Category Archives: Uncategorized

Georgia Smithies & José Arroyo on ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’

A new Depth of Field podcast featuring Georgia Smithies and myself discussing tone, family, and disliking Gwyneth Paltrow in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. This film explores the themes of fatherhood and familial relationships and wraps them up neatly in a visual style we now come to associate with all Wes Anderson films. José and Georgia talk about the film’s quirky tone and star studded cast in order to unravel what makes the film so off-kilter and yet so enjoyable.

Depth of Field

Georgia Smithies and José Arroyo, discuss tone, family, and disliking Gwyneth Paltrow in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. This film explores the themes of fatherhood and familial relationships and wraps them up neatly in a visual style we now come to associate with all Wes Anderson films. José and Georgia talk about the film’s quirky tone and star studded cast in order to unravel what makes the film so off-kilter and yet so enjoyable.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 186 – Neither Wolf Nor Dog

It’s enormously disappointing that Neither Wolf Nor Dog is as bad as it is, because its subject – Native American life in a society built upon a land that was taken from them, and the pain, grievances and stories that the displaced people carry with them – is massively, conspicuously underrepresented in US cinema and demands to be explored. Unfortunately, although the story on which it is based is true, the hackneyed device of a white man, Kent, who learns about someone different and with whom we’re supposed to emotionally identify falls on its face, and the filmmaking is awful. When the film visits Wounded Knee and we hear Dan, the Lakota elder, expose his history of pain and loss, Kent’s unearned tears destroy the scene.

Mike argues for the film’s first act, suggesting that it sets up promising questions and themes, and has a slowness that invites the audience to contemplate these. Dan’s interactions with Kent, knowingly using him to tell his stories, conflicts with his friend Grover’s reaction, suspicious but willing to put his feelings aside to do what Dan wants, and his granddaughter Wenonah, hostile and concerned that her granddad might be taken advantage of. This is all inextricably tied to the history of white invaders to America and the treatment to which the natives have been subjected for generations… but the promise of how the film could develop is far preferable to how it does develop, uncritically, unimaginatively using tropes that illuminate nothing and relying on undramatised oral storytelling to express its themes.

José, on the other hand, hated the film from the start and wanted to leave long before the end. He argues that there’s a self-importance to the filmmaker, Steven Lewis Simpson, on display, and Mike argues (with no proof of course) that Simpson edits his own Wikipedia page.

It’s a shame to have to declare that Neither Wolf Nor Dog is terrible but there it is. For people on nodding terms at best with Native American history to emerge from it having learned nothing, having gleaned no insight into the life it depicts, is a fundamental failure on the film’s part. A huge missed opportunity.

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: 185 – Don’t Look Now

Neither of us has ever seen classic British thriller Don’t Look Now before, though we’re keenly aware of the esteem in which it is held. And it’s fair to say that we’re blown away by the expressive visual design and editing style, though Mike at first admits to a certain degree of nonplussedness – a film’s reputation for greatness can often result in a dampened experience when it is finally encountered – but finds that the film quickly opens up as we discuss it.

Don’t Look Now is about grief, and expresses it at a formal level. Donald Sutherland’s character is unable to save his daughter from drowning at a young age, and thereafter, Mike argues, cannot prevent images of her death from flashing into his mind, just as they flash into the film with no warning. His wife, played by Julie Christie, handles her grief differently, and we discuss whether she does so more successfully than her husband – but if there’s something on which we agree, it’s that the film primarily conveys his point of view and experience of his grief rather than hers.

José considers the film’s depiction of Venice, dilapidated, sparse, but still beautiful. We think about the film’s place in the canon, its status as a great horror, comparing it to other British oddities such as Under the Skin and Kill List – is it even right to think of these as horror? And we try to get a handle on some of the motifs used, such as the supernatural element underpinning the husband’s experiences, the red-hooded figure, the elderly sisters, a motif of doubling and replacement, and more, but often having to resort to the anodyne comfort of asserting that this is a film that would benefit from repeated viewing.

However, even after seeing it once, Don’t Look Now captures our imagination and burns its wonderful, imaginative imagery into our minds. If you haven’t seen it, this 4K restoration is doing the rounds as we speak, and it’s how the film should be seen. It images are meaningful and considered. See it in a cinema and it’ll get its hooks into you just as it’s supposed to.

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.

Bianca Giacalone & José Arroyo on “8 1/2”

Bianca Giancalone and I discuss Fellini’s 81/2

Depth of Field

In the second episode of the DOF podcast, Bianca Giacalone and José Arroyo discuss the eternal charm of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece “8 1/2”.
Arguably one of the most intriguing and complex depictions of filmmaking on screen, the film lends itself for discussions on the nature of art, the figure of the intellectual and the interpretation of reality.
Throughout the conversation, the speakers explore what makes “8 1/2” still so relevant today, attempting to unlock some of the mysteries the film leaves behind and find the right questions to the cryptic answers it gives.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 184 – Judy

José reminisces about Judy Garland as a feature of his childhood, a constant presence on his family’s television, and as a person who took on different significance to him as he grew up. Whether he admits it or not, he’s been keen to see Judy since the trailers first appeared. Mike, predictably, neither knows much about her nor cares, although he has seen The Wizard of Oz about a thousand times.

The film’s greatest pleasure is Renée Zellweger’s performance, a pleasant surprise to José as he’s never liked her very much. We agree that the stage numbers leave something to be desired – the production seems to create a disconnect between Zellweger’s performance and singing, sounding artificial – but swoon at moments when it all comes together, particularly in the climactic rendition of Over the Rainbow. José suggests that this is when Zellweger most deviates from any of Garland’s true performances, and perhaps that relative freedom from imitation is what gives her the space to connect to the song here.

In general terms, the film is none too exciting, shot effectively but inexpressively and ticking off the normal plot points of a star-on-the-decline biopic, with money and family worries, substance abuse problems, temper tantrums and assorted other clichés making appearances, and authentic as it may be, there’s only so many times Judy can be late for a gig before the drama wears thin. Her relationship with her children is an emotional wrench, though, and the film builds to an effective ending, powered by that fantastic final number.

There’s a subplot about Judy’s encounter with a gay couple that recognises her importance to the gay community and contrasts her glitz and stardom with the inhumane oppression to which gay people were and are treated – homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK only two years prior to when the film is set. It’s a plot strand that could fall on its face through cheesiness or clumsiness, particularly considering the couple’s role in the final scene, but it arguably succeeds through periphrastic, sparing dialogue, and by tying everything back to Judy’s songs. Everything comes back to those, ultimately, and despite some lacklustre direction here and there, it all comes together when it absolutely needs to.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

 

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews

HWJA

So dull. Like a suburban housewife bringing you up to date on the doings of the various members of a hugely extended family circle, none of whom you’ve met or care about. The accent is all on everything is ok, fixed this, organised that, scheduled the other thing, on the resolving of problems rather than an account or exploration of them. In the meantime, her mom has an alcohol problem, her step dad’s a wife beater, her step-mom attempts suicide, her brother has a drug problem, her husband is a hypochondriac film director given to bouts of depression, and she’s seeing a psychiatrist five times a week. You’d think it would all be more interesting. But it isn’t. You can tell she really hates someone when she keeps her fulsome praise short: ‘Rock Hudson was charming, had a great sense of humour and was a real professional. We didn’t see much of him during the shoot.’ You read and read and read and at the end you feel you know her less than when you started.

José Arroyo

Polina Zelmanova & José Arroyo on ‘Raw’

Depth of Field on Raw

Depth of Field

Polina joins José Arroyo in a juicy discussion on Julia Ducournau’s Raw. The film, with its powerful female-gaze, portrays an exciting shift from the traditional female-monstrosity, and Ducournau’s representation of cannibalism is equally unusual. In this podcast episode we explore Ducournau’s intentions with these issues and debate her success, her dialogue with the genre, and fantastic visual style. The conversation leads us to investigate the various social themes the film tackles including alienation, identity politics, and the most prominent question of all: what it means to be human.

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Eavesdropping at the Movies: 183 – The Mustang

A captivating performance from Matthias Schoenaerts as a long-time inmate in a Nevada prison gives The Mustang its heart and emotional centre. The story of an isolated man finding the ability to open up through a relationship he develops with a wild horse isn’t going to win any awards for originality and is pretty one-note, but has its pleasures, and is an easy watch.

Writer-director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre calmly avoids asking obvious and important questions of the American prison system in favour of depicting the benefits of the horse training initiative – based on a real-life scheme that operates in a number of US states – and José suggests that her nationality has a part to play in this apparent lack of knowledge about the deep institutional issues involved, or at least her lack of interest in challenging them. The film indulges in cliché after cliché, but, for all its flaws and lack of imagination, Mike liked it, because that’s what he’s like, and we really can’t emphasise enough how good Schoenaerts’ central performance is.

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: 182 – Rojo

n the mid-Seventies, Argentina was terrorised by the Triple A (Argentine Anticommunist Alliance), a far-right death squad that disappeared countless people, and it is under this regime of fear and death that Rojo is set – with 1976’s military coup on the horizon. Disappearance is one of the film’s major themes and gives it its central structure: Dario Grandinetti’s Claudio, a lawyer, has an altercation with a rude young man in a restaurant and, though what follows is partially accidental, ends up leaving the man for dead in Argentina’s vast desert.

It’s the first act of disappearance in a film draped with them, disappearances that nobody speaks of, but everybody takes advantage of. Overt signals of the Triple A are absent here – the film shows us how daily life is affected, in a chilling atmosphere not of fear, but of acceptance. Friends are spoken of as having moved away. A house vacated by a family we never see is ransacked by otherwise well-to-do, middle-class neighbours, and presents a money-making opportunity. The culture isn’t fought, it is adjusted to.

Though we find great depth to Rojo‘s thematic complexity, we find less joy in its cinematic technique. José isn’t as critical as Mike, whose arse went to sleep through boredom, but despite an aesthetic that beautifully evokes the 1970s in every way, the film makes no real concessions to the audience, particularly lacking tension, which we feel there was ample opportunity for.

However, despite our criticisms, we recommend Rojo. It portrays a time and place rarely seen, and does so with intelligence and confidence. Its themes, of course, speak not just to mid-Seventies Argentina but keenly to today’s increasingly right-wing societies in Europe and America, and in that light its themes of complicity and adaptation to quotidian far-right terrorism constitute a warning.

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: 181 – Laurel and Hardy – Twice Two, County Hospital, and Way Out West

The Birmingham chapter of the Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society shows a few of their films every year at the mac, and this year sees them screen two shorts, Twice Two (1933) and County Hospital (1932), followed by their classic Western feature, Way Out West (1937). We discuss Laurel and Hardy’s style, Mike comparing it favourably to cartoons and less favourably to the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and José remarks upon the joys of seeing a full audience of people aged 4 to 90 all laughing at these everlasting films.

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 Julie Lobalzo Wright

 

Julie Lobalzo Wright has written a fascinating book on the concept of crossover stardom and what it tells us about popular male music stars in American Cinema. The book is now on paperback and thus accessible. Julie is also involved in various events around the musicals season at the BFI this Autumn, the highlights of which are: A study day on musicals at NFT3 on October 26th; and a talk on her book on November 4th at the BFI Reubens Library. This matrix of events is the context for the wide-ranging and enthusiastic conversation which you can listen to above, one that touches on, amongst other things, stardom, the musical, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Kris Kristofferson, Justin Timberlake, Barbara Streisand, various versions of A Star is Born, stardom over time, and changes in the musical genre right up to the live network screenings of shows such as Hairspray and Jesus Christ Superstar.

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José Arroyo

Debbie Harry, Face It

 

face-it-debbie-harry

I´ve very much enjoyed reading Debbie Harry´s Face It and thought of James Maker whilst reading the first few chapters. She was also an obsessive of the New York Dolls, travelled miles to every gig, subsequently became friends with most of them. She comes across as a real New York Art girl, first on the fringes, hanging out at The Factory, eventually invited to dinners with Warhol — who not only did the usual silkscreen portrait but also an experimental one with a commodore, one of the first done using only computer technology — and at the bunker with Burroughs etc. Basquiat appears in ´Rapture´one of the Blondie videos, and she offers the best description of his charm and attractiveness i´ve read.  She also describes herself as ´Punk Til I Die´. And the combination of Art and Punk makes for an interesting set of observations, cool, intelligent, perceptive, detached; always surprising.

Face It is the tale of a woman who set out to be an artist, ended up being a pop star and chose a bohemian life. There are three incidents, two already much publicised, that speak of an attitude. On heroin: ´you either quit or you die´: she doesn´t linger on the struggle. On being mugged and raped in front of Chris Stein in her own apartment, she says it´s terrible but what she remembers feeling most is that the mugger stole their equipment and without it they could not work. No mention of psychological damage or what effect it might have had on her relationship with Stein. An interesting accent on the telling, perhaps an elision and occlusion. The last is when Bowie playfully takes out his dick and waves it at her. She admires it but wonders why Iggy Pop, who is sitting next to Bowie, doesn´t do the same.

It´s a marvellous book, full of such stories. She seems to know everybody in the New York Art scene, partly because of where she worked in the early years (Max´s Kansas City) or through the career with Blondie and beyond. We get stories on the music scenes of the period and filmmakers she worked with like Cronenberg and John Waters, and she has interesting and original  observations on all of them. And , of course, her own music and its making is covered in detail.

The person that is evoked is a New York tough cookie, with glimmers of a heart of gold (her nursing of, and lifelong attachment to Stein) burdened with a lifelong fear of abandonment  but with the will and daring to make her own life in conditions not of her making, plowing on and following her interests in art, music and fashion, fearlessly experimenting in all those areas. And appreciative of her fans whose art is lavishly illustrated throughout the volume. We see he as she chooses to depict herself in her life and as fans have seen her through her career.

For those like I for whom Blondie marked and is central to their youth this book is very heaven indeed.

 

José Arroyo

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 180 – Joker

 

It’s as though we’ve seen two different films, with José bowled over by Joker‘s social commentary, Mike bored and annoyed by its perceived self-satisfaction – not to mention an audience that applauded at the end. Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is explored to be a product of an uncaring, broken society that reaps in him what it sows, in a 1981 Gotham City that is the New York City of the era in all but name. José argues that the film will become a bellwether of the time, depicting the anger of the oppressed and downtrodden – Mike suggests, though, that in demonising them and aligning them to villainy, it gives the right-wing what it wants, in a vision of antifa, the enemy it believes it faces.

We discuss issues of race and representation, Mike seeing similarities between some of the film’s scenes and real-life historical crimes to which they may refer, and in observing racial components and changes to them, asks what the purpose may be, though, struggles to work towards an answer. And José remarks favourably upon everything aesthetic, including the way in which poverty is written into Phoenix’s withered form, the expressiveness and grace of his movement, and the film’s use of shallow focus.

There’s a lot going on in Joker, both on its own terms and in the cultural conversations it has ignited, and it may be worth a second go.

 

The film is just out and has already incited interesting debate:

 

from Jason Jacobs:

Jake Rutukowski:

David Sims in The Atlantic: 

Glen Weldon:

Yet another good essay, this one from Leslie Lee

and many others

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: 179 – Rambo: Last Blood

Donald Trump’s vision of Mexico as America’s terrifying, criminal neighbour to the south finds a home in Rambo: Last Blood, a film in which a journey to Mexico is no less than a descent into Hell, and the comfort of the USA means a ranch, horses, sunsets, and a subterranean network of tunnels in which to viciously trap and slaughter Mexican rapists. You may be surprised to hear that we weren’t that keen on it.

Considering Sylvester Stallone’s age – a mighty 73 years old – Last Blood‘s action can’t ask as much of him physically as did the Rambo films of old, but through the use of traps and ambushes, Stallone’s limitations are smartly made irrelevant. But that’s about as positive as we can get. This is a film that cost $50m, if the production budget figure on Box Office Mojo is to be believed, and if Stallone hasn’t taken $40m of that for himself it’s impossible to tell where it’s been spent. This is cheap, nasty, acrid cinema, and it spurs José to look back on Stallone’s career and decry it for not simply having too few hits but moreover representing a betrayal of what Stallone meant to immigrant kids and underdogs back when he broke out with Rocky in 1976.

Avoid Rambo: Last Blood like the self-mythologising, racist bile it is.

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.