Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fran Hughes on 20th Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016)

 

Mike Mills stated has stated “feelings are my genre.” 20th Century Women is his semi-autobiographical 21st reflection on masculinity.

The film is led by matriarch, Dorothea (Annette Bening) who is coming to terms with the changing world around her, both socially in 1979 and personally as her son is a teenager becoming his own man.

She wants her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) to know he does not have to conform to traditional, damaging notions of masculinity. Dorothea tells him “Men always feel that they have to fix things for women, but they’re not doing anything. Some things just can’t be fixed. Just be there, somehow that’s hard for all of you”.

Handyman William (Billy Crudup) is a positive male role model that Dorothea feels Jamie (can look up to, while having his friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig) can teach him how to be a feminist man who understands the issues the women face.

The film could as easily be retitled 20th Century Family, as the characters become each other’s surrogate, chosen family and share many formative experiences together.  This dynamic highlights how by 1979 many people are living outside the traditional nuclear family typical of previous generations. They share joyful moments but are all there for each other during their most difficult times. As Dorothea states in the film “the people that help you might not be who you thought or wanted, they might just be the people who show up.” These characters show up for each other when it matters most, that’s what being family means to them.

 

All the characters have been shaped by different eras and attitudes of the 20th century. Each central character has their own section somewhere within the non-linear narrative introducing spectators to key moments from their lives. Montage means put together or assemble in French. Here Mills decides to use several montages to highlight events and life experiences that have shaped each central character, in other words experiences that have assembled their current persona. This is cleverly illustrated through scrapbook-style montages that depict political and personal events that have become pieces of who they are. Mills uses a mixture of character photos and archival footage to create an insightful snapshot of their memories.

For Dorothea he uses archival footage from the Great Depression to reflect on how growing up in that time created her resilient personality.  Benning’s performance is electric and unforgettable, one of the strongest of her career.

 

Throughout the film the characters narrate parts of their past prior to 1979 and refer to events in their future further illustrating the importance of this period of their life, being still significant to them, a foundational time in their lives. It feels as if they are in conversation with their younger 1979 selves updating them on where they are now. This feels poignant as it causes the spectator to reflect on their youth, how their life turned out and the people who helped shape who they are today. As Gerwig’s Abbie states “Whatever you think your life is going to be like, just know, it’s not gonna be anything like that”.

Fran Hughes

The Practice of Film Criticism Podcast: Luke Brown and Lily Edwardes-Hill on Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi, 2016)

Luke Brown and Lily Edwardes-Hill get together for a stimulating exploration of Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi, 2016), the first Japanese Godzilla film since 2004, and a considerable financial and critical success: it was made for 15 million and grossed 78 million whilst also winning the equivalent of Japan’s Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. The podcast discusses how it differs from the American Godzilla films; how it may be seen as a response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster. The conversation explores how the film fits into the Godzilla canon and how it departs from it, arguing that narratively it mainly shrugs off the canon but nonetheless cites it with visual references and particularly through its use of music. Luke and Lily discuss the meaning of the film’s title in Japanese and why the English translation was ultimately rejected as a title for international release. Luke argues that it is a film about Tokyo and about Japan and that in this iteration there is a return to Japan as a place and as a people with, ultimately, a belief in the establishment and the ability of the people to deal with disasters; a film that is very aware of Godzilla’s past and present and also that of Japan, one with unique attributes, but also exhibiting a return to themes of climate change and nuclear technologies missing in a lot of recent reiterations of the character. There is, of course, also a discussion of CGI, models, etc. A podcast worth listening to, and you may do so here:

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 375 – The Banshees of Inisherin

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

Playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh, best known in cinema for his breakthrough comedy-drama In Bruges and, most recently, the critical and financial success of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, on which we podcasted twice, reunites with the stars of the former for an exploration of a male friendship, its dissolution, and the subsequent fallout.

The Banshees of Inisherin offers something of a chamber play: it might not be set in a single room, but the titular island of Inisherin is isolated, barely populated, and promises little by way of escape or a future. Brendan Gleeson’s Colm begins to feel this keenly, and abruptly declares his hitherto long friendship with Colin Farrell’s Pádraic over, intending to devote his life to his music. We discuss how depression might play into his actions, the role of the island in inhibiting ambition, the difficulty an intelligent actor has in playing dumb, the balance of comedy with drama in comparison with McDonagh’s other films, the peculiar masculinity of the way the breakup plays out, how the story might be seen as a modern myth, and how convincing the sense of place is.

There’s a lot to admire about The Banshees of Inisherin, which is arguably McDonagh’s best film, and (equally arguably) his least flawed – which sounds like damning with faint praise for a filmmaker whose work is typically interesting and novel, admittedly, but those flaws have sometimes cast large shadows over otherwise wonderful work (looking at you, Three Billboards). Here, such issues are easier to accept, and it’s consequently easier to enjoy the film’s achievements. In short – see The Banshees of Inisherin.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 374 – Amsterdam

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

We indulge in a caper inspired by a real-life attempted overthrow of the US government – no, not that one. The Business Plot of 1933 was alleged to have been planned by business leaders, aggrieved by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election, who sought to remove him and install a retired major general as dictator, and in telling a loose version of this story, writer-director David O. Russell chucks in a doctor, a lawyer, and a wildcard, played by Christian Bale, John David Washington, and Margot Robbie, respectively.

Amsterdam has been a colossal bomb at the box office, and despite its many attractions – including surely the richest and most exciting cast you’ll see all year – we can understand why. It’s on the long side, it’s fuzzy, it’s overwritten, and its messaging, while agreeable, is banal… but it’s also full of charm and novelty, and Christian Bale hasn’t been this fun to watch for ages. Mike’s typically had a cool relationship with Russell’s films but finds this one easy to like; José is less in tune with it, particularly its comic tone, but still enjoys his time with it. It’s imperfect, but deserving of a more welcome reception than it’s had, and worth seeing.

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

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 373 – Smile

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

Trauma as metaphor has become a trope of horror in recent years, and Smile features it more bluntly than you’ve ever seen. We discuss its messaging, storytelling, and camerawork, and remark upon the ways in which 2014’s It Follows may have inspired it. In the sense of Ali Baba and the Forty People Who Were Inspired.

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

Daniel Robery on 1917 (Sam Mendes, 2019)

 

How does one begin to describe the experience of 1917? A film so visceral and arresting, a grandiose spectacle of cinema, yet at its core a deeply human and moving story. 1917 was a rare cinematic experience – a film that captures the very essence of cinema itself. 

 

1917 has a simple premise: two soldiers must carry and deliver a message to call off an offensive attack, an attack that would result in the senseless death of 1600 men, but it is in the way in which this film unfolds that makes it truly mesmerising. 

 

The one-shot approach is simply breath-taking. Roger Deakins doesn’t hold back as he delivers yet another crowning achievement in cinematography. The use of the one shot is not only irrefutably immersive but is purposefully used to convey story, theme and character. The one shot is relentless in its motion, never allowing its audience to feel at ease. It captures and induces the terror of war and its unrelenting nature; danger is or could always be around the corner with the lack of cuts allowing no escape from this limited point of view. It seamlessly brings the audience into the experience of our protagonists, aligning us with the harsh realities they find themselves in. Yet it also captures beauty in the horror: juxtaposing a gritty realism with surreal beauty that results in a sequence of sheer wonder, awe and terror.

 

The film’s technical mastery extends to its sound design. How sound is used and where it’s used is purposefully informed, subverting and challenging expectations that result in visceral, jarring effects. Thomas Newman’s score is restrained yet sprawling; he manages to capture a plethora of tones, atmospheres, and emotions that beautifully and potently bolster the weight and power of the film, using a contrast of classical and electronic influences that further propels the film to soaring tonal and emotional heights. 

 

But while film’s breath-taking awe cements its unbelievable technical mastery, the film is wholly underpinned by a truly personal and human story. Characters are revealed through action – with a lack of exposition throughout the film; the film succeeds in what cinema should be: show not tell. Audiences aren’t given entire backstories about our two leads; the characters are revealed visually, and we connect with their endearing humanity. The film sets up visual clues and motifs that reveal character which amount to poignant emotional pay offs at the film’s close. 

 

1917 is a war film, yet so much more. The film isn’t necessarily interested in larger notions and commentaries on the rights and wrongs of war. Its focus is on a personalised, human story that explores the experience of war and asks the audience to place themselves in the shoes of our characters – what would you do in this situation? A film so grounded by the utter simplicity and mundanity of two ordinary soldiers, as they are propelled into the trepidations of a futile and meaningless war. It begs the question, what was it all for in the end?

 

1917 is pure cinema. It pushes the technical boundaries of filmmaking but is motivated and purposeful, driven by character, theme and narrative; a technical masterpiece with sincere humanity at its core. American Beauty may still be considered Mendes’ best film, but 1917 is undoubtedly his most technically remarkable and his most personal.

 

Daniel Robery

 

Tom Farrell on Exit Through The Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010)

 

Exit Through the Gift Shop is Banksy’s 2010 entry into documentary filmmaking, and yet another instance of him painting over someone else’s business because the work just had to be seen.

The feature is made from many hours of golden footage of the meteoric rise of the street art movement that made colour from a “legal grey”. Watch as artists are confronted by police, then see how confused they are when they’re eventually confronted by auctioneers.

Banksy isn’t at the centre of this story, though he certainly might have been at one point. Instead, our protagonist (and lesson in the unlimited power of confidence) is Thierry Guetta, who fails upwards and films in all directions. His obsession of finding Banksy, in capturing the legacy of the artistic underworld, is infectious and the mark of a good documentarian. But there are two caveats:

· He’s not a good documentarian.

· He can’t help himself but be a part of that aforementioned legacy. And he’s not a good street artist either.

At least Banksy doesn’t seem shy to think so. So what Thierry really is is the perfect documentary subject. Thierry and Banksy (and to some extent the rest of the street art world), despite having been friends, exist at odds. Thierry cannot create, and when he comes close, like with the making of the film Life Remote Control, he expects the viewer to pick up the pieces for him.

To Thierry, everything is so exciting that nothing can be cut; and what is derivative to one viewer is a practice of worship to him. Or perhaps you’re someone that believes that Thierry is a good artist. For everyone that does, all the praise that Banksy remembers receiving is valued a little less to him. If street art truly is a movement, then Thierry is a new recruit that’s letting the side down, and this film is a wake-up call.

Formally, the film is made a breeze to digest, never struggling for material or overcomplicating (or underselling) its subject. It is incidentally hilarious, being incredibly short on sane subjects and situations, and knowing precisely how long to dwell before moving on to the next. The edit truly does justice to the scale of street art – it is everywhere, and it is humble, despite constant attempts at appropriation by the elite (this film being one of Banksy’s early instances of fighting back).

Of course, given the context, and given how much the film has to say about art, it’s no wonder that so many people suspect that the central Thierry is an invention; possibly a nightmare Banksy had one too many times now put to film. Banksy is a figure so inscrutable that we cannot tell when he is lying.

But that doesn’t matter. If it’s real, it’s a hyperactive musing on the value of this new art and how it can be done right and wrong. If it’s fake, it’s one of the most meaningfully elaborate pranks ever to adopt the medium.

Tom Farrell

Luke Brown on Shin Godzilla (

Shin Godzilla Review

by Luke Brown

 

From a terrifying metaphor for unspeakable horrors, to a friendly protector, to an undead embodiment of the souls lost at war, Godzilla has gone through many iterations in its lifespan. Shin Godzilla redefines the character once again, shaping Godzilla into an unstoppable force of nature. Unlike other versions, this Godzilla does not act out of pre-determined thought, but rather animalistic instinct. Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno, Japan, 2016) returns to the roots of the characterization of Godzilla, the creature being mutated due to radiation, however, in a modern world this takes the shape of radioactive waste dumped into Tokyo Bay rather than nuclear weapons testing. Not only does this function to update the character to represent more topical, modern-day fears, but also reclaims a back-story seemingly lost amongst the many adaptations. There are scenes throughout the film that directly mirror news footage of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster, that took place in 2011. Once again these scenes function to reclaim the identity that Godzilla originally had: a monstrous, physical representation of the horrors that have beset Japan.

While the film functions as a national catharsis, it also functions as a scathing indictment of the countries government. There are numerous scenes throughout the film that display the comical levels of bureaucracy present in Japanese government, meetings adjourning only for all the present parties to move to another room to begin a different meeting, a ludicrous amount of people needing to give permission for action to be taken. It is clear that Hideaki Anno, the films writer and one of its directors, has very little faith in the government’s ability to aid its own citizens, which was one of the greatest critiques of the nation following the previously mentioned disasters in 2011.

Shin Godzilla may, at first, appear to be a dire, mournful film, but it is also quite clearly one full of hope and national pride. When the shackles of bureaucracy are shed, the Japanese people unite in order to find a way to save their country from further destruction, just as was seen in Godzilla (1954). The film has a clear pride in Japan’s ability to rise up after even the most devastating events have occurred, and it’s people’s ability to repair that which has been destroyed.

Shin Godzilla is not only interesting for its narrative, however, but the visual effects that are present in the film warrant note as well. While the American’s had, at the time of release, already released two Godzilla films utilising computer graphics, Shin Godzilla is the first Japanese film in the franchise to create an entirely CGI Godzilla. While miniatures are still used throughout the film, the King of the Monsters himself is created through motion capture and CGI, the tradition of men in rubber suits done away with entirely. Shin Godzilla both updates and reclaims the character in ways that are reminiscent of its past, while being aware of Japan’s present, ushering in a new era of Japanese Godzilla films.

 

Luke Brown

Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2022)

A good book on an extraordinary woman. Mary Rodgers had great success as the composer of Once Upon a Mattress, the Broadway musical that made Carol Burnett a star, as the writer of  the best-selling Freaky Friday novels, and as screenwriter of the film adaptation, then re-made almost generationally: my favourite is the Lindsey Lohan/ Jamie Lee Curtis version. Those two properties alone were so successful that they ended up requiring a management company and – as she bemoans – too much of her time. The success however was not enough to overcome her sense that she isn’t good enough, not compared to her father (Richard Rodgers), her son (Adam Guetell) or the love of her life (Stephen Sondheim). And if that’s how you want to measure your worth, one can see her point. But it’s an impossible measure. Aside from her work, she also had seven children, six of whom lived to contented and successful adulthoods, and who – to her surprise – seem to love a mother who never thought she was good enough in that area either. Not being good enough is one of the themes of this book. But it’s all relative. Mary Rodgers comes across as one of those fast, wise-cracking, chain-smoking mid-century East-coast women who seem to type a novel with one hand, sock a mugger with the other, all while hosting a cocktail party glittering with the wittiest repartee to be had amongst Manhattan’s best and brightest, all of whom were close intimate friends and appear here: Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Burnett, Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Hal Prince, John Kander, Mary Martin, Judy Holliday, etc etc

 

Jose Arroyo

Practice of Film Criticism Podcast 2022, No. 3: Sam Hamilton on Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan, 2018)


An insightful conversation on a film that’s difficult to grasp in terms of plot but which nonetheless offers us enough to have returned twice more to see it. In the podcast, we discuss the famous 59 minute tracking shot, how the film shifts gears narratively and stylistically; how the first half may deal with memory and the second with dreams; we talk of the film’s texture, how sound often works against image and how the images themselves are precise and controlled; we relate the film to noir (time, rain, vamps, fedoras, its evocation of BLADE RUNNER). We relate the film to the work of Jia Zhang Ke and Tsiai Ming Lang; and we talk of how it’s a film that may leave audiences initially puzzled but that seems to grow in their estimation as discussion unfolds. All this, and much, much more.

The podcast may be listened to here:

 

José Arroyo and Sam Hamilton

Harry Watts, The Practice of Film Criticism Podcast 2022, no. 2, Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)

A thoughtful, exploratory discussion of a landmark gangster film, a story about America made by one of Italy’s greatest directors. We discuss how the film might have re-defined the gangster genre; the film’s aesthetic and how particular choices serve expression, we talk of the violence in the film and the charges that it might be misogynist; the distinctions between script and mise-en-scène; what the film shows and the film’s pov on those actions; the relative lack of dialogue and the focus on faces; we discuss the significance of the closing shot…and much much more, not least Robert De Niro’s extraordinary performance.

The podcast may be listened to here:

 

José Arroyo and Harry Watts.

A Bigger Splash (Jack Hazan, 1973)

 

PSA A Bigger Splash is on Netflix. I remember how alluring the ads were upon its release. But I was too young to see it then and sadly never got to before yesterday. It’s a very daring film for its time, very open about David Hockney’s break-up with Peter Schlesinger, lots of nudity, awkward sex, art-making, parties, even a drag Ms. World contest; a force field evoking the complex emotions that are enacted between that which is said and that which is felt. It’s full of sadness and longing, lots of young men in their prime frolicking together — eros made flesh — and how break-ups affect many more people than those directly involved. It’s also an essay film on a landmark painting, the creation of which, results in the emotional exorcism Hockney needs to keep on keeping on.  I wish I’d seen it when younger.

 

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 372 – Don’t Worry Darling

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

Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde’s second feature as director, after Booksmart, which we loved, is an irredeemable mess of a psychological thriller. We pick through its carcass in an attempt to figure out which bit of it we liked the least.

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

Thinking Aloud About Film: Pedro Almodóvar 5 – Matador, with special guest Harry Russell

 

We continue to think aloud about Pedró Almodovar, this time focussing on Matador. Richard is ill so I am joined by Harry Russell to discuss the film. Some of the topics touched upon are the themes of sex and death, Spanish-ness and bullfighting, camp, masculinity, the classical structuring of the plot, the glossy production values, and why — whilst it is hugely entertaining — it might yet not be up to the heights of Almodóvar’s other work.

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

 

 

From Church to Police Station:

 

 

Fashion Show Camp:

 

Images discussed in the Podcast:

Practice Of Criticism Podcast 2022: Episode 1 – Lock Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels with Jack Brazil

Almost a quarter century after its first release, Lock. Stock & Two Smoking Barrels (1998) remains immensely stylish and entertaining, a landmark film that drew on the tradition of the British gangster film and succeeded in changing the genre’s direction. Whether Guy Ritchie is underrated is a thread that underpins the podcast. Jack Brazil and José Arroyo also discuss the film’s style; the cadence, pace and editing with which movement and action are constructed and conveyed; we talk about its playful experimental tone; how it succeeds as comedy, and how Ritchie’s eye for casting launched one of the most important careers in the action genre for decades to come: that of Jason Statham, whose first film this is…. all that, and much much more

The podcast may be listened to below:

Jack Brazil & José Arroyo

 

Entrevías/ WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS

Finished watching Entrevías/ WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS on Netflix, which is not quite good but entertaining enough to watch to the end. It’s not quite good because the melodrama – necessary for the plot – is not understandable except as the actions of not very intelligent people. You know it’s going to lead to trouble, you know they need to do that for the plot to advance, but you also can’t believe anyone with brains would actually do something that dumb – even if they are in love. What is interesting about it is that it’s set in a rough neighbourhood in Madrid, and the drama plays out intergenerational narratives of class, race, and law within the family; with a particular social past as context and desire –for love AND money — as a driving force. There are many similarities to how these themes –capitalist dreams in subaltern milieus —  get played out in the UK or the US but also different enough for the comparison to raise interesting questions. Thanks to Stephen Marsh for the recommendation.

José Arroyo

Thinking Aloud About Film: Pedro Almodóvar 4 – What Have I Done to Deserve This?

The greatest work of the first phase of Almodóvar’s career; the first to be released in the US; the second for the Tesauro S.A. Production Company. In this podcast we discuss the film in relation to his three previous features, to Eloy de la Iglesias’ ‘quinqui’ films dealing with working class kids encountering the wave of drugs then flooding into Spain, to Italian neo-realism, and to camp. We praise Carmen Maura, note the first of appearance of Almodóvar’s mother in his work; and remark on the many reasons why it would be extremely difficult to make this film today. We discuss the continuing send-up of advertisements, the sophistication of the camera placement, the ways the film might be considered post-modern, the mixture of genres, the citations of a history of cinema, though style but also through explicit referencing (Kazan’s SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS) ….and much more.

 

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

 

José Arroyo

The Last Movie Stars

If you’re tired of the endless Royal coverage on TV – and who isn’t? – I recommend the documentary series by Ethan Hawke on Joanne Woodward/Paul Newman. At the beginning I thought it would be a bit of a wankfest, with Hawke and his celebrity friends gushing as only actors on other actors can do. But it becomes more and more interesting as it unfurls. Newman’s affair with Woodward began whilst he was still married. This adulterous affair lasted for five years before he divorced and could marry Woodward, the length of time a shock to some of his children even now. He was in sexual thrall to Woodward, who taught him. He was always very handsome but initially not very good (and the documentary shows us how this is so). There are marvellous clips, including a lot of home movies. Newman taped a series of interviews, the base of a potential biography that never happened. He burned the tapes but his co-writer kept transcripts (voiced by George Clooney) which are the basis of the narrative. What is the series about Hawke asks? Are they favouring Newman at the expense of Woodward? What does it mean for your star to fade as your husband’s keeps rising? Where they good parents? What did their children think? A show on stardom, celebrity, acting, citizenship, families…and, perhaps more than anything, about marriage. Hawke’s questioning – initially an irritation – becomes more and more appealing – open, searching, self-reflexive, revealing complexities. The title is the type of absurd hype I thought the series itself would peddle…but doesn’t. One of the best celebrity documentaries I’ve seen. On Now TV.

José Arroyo

 

REDEMPTION (IO TE CERCHERÒ)

 

Whilst everyone’s wasting their breath over the various demerits of the new LORD OF THE RINGS or GAME OF THRONES TV shows, the best TV show I’ve seen this season is tucked away in Walter Presents on All 4: REDEMPTION (IO TE CERCHERÒ) is a noir/ crime thriller/ family melodrama about a disgraced cop, Valerio (Alessandro Gassman), fired from the force for corruption and cocaine possession, now pumping gas at a petrol station, who is told that his estranged son – a social rights activist working with migrants — has committed suicide. But, as his former lover tells him, things don’t add up. He’s finally convinced of foul play, and as he sets out to find out the truth about his son’s death, he finally gets to know his son as a human being and not just as an extension of himself. The more he digs, the more corruption he finds: African migrants cheated out of their council homes by gangs, drug enforcers in the service of ‘respectable’ serviceman laundering money through off-shore accounts, and a police force in the service of Big Business. Everyone’s implicated and his search finally leads him to his own family. A very moving thriller with lots of social commentary but fundamentally about families – biological and otherwise –  father-son relationships…and the importance of justice. The setting is Rome, the look is noir, sometimes tinged with the duller hues of neon. What holds it all together is Gassman, in an extraordinary performance, mostly minimalist: a still face with eyes that don’t dare move much for fear of betraying what he really feels; a halo of sadness around his face; a tall, thin, wiry body, trained, moving fluidly and capable of quick bursts of violence; and an awkwardness and emotional restraint with the people he loves that also burst forth out of his isolation and into moments of great tenderness. Highly recommend.

José Arroyo

The Horseman’s Song by Ben Pastor (Bitter Lemon Press, 2004/2019)

 

Yesterday I finished reading the sixth of Ben Pastor’s Martin Bora detective novels, THE HORSEMAN’S SONG. I wanted to highlight this one because it might interest some of you. It’s a ‘flashback’ novel, set three years before the beginning of WWII, the setting of the rest of the novels in the series, with a younger Bora as a volunteer for the Nationalists and assigned to Teruel. It’s also the only one of the novels so far where a historical figure plays a major part in the novel. In this case the crime Bora is solving is that of the murder of Federico García Lorca, which in a fictional flight of fancy, takes place in Teruel, not, as history would have it, in Granada. There’s lots of expected homophobia amongst the characters — the homosexuals murdered in the novel are shot in the crotch — there’s a doubling with Bora on one side and a world-weary American counterpart  — Phillip Walton —  on the other. They’re structural opposites: Bora a German Baron from Leipzig, Phillip a working class, world weary roué from Eden, Vermont; both in thrall of the same woman, Remedios. One can see why this would interest Fredric Jameson enough to write on it*: two idealists trying to battle for a utopian ideal but landing on different sides (one of the things that makes this series so interesting is that the hero is a German but not Nazi officer, who has nonetheless sworn fealty to Hitler). There’s also a very good depiction Teruel becoming ‘Teruel’, and a really interesting use of Lorca’s poetry throughout (it’s where the novel gets its title). It also features quite a lot of steamy if tactful sex scenes from Bora’s point of view — thus Maria Verbena Volpi, writing as Ben Pastor, creating a male point of view on sex with a woman. I found it all really interesting, and all his books are page-turners. I’ve clearly been obsessed. It’s been almost six of these novels in the last week.

. The photograph illustrating THE HORSEMAN’S SONG is a very famous one by another mythic figure — Robert Capa.

*Fredric Jameson, ‘War as a Rhizome: Fredric Jameson on Ben Pastor’s Martin Bora Novels’, London Review of Books, vol 44, no. 15, 4 August 2022, pp. 15-18

 

If you speak Spanish, an excellent discussion of Lorca’s death featuring Lorca’s biographer  Ian Gibson may be seen here and is very interesting to compare to the novel’s plot:

 

José Arroyo