Tag Archives: New York

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 193 – The Irishman

A three-and-a-half-hour epic in his signature genre, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman looks back on the life of a gangster, hitman, enforcer, and WWII veteran, who loses everything. There’s a familiar tone to much of the film, Scorsese getting the gang back together – Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel are wonderful to see, but perhaps the most enjoyable performance comes from Joe Pesci, his Russ a calm, knowing presence, a characterisation that feels like a deliberate defiance of the volatility we remember so vividly from Tommy in Goodfellas. The film weaves a tapestry of power structures throughout 20th century New York, incorporating the mob, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and politicians, all tied together by the wild, paranoid, braggadocious figure of Jimmy Hoffa, played by a brilliant Al Pacino in his first ever collaboration with Scorsese.

Scorsese’s use of digital technology to take years off his cast is a matter of debate between us. José thinks that the use of younger actors would have been beneficial, comparing it to De Niro’s portrayal of Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather Part II; Mike arguing that the technology convinces, facilitates a smooth telling of the story, where, had different actors been used, he might have felt like he was waiting for the ‘real story’ to begin, and doesn’t hamper the facial performances as it might have – though he agrees wholeheartedly that, in his mid-70s, Robert De Niro simply can’t convincingly kick a baker as a man thirty or forty years his junior should be able to.

José asks whether Frank feels enough guilt about having to kill Jimmy, by this point a man who’s been his friend for years. We agree that we think his emotional state is too opaque, though Mike suggests that he’s also tamping down his feelings for the sake of getting on with a task he can’t avoid. The feeling of loss and guilt that this event leads to, though, enormously affects the final half hour of the film, and for Mike it’s a beautifully moving coda to a film that, while hugely enjoyable, often felt free of a clear destination – something José disagrees with, never wondering where it was going.

We also consider Scorsese’s recent remarks on Marvel, suggesting that his perspective is a surprisingly ahistorical one, and that had he been making films in the 1950s he’d have had identical complaints about Westerns, for instance – the dominant genre of the time. But José takes time to agree with his aesthetic and artistic complaints, arguing that Marvel’s films lack ambition, and Mike suggests that his issue really comes down to a level of dominance that is marginalising films of lower budgets and greater ambition. We also discuss the fact that Scorsese has made The Irishman for Netflix, hardly the home of a lover of the cinema, as their model is Internet-based and doesn’t allow for wide theatrical releases, Mike suggesting this represents a conflict between Scorsese’s words and actions; though José argues that, as limited as it is, the film has been given a theatrical release, and one would be stupid to turn down money if it gets one’s film made, no matter the source.

But to bring it back to The Irishman, we had a terrific time and the film throughout is layered with great jokes, considered compositions, and brilliantly written, performed and directed set-piece scenes in which conversation is king, stakes are high, and power is in play. If you get a chance to see it during its brief theatrical window, do so.

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: 96 – Skate Kitchen

First of all, huge thanks to the Electric Cinema in Birmingham for not only screening a preview of irresistible hangout flick Skate Kitchen, but for hosting a Q&A with director Crystal Moselle and some of the cast – not professional actors, but girls who genuinely hang out and skate in New York City under the name “Skate Kitchen”, and whose daily lives form the basis of the film. A chance meeting on a train led to Moselle shooting a short film with them and ultimately this feature. Moselle has been here before: her debut, The Wolfpack, also came about due to her curiosity about a group of people she came across in New York, but that was a documentary, and Skate Kitchen is narrative fiction.

Indeed, the narrative works to bring out the best of the setting and people, structuring the documentary aspects to avoid losing much focus while bringing out observations of these girls’ lives that feel deeply authentic, pointed, and original. It follows a teenage skater with a rebellious streak becoming part of the Skate Kitchen collective, the changes to her life as she grows up away from home, and the inevitable conflicts between the girls and the boys who dominate the skate culture they want a part of.

We discuss the nuances in the film’s construction of a divorced family in which both parents are nonetheless present, and in which the child is given agency over her relationships with them; the wholesomeness of the girls’ interactions, particularly with one of their dads; the dimensionality of the boys, particularly in terms of sexual desire and their interactions with girls – and the way the girls’ bodies are displayed not as passive, simply intended to look sexy, but as active and really, really fucking talented. Watching them skate is, just like watching the horse breaking in The Rider – also played by non-professional actors using their real-life skills – a pleasure in which the film allows us to indulge deeply.

Finally, Mike wants to apologise for the sound quality in this episode. He forgot to plug the mic in.

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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.

Michael Lyndsay-Hogg, Luck and Circumstance: A Coming of Age in Hollywood, New York, and Points Beyond

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Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the son of Geraldine Fitzgerald and…who? That’s the overall arch of the book. Was it Orson Welles or a Sir Edward Lyndsey-Hogg, a minor British aristocrat? Whilst the answer to the question takes several turns in the book, we also hear about his directing ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’, some of the early key concert movies like ‘Let it Be’, a pioneer of the MTV video clip (most of the early Rolling Stones videos), a director of Brideshead Revisited on TV and The Normal Heart off-Broadway.

It’s a lovely book; a not very distinguished career in cinema, but with landmark work in tv and theatre; and then of course through his mother — who most of us probably now remember for her work with Bette Davis in Dark Victory or as Isabelle Linton in Wyler’s Wuthering Heights — he knew all the greats of the classic era (Welles himself but Marion Davies, Hearst, right up to Lumet, Gloria Vanderbilt) then on his own (the Beatles, the Stones, everyone in music really) right up to turning Larry Kramer’s A Normal Heart into a hit in the 80s at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Wonderfully atmospheric descriptions of Hollywood in the 40s, Dublin in the 50s, post-war New York, Swinging London etc.

The book’s conclusion about paternity has been disproved in Patrick McGilligan’s Young Orson: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane, but Lynsay-Hogg’s views on so much of the landmark work he helped create on film and in the theatre makes for an insightful and entertaining read: and the book is also an interesting exploration of the lure of celebrity as social currency that each of the protagonists deploys to advantage: would paternity have been such a question if the father were rumoured to be Joe Blow instead of Orson Welles?

 

José Arroyo