can be seen below:

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 377 – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

The sequel to the best Marvel film by far has to deal with tragic circumstances – the star of the first, Chadwick Boseman, died at the age of 43 in 2020. His role was not recast; instead, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever shows us the funeral of his character, T’Challa, and his sister, Shuri’s, difficulty in dealing with his death. Letitia Wright, playing Shuri, has primarily been a source of comic relief in the MCU until now – we discuss how she copes with the dramatic heavy lifting now required of her.

Despite the foregrounding of Shuri, Wakanda Forever is reliant on an ensemble, and quite a radical one, as José puts it: the story of a male superhero has been adapted to feature a group of women in his place, and what’s perhaps most remarkable is how the film does it without the feeling of overt messaging and tokenism that is often present in tentpole films that do something similar. And the villain, Namor, has been given an ethnic background José assures Mike was never present in the comics, his new Mayan origins and historical conflict with the conquistadores allowing for his underwater civilisation to mirror Wakanda.

While memorialising Chadwick Boseman, Wakanda Forever is able to see a future following the loss of his character. That it would deal with Boseman’s death with tact and sensitivity wasn’t in doubt, but that the world of Black Panther could thrive without him was, and this sequel shows that it’s certainly capable of doing so.

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

 

The Practice of Film Criticism Podcast 2022: Fran Hughes and Tom Farrell on Twentieth Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016)

Fran Hughes talks to Tom Farrell about Mike Mill’s 20th Century Women, a coming of age film that deals with masculinity from various feminist perspectives. These get explored in the podcast along with considerations of Jimmy Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence Speech’ both historically but also in relation to the various characters who share the same house in the film. The conversation recasts the main themes of the film through the lens of other key films by Mike Mills. Fran and Tom also discuss parent-child relationship, community vs individuality and how all of this relates to history and changes through time. A conversation that brings unexpected depth to a film that might seem ‘low stakes’ to some.

The podcast may be listened to here:

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Dry Summer/ Susuz Yaz (Metin Erksan, Turkey, 1963)

A melodrama about two brothers, Osman and Hasan. Osman is the eldest and has power and rights over how their land is run. Hasan obeys until he realises Osman has broken every rule that binds. A complex film about patriarchy in agrarian culture and the damage it does to all the individuals involved whilst also tearing a community apart. A melodrama that seethes with sexual desire, and where that desire overrules familial relations that would normally be considered taboo. A complex film depicting a way of life that is not so distant, probably still current in some parts of the world and which is not afraid to be poetic and allegorica. It is instantly and thoroughly engaging in spite of two incidents involving animals that inadvertently act as a distanciating device and might make some think twice about watching it. Much of the podcast is devoted to exploring why we recommend people do so.

The podcast may be listened to here:

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

 

If this is of interest, listeners might also wish to follow up with another extraordinary film, The Law of the Border:

José Arroyo

Lizzie Uzzell on Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005)

Lizzie Uzzell discusses Joe Wright’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice with José Arroyo. The podcast touches on the various adaptations of Austen’s work, the particular virtues of this one, the uses of light and landscape, the interplay between the uses of Chatsworth and the uses of mud and livestock, achievements of wit and tone, and what individual cast members add to it all.

The podcast may be listened to here:

Jose Arroyo

Practice of Film Criticism Podcast 2022: Tom Farrell and Fran Hughes on Exit Through The Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary on the commodification of street art directed by Banksy but placing Thierry Guetta, a Bansky acolyte who was inspired to enter the art world by Banksy, as the central figure through which to explore its themes. The podcast discusses Guetta’s journey, debating Banksy’s perspective and attitude towards Guetta, whilst questioning whether the figure of Guetta is real or not. Is he just a Banksy invention, a construct through which to raise questions? Does it matter? Aren’t all films constructs? The film is discussed as a documentary and compared to a range of works from Welles’ F for Fake to reality television, including Fake or Fortune. A film enriched by being open to the many interpretations the discussion in the podcast brings up: Class, critique, co-optation, power, art, commerce, hype , humour, the concept of the ‘art expert’ and much more. A fascinating discussion.  The podcast may be listened to below:

 

José Arroyo

Leon Syla on T2: Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017)

Choose reading this review. Following the success of the 1996 Trainspotting, Danny Boyle chose to direct a sequel based on Irvine Welsh’s Porno. After decades of planning and rewrites, T2 Trainspotting was finally released in 2017. Rather than simply recreating the aesthetic and conventions of the first film, the sequel provides a fresh and contemporary take on the beloved characters, without tarnishing the legacy of the original. T2 Trainspotting sees Renton, Spud, Sick Boy, and Begbie return once again to the silver screen after they have created new lives for themselves following the fallout of the first film. Following a heart attack in Amsterdam, a divorce, and imminent redundancy, Renton moves back to his hometown of Edinburgh to visit his old friends. With each character, we see how time and anger have ravaged them, and how they attempt to fit in with the ‘new’ age, a pressing theme of the first film. By contrasting the old with the new, Boyle creates a relatable yet unfamiliar world that the characters inhabit. Boyle expertly explores how time has affected the characters through various narrative and editing techniques. Despite time moving forward and the constant sense of urgency through the film, the four men desperately try to cling to the past by committing crimes and re-enacting situations from the first film, in an attempt to relive their youth. In one scene, Renton and Sick Boy steal bank cards from everyone in a bar, and while this is done through a quick montage to The Prodigy’s remix of ‘Lust for Life’, the two hark back to their memories as children, using the past to slow down time and recapture their childhood. In another attempt to preserve time, Boyle also employs multiple freeze frames to immortalise certain moments, as well as have the audience focus on these parts. Boyle also guides the audience through the ‘new’ world that the men must become familiar with, given their distance from it. As the audience sees the four attempt to re-inhabit their old world, he expertly uses mirroring and clever shadow play to hark back to iconic moments from the original film, signalling that the past will always be there. What made Trainspotting so memorable when it first came out was its amazing soundtrack, and the sequel’s soundtrack holds up just as well. Linking back to the concept of time, T2 Trainspotting features old and new songs, as well as songs that have been remade or remixed to highlight the new era and sound of today. As mentioned earlier, The Prodigy remixed ‘Lust for Life’, providing a fresh take on an old classic and Underworld created ‘Slow Slippy’ specifically for the film, to show the progression of music, while still retaining the elements of the past. T2 Trainspotting manages to uphold the legacy of the original and craft a new legacy for its sequel by not only honouring what came before, but by using the past to create new criticisms and interpretations for the contemporary world.

 

Leon Syla

Thinking Aloud About Film: La femme au couteau/ The Woman with a Knife (Timite Bassori, Ivory Coast, 1969)

The first fiction feature made in the Ivory Coast. A land-mark film. But is it good? And by what criteria? And if not good, how is it nonetheless very interesting? Art cinema, post-colonialism, and psychoanalysis as imbibed through Hitchcock films, all get an airing in this podcast.

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

José Arroyo

Carrie (William Wyler, 1952)

It’s taken me most of the day to watch this, it’s so grim: Carrie (Jennifer Jones) leaves the farm to be exploited in the big city, working in a factory where she’s forced to work so fast she gets a needle through her finger and gets fired. Soon she’s got no wages to give to her nasty brother-in-law. Desperate, she gets taken advantage of by a smooth fast-talking salesman (Eddie Albert) and he tricks her into living with him though he never keeps his promise to marry her. She then falls for George Hurstwood (Laurence Olivier) and runs off to marry him, though he fails to tell her he’s already married with two grown children and has robbed his workplace of 10,000 so he can be with her. The film changes focus as events catch up with them. The theft – which George saw as a temporary loan – is discovered and has made him unemployable; the first wife (Miriam Hopkins, glorious here), has all the marital property in her name and won’t even give him a divorce much less a cent. Thus begins George’s descent, and he goes down, and down, and down, right to the doss-house he gets kicked out of; until this viewer could barely stand it. Carrie, so proper at the beginning, a wised-up and successful actress at the end, tries to help him. He’d only come to the theatre she’s so successful at for a glimpse and for a hand-out, but leaves with the reassurance of her love and thoughts of suicide by gas in his future.
Did anyone think this would be a hit? It’s marvellous though, so I’m glad the filmmakers conned someone into thinking it might be. Wyler films in medium to long shot so that the environment is always part of the frame, a context and a history to the action. It’s quite beautiful; and Olivier, whom I don’t like on film, is here better than I’ve ever seen him. A great movie. Based on the Theodore Dreiser novel, Sister Carrie.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 376 – Bros

Listen on the players above, Apple PodcastsAudible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

We wanted to like Bros more. Co-writer and star Billy Eichner jumped at the chance to expand the boundaries of the wide-release Hollywood rom-com to tell the story of a gay romance and give representation to people who are usually marginalised, if included at all, in mainstream comedy, and whose inclusion is often at their expense. It’s a shame, then, that it’s comedically unimaginative and unskilled …. and preachy. A wasted opportunity.

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

Owais Azam on Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)

Piercing through a small-town in New Mexico – a once desolate land littered with not much more than tumbleweed and the faint squeals of lonely wind – is a train transporting a parade of people. Not only is the steam radiating from the locomotive polluting the surrounding area, but so are the cheers of exhilaration from its passengers as they get off and run towards what looks like an amusement park, refusing to waste time by allowing the train to reach a steady halt. Venturing toward the bursting circus composed of Ferris wheels, food trucks, and camper vans, they sing a cheerful song with the continuous chorus, “We’re Coming, We’re Coming, Leo!”. Amid this frenzied excitement, these lines remind us that this is not just any ordinary circus. It is one built around the spectacle of one man, Leo Minosa, who has been stuck under a cave for days and is slowly dying. Whilst banners and songs rave a collective public support for Minosa and the workers trying to save him, the twisted transformation of the surrounding landscape into a place for nauseating consumerism and zestful exuberance suggests otherwise. These stark moments – captured through a singular crane shot – do well to encapsulate the cynicism of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951), a bleak portrait of an almost-entirely corrupt and crooked America and its rotten capitalist core, ironically released at the height of McCarthyism.

 

Sharply orchestrating this literal and figurative media circus is our cut-throat anti-Hero, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas). Tatum, an adept yet alcoholic and incongruously ‘anti-Truth’ newspaper reporter who has been fired from several of his previous jobs, finds himself working as a reporter for the local paper in Albuquerque. It’s a certain relegation from his previous workplace in New York, which leaves him thirsty for a “Tatum special” to leave readers and papers “rolling out the red carpet” for him. Accordingly, once Tatum happens to discover the trapped Minosa, he knows he has struck an ace in the hole; Tatum disturbingly plans to keep Minosa stuck in the cave for days so he can extract a running story directly from Minosa’s pain and suffering – a morally bankrupt scheme organised by a morally bankrupt man.

Despite initially being confronted by various people who aim to interrogate Tatum’s intentions and plot, he tries and succeeds in roping many of them along through either bribery, blackmailing, or sheer charisma. Most of Wilder’s characters in the Ace in the Hole are as corrupt as each other – the only question being what it takes for them to fold. And so, whilst Tatum epitomises both the sickening greed of capitalist profiteering and below-the-belt rotten journalism (all the more relevant in the digital age of ‘fake news’), Wilder refuses to stay clear from displaying the public’s wily desire to both indulge in exploitation for their own individual profits, and their ravenous desire to indulge in sensationalised stories about the downtrodden. Indeed, it may be Tatum selling us the ticket – but we’re the ones buying it.

Owais Azam

 

 

 

Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (Sacha Jenkins, 2022)

PSA: Just highlighting the LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES documentary — currently on Apple — which I liked so much I plan on re-seeing it: there is marvellous archival footage: photographs of his youth, his collages, never-before-seen clips of him recording; the sight of his upper lip, bruised from playing the horn, and excerpts of the recordings he made of himself talking at home, sometimes alone, sometimes talking to friends. Armstrong’s been a figure in my life all my life, but I only intersected, entwined really, with his music in the late 80s after borrowing some of the compilations of his records with the Hot Five and the Hots Seven from the UEA library: Ain’t Misbehaving; Black and Blue; St. James Infirmary, Wild Man Blues and so many more. The movie has two axes: one revolves around showing some of his achievements, which I think too vast to be really calculable, the film can only offer evidence for a few – the notes he reached on his horn, say, though Wynston Marsalis is marvellous at illustrating this; the other revolves around accusations of Uncle Tomism by younger generations, including Ossie Davis. Davis remembers catching him offguard, tired and sad, and then when he came to, there was the smile, the grin, the face to white America; and Davis remembers how in that change he saw his ancestors, his father, himself; every black man who survived American racism. There’s a moment where Armstrong describes all the horrible things he endured; and the even worse things he saw and says, ‘and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it if I wanted to keep on breathing.’…All of that and more – the pain and a joy that seems transcendental – is of course in the music, at least for those who have learned how to listen to it. The film is good at demonstrating why Armstrong is one of the key cultural figures of the last century – a force really — and one of the most likeable.

 

José Arroyo

Lizzie Uzzell on Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005)

 

“Only the deepest love will persuade me into matrimony, which is why I shall end up an old maid.” – Elizabeth Bennett whispers to her sister in late night confidence, a line that contextualises the depth of her eventual love for Mr Darcy.

Based on the beloved Jane Austen novel, Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice released in September 2005 after over fifteen previous adaptations. Before Wright’s film, the most popular adaptation had been the 1995 miniseries produced by the BBC which was largely credited for its faithfulness to the source. Although straying more from the source material than the miniseries, the film garnered much acclaim and praise from critics and public alike – receiving four Oscar nominations and six BAFTA nominations, including one win.

Pride and Prejudice centres around the Bennet family. Mr and Mrs Bennet (Donald Sutherland and Brenda Blethyn) care for their five daughters – Jane (Rosamund Pike), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), Lydia (Jena Malone), Kitty (Carey Mulligan) and Mary (Talulah Riley) – as they all make their way into adult society. The story specifically follows Elizabeth and her struggles with marriage expectations and prospective proposals. Elizabeth is a head-strong protagonist who cares much more for books and love than money or prospects. As Elizabeth’s four sisters grow up and find love of their own, she is forced to face her feelings for the stoic and proud Mr Darcy. Their romance buds slowly and reluctantly, growing from joint intellect and wit. Jane and Mr Bingley’s (Mr Darcy’s best friend) relationship provides a stark contrast, as their sharing of undeniable kindness and charisma creates an instant romance.

Pride and Prejudice is both visually striking and thematically rich, creating a film that’s enjoyable for its surface level qualities and emotional nature. Beautiful, scenic cinematography of the Peak District alongside complex themes of social class, gender, and moral values form the backdrop to one of the most renowned love stories of all time. Director, Joe Wright, and Cinematographer, Roman Osin, work together to use the visual medium of film to their advantage. They utilise the landscape by mirroring the emotions of the characters through terrain and weather. This is seen in the representation of relationships as well as individual characters. For Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, they use cool tones throughout the film until sunlight bursts through them when they unite at the end, meanwhile Mr Bingley and Jane are nearly always seen bathed in sunlight – reflecting the warm nature of their relationship.

Mr Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship signifies a bridge between all the conflicts hidden within Pride and Prejudice. Each of them represents a different social standing, degree of wealth and gender. As made clear by Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Mr Darcy’s aunt) in her attitude towards Elizabeth, Mr Darcy is considered to be so far above Elizabeth’s position that even the rumour of their engagement is a scandal. Lady Catherine furthers this distinction of class by attempting to use her power and wealth to deny Elizabeth marriage to Mr Darcy. This abuse of power occurs both explicitly and subtlety throughout Pride and Prejudice, underlying all the joy and love to keep the story grounded. It is these layers that, I believe, keep people returning to both Jane Austen’s books and films year after year.

“I have been so blind.” – Elizabeth Bennett

 

Lizzie Uzzell

Jack Brazil on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells (Guy Ritchie, 1998)

 

 

 

Almost 25 years since the feature directorial debut of Guy Ritchie, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels not only holds up as an entertaining film but also conveys an energetic pace and cadence that continually excites across the development of his filmography.

 

Lock Stock’s simplistic yet intricate plot pits four young, cocky and naive London boys against a slew of hardened criminals and savage gangsters after they lose a rigged game of cards, having to repay a half-a-million-pound debt with a week to drum up the funds. Through several hyper-violent altercations and a pinch of good luck, the boys manage to walk away unscathed after dipping their toes into the criminal underworld of London. Along the way, Richie introduces us to colourful and larger-than-life stock characters that are entertaining plot devices and memorable in their own right.

The protagonist quartet; Tom (Jason Flemyng) Bacon (Jason Statham) Eddy (Nick Moran) & Soap (Dexter Fletcher) have an undeniably charismatic on-screen presence. The on-screen chemistry of Richie’s characters is a shining example of outstanding casting choices, many of the film’s actors were unknowns at the time and the overnight success of the film made stars like Statham immediately sought after and hot property. The back-and-forth banter combined with abrasively sarcastic and ‘laddy’ personalities is one of the few markers of the film being a product of its era, at the height of British working-class new lad culture. Maliciously charming debt collector Chris (Vinnie Jones) is type cast as a gangster, a parallel to his behaviour on the pitch as a professional footballer, Sting makes a cameo appearance as Eddy’s father and pro boxer Lenny McClean known as ‘the hardest man in Britain’ perfectly cast as monster man Barry the Baptist. London geezers-geezing, north-south divides with toffs and gangster clashes populate the gritty sepia backdrop of Richie’s east London. Richie’s razor-sharp and witty dialogue effortlessly characterises, informs, and entertains all with a sprinkling of dark humor which differentiates the film from others in the genre.

One element of Richie’s work that has defined his career as a director is his control of pace and cadence, few other directors of high profile are able to create kinetic energy on screen that matches. Richie’s command over pacing can be attributed to his experimental editing techniques, as a former music video director, Richie had plentiful experience with producing stylish and impactful content on a lower budget, controlling visuals to match audio, something that continues to be prevalent across his filmography. Richie’s stylish editing can be boiled down to the concept of ‘fast & slow’, in terms of formal elements this consists of; speed-ramps, freeze-frames, slow-motion, intercutting, parallel action and superimposition.

 

 

As his first film, Lock Stock is an example of Richie’s raw ambition on display, the cadence of Richie’s scenes is dictated by his efficient writing style combined with his stylish and temporally playful editing techniques culminating in unique kineticism that has become a staple of the sub-genre.

 

Jack Brazil

A note on Paul Newman’s The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man

Paul Newman’s semi-autobiography, THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF AN ORDINARY MAN, is out now and comes across as an earnest, somewhat harsh, and slightly dull exploration of the self. We hear of his upbringing in Shaker Heights, his conflict with his mother, how he dealt in public with being half-Jewish; what ‘sexual awakening’ meant in Depression America; how he was Mr. Chug-a-Lug at College; his service in WW2; his failings as a husband, a parent, his drink problem; what race-car driving meant to him; how, relative to income, he became the most generous person of the 20th century, giving away every year publicly through the profits of his salad dressing much more than he earned privately as a star. The biography is cobbled together from the transcripts of conversations he had with Stewart Stern that are also the foundation for THE LAST MOVIE STARS TV series. Ostensibly, he recorded these talks so he could let his children know ‘everything’ and communicate to them what he couldn’t tell them face-to-face. In some ways, it’s all very moving. He saw himself as cunning (he was good at selling and making money since childhood) but not book bright. He suspects he had learning difficulties and would rent a hotel room and lock himself up for days just to learn his lines. He embodies a mid-century American archetype of ‘decency’, hard work and ‘solid values’. He aspired to be a good person and worked very hard to become one; he knew he couldn’t be a great actor but tried very hard to be a good one. He had more success with both than he acknowledged. One feels one gets to know the person. But shallow as I am, I was disappointed we didn’t get more about the career, the business, the art, the movies, the shows, the directors, the co-stars (though he does cover some of that). But then, it is a book about a person and a life, not merely about a star and a career. I’m glad I read it.

James Wharton on Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

 

As final lines go, words that are not spoken, this one lingers in the minds of the droves of fans of Rob Reiner’s 1986 coming-of-age film Stand By Me. It neatly underlines the point of the film’s narrative while allowing us to ponder: were our best friends really the ones we had as children? The statement, an idea we can place ourselves, furnishes one of the film’s key strengths – reflection.

At the onset, a sombre-looking Richard Dreyfus sits in his car eyeing a newspaper headline about a tragedy involving the death of his childhood friend Chris. While pondering this loss, his attention is captured by two youngsters cycling by and away into the dimming sunlight; the vision sends his mind back to the 1950s when times were more innocent and to a final childhood summer with a friend, the now lost Chris (River Phoenix).

Our transfer places us at the start of what for Geordie (the 12-year-old version of Dreyfus’ character, played by Will Wheaton) and his three friends, Chris, Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell), seems like an unmissable adventure to locate a missing child’s dead body. No sooner are they on their way that they come to realise their sugar-coated ideas may not be the expedition they envisioned.

Danger, which never seems far away, sees them come up against the seemingly definitive prospect of passing the county boundary and heading into the unknown delves of the state’s wilderness. And what a picturesque wilderness it is, furnishing another of the film’s great strengths, its cinematography.

Eventually, they must face “The Body” – the expression used by Stephen King to title the novella from which the film is adapted. King’s well-known preference for thrilling breaks through Reiner’s interpretive feel-good powers; the King thrill lives in this film aplenty.

But for all the childhood visions of adventure and the big moments the four boys must face – grown-up problems that deal with death, abuse, and neglect, they only have each other. And this bond, this companionship between Geordie and Chris that enables them to overcome the injustices they have each been served, is another cornerstone of the film’s strengths. It’s not the physical journey they conquer together but the emotional one.

The final element of Stand By Me that it would be remiss of this review to overlook is the performances of the four young actors. They are all outstanding, but the sixteen-year-old Phoenix’s exceptional (and career-changing) turn is crucial to why this film works so well. He’s just so watchable. The star later remarked that his identification with the character of Chris Chambers was so much so that he considered therapy once filming had concluded. And boy, does this connection show.

Self-reflexivity, the nature found within its cinematography, the bond written between the characters and extracted from the actors impeccably by the director, and the performance of River Phoneix are the four pillars that hold this great film above others.

Stand By Me is rightly labelled a classic.

James Wharton

 

The Practice of Film Criticism Podcast 2022: Lily Edwardes-Hill and Luke Brown on Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

Lily Edwardes-Hill and Luke Brown return to the podcast, this time to discuss Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010).  There are three foci of discussion: body horror, the coming-of-age film and mother/daughter relationships. Lily and Luke explore how the film makes us question what truly happens in the narrative. We see the action through the perspective of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) but the whole film is about her descent into madness, making the viewer question the reliability of that narration. Black Swan brings up images just at the end of shots and then drops them to convey this idea of things being on the edge of vision or the unconscious. The film is structured as a change from the white swan to the black swan, a mournful and uncomfortable one in which the push and pull between Nina, her mother (Barbara Hershey) and her director (Vincent Cassell) play the central role though her adoration of Beth (Winona Ryder) and her competition with Lily (Mila Kunis) also figure prominently in developing themes of coming of age, independence and the price of artistic integrity and success. Lily and Luke discuss the use of mirrors and the way Aronofsky uses devices familiar to viewers of other films such as Requiem for a Dream (2000). In the end, Lily and Luke deem the film akin to a two-hour panic attack, and a success for conveying it so complexly and powerfully. A podcast that makes one want to see the film again.

 

The podcast may be listened to here:

José Arroyo