A moment from All I Desire (Douglas Sirk, 1953)

Saw All I Desire with a friend last night and moved once again by the story, the grace with which it’s told, and Stanwyck’s magnificent performance. It spurred me to re-read Victor Perkins’s wonderful analysis of the moment where Naomie Murdoch (Stanwyck) returns to the home and family she deserted ten years before and finds the key still hidden in the same hanging pot. It’s a wonderful analysis of a beautiful scene. I am fascinated by the opening shots of that sequence. As you can see below, we are shown Naomie entering the shot by the elongated shadow she casts before she enters the frame, then the camera moves up to show us her looking at the home that was once hers and then the cut and move into an increasingly large close-up of Stanwyck expressing the mixed emotions she’s feeling at the re-encounter. How will her past affect her present? Will she be welcome, does she deserve to be there, what has she lost? It’s so beautiful. A great director and a great actress co-creating (with others) an unforgettable moment.

Jose Arroyo

PS It occurs to me that this bit of film can be read as almost an inverse rhyme to the great ending of the earlier Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937) , with all  that it implies of self-sacrifice, a job well done, a moment of triumphalist virtue.

Thinking Aloud About Film: The Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien 1 – Cute Girl (1980)

 

Richard and I turn our attention to the early cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien. Four of his films are now on MUBI and at least the first one is delightful: a romantic comedy not too different from those characteristic of American Cinema in the 1930s, but with broader humour and more pop songs. A delightful first work, very commercial …. and very different from what was to follow.

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

You can listen to another of Fong Fei Fei’s songs from the film here:

And here’s a  fab clip of Kenny Bee performing with his band “Wynners” in 1975:

Kenny now:

A report of Fong Fei-Fei’s death:

and you can follow up with a nice review of the film from Eastern Kicks: 

We found this comment by Robert Beeson on Twitter to be both amusing and true:

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 293 – Promising Young Woman

We’re joined by returning guest Celia, on the phone from Canada, to discuss writer-director Emerald Fennell’s unusual revenge thriller, Promising Young Woman. Following the rape and – implied – suicide of her friend Nina, which goes unpunished, Carey Mulligan’s Cassie drops out of medical school, and now spends her nights feigning drunkenness, allowing men to pick her up and take her home, alarming them with her sobriety as they begin to sexually assault her. When a chance reunion with a former classmate reveals that Nina’s rapist is engaged, Cassie embarks upon a campaign of vengeance against those she considers responsible for and involved in committing and allowing her friend’s rape and its cover-up.

Celia loves it, finding that it invokes and brings to life many subtle and important observations about life for women in the patriarchy, enjoying the various forms Cassie’s revenge takes – particularly the “exercises in forced empathy”, in her words – and feeling a call to arms; José decidedly doesn’t, decrying those observations and revenges as cinematically unrealised in what is merely a filmed essay, albeit one that admirably exhibits a style, an aesthetic and a point of view. Mike bravely sits in the middle, pretending to be superior to the other two by virtue of not exhibiting an extreme response to the film. The discussion is varied and passionate – and full of spoilers. Love it or hate it, Promising Young Woman is a thought-provoking, vital film, and well worth watching.

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.

I made a trailer for the podcast which can be seen below:

 

Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)

 Spike Lee in slick mode, working with different textures, the camera gliding, hand-held, in constant motion but controlled with particular effects in mind. A heist film where what’s at stake is not only will the crooks get caught but what are they after? What secrets are hidden in those bank vaults? Will the wealthy be held to account if the origin of their wealth accumulation involves crimes  against humanity.  Jodie Foster steals every moment she’s in, and this from Denzel Washington and Christopher Plummer. Smarter and better educated than anyone else in the room; elegant, charming, threatening, vaguely asexual; it occurred to me the role was an old-fashioned lesbian stereotype that her casting underlined but that her performance was embodying with particular charm and vibrancy, including that odd duck walk on vertiginously high heels. I liked it much more than I expected but at the end I also had a vague twinge that I had seen it before and forgotten, or maybe just skimmed though parts of it on Netflix…..

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 292 – Affair in Trinidad

 

Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford star in Gild– sorry, Affair in Trinidad, Hayworth’s first film upon her return to Hollywood after four years away, and a blatant rip-off of a certain classic film noir from 1946. (There’s also a chunk of Notorious thrown in for good measure.) Expensively cobbled together at Columbia boss Harry Cohn’s instruction, its production was rushed, with its script barely presentable and Vincent Sherman’s direction lazy, but audiences weren’t put off – it made $7m domestically, blockbuster box office in 1952.

Now featured as part of Columbia Noir #2, a box-set from the same series that includes The Garment Jungle, we take the opportunity to see what Affair in Trinidad has to offer – for José, the answer is, “not much, besides Rita Hayworth, gorgeous gowns and rich cinematography” – and discuss more besides, including Hayworth’s name and image, and how and why they were changed. Affair in Trinidad is far from a good film, but one of historical interest, and certainly worth seeing for any fan of Rita Hayworth.

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 quick note on ‘La Imaginería Eterna de Bigas luna’

This very interesting talk taught me that Bigas Luna was so concerned with the increasing immersion of individuals into a visual culture for which they had received no visual education that he developed a ‘visual alphabet’ of 32 symbols, garnered chronologically from Muybridge to Keaton (He thought that sufficient), with which to teach children visual literacy. I’m only sorry the panelists didn’t say what those symbols were. I’m dying to find out.

I was also interested to learn that his scripts were often a series of paintings — not just a storyboard. And that he often spent most of the pre-shooting prep time doing a series of experiments to arrive at a film’s tone; interests that coincide with mine and that I think are some of the most complex elements in cinema to articulate.
That one can be in Birmingham and be attending these seminars in Madrid is something I’m still finding thrilling.
José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 291 – Sound of Metal

A film that offers a beautiful evocation of community, as Riz Ahmed’s drummer suddenly loses most of his hearing and joins a retreat for the deaf, Sound of Metal also feels regrettably, and unforgivably, dishonest in some of the ways it engineers its story. In this respect, we disagree over one of the film’s key scenes, but agree about what it goes on to depict in the final act. Despite the severe problems we have with the film, it has pleasures to offer, including an outstanding central performance from Ahmed, whose wide-eyed, puppy-dog expressions transparently convey fear, anger, worry and determination, sometimes all at once. For Ahmed alone, it’s worth seeing Sound of Metal.

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.

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 37: Beirut, Oh Beirut (Maroun Bagdadi, Lebanon, 1975)

We continue our little exploration of Middle-Eastern Films that connect to the work of Chahine. This discussion is on Maroun Bagdadi’s Beirut, oh Beirut, currently playing on Netflix. We discuss the beauty of the film. Richard connects it to late sixties Godard in style. I found it more moving and sad than what I remember of that period of Godard’s work. We discuss the film in relation to Chahine’s The Sparrow and to Al-Karnak. The film has a particular nostalgic feel, the depiction of buildings, landscapes, places and spaces for feeling that are soon to be destroyed, perhaps forever, and the way of live and set of dilemmas that this film documents just before they explode and are obliterated, so this poetic drama can also be read as a historical document, now imbued with sadness for what humans do to places once much loved.

The podcast can be listened to here:

The shot mentioned in the podcast that José was particularly impressed with was turned into a little ad for the podcast and can be seen here:

José also did a composite of all the nostalgia-evoking landscape shots of the city, and that can be seen here:

 

The exhibition at the Tate José refers to is Marwan Rechmaoui’s Beirut Caoutchou. Listeners.  Listeners might also be interested in  The Tate Papers ‘On the Politics of Art and Space in Beirut. 

Listeners might also be interested in seeing this video Richard mentions in the podcast, which references the film through its title, “Beirut Oh Beirut”.  It looks like the person filming livestreamed himself travelling around the damaged area of Beirut after the most recent explosion

In the podcast, Richard mentions how Netflix has dumped big collections of world cinema with no fanfare and no context, which on the one hand is great because its available to a wide audience, but on the other hand isn’t because nobody knows it’s there.

This shows the Lebanese films currently on Netflix (or at least, the ones where the production country is set correctly). (You can only find this stuff easily using an external site!)
There are three other Baghdadi films –
It’s worth pointing out that that’s the UK link, there is a version of flixable for other countries (fr.flixable.com etc) and the availability may differ by region.

José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 290 – Godzilla vs. Kong

The fourth entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, the first crossover in the series, sees a journey to the center of the Earth and Hong Kong made the playground of its titular colossi. In this cinematic universe seeking to challenge Marvel et al., Mike finds visual splendour and an ambition to reach for something a little more meaningful than your usual blockbusters. Indeed, the character of Godzilla, in particular, is well-known to derive from Japan’s horrific experience as history’s first and only target of nuclear warfare, and Mike argues that the MonsterVerse seeks to continue to use its creatures as giant metaphors that punch and breathe fire, unleashed by humanity’s insatiable consumption and arrogant claim on the natural world. José isn’t that impressed with this reading, but finds things to enjoy, particularly the beautiful imagery – though, he argues, while it demonstrates incredible skill and craft on the part of the artists who created it, art is precisely what it lacks. But luckily, although we butt heads over Godzilla vs. Kong, Birmingham remains intact.

Our podcast on Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Mike’s review of 2014’s Godzilla

José’s review of 2014’s Godzilla

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.

How to Murder A Millionnaire (Paul Schneider, 1990)

 

I was so tired last night I couldn’t summon up concentration for anything more complex than How to Murder A Millionaire. It was as bad as it looked — a series of sketches, coarsely filmed, and knitted into a story of a woman who thinks only of shopping and suspects her retired husband (Alex Rocco) has  lost interest and is trying to kill her in order to save on alimony when he  marries a much younger woman.  There are no depths. But it has Joan Rivers AND Morgan Fairchild in their prime. Morgan is Joan’s slimy ‘best’ friend who is really after her husband. It’s very funny, strives to feminism, slightly racist whilst trying not to be, and ends with the schmaltzometer going off the scales. There’s a wonderful bit of business where Rivers is being waxed and screams at each strip whilst being careful to give a very pained thank you to the waxer. Rivers is hilariously funny AND surprisingly affecting. Even the worst films have a few great minutes, say Buñuel. This is proof of that.

 

José Arroyo

 

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 289 – The Trial of the Chicago 7

At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, riots erupted when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors clashed with police. Seeking to crush the energetic counterculture, the US government put on trial a group of eight defendants, some political organisers, some cultural radicals, some with hardly any influence, a pacifist, and a Black Panther, hoping to convict them for conspiracy to incite the riots. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is a good fit for this story, the disparate group of defendants arguing amongst themselves sharply, and many scenes flowing beautifully towards their own internal climaxes; the same cannot be said of his direction, the film lacking much visual flair and instinct for expressive imagery.

We revisit our common theme of British actors playing Americans, José finding more fault with it here than Mike does – we can, at least, agree that Sacha Baron Cohen’s accent is atrocious, his Abbie Hoffman a weak point. Mike expounds upon how much he hates himself for how much he likes Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, comfort food for the American left, which he sees echoes of here.

We find flaw upon flaw with The Trial of the Chicago 7, but despite every one of them, it’s an immensely watchable film with a terrific ensemble cast and entertaining dialogue. With an awareness of its limitations and economy with the truth, we recommend it.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 288 – The Father

Anthony Hopkins is magnificent as The Father‘s title character, an old man losing his grip on reality to dementia, in debut director Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own stage play. We discuss the techniques the film uses to situate the audience within the mind of a dementia sufferer, and whether they lose their potency as the film develops. The Father‘s origins on stage are obvious in its sparse setting and focus on dialogue, and we suggest that the raw power of seeing the performances live, an immediacy, is lost here – though the cast, particularly Hopkins and Olivia Colman, are impressive nonetheless. Mike argues that the film somehow lacks enough plot to even fill its 97-minute duration, and would have worked better as a short film – José suggests that it ends up in cliché.

Still, for a while at least, it’s an extraordinarily effective dramatisation of what it might feel like to suffer from dementia, convinced of your own mental acuity while contradicted by everyone and everything around you. The Father doesn’t offer a pleasant experience, but it is a valuable one.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

José Arroyo in Conversation with…. Adam Carver/ Fatt Butcher

Photo: Emma Jones

Adam Carver is a Midlands-based producer, performer and cultural activist. He is the 2020 Jerwood Bursary Recipient, was Festival Director for SHOUT from 2016-2020 and is producer for Ginny Lemon’s Palaver. I saw the great Fantabulosa! show they did at the Birmingham Museum and Gallery just before lockdown, a thrilling queer positive performance piece for children and family audiences. He has also worked as an independent producer for most of the local institutions: Dance X-Change, The Hippodrome, Canterbury Junction etc.

I wanted to talk to Adam to find out how lockdown had affected him personally as a performer but also get his views on how the pandemic has affected queer arts in the Midlands, the infrastructure for live performance in Birmingham and his own transgressive transformation into Fatt Butcher, a sublime and edgy excursion into drag that brings in Disco, Comedy, and Bingo whilst also being a political intervention against shame.

The raison-d’être of the discussion is me just wanting to have a better understanding of what’s been happening in the Midlands, and few are better placed to be as informative as Adam.  But this is is also an attempt to circulate some of these issues (why did people get so upset about the Birmingham REP being turned into a Nightingale Court? How are funding structures not designed to include young queer artists? Are queer artists under-represented in the city’s cultural institutions? How does a performer make a living when all performance venues are shut? How has Adam’s own practice been affected by the Pandemic? How might the Midlands be considered Geographically Queer?). Lastly, I’ve been agog with admiration at the development of Adam’s alter ego, a new persona as Fatt Butcher, and I wanted to find out more about how that had come to be and how the persona had developed.

The discussion can 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

I hope you find it as interesting and informative as I have. If you do, please circulate. We need to hear more from artists and producers about what’s been happening here in Birmingham and the Midlands and how to improve what to many has been a perilous situation.

Photo: Emma Jones

Track: Adam Carver & Exit Recording

José Arroyo

The Youssef Chahine Podcast: No. 36 – Al-Karnak (Ali Badr Kahn, Egypt, 1975)

Richard returns! We discuss the famous Al-Karnak (Karnak Café) directed byAli Badr Kahn in 1975. A political film, a critique of the previous regime, based on a novella by Naguib Mahfouz, and a ‘model of de-Nasserfication’. The film is pulpy, melodramatic, sensationalist, a box-office smash. A very interesting work to discuss in relation to Chahine’s The Sparrow (1972), which deals with similar subject matter but in a a very different way. Ali Badr Kahn and Mahfouz had previously collaborated with Chahine as well so the film is an interesting focal point to a whole series of issues that intersect with Chahine’s 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

 

José Arroyo

 

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 287 – Minari

A gentle drama about Korean immigrants making a life for themselves in 1980s Arkansas, Minari‘s tone is consistently light, despite some of the upsetting events that occur. Mike argues that it reflects a child’s perspective of life, protected by their parents from the worst of life, or simply not understanding the darkness in what they experience – writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based the film on his own upbringing on a farm in Arkansas. José identifies strongly with the story, commenting on the similarities and differences with his youth as a Spanish immigrant to Canada. Minari is a good-natured film with no room for cynicism, and, for José, a joyous experience to watch.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or at this link.

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

Peter Kim George has a wonderful piece on the film that amongst many other riches also touches on the issue of casting, which is becoming a recurring concern of mine. He writes, ‘

Another issue is that Steven Yeun is miscast as Jacob. He is miscast for the same reason he was so superbly cast in Okja and Burning — Yeun’s bodily mannerisms and speech are American through and through. By mannerisms, I mean those dimensions of culture and nationality that trickle into the most basic, lived instincts of how one sits in a chair or expresses hesitation. In Okja and Burning, it imbues a hybrid otherness to his character, which works so well in Bong’s and Lee’s films, respectively. Chung notes in an interview that he had originally imagined the role of Jacob for someone from Korea.

Still, it is difficult to write that Yeun is miscast in Minari, for several reasons. One, a mostly non-Korean viewership (still a remarkable feat in itself for a non-English language film) is unlikely to notice that Yeun quite obviously does not fit the mold of a man who comes of age in 1960s and 70s South Korea, so why bring it up? Add to which how prominently Yeun features in the film’s marketing and press — a Korean actor may have been a better fit, but certainly would not have given Minari its visibility. ‘

 

Also Kevin B. Lee has produced a very interesting video essay some of you may want to follow up on.