Problematic and protested against upon its release in 1980, and remaining so today, Dressed to Kill is nonetheless stylish and engrossing, showing off some truly great filmmaking. We talk Psycho and cinema’s transgender villains, why Nancy Allen should have been a star, Brian De Palma’s greatest deaths, and the version of Michael Caine that José doesn’t like.
We’re both glad to find that PIXOTE retains all of the power we remember it for from decades ago when we first saw it. A realist political film whose aim it is to reveal conditions of existence as a pre-condition for creating change. It’s a film highly judgmental of systemic corruption, particularly as it effects children, but very open and accepting about different ways of being, with one of the earliest, most rounded and complex characterisations of a teen trans character either of us remember seeing. In this podcast we discuss the achievements of the film; it’s realist ‘documentary’ style, the extraordinary performances from the children and from Marilia Pera as the ageing prostitute, the power of its imagery; how we suspect it would be even harder to make and show today then it was then; we discuss the context in which the film was shown on British Television, we compare it to Buñuel’s LOS OLVIDADOS/ THE YOUNG AND THE DAMNED, Fernano Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s CITY OF GOD, and Alan Clarke’s SCUM; and we discuss the racial mix of the group of children and its significance.
Here’s the trailer for the Channel 4 “Red Triangle” season, which helped create a context in which the film was then seen in its first UK television showing:
When the film was first screened on British Television it carried a Special Discretion Required symbol, as you can see below. The TV Times Review and Listing is by David Quinlan. Many thanks to Sheldon Hall for providing it to us,
Richard informs me that the above is the roundup of the week’s films, the one below is from the day’s TV listings (and unlike the film it misgenders Lilica!).
I’ve now rewatched all of Almodóvar’s films to The Flower of My Secret, and note that transvestites and/or transexuals appear in all of his films, without exception, often in important roles, often with cis women playing trans women or vice-versa (he deploys this interchangeability meaningfully). Even in this bit, which is really otherwise unnecessary to the story the film is telling, he finds a place for them. Almodóvar’s world is a world with Trans. This was of course also true of Warhol and Waters but they were underground and/or avant-garde. I can’t think of another mainstream figure, a pillar of European Art Cinema for the last forty years, of which this can be said.
Gender-bending in turn-of-the-century France, with the true story of Colette, probably the most famous female writer in French history and author, although they were published under her husband’s name, of the Claudine stories. With representational interests that give voice and presence to people and lifestyles one might not expect in a period film, and two very good central performances, one sensitive and complex, from Keira Knightley, and the other fabulously charming, Dominic West’s, there are things we like. But our overall response is disappointed, the positives dulled by a poor script, some badly developed characters, and direction that allows no metaphor to pass unvocalised.
Mike considers it a potentially smart film destroyed by a pointless fear of its audience not getting it; José sees it as the middle-of-the-road cinema it is, for better and worse. It’s worth a look in some respects, but we can’t claim it’s a good film.
The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.
I finally got to see The Danish Girl and was unexpectedly moved. My opinion of Tom Hooper hasn’t improved. There is a reason why his company’s called ‘Pretty Pictures’: he can make them pretty but he can’t mobilise that prettyness into meaningfulness. He’s obviously superb with actors and I think Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are believable and affecting; the former in a very risky part; also it feels like a kind of bourgeois filmmaking: all this delicate and thoughtful suffering in exquisite settings whilst thinking of art and higher things…and yet, on an emotional level, it still gets to you. It’s interesting.
There are complex themes around identity that revolve around sex, gender, but also artistic production. The need to express oneself is in this film as important as that of becoming one’s idea of who one wants to be in the face of harshly punitivie social prohibitions. The Danish Girl doesn’t necessarily present these ideas in a complex manner. For example, sometimes the film presents the question of sex as an essence struggling to overcome the boundaries of the wrong body that imprisons it; sometimes it shows gender in the very process of its construction as its costumed, painted and slipped on. Sometimes it confuses the various categories it seems to be dramatising. But what it might get muddled analytically it more than makes up for emotionally. The film gets us to understand and feel for ‘The Danish Girl’ and when he asks his wife ‘I don’t know what I’ve ever done to have earned such love’, I welled up. It’s a question often asked but this time we know the answer.
In The Danish Girl, there seems to be an overt contradiction between representing social transgression as a pathway to truth whilst deploying the most conservative aesthetics means to do so, which act as obfuscation, a kind of show-and-hide and perhaps an appeasement of potential audience reactions via gentle and extraneous pleasures. I at first thought Eddie Redmayne was too young to already seem so mannered. But then began reading the initial overdone gesture as a foreshadowing of the transformations to come and ended by thinking it a really marvellous performance. Vikander is just as good in a less showy part. Mathias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard and Ben Whishaw appear intermittently to offer unstinting support and very considerable glamour.