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ISSUE #8

V é r i t é NOVEMBER 2013 EDITION

FILM CRITICISM & CINEMATIC DISCUSSION

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR And Lesbian Representation in cinema

also...

State of Film Criticism / Fantastic Fest / Sitges / Van Gogh / reviews / and more...


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Editor’s Letter

H

ow time flies. Back in March, when we launched the magazine, we knew we were taking a leap into the great unknown. In a year that has seen film critics from some of the most established publications in the UK laid off, and the purpose of film criticism in the digital age questioned by Mark Kermode, Will Self and others, the idea of launching a new online film publication – particularly one with a focus on non-mainstream cinema – may have seemed like an act of madness. The jury is still out. On many levels this has been an incredibly successful launch year for us. Our contributors have covered many of the major worldwide festivals, we’ve introduced readers to exciting filmmakers from across the globe, seen the magazine heralded by established critics and filmmakers, hosted Q&As with exciting new talents and secured interviews with current hotshots like Nic Winding Refn and industry veterans such as Philip Kaufman. We approach

the end of the year with a shiny new blog firmly established and even more ambitious plans for the forthcoming year. And what of this month? Sticking with the topic of critics, Neil McGlone speaks to a selection of them on page 20 to gauge the temperature of the profession. We have extensive coverage of one of 2013s most controversial and brilliant films, Blue is the Warmest Colour, which includes a fascinating exploration of lesbian cinema through the ages from our new contributor Shelagh M Rowan-Legg. Our festival rounds-up has a genre-based flavour this time around, with reports from Sitges and Fantastic Fest, and there are typically diverse entries in our regular strands, including a top five strange detectives which contains a few surprises. Finally, as we head into the planning stages of our final issue of 2013, a huge thanks to all our supporters and you, the readers, for taking this journey with us. Viva Vérité!

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Thanks for reading, Jordan McGrath & David Hall

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“There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”

Frank Capra

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Contents Features

Columns

Reviews

In Living Colour - p8

Deconstructing the Myth - p44

Blue is the Warmest Colour - p56

Evrim Ersoy tells us why he thinks Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour is one of 2013’s best.

Evrim Ersoy continues his expert analysis into filmmakers we should be watching. This month’s Subject: Xu Haofeng.

Computer Chess - p57 Gravity - p58 Jeune Et Jolie - p59

The Love that Roars its Name - p14

Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg takes us on a journey and discusses the representation of lesbians and lesbianism in cinema.

Masters of Cinema - p48

Tom Gore plunges into the depths of Maurice Pialat and discusses his misunderstood masterpiece, Van Gogh.

Kill Your Darlings - p60 Leviathan - p61 Night Moves - p62 Parkland - p63

Then and Now - p20

In Defence... - p52

Neil McGlone inteviews numerous proffesional film critics and experts on the current state of film criticism in the industy.

Stuart Barr takes the reigns this month as he argues the timelessness of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence.

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Short Term 12 - p74


Join the Conversation

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IN LIVING COLOUR Abdellatif Kechiche’s intense, passionate tale of all-consuming first love leaves Evrim Ersoy spellbound

words by Evrim Ersoy

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bdellatif Kechiche is an unusual director – his work a warm mixture of social commentary and sprawling humanitarian drama pieces - with a focus on the different elements that dominate everyday lives. His first film, Poetical Refugee, follows the plight of a Tunisian immigrant named Jallel and the tentative friendships he strikes up with other vulnerable characters. Games Of Love and Chance explores the cruelty of the world of a group of French teenagers living within a housing project, Couscous combines the love of food with the pipe-dreams of a 60-year-old-Tunisian-man and Black Venus explores the true story of Saartjes Baartman – who became a freak-show attraction in early 19th Century Europe and was exploited by the aristocracy until her lonely death in 1815. Themes of social upheaval, the critique of the

state and society towards the immigrant population, and vicious class and race contrasts, all feature heavily in these films. The director uses the plight of the individual to explore larger issues at play and his characters are troubled, flawed and real. The teenagers in Games of Love and Chance are angry, shallow and obscene, while Slimane in Couscous juggles both a wife and a lover. Kechiche works hard to create fully-realized human beings with faults of their own. In a way, Blue is the Warmest Colour is a summation of the themes with which Kechiche is obsessed – it has elements of class warfare and gender politics – yet differs from his earlier work by managing to capture the innocence and passion of first love with a force and intensity rarely seen on the big screen. In the broadest terms, Blue is the Warmest Colour is about Adele (Adele Exarchopolous), a

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high-school student struggling to understand her own conflicting desires. Adele is a smart girl from a working family, early scenes establish her home life as solid but uninspiring with dinner spent in front of the television. She has a voracious appetite, both figuratively and literally, devouring literature and spaghetti with the same passion; her eyes burn with the fiery power of youth. With the persuasion of her friends, Adele ends up going on a couple of dates with a boy from school named Thomas ( Jeremie Lahurte), but finds the experience unfulfilling. Although she enjoys the time she spent with Thomas, Adele is left at odds with herself – the two have sex but it’s clear that Adele’s heart is not in it. In fact, her locking eyes with Emma (Lea Seydoux) briefly as the two couples pass each other during her first date with Thomas, is filled with more promise. When one of Adele’s female classmates plants an unexpected kiss on Adele’s lips and then gently rejects her, inner conflicts rise to the surface with unexpected intensity. Following a trip to a gay club with her friend,

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Adele runs into Emma again in a lesbian bar. It’s evident there’s a clear-cut attraction between them and before long Emma leaves her long-time relationship to begin a passionate affair. Kechiche’s greatest gift is his ability to capture his characters naturally. The extreme close-ups of Adele really convey a sense of who she is and where she wants to be. From the extended class discussions about La Vie de Marianne, which is perhaps the director’s only heavy-handed analogy, to the family dinners and conversations with her friends, Adele is a real-life teenager with wants, wishes, desires and confusions. Once Adele and Emma begin their relationship, the rest of the world gently disappears. Kechiche captures the bond between the two girls in an intelligent, unobtrusive manner: from their interaction sitting on a park bench, which leads to their first kiss, to the first time they end up in bed together, the whole thing feels like the natural progression of an uncontrollable, passionate affair. Much has been said about the sex scenes between


Adele and Emma and, to be frank, any writer focusing primarily on these scenes is missing the point of the film as a whole. However it’s also equally important to put these scenes in context and remark on their brilliance. The intensity of the lovemaking in Blue is the Warmest Colour is very close to the fierce passion in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution where the characters battle their emotions through physical contact. Here, Adele and Emma are not fighting the same way, but their passion is intense: the two almost want to consume each other, becoming one in the process. The way Kechiche stages these scenes is almost balletic: the girls’ bodies contort and twist into shapes of unnatural beauty when entwined. The desire emanating from them is palpable and filled with something beyond lust. There is none of the usual embarrassed hesitancy of other films showing teenage love: even Adele’s first uninspiring encounter with Thomas has an honesty which most other films lack. But of equal importance is Kechiche’s ability to place

the lovemaking within context: he establishes the girls’ desire for each other long before any actual physical contact occurs. Their first furtive glance as they pass each other is punctuated by the tribal sounds of a street-musician, primitive and strong. It is clear that this glance means more to Adele than any of the time spent in the company of Thomas. The same sound fills the soundtrack once more at the end of the film. Adele and Emma have been separated, and gone through the painful acceptance of their relationship’s dissolution. There is a hint of something else at play – perhaps a new beginning as Adele walks away from the gallery where Emma is having a major show for her paintings. However, Kechiche is too intelligent to offer any neat endings, and finishes the film with as much ambiguity and promise as he started it. Kechiche also riffs on themes of social difference between the girls. First it’s the contrast between their families. Adele’s parents ask Emma about her work prospects as an artist and advise her to find a nice boy

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“The discovery of the affair is one of the most brutal scenes in the film. Emma is understandably angry, vulgar in her fury and Adele seems helpless, almost catatonic.”

to marry to pay the bills, unaware of the real nature of the girls’ relationship, while Emma’s parents raise their glasses to love and feed the couple oysters – Adele’s first time eating them. This contrast briefly shown in the first half of the film directly affects what we see in the second half. Adele works in the kindergarten as an assistant teacher – her dream role to inspire students the same way her teachers inspired her. However, it also seems that the couple’s domestication leads to certain roles being forced upon her. We see Adele preparing a party for Emma and her friends – and with their arrival, serving drinks, food, making sure everyone is doing ok – the role of the ‘wife’ sitting almost uneasily on her. We see through her furtive glances that she’s ill at ease, that she finds Emma’s close relationship with friend Lile disconcerting and that she is covering her unease by trying to be the perfect host. Compare this to the earlier party in the film, thrown for her by her parents to celebrate her 18th birthday: Adele dances in the garden at dusk, carefree,

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beautiful and with a sense of maturity settling on her young features. Perhaps the sharp contrast is further realization that the affair will not be forever: whilst the passion between the two never loses its fire, the direction they take in love creates a natural divergence. Adele’s worry that Emma is losing interest leads her to have an affair with a fellow teacher from her school and is the catalyst to the separation of the lovers. The discovery of the affair is one of the most brutal scenes in the film. Emma is understandably angry, vulgar in her fury and Adele seems helpless, almost catatonic. Again Kechiche does not try to cover the cracks within his characters: we see Adele lying to Emma, knowing that it will not work – a trait earlier established within the film. Emma’s response is the first time we see the girl’s anger. It is brutal without being physical and the shock is as effective as expected. Kechiche explores Adele’s desolation at the loss of her lover, hiding her pain well, going to work, doing an endof-year show with the kids – but away from prying eyes


“The lead actresses anchor the film in honest and palpable desire. Exarchopolous – her face an incredible mirror of human emotion, desire, confusion, fear and anger – like all of love and history condensed into one teenage girl. ” she’s a mess: tears stream down her face as she smokes an endless array of cigarettes, watching the world like an ineffective observer. Her recovery is slow, brittle – with the sense that her armour might break at any minute. And yet, we know how strong she is and that her resilience will ultimately overcome this setback. Kechiche allows one final intimate rendezvous between the couple: a coffee in a cafe where for one brief second we are reminded of the passion which drew them together: an incredible scene that focuses the attention away from the overall picture, to pinpoint their desire before slowly pulling out again. Their breathless goodbye is as upsetting for them as it is for the audience. But at this point we know the two will never get back together: too much has changed in both of them – Emma has established a family with her new partner, Lille and Adele knows however much she might desire her, things can not be the same. The film ends with Adele’s visit to the art gallery and further establishment of Emma’s changing life – but it’s not a cruel ending.

Adele’s departure from the gallery punctuated by the sense of promise and continuation – is further accentuated by the original title of the film ‘The Life of Adele – Chapters 1+2’. Blue is the Warmest Colour is an incredible film: Kechiche captures the intensity and the downfall of first love in a universal way that never feels exploitative or overwrought – the emotions on display here are incredibly personal and yet each viewer will inevitably recognise moments they might have lived through. The lead actresses anchor the film in honest and palpable desire. Exarchopolous – her face an incredible mirror of human emotion, desire, confusion, fear and anger – like all of love and history condensed into one teenage girl. There is no other film in recent memory that captures the highs and lows of first love the way Blue is the Warmest Colour has done: intimate, intense and ultimately touching, this is one of the greatest achievements in cinema this year.

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Legacy of the Male Gaze 14

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T H E L OV E T H AT R OA R S I T S N A M E

Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg considers lesbian representation in c inema, the herteronormative lens and the legacy of the male gaze

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words by Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg

hether due to gender, race, religion or sexual orientation, certain groups have been, at least until recent years, ‘invisible’ in mainstream cinema. Representations of lesbians and lesbianism are dealt a double blow: not only have homosexuals been marginalised, shown as objects of scorn, ridicule, laughter and fear, but women have traditionally been the object of what critic Laura Mulvey called the male gaze of the camera. Coming out of post-structuralist critical theory of the 1970s, queer theory sought to explore queer representation in cinema, the natural and social contructs, and has evolved from queer readings of film texts into explorations of queer cinema, investigating representations of sexual identity and challenging the heteronormative representation of culture more common in film. Lesbian

representation has evolved as well: from Marlene Dietrich’s cross-dressing lounge singer in Morocco to Shirley Maclaine’s doomed schoolteacher in The Children’s Hour and Annette Benning’s family-oriented doctor in The Kids are All Right, lesbians have been shown as criminals, vampires, often ridden with guilt and disgust, sometimes well-adjusted, but more often than not, seen through the heteronormative lens. Should only those with direct experience make films about, or represent in film, a marginalized group? If that were the case, I expect the world cinema catalogue would be significantly reduced. But when a group has been portrayed in film almost exclusively through stereotypes, at what point would the audience understand that such a portrayal is inaccurate? And can an accurate portrayal even exist, as within any group, there are wide variations? American experimental filmmaker and lesbian activist

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Pandora’s Box

Dracula’s Daughter

Barbara Hammer wrote that in film, perhaps “there is no lesbian to deconstruct, as the discourse of the gendered subject is within a heterosexist authority system.” If such a group is to be represented in film as part of the wider fabric of society, how and by whom they are represented, becomes as important as the fact of representation itself. In her work on feminist film theory, Mulvey asserts that the active viewer of films is assumed to be straight men; women are to be gazed at for their pleasure, even if they are lesbians. Even with the advent of the new queer cinema, beginning in the 1980s, which saw an increase in depictions of lesbians, often by lesbian filmmakers, such depictions are arguably still (at least in classical narrative cinema) within a heteronormative state. That representations of lesbians have gone from generally negative to somewhat positive, and the acceptance of such representations by mainstream audiences, is certainly to be commended. It’s interesting to look at the history of lesbian representation, to discover how it has evolved, and where it is going. The early years of cinema have very few representations of lesbians. The few that were there, tended to show

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lesbians as predatory, or living a forced celibacy, such as in Pandora’s Box (1928). The Countess is shown as masculine, lusting after the sexually insatiable Lulu, who, while not discouraging the Countess’ advances, never gives her any fulfilment. Like the Countess, Amy Jolly (Dietrich) wears a tuxedo in Morocco (1930), and hints at bisexuality in an infamous screen kiss with a woman. Greta Garbo played a real-life Swedish monarch (and alleged lesbian) in Queen Christina (1933), in which she calls herself a ‘bachelor’ as opposed to an old maid. One type of lesbian that could be allowed some fulfilment was the vampire lesbian, such as in Dracula’s Daughter (1936), though any lesbian content is covert as opposed to overt. The Hayes Production Code, implemented in the early 1930s in Hollywood, limited what could be shown on screen, including what was termed ‘sexual perversion’. So the image of the aggressive and dangerous lesbian continued. This was also when lesbian representation was frequently divided into the butch/femme dichotomy. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) showed a butch Mrs. Danvers’ obsession with the very femme (and dead) former Mrs. DeWinter; the glamorous and yet masculine


Rome, Open City

The Children’s Hour

Ingrid is the lover of the wannabe showgirl Marina in Rome, Open City (1945). Films such as Caged (1950) and Girls in Prison (1956) were set in women’s prisons, showing the very butch wardens lusting after the very femme inmates. The Children’s Hour (1961), based on the Lillian Hellman play, was arguably the first attempt in Hollywood mainstream film to give a more sympathetic lesbian representation. And yet, Martha, who at the end of the film admits to her love for her best friend Karen, hangs herself. To be a lesbian was to be guilty, to be ashamed and to be wrong. It wasn’t until the 1970s that images of lesbians began to change. This was in part due to the emergence of more lesbian filmmakers, such as Barbara Hammer, who turned to experimental film to explore their identity. In fact, screenings of many of these films, such as Hammer’s Dyketactics (1974) were frequently restricted to all-female audiences, in order to prevent male misappropriation of lesbian films that included lovemaking scenes. B. Ruby Rich notes that much of the motivation of the lesbian experimental film movement came from the per-

spective that lesbian sexuality is different from heterosexuality, and so films from that perspective (still fairly new at this point) would have to be different in form and content. But even mainstream cinema was slowly adapting to more positive and honest images. Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979) features Meryl Streep as Allen’s ex-wife, now a lesbian; the character might be disseminated in the film through the eyes of her ex-husband, but is shown in a healthy and happy relationship. The same kind of happy, lesbian couple can be seen in Robert Altman’s A Perfect Couple (1979). It was perhaps these two factors that led to an emergence of films centring on coming out and lesbian identity that found larger audiences in the early 1980s. In many cases the general narrative trajectory was the same: a woman who had been only with men meets a lesbian, or becomes acquainted with the lesbian community, as a prelude to coming out. This was seen in independent narrative films such as Personal Best (1982), Lianna (1983) and Desert Hearts (1985). Of films such as these, academic Mandy Merck wrote,

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Bound

“While lesbian representation in film (both in front of and behind the camera) has increased, it is still far from common. A multitude of voices is necessary to convey the complexities and variations of representation, and representations of lesbians or anyone with a non-heteronormative identity is not just reduced to the act of sex.” “The lesbian romance is an ideal subject for a cinema which takes its sex seriously and in some sense sells on that basis. It provides a sufficient degree of difference from dominant heterosexual conventions to be seen as “realistic”, “courageous” and “questioning”, but it does this by offering … more of the traditional cinematic use of the figure of the woman to signify sexual pleasure, sexual problems, sex itself.” For Jamie Stuart, lesbian representations such as these were the exception, as most lesbians in mainstream film were still those who either had serious problems, preyed on straight women, or were merely the sidekick. The late 1980s and 1990s saw a large variety of lesbian films and characters, ranging from gleeful criminals in Bound (1996) to young girls searching for identity in Lost and Delirious (2001). This did not stop some seemingly negative images still occurring, though, in films such as Basic Instinct (1992) and Monster (2003). Some lesbian directors, such as Patricia Rozema (I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing, When Night is Falling) and Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) were able to find a space of expression between Hollywood and indie cinema. With

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many gay filmmakers working in mainstream cinema (though they are mostly men), the proliferation of LGBT film festivals around the world, as well as the inclusion of films with LGBT content in just about all film festivals, it would seem that images of gays and lesbians is becoming more common, in all types of characters. Which brings us to Blue is the Warmest Colour, written and directed by Abdetatif Kechiche, based on the graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh. Winner of the Palme D’Or, and on release in the UK this month, it tells the story of the romance between Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux). In a blog post about the adaptation, Maroh (a lesbian) wrote that she didn’t only write the book for her community, but for those she felt either didn’t understand the lesbian perspective (not that there is only one), had stereotypes or prejudices, or were/are homophobic. For her, this was a story of love, “how it builds, collapses, and what remains of the love that was awoken after a break-up, a mourning, a death.” Certainly, any human who has felt love could understand and appreciate this representation, regardless of the


Monster

sexual orientation of those involved. And yet, this very personal story was originally written from the perspective of someone who has intimate knowledge of the difficulties encountered by teenagers and young people learning their lesbian identity. Is it right, or appropriate, to then have this story told on screen by a straight man? Would it have the same perspective, the same understanding, and the same impact? The film has already had controversy, first due to statements by the lead actresses who claim that Kechiche’s directing methods bordered on ‘torture’, and Kechiche’s response, saying the film was now “sullied”, and he felt “humiliated, dishonoured [and] living with a curse.” Critics have praised the film, and Maroh wrote that for her, the adaptation is another version or vision of the reality of her story, and “one couldn’t possibly annihilate the other.” She sees the film as Kechiche’s evolving from his perspective on her text, so she for the most part accepted it. But where she drew the line was at the sex scene, frequently commented on in reviews. At the screening in Cannes, she saw it as “a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex, which turned

into porn.” Apparently, there was nervous laughter at the screening; Maroh felt that straight people laughed because they didn’t understand it and found it ridiculous; gay people laughed because it wasn’t convincing at all, and found it ridiculous. Rich writes that in cinematic representation, “the visualization of nonvoyeuristic, authentic lesbian lovemaking should be attempted.” Should the film be considered, then, just another coming-of-age love story that happens to be about two women? If the film is specifically trying to relate the lesbian experience, will the representation be accurate and honest, if its creator (or in this case, adaptor) is a straight male? While lesbian representation in film (both in front of and behind the camera) has increased, it is still far from common. A multitude of voices is necessary to convey the complexities and variations of representation, and representations of lesbians or anyone with a non-heteronormative identity is not just reduced to the act of sex.

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Then

and

Now

a film critic survey Neil McGlone invited film writers and critics who have been in the business for 20 years or more to discuss how film criticism and the role of the critic has evolved in that time. In this excerpt, the focus is on the changes the digital age has brought to the profession. While the list is male-dominated it should be noted that several female critics were invited to respond but politely declined to take part. A full version of this discussion will be available separately, very soon.

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List of film writers/critics who took part:

AM =

AA = DS = DT = JR = DTP = CF = NA = NJ = TC = LM = TR = GG =

Adrian Martin - Film & Arts critic from Melbourne, currently Associate Professor, Film Culture and Theory at Monash University Antti Alanen – Film writer and programmer at the National Audiovisual Archive in Helsinki David Stratton – Film writer, lecturer & TV presenter, currently writes for The Australian David Thomson – Film writer and historian based in the US Jonathan Rosenbaum – Film writer and critic David Thompson – Film writer and documentary film director and producer Chris Fujiwara – Film critic, writer & current director of the Edinburgh Film Festival Nigel Andrews – Film writer & critic for the Financial Times Nick James – Film writer & current editor of Sight & Sound Tom Charity – Film writer, critic & programmer Luc Moullet – French film critic and filmmaker Tony Rayns – Film writer, screenwriter, filmmaker & programmer Geoff Gardner – Film writer, cinephile & former director of the Melbourne Film Festival

interview by Neil McGlone How has film criticism and the role of a critic evolved since you first started? AM: In almost every important way, it has not changed at all. The role of a film critic is not, in the first place, defined by an institutional location. It is a calling, an existential choice, a personal vocation! Or else, it’s not worth a damn. In the first place, the role of a critic is to write or speak or teach, and to do it well. To present a case, tell a story about a film. To get beneath its surface, to get inside its logic, somehow. To maybe draw around it a context, or connect it to other things in the world. There are no rules in criticism, no definite procedures. Every piece written by every single person must captivate and persuade. Criticism should be surprising! It needs to include thought and emotion, experience and reflection. AA: Recent years have been catastrophic. Since Spring 2013 there is not a single professional critic in Finland, in the sense of being able to make a living with criticism.

that kind of reviewing hasn’t essentially changed since (though Variety reviews fewer films than it once did). I started television reviewing two years later and newspaper print reviewing two years after that. Neither has changed since in my experience. DT: Probably rather less than one might think at first. If I reckon that I began to take notice of such things in the late 50s, the great novelty was the way in the 60s and 70s a film critic became a significant person and desirable job. But that was because of several waves of good films as the business wavered and nearly died. And because of the dramatic way in which film was taken up by academia. So much of that has passed now, and the medium itself is hardly adequately described as film, movie or cinema. We need a new word for it, for it is not what it was. I think it’s still the case that writing serious, personal criticism or commentary is about as crazy as writing novels and poetry. This is to say, essential.

JR: Thanks to academia, the Internet, and other factors, DS: I started reviewing for a trade paper (Variety) in 1984 and there are many more forms of criticism and outlets for its

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dissemination now. We also have more ways of discovering these forms and outlets in the present, at least if we’re interested. The conversations and exchanges begin more quickly and can travel much greater distances. There’s much more good stuff and much more bad stuff, which means the task of determining and then focusing on what one is looking for becomes much more complicated—unless one is passive and simply follows the industry’s discourse, which of course is what most people tend to do, one way or another, and what most people also tended to do half a century ago. Part of the big difference nowadays is the degree to which criticism becomes either canonized or else completely ignored, depending on whether or not it’s available online. DTP: I began in the 1970s reading people like Pauline Kael and David Thomson, and I don’t think there are many new names since then of comparable stature. Newspaper critics come and go; some have obviously more knowledge than others. There are a few excellent people writing e.g. Jonathan Romney (though he has just been fired), but the best writing is in the few remaining quality magazines, Sight and Sound, Film Comment etc. I can’t speak with any authority about writers in languages other than English, and I generally don’t have time for blogs. But I think it’s only serious cinephiles who actually care about who is writing.

CF: Since I started, the Internet grew and newspapers declined. One effect of this dual development has been the de-professionalisation of film criticism. NA: The critic has less power than he once had - or seems to have had - in affecting the fortunes of ‘big’ commercial movies rather than small independent ones. (He always affects those). There are fewer star/personality critics than there once were - which is good for reasoned argument instead of the kind of unquestioned authority a ‘star’ critic had. NJ: Film criticism, in terms of its significance, has largely been a Franco-American affair. British film critics usually come out of a less professional, more ‘gentleman (or gentlewoman) amateur’ tradition that goes back to Addison and Steele and the 18th Century. Nonetheless, the wider sense of decline in the importance of the film critic has even registered in this country, which has rarely regarded the film critic as an important figure of influence and absolutely refuses to now. That decline was already under way when I began writing about film in 1990. The listings magazines went to war and soon diminished in importance in parallel with the decline of repertory cinemas. Newspapers took over much of the magazine function but did it less seriously and, as the 90s progressed, increasingly pandered to the idea of the mass audience. Now many newspapers think they can do without intelligent writing

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altogether but they’re wrong and the smart publishers have already realised that mistake.

in recent decades. But the number of outlets for such writing is shrinking fast, so it’s hard to be optimistic that we’ll see much more such. TC: When I was a teenager I used to read Derek Malcolm in My impression is that as cinema-going becomes a more The Guardian and David Robinson in The Times religiously specialist activity, the role of “consumer advice” critics is anyevery Friday in the school library. Mostly the films they were way shrinking. It’s hard to think of any critic now writing in most enthusiastic about did not come to my town, York, for Britain who has palpable influence on filmgoers in the way several months, but eventually they might show at the BFI’s that some critics and publications did in the 1970s. At the regional film theatre at the University. It was a 16-mile drive, same time, though, the appetite for thoughtful writing about and I used to borrow my mother’s moped to make the pilgrim- film is also diminishing. So criticism of both kinds is gradually age. Or persuade her she wanted to see the film too, in which dying away. My sense is that criticism will become an academcase we traveled by car. What’s that got to do with criticism? ic discipline only before long. Those were the only critics I read or had need of for a couple of years, and they had an immense authority and influence on Since the birth of the Internet and film blogging, how me at the time (this was the late 1970s). do you believe this has helped or hindered film critiWhen I started as a professional film critic, it was a contrib- cism? utor to Time Out magazine in the late 80s. I would work for them for more than 15 years, a period that overlapped with AM: Let us place a moratorium on all current discussions of the birth of the Internet. I saw firsthand how the influence of the ‘crisis of film criticism’ (newspaper columnists losing their that publication diminished dramatically over that time. For a jobs), the ‘death of film theory’ (academics getting old) and while it was pretty much essential for anyone looking to navi- the ‘lost continent of cinephilia’ (the last of the murky 16mm gate London’s huge and multifaceted film scene, which even in prints). The forms of writing on cinema may not be exactly the the 90s included a rich repertory sector (no, not rich in finan- same as they used to be, they may not be using the same tools cial terms, but still you could find myriad treasures from classic and materials, but they are alive and well. Film criticism has Hollywood, the European new waves, Africa, Asia and South returned, in the digital age, to its true and rightful place: the America each and every week). When I went back to London shadows, the margins. Proliferating everywhere, on a thousand for the first time in a couple of years this Spring, I looked but blogs and websites and magazines, but with no solid, permacould not find a single copy of Time Out. Online, despite the nent, institutional home, no centre. obvious calibre of the film team, it was a challenge to find anyLet us seize a new era in which film criticism can once thing on the rep/alternative cinema circuit, such as it is now. again be ephemeral and explosive, cosmopolitan and stylish, Of course most, if not all, of the films that might have been voluminous and unpredictable, uncompromising and radical. playing in those venues 20 years ago are surely available via Unpaid, and unloved except by the Happy Few – except that cable, Lovefilm, Netflix, DVD, Blu-ray or Pirate Bay. And you now, around the world, those isolated few have grown into a can find an infinitely wider array of writing on cinema online connected multitude. We live too much in nostalgic awe of than you ever could back then. [Film] culture and [film] crit- everlasting cultural monuments, always very local, even paroicism has fragmented, even exploded. And like all explosions, chial in their nature: cinémathèques and libraries, publications there is destruction, and there is energy. that last fifty years, film festivals with the same old heroes still LM: I find it difficult to write about criticism in general. And, as I see that most of the critics who participated in this survey are Americans, I prefer to make my comments based on the French case, which I know better. I will note, however, that while in 1955-1970 French criticism was far superior in quality to American criticism, the opposite is true nowadays thanks to Rosenbaum, Bordwell and so many others. TR: “Evolved” seems like the wrong word. There’s been a distinction between ‘serious’ writing about film and journalistic reviewing at least since the 1920s, and it still exists. Some “consumer advice” criticism in newspapers and magazines is more sophisticated than it used to be (better informed, better written, more analytical); that reflects the rise of “film studies”

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in power. The rapid changeovers in technologies and viewing modes, canons and criteria, are bringing out an anxious, conservative, homing reflex in too many of us. As the philosopher Norman O. Brown once wisely advised: get lost! AA: The critic’s profession in Finland is in jeopardy, almost moribund, but I believe in its rebirth. Only the information technology industry has benefitted financially from the Internet. A change must come.

DS: The more opinions the better. More writing on film, amateur or professional, is always welcome. DT: It has added to everything I spoke about in 1. It encouraged everyone to air their views and I fear that that hastens the


“There is a genuine sense of liberation about the flourishing of much Internet film criticism, and many pompous folk who in the past just got lucky and landed a real job in film criticism have been exposed by the quality of expression from those who write for free.” futility of such views. It’s easier to review, but harder to make a living as a reviewer. Equally, it’s easier for kids to make films, but harder for anyone to make good work. JR: I’ve responded to much of this above. Basically, a few wellaimed snowballs have turned into an avalanche, for better and for worse. One has to carve one’s own snowballs out of this morass and onslaught, but back then, there weren’t so many choices. DTP: I can’t say I take it very seriously, it’s mostly loose opinion and highly variable. I am sure there are exceptions but I prefer hard copy! CF: The Internet has helped the dissemination of film criticism, and if it has hindered the ability of some people to earn a living through film criticism, it has also created professional opportunities for others. NA: The ‘Net has made criticism or its presentation in newspapers, more facile. Instantaneity of opinion; star ratings, short-attention-span appeal. NJ: There is a genuine sense of liberation about the flourishing of much Internet film criticism, and many pompous folk who in the past just got lucky and landed a real job in film criticism have been exposed by the quality of expression from those who write for free. Nonetheless it is essential that journalism as a whole, and film criticism as a part of it, find a level of professional commercial use that’s sustainable. We don’t know what that is yet but I believe it’s attainable. Everybody has had to up their game to keep going, and that’s got to be a good thing. LM: French critics no longer fill their role as selectors and detectors of those values and films that may actually have a life in the future have posterity. Too often, they are content with

detailing some of a movie’s characteristics: objectivity of course... As a result the reader doesn’t know which way to turn. Is this rather good? Or bad? Difficult to know for sure. And almost every movie under scrutiny is studied on the same terms. Perhaps it is a fear of being sued (as has been known to happen on occasion, when the analysis of a film is shown on the negative side) or of being wrong (hence one favourable remark here, an unfavourable one there). On the whole, the reviews themselves are mostly dull. The critic never shocks anyone, but neither does he interest them. The reader learns more from the star rating than from the reviewer’s text. TR: Even in online film magazines (Rouge, Senses of Cinema, etc) the level of film criticism is sometimes pretty low: under-informed, over-academic or just plain stupid. Most comments on forum sites and the like are unsophisticated at best, illiterate at worst. Cine-literacy is a diminishing asset. So the Internet’s “democratisation” of film criticism hasn’t helped. But this decline would most likely have happened even without the Internet. 21st Century society and culture are different from 20th Century society and culture. The great days of film criticism are in the past, and the same may well be true of cinema itself. TC: Clearly the Internet has put a lot of professional film critics out of work. Including (nearly) me. Even now, Christopher Tookey tweets that The Daily Mail is cutting him loose come December. The function of the reviewer as an arbiter of taste is redundant. Part of me thinks that’s a good thing, but good critics do more than give a thumbs up or down, they also explore and suggest other ways of thinking about movies. General readers and filmgoers are going to have to look harder for those ideas. The Internet has also given all cinephiles (and everyone else besides) a platform and a forum. I have to say that is a net gain.

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Vérité’s Top 5 Strange Detectives

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5. Compromising Positions (1985) The first subversion of the detective genre within Compromising Positions is that the actual police detective – played by Raul Julia – is a secondary character with most of the sleuthing being taken care of by frustrated housewife and former journalist Judith Singer (Susan Sarandon in one of her best roles). Director Frank Perry once again delves into the dark under current beneath the seemingly comfortable surface of an affluent American suburb – a subject he’d previously addressed with bleak symbolism in the unique and unforgettable cult favourite The Swimmer (1968). In unravelling the mystery behind the murder of a philandering local dentist, Judith Singer slowly unveils the hollow aspirations of upper middle-class suburbia and the jaded boredom it creates, which in this case has deadly repercussions. Infused with sharp, daringly raunchy and sardonic dialogue, Compromising Positions irreverently mocks both the materialistic values of modern America as well as the well-worn tropes of predominately male detective fiction. Holding it all together is the endearing comedy rapport between Julia and Sarandon, although most of the best lines come from Judith Ivey as a promiscuous and unrepentant neighbour. Robert Makin

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4. They Might Be Giants (1971) Definitely one of the oddest cinematic appropriations of Sherlock Holmes and a distinctly unique interpretation of Don Quixote, They Might Be Giants fights the age-old universal battle between the heart and the mind across a cold, uncaring and money hungry early 70s New York. Ever since his wife passed away, millionaire Justin Playfair (George C.Scott) has believed he’s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary fictional detective. While his brother attempts to have him committed in order to retrieve his estate, psychoanalyst Dr Mildrid Watson ( Joanne Woodward) comes to the rescue. Gradually forming a bond with Playfair, they both go in search of his arch nemesis Moriarty. Although flawed and uneven, with shared themes and ideas that would eventually be more successfully fleshed out in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King (1991), it has an infectious lunacy and solid central performances from the eccentric and likable pairing of Scott and Woodward. Robert Makin

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3. Gumshoe (1971) Albert Finney plays Eddie Ginley – a delusional bingo caller whose crappy jokes and casual racism are as dated as his haircut. On his 31st birthday, after a session with his psychoanalyst, Ginley decides to put an advert in the local paper offering his services as a private eye. Almost immediately he’s summoned to the Plaza hotel to pick up a mysterious package from ‘the Fat Man’. Inside the parcel is a photo of a girl, a thousand pounds in cold hard cash and a gun. Dressed in the obligatory trench coat and trilby, Ginley’s gumshoe fantasies gradually become a hazardous reality. Stephen Frears’ directorial debut relishes the odd paradox of 1940s hard-boiled American crime fiction and the kitchen sink naturalism of 1970s Liverpool. Ginley’s noir narration constantly contradicts his mundane surroundings of bingo halls, the labour exchange, terraced houses, greasy spoons, grotty flats and their less than spectacular inhabitants. That is until both worlds coalesce into a feasible plot that’s ripe with authenticity. It’s a shame Ginley was never given another case to crack. Robert Makin

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2. To Sleep so as to Dream (1986) In Kaizo Hayashi’s first film as director, an eccentric private eye and his equally idiosyncratic partner are hired to find the whereabouts of a kidnapped actress. It’s a journey that soon leads them into a dreamlike netherworld where the missing actress may well be trapped inside an unfinished silent movie. What begins with a procedural deciphering of bizarre clues gradually evolves into a surreal and evocative meditation of time, loss, and resolution. I was lucky enough to catch a screening of this beguiling mid-eighties obscurity at London’s Zipangu Fest Japanese Film Festival last year and I’m glad I did. It’s an elusive film to track down, which some would say adds to its charm and mystery, undoubtedly reflecting the film’s content. A deeply magical, humorous and visually masterful low budget homage to Japanese cinema’s silent era, To Sleep So As To Dream is also one of the most imaginative and playful reinventions of the detective thriller. Robert Makin

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1. The Long Goodbye (1973) In certain respects Robert Altman’s neo-noir The Long Goodbye is an extremely faithful screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel. There’s the creepy, brooding sense of melancholia and doom, sadistic bad guys, sudden, shocking violence and a serpentine plot steeped in seediness, corruption, paranoia and betrayal. But then Altman chose to set the story in modern-day Los Angles and cast Elliot Gould as the iconic Phillip Marlowe, a role mostly associated with Humphrey Bogart. Laid back, unconventional and quick-witted, Gould’s Marlowe is a cat lover in a world of dog owners, and amongst the deaths and the missing money the biggest mystery is actually how the film works so damn well. Hollywood veteran Sterling Hayden brings an unforgettable presence as washed-up alcoholic writer Roger Wade – so convincing as a mentally unhinged man on the edge of sanity it’s occasionally terrifying to watch. The Long Goodbye isn’t just a film I enjoy and admire – it’s one I would find hard to live without. Robert Makin

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Remember the

Alamo

James Marsh gets down and dirty with the freaks and geeks at Fantastic Fest

I

words by James Marsh

t’s a balmy September night along the desolate strip malls of North West Austin. A commotion breaks out in a parking lot as a man and woman square off against each other. A crowd gathers. The woman, mid-thirties, smeared in tattoos, knocks back a shot of whiskey. Her adversary, diminutive Hollywood movie star Elijah Wood slaps her hard across the face. The crowd cheers. Wood then slams down his own plastic cup of whiskey before his female opponent, festival director Kristen Bell, lunges forward and connects her open palm against his million-dollar mug. The crowd cheers again. Is this some dispute over screening times of Grand Piano, Wood’s new De Palma-esque thriller that had its World Premiere earlier in the week? No, this is just another night at Fantastic Fest. Now in its ninth year, Fantastic Fest was originally conceived by Ain’t It Cool’s Harry Knowles and Alamo

Drafthouse impresario Tim League back in 2005. What began as a ramshackle weekend of screening foreign and indie genre films for the benefit of the devoted Austin population, has steadily metamorphosed into the largest celebration of genre cinema in the USA today – an eight-day celebration of the world’s best new horror, action, martial arts and fantasy films. The festival programmes dozens of world, international and North American premieres from every corner of the globe, and this year’s line-up featured more than 60 features and 30 shorts from as far-flung origins as Japan, Argentina, India and Norway. High brow art-house fare screens comfortably alongside low budget sleaze and celebrity guests happily mingle alongside regular festival-goers in an egalitarian utopia of film loving, beer chugging, BBQ devouring bliss – all under the incomparable cinematic Mecca that is the Alamo Drafthouse.

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Escape from Tomorrow

What takes Fantastic Fest to the next level, beyond the faultless programming, wonderful clientele, amazing food and drink served right to your seat in a zero-tolerance-to-talking-and-mobile-phone-use environment, are the events. You may come to the capital of the Lone Star state to savour some incredible cinema that this year included Keshales & Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves, Ari Folman’s The Congress, Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius and Alex de la Iglesia’s Witching & Bitching, but you will stay for the Chaos Reigns Karaoke Party, the Nerd Rap Throwdown and the Danger Gods stuntman panel. Fantastic Fest might be the only internationally recognised award ceremony that insists winners chug a beer upon acceptance of their award, and it’s almost certainly the only festival that has its guests don gloves and headgear to settle their differences in the boxing ring. At the end of the day, however, even a festival with this many bells and whistles is only as good as the films it screens. Positioned after the Toronto International Film Festival but before Sitges in Spain, Fantastic Fest is perfectly poised to host a number of US premieres for films working this particular circuit. Asia was particularly well represented this year, with Sion Sono’s delightfully gonzo yakuza comedy Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, Hitoshi

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Matsumoto’s divisive yet bafflingly brilliant exploration of sadomasochism R100 and Stephen Chow’s refreshingly unpretentious Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons all making a strong impact. The European highbrow contingent was well represented too, with Katrin Gebbe’s brutally mistitled Nothing Bad Can Happen destroying everyone who saw it with its remorselessly unflinching look at faith and persecution. Dutch crime drama The Resurrection of a Bastard from Guido van Driel found beauty in its terrifying examination of a genuinely monstrous human being looking for redemption. Also hailing from Holland, Alex van Warmerdam’s almost indefinable Borgman, in which a persecuted homeless man literally emerges from the earth and proceeds to dismantle the lives of a randomly chosen middle-class family. The American independent movement is always out in full force at Fantastic Fest, and this year proved to be no exception. Randall Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow carried plenty of advance buzz with it into the festival, in which a family holiday to Disneyland goes awry when the father begins having freakish hallucinations that threaten to expose something sinister at work within the Magic Kingdom. Filmed guerrilla style on location,


We Are What We Are

without permission or Disney’s blessing, many thought the film would never be released. But here it is, and it’s a deranged oddity that deserves to be seen purely because it exists. Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a grim yet startling revenge drama featuring a lead performance from Macon Blair that might just be the most incredible piece of acting you see all year. Meanwhile, Jim Mickle brilliantly re-works Mexican cannibal drama We Are What We Are into an American Gothic classic, while Evan Katz’s Cheap Thrills is a hellishly enjoyable “what if ?” nightmare that sees Pat Healy’s evening spiral out of control when he bumps into an old school friend. Winners of this year’s Fantastic Awards included Frank Pavich’s incredible documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, which attempts to split open the head of the eccentric Chilean filmmaker to get a taste of what his interpretation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic might have looked like. The film not only won the Best Documentary award, but also the Audience Award, quite possibly the most prestigious accolade of the festival. The Next Wave award is really the biggest gong on the ticket, awarded to a promising first-time filmmaker for a debut that really blew people away. This year, few could dispute Canadian Matt Johnson bagging the award for

his hilarious yet horrifying film, The Dirties, which he co-wrote and stars in. The story of two high school students who set out to make a movie in which they murder the bullies who make their daily lives hell, spirals out of control as the lines between reality and fiction become increasingly, and terrifyingly blurred. It’s an impressive, prescient and seemingly effortless piece of work from a young filmmaker who still has plenty more to say. The future looks bright for Fantastic Fest. With new spin-off events and (increasingly violent) party ideas emerging organically all the time it comes as little surprise that this year’s festival was forced to decamp from its regular South Lamar venue to a newly opened Alamo Drafthouse location on the other side of town, while League and his fellow investors totally renovate and expand the property. Come next September, South Lamar: The Revenge promises to be up and running, boasting more screens, better sound systems, and as always, fully equipped to play anything from 35mm to DCP in support of fantastic filmmakers everywhere. But right now, back in the parking lot, it’s Hobbit-slapping time.

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Where Cinema Thrives

Sitges is a textbook Mediterranean town with lovely beaches, fresh seafood, a distinctly laissez-faire vibe and a truly fantastic festival. Regular attendee Evrim Ersoy notes this year’s highlights

F

words by Evrim Ersoy

or a large part of the year, Sitges is a holiday resort attracting a steady influx of visitors with bars, restaurants, beaches and examples of Catalan modernism noucentista and neoclassic architecture – culminating in a carnival that sees the town filled to the rafters. However the end of high season sees a quieter mood prevail and the resort becomes a capital for the film world. Celebrating genre filmmaking, as it has done for the past 46 years, Sitges Festival Internacional De Cinema Fantastic De Catalunya attracts the good, the great and the legendary to this little coastline town – featuring what is the most comprehensive snapshot of horror, science fiction and fantasy films of the upcoming year. The festival is held across three venues with a number of other places hosting free screenings, side events and master classes. The Auditori is the largest auditorium, situated within the purpose-built Melia cinema, which also acts as the festival HQ. Comfortably hosting 1200 guests, the Auditori is equipped with state of the art sound and visual systems. In the centre of town are Cine El Retiro and Cine El Prado: venues closely linked to the festival and the town’s history and identity. They also have the original screen and ceiling paintings intact, giving the whole venue an atmosphere of fading grandeur. Sitges is a by and large egalitarian festival: the invisible barrier that haunts most other festivals doesn’t exist. Guests roam the lobby of the Melia going about their daily business, while the occasional fan might pluck up

the courage to request a photo. It’s a common sight to see luminaries such as Alejandro Jodorowsky or Takashi Miike sitting with each other having a late afternoon drink. Any festival will rise or fall by its content and it’s no exaggeration to say that Sitges might have the best selection in the world within the fantastic genre. Both anticipated A-titles and little known Indies get equal billing, as well as a healthy dose of local films, shorts and docs. The ‘Brigadoon’ strand screens tributes, documentaries and other low-budget mayhem almost round-the-clock while the late night themed marathons show the titles that did not fit anywhere else in the programme. Any genre film that deserves to be seen finds a slot within the festival, playing to an incredibly appreciative audience. Over the course of 250 films, the audience claps every time the festival logo is on-screen and when the name of the director and the title of the film appear. It’s a ritual that highlights the love and passion these dedicated cinemagoers bring to each screening. The organizers of the festival are always approachable, friendly and passionate about a project that clearly gives them as much joy to organize as it does to attend. The boundless enthusiasm is almost impossible to ignore. Sitges is an experience any self-respecting cinephile must try one day: a nine-day dream, ensconced in a cocoon of celluloid, surrounded by the most beautiful backdrop imaginable. Here are some highlights from this year:

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COHERENCE director James Ward Byrkit A dinner party between old friends turns into something much more cerebral when the passing of a comet cuts the power across the neighborhood. Playing out like a demented stage play, Coherence is one of the smartest and most entertaining thrillers of the year, carefully blending beginner’s physics, raucous banter and sly observations about the human condition, this indie wonder deserves all the accolades it has been receiving. A must-see for lovers of intelligent, low-key cinema, Coherence heralds the promise of even greater things to come from director James Ward Byrkit.

RIGOR MORTIS director Juno Mak Pop idol Juno Mak turns his hand to directing with this tribute/re-boot of Chinese supernatural and vampire films of the 1980s. Chin Siu Ho plays Chin Siu Ho – a genre film star whose glory days are firmly behind him. When he moves into an old tenement building to put an end to his misery, he finds himself at the epicenter of a battle between good and evil, between the cruel deeds of Man and the kindness of his neighbours. With a cast of some of the greats of genre cinema, Mak brings back a sense of terror and melancholy to iconic images from Hong Kong’s golden age – whether it’s the hopping vampire or the procession of ghostly monks. His use of slow motion, coupled with one of the best scores of recent years, creates an atmospheric, heartfelt piece considerably darker than anything we have seen lately. Marred only by a cop-out ending, Rigor Mortis is a fresh start from a new filmmaker who promises to shake things up with what seems to be a brand new perspective.

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ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE director Jim Jarmusch There’s not much in terms of plot in Jarmusch’s new tale – not even by his usual laid-back standards. However the acting and atmosphere is so nuanced and beautiful you are more than happy to let the master wander through the slow love story between Tilda Swinton’s Eve and Tom Hiddleston’s Adam. Adam is a hermetic vampire musician living in Detroit whilst Swinton’s Eve roams the streets of Marrakech, meeting John Hurt for clandestine conversations. When Adam’s depression threatens to push him over the edge, Eve travels back to Detroit for a grand reunion with inevitably tragic results. Mellow, beautiful and ponderous; even the admittedly pretentious dialogue does not grate when handled by such a seasoned cast. Gorgeous to look at, with some incredible soundtrack choices, Only Lovers Left Alive is a wistful memory that might

BLIND DETECTIVE director Johnnie To Johnston (Andy Lau) is the title character: a legendary detective who lost his sight in the line of duty four years ago. He finds himself helping Ho Ka Tung (Sammi Cheng in top form), who is an incredibly skilled policewoman but lacks investigative skills. Together the two solve a variety of cold cases while trying to track down Ho’s childhood friend Minnie – who has been haunting Ho for years since her disappearance. Johnnie To’s odd mixture of romantic comedy and grizzly crime drama shouldn’t work but, for the first hour, the brilliant performances of Cheng and Lau really sizzle. From their first encounter on a rooftop, to the way Johnston weasels his way into her home; the two have definitive chemistry that makes the odd pairing a delight to watch. Lau’s detective might be an oddball, but the actor plays him as a man on the brink of insanity: the quirks and obsessions of a man who was trapped in permanent darkness in the blink of an eye works brilliantly. However the longer the film goes on, the more uneven the tone becomes and To slowly loses his grip on the material: the sexual politics by the end become incredibly dubious and offensive. The various subplots fail to enhance the story in any way and a sense of stretching thin material even thinner creeps in as the film almost loses its way. But the delightful interplay between the leads and To’s assured staging of the set-pieces (the re-enactment of murders being a highlight) ultimately elevate Blind Detective above average. Even a lesser To movie is worth a hundred others.

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THE SACRAMENT director Ti West A.J. Bowen and Joe Swanberg lead the way in Ti West’s take on the phenomenon of cults. Largely based on the Jonestown massacre, the film follows Vice journalists Jake, Sam and Patrick as they travel to an unnamed isolated rural area to visit Patrick’s sister, Caroline, who has cleaned up her act and been living in a mysterious commune. Upon arrival the trio are given seemingly unrestricted access to the commune, culminating in an interview with the strangely charismatic and frightening ‘Father’ (played by a brilliant Gene Jones). However things go from weird to worse when a mute child delivers a note asking for help to the journalists. The Sacrament starts strongly but quickly drags into overly familiar territory: there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen a thousand times before. Plus West fails to handle the tonal shifts and the leap from creepy commune to threatening cult occurs without any real rhyme or reason. By the time the inevitable violence rolls on-screen, the overwhelming feeling is one of boredom. Add to this the depiction of ‘shocking’ scenes that merely highlight the script’s shortcomings and what remains is an expensive Vice travelogue with better acting.

ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE directors Lucky McKee, Christ Sivertson Starting off as an astute combination of high-school comedy and supernatural horror, Lucky Mckee and Christ Sivertson’s lacklustre effort quickly gets bogged down in dubious gender politics and awful stereotyping. If the film had been made in the 90s, around the time of The Craft, it might have looked new and fresh. As it stands, this feels like a re-heated dish we have tasted a million times before. When Lexi, the captain of the cheerleading squad, dies in a freak accident, Tracy (Brooke Butler) takes her place on the team, as well as her boyfriend – Terry (Tom Williamson). Maddy (Caitlin Stasey). who was making a video profile of Lexi when she died, also gets involved with the squad but her agenda is one of revenge against Terry. Although the first 20 minutes promises irreverent fun, the film becomes annoying, predictable and structurally all over the place. Add to this the McKee habit of setting sequences to indie music and the whole thing starts to drag. When the final credits roll and the title card announced this was only Part One, the natural reaction to greet this with was a groan. A waste of time from talented directors.

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Check out the teaser issue of CultTV Times... covering everything from NCIS to anime! Broadcast the news – the first full issue of Cult TV Times will be available to buy soon at Culttvtimes.com Follow us on : (@CultTVTimes) for the latest news and issue updates For subscription enquiries contact: subscriptions@culttvtimes.com VERITE NOVEMBER 2013

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Deconstructing the

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Grandmaster of one Xu Haofeng In our regular discovery strand Evrim Ersoy salutes the rich, complex and rewarding work of Xu Haofeng

words by Evrim Ersoy

W

hile the humble western has always been a much-loved genre in cinema, it took the Italian directors of the 60s and 70s to actually bring meaning to what was fast becoming cliché. Films like Once Upon A Time In The West and The Big Silence slyly riffed on the myths of the Old West, tearing down the images that had been built over the years. The contrast between the ruthless violence of the old age and the greedy advancement of the industrial age provided a chilling commentary on our recent history. Like the western genre, China’s martial arts films have been around since the early days of cinema. With subcategories like kung-fu and wuxia, these films tell familiar stories to an expectant audience: historical kung-fu masters, tales of revenge by young fighters and even generals leading armies against improbable odds. Not only are

these cornerstones of Chinese literature and verbal history, they – like their Western counterparts – serve a useful tool to present an idealized version of Chinese history. Xu Haofeng is first and foremost a scholar interested in the styles and history of Chinese martial arts. After studying Xingyiquan in 1987, Haofeng studied directing at the Beijing Film Academy – however instead of making films upon his graduation, he chose to return home to study the history of martial arts further. He started to write novels and non-fiction books about both the history and evolution of Chinese martial arts whilst also creating a book of Chinese martial arts reviews. It was inevitable that Xu Haofeng would, at some point, end up combining his education in filmmaking with his wealth of experience in the world of martial arts – but no-one could have predicted that the results would culminate in three of the most interesting films to focus

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on the subject. Xu Haofeng’s first film, The Sword Identity, is a satire that’s played straight – a deconstruction of the martial arts genre that is as alienating to a Western audience as can be expected. The film focuses on a town in Southern China during the late Ming Dynasty, where four martial arts schools co-exist. The rule is that any newcomer who wants to open a school has to beat all four existing schools and the film begins with two men taking up this challenge. However the fights don’t go as planned and, while one swordsman is killed, the other – Qie (Ma Jun) - escapes onto a boat. From here the film focuses on Qie’s attempts to escape, the characters he encounters, as well as the self-reflection of the leaders of the four schools in town. At first instance, The Sword Identity is confusing: unlike the other martial arts films of recent years, it is not blessed with any manic energy or eye-catching choreography. Instead there’s a stillness to the entire atmosphere. Weirder still, the fights last only a few seconds with martial arts masters defeating each other with one or two sly moves. The waiting takes more time than the fights ever do. Xu’s aim here is to examine the conflicting nature of

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martial arts – he examines the way in which rigid structure and a tendency to stick to forms can lead men to lose their focus - as well as China’s disappearing heritage within the arts. Those who go into the film expecting a feast of action will be sorely disappointed. Instead there’s a sense of melancholy, of loss and very gentle humour. Xu’s next effort is even more pertinent in making these points. Judge Archer is set on the verge of a new China emerging: the early days of the Republic provide the background to a story that examines political and military turmoil and the inner conflict of the characters. The film begins as Shuangxi, a simple farm worker, witnesses the rape of his sister by the landowner and goes mad. At the suggestion of a monk, he sets off on a journey, adopting the name of the first person he meets out in the countryside – an old man known as ‘Judge Archer’ who roams the country settling disputes between rival martial arts schools. Before dying, the old man trains Shuangxi in archery and other skills, passing on his mantle. It’s now Shuangxi’s job to continue the duties of ‘Judge Archer’. However things are never as easy as he thinks. Judge Archer is an incredible character piece that


“To a viewer willing to invest time, these films are as rich as Leone’s mining of the myths of the Wild West. They turn time-tried concepts on their head and demand that audiences look at familiar territory with fresh eyes. It is almost guaranteed Xu Haofeng’s next effort will be.” focuses on the journey of its main character from simple farmhand to world-weary ‘hero’. Unlike in other popular films, here heroism is a costly process – where Archer needs to discover the very nature of his own soul. The film also examines the way martial arts fit within the context of a 20th Century modern country – a slowly dying art bound by strict rules and regulations. Dialogue is kept to a bare minimum, Xu Haofeng instead focuses on the faces of his characters – their actions, their physical contact with each other - mimicking the motions of the martial arts, revealing more about who they are than words ever could. The dry sense of humour, so prevalent within The Sword Identity, also plays an important role here – especially in the scenes where Archer pretends to be a fruit seller but finds himself harangued by a beautiful opera singer. Again the action is brief, short, and unglamorous – the fights are more mental than physical. Even the final fight is played as if the protagonist and antagonist have guessed each other’s moves long before any contact is even made. Xu Haofeng examines martial arts through the lens of history, trying to find a sense of how the falling out-ofstep meant the death of most of these cultural heritages.

It’s perhaps this angle that prompted Wong Kar Wai to invite Xu Haofeng to become a scriptwriter on The Grandmaster. Viewing Wong Kar Wai’s film, it’s easy to spot Xu’s influence – the melancholy tone of the scenes between the martial arts masters, who spend time within the brothel, bear a direct resemblance to the council in The Sword Identity, while the flirtatious fight between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) paints martial arts as a tool for physical desire. Within the world of martial arts cinema, Xu Haofeng might be leading a new type of approach: reflection rather than blind reverence. His films are harder for a Western audience to engage with; they assume a basic knowledge of the concept of martial arts and do not feature any basic exposition. However, to a viewer willing to invest time, these films are as rich as Leone’s mining of the myths of the Wild West. They turn time-tried concepts on their head and demand that audiences look at familiar territory with fresh eyes. It is almost guaranteed Xu Haofeng’s next effort will be complex, engaging and certainly worth discovering.

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Masters of Cinema

Van Gogh Tom Gore welcomes the chance to reassess a misunderstood classic within the context of the French Director’s life and career words by Tom Gore

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cinematic missive to a kindred spirit, a revisionist, mildly speculative portrait of the artist as a jaded man, an exercise in demythology: there are several ways to view Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh (1991). The film certainly seemed to confound expectations upon release by limiting its focus to the final months of the Dutch post-impressionist’s life, and neglecting to include much of the Van Gogh lore: the notorious incidents and iconic works of art that had preceded this period. In retrospect, by removing much of the Sturm und Drang melodrama from the Van Gogh story and instead aiming a microscopic, documentary-style lens at the more mundane, everyday aspects of the artist’s life, Pialat arguably got closer to revealing the true nature of the man than anyone else before or since. He also managed to avoid falling victim to the usual Van Gogh biopic tropes: the episodic plotting, reverential hagiography and blindness-rendering colour schemes that had somewhat

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encumbered the English language depictions of the painter’s life, whether it be Vincente Minelli’s beautifully shot but rather earnest Lust for Life (1956) or Altman’s Vincent and Theo (1990). That’s not to say that Pialat’s film was a slavishly faithful account, or that he didn’t shy away from using the artistic licence most screen depictions of historical figures utilise. Stylistically, the director was renowned for his naturalism and realism (labels he occasionally rejected); largely due to the documentary aesthetic he brought to his work. His propensity for elliptical editing, lack of concern for exposition and narrative structure, and rejection of character arcs and easy resolutions made his films seem messy, and in no way pre-conceived, much like real life. Many were also semi-autobiographical in nature. However, there was something else at play here: Pialat knew first-hand the special kind of torment Van Gogh had experienced, for prior to becoming a filmmaker, he had also tried, and failed as a painter. Though


all artistic failures are lamentable, if only by historical precedent the lot of the failed painter seems a particularly soul-destroying one; with hours spent ferrying an easel around on tired feet and pouring one’s heart and soul into each brushstroke only to receive little in the way of recognition or reward for one’s labours (history’s most famous failed painter, it is often noted, ultimately became a genocidal dictator). Pialat sought consolation in the creative outlet provided by a camera after his lack of success with a canvas, but this early setback, coupled with his belated entry into film saw him struggle unnoticed on the sidelines for years while younger directors like Truffaut and Godard were being feted (and funded). The experience left him with an Everest-sized chip on his shoulder that manifested in later years as bitter outbursts towards the Nouvelle Vague and others, and perhaps took its toll on his personality (he became renowned as a tyrannical on-set presence: famously reducing Sophie Marceau to tears on the set of 1985’s Police and firing/falling out with collaborators on virtually every film he made). For years he diligently churned out documentary shorts before finally achieving some recognition at the age of 35 with Love Exists (1960). A bleak social commentary on life in the drab post-war housing developments that had sprung up in the Parisian hinterlands, the film anticipated a number of dominant themes that would reappear in his later works. His first feature, the Francois Truffaut-produced: Naked Childhood (a story about a traumatic childhood, much like Truffaut’s debut, but with a good deal less stylistic joie de vivre than The 400 Blows) didn’t arrive until nine years later, by which time Pialat was in his forties and France’s cultural landscape had shifted significantly. Despite being awarded the Jean Vigo Prize and receiving strong critical notices, Naked Childhood was not the breakout success Pialat had hoped for, and there was already a sense that, having missed the boat during the New Wave years, Pialat was a man out of sync with the times. The defining aspect of his career would be one of struggle: an uphill battle to achieve popular and critical acceptance, to get films made, prove himself as a talent and atone for his late start by catching up with his cinematic peers in the Nouvelle Vague and elsewhere in terms of quality if not quantity. So it proved as, during the next 35 years, he stubbornly ploughed his own furrow in film, unconcerned with what his contemporaries were doing, generally refusing to be pigeonholed or linked to any filmmaking cliques, movements or trends. Through sheer force of will, Pialat carved out a name for himself as a kind of Gallic stylistic counterpart to John Cassavettes (another actor/director; though any comparison does them both a disservice) with nine further films. These idiosyncratic, slow-burning gems, often set in unglamorous parts of France and with a focus on working-class life (particularly in regard to his early work),

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that affected a quasi-documentary aesthetic and an improvisational naturalism, defied easy categorisation, prioritised character over plot, and rewarded repeat viewings. To name just a few: The Mouth Agape (1974), Graduate First (1979), Loulou (1980), To Our Loves (1983), which was arguably Pialat’s masterpiece, Police (1985) and the Palme D’Or winning Under the Sun of Satan (1987). By the time he came to make Van Gogh in the early 90s, Pialat was well aware, after these years of attrition, of the hardships involved in creative endeavour (he estimated that he’d been forced to abandon more than half of his films mid-production due to creative disagreements or lack of funds). Now, on the back of his Palme D’Or win, was the perfect time to pay long-cherished cinematic homage to one of his artistic idols: another man who had suffered for his art. Pialat had yearned to make a film about Vincent Van Gogh for many years. In fact the genesis of the project can be traced back to his time as an art student and to a 1965 documentary (included as a dvd extra) made for French television, which revisited the village of Auvers-SurOise where Van Gogh had spent his final days before taking his own life in July 1890. Almost thirty years later, it was this very period Pialat decided to cover in his feature. Ostensibly an account of the last 67 days of Van Gogh’s life, from May 21st to July 27th 1890, Pialat’s film begins with Van Gogh (played by former 60s pop idol Jacques Dutronc in an inspired piece of leftfield casting) arriving in Auvers-Sur-Oise, having left the St Remy asylum in Provence, where he had been recuperating following a return of the physical and emotional ill-health that had dogged him for many years. He has relocated at the behest of his brother Theo (Bernard Le Coq) to seek treatment from a homeopathic physician, Dr Paul Gachet (Gérard Séty), who had treated several other painters for a variety of ailments..Gachet proves a lacklustre doctor, more interested in talking art than administering to his patient and Van Gogh, likely aware that he will never be recognised as a great artist during his lifetime and increasingly viewing his time in Auvers as a last hurrah before an inevitable demise, begins a feverish work schedule. He immortalises the town and its inhabitants (including Gachet and his daughter

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Marguerite) on canvas for posterity, completing over seventy paintings and thirty drawings within the space of two months. Van Gogh also spends much of his time with Gachet and his family (although he sleeps nearby at a modest lodge) and strikes up a rapport with Gachet’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Marguerite (Alexandra London), with whom he has a tentative affair (somewhat to the Doctor’s chagrin). Some acquaintances from his time in Provence (a coterie of rogues and whores, one of whom it is inferred, provides either the weapon or inspiration for his suicide) have followed the painter north and he occasionally falls back into his old routines of whoring, and absinthe-fuelled revelry. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo (a prominent art dealer in Paris, on whom he was largely dependent for financial support) visits from Paris and is received by Dr Gachet at his house. During this visit the complexity of the relationship between the two is laid bare. Vincent resents both his financial dependence on his brother and the otherwise successful Theo’s inability to sell any of his paintings, and yet feels guilty at the burden his continuing problems place on his brother’s health and marriage. Later Vincent makes a reciprocal visit to Paris to see his brother and they argue, with Vincent fleeing to one of his old haunts, where a party breaks out. Cathy (Elsa Zylberstein): Vincent’s prostitute friend from Arles, is working there but (possibly due to the presence of Marguerite) rejects him in favour of Theo. Sometime later, having returned to Auvers, he apparently attempts suicide (off-screen) by shooting himself in the abdomen. He is tended to by a local doctor, but refuses treatment from Dr Gachet who he has come to dislike. He succumbs to his wounds, aged just 37, after a day spent falling in and out of consciousness in his room at the Auberge Ravoux. Eschewing the predominantly artistic focus of previous Van Gogh films, Pialat is mostly concerned with Van Gogh’s personal interactions (and what they represent) with the villagers, the family that own/run his down-at-heel lodge, and in particular with Theo, Dr Gachet and Marguerite. His relationship with Marguerite is doomed to fail, simply because they are from different worlds and possess


“While the film is no partisan screed, it is clear whose side Pialat is on: viewing Van Gogh as the universal struggling artist. Unable to surmount the requirement for creative expression to achieve popular acceptance and/or be commercially viable.” completely incompatible personalities. Few Van Gogh biographers make the claim that his encounters with her went beyond painting her portrait. In the film however, she is a supportive if capricious presence in the painter’s life, though she comes to view his commitment to his art as an obstacle for their relationship. Pialat (perhaps unfairly) views Theo and Dr Gachet less favourably. History has not been kind to Gachet, who is widely portrayed as a negligent doctor and a bumbling, neurotic art-obsessed quack and impressionist groupie, who enjoyed the proximity of artists (and somehow ended up with many of his patients paintings) because he was himself a frustrated painter. While the film is no partisan screed, it is clear whose side Pialat is on: viewing Van Gogh as the universal struggling artist. Unable to surmount the requirement for creative expression to achieve popular acceptance and/or be commercially viable, he takes his own life when he realises he has no role in society. There is a sense also that the director regards Van Gogh as an extension of himself in this instance (a kind of brusque avatar), and uses the film to make some empathetic, veiled critiques about his own struggles

to achieve artistic recognition. If nothing else, the shooting of the film did prove to be a cathartic experience for Pialat, providing him with the chance to exorcise some of his demons regarding his abortive attempt to become a painter. In an interview with Jacques Dutronc years after the film had been made, the singer/actor recounted that Pialat had insisted on using his own easel and paintbox from his art school days as props. Battered and decrepit, the easel frequently fell down during the scenes in which Van Gogh had to paint. Pialat adamantly refused to replace it however, and Dutronc had to struggle to maintain composure as Pialat ordered his prop man to hold the easel upright from just out of frame whenever it threatened to give way. Perhaps this filmmaking-as-therapy technique worked, since after the film was released Pialat declared: “I have no reason to feel like a failed painter, who has done something else because he wasn’t a good painter. That might be the case but I don’t feel that way.”

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Van Gogh is available now courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. www.eurekavideo.co.uk

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In Defence... The Timeless Sadness of A.I. Artificial Intelligence

words by Stuart Barr

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ne might ask why a film that achieves a 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes requires a defence, but Steven Spielberg’s 2001 science fiction film A.I. Artificial Intelligence may be the most misunderstood film of the 21st Century. Development began in the early seventies, when Stanley Kubrick embarked upon an adaptation of a Bryan Aldiss story ‘Super Toys Last All Summer Long’. Kubrick saw this as the core for a film that would grapple with big questions about the nature of humanity, and the responsibilities inherent in the creation of artificial intelligence. Kubrick laboured for several decades, working on a script with science fiction author Ian Watson, but the project was abandoned, reportedly due to the limitations of special effects technology. Kubrick and Spielberg had cultivated a friendship. The filmmakers seem opposed in outlooks and styles; Spielberg the

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great populist, a skilled craftsman with a firm understanding of the popular imagination, Kubrick the meticulous master filmmaker, producing works of formal brilliance, but clinical and austere. Kubrick’s was a cinema of intellectual ideas, Spielberg’s of warm sentiment and visceral thrills. The legend goes that Kubrick passed the project to Spielberg, telling him the film needed his qualities. Upon release critics scrutinised the film mercilessly, some rushing to proclaim it a mix of fire and ice that had produced tepid water. Spielberg was pilloried for adding a final act to the film seen as sentimental (something he denies, attributing the ending to Kubrick). How dare Spielberg, a mere entertainer, deign to improve upon the work of a master? This was an underlying theme of even positive reviews. Roger Ebert, while praising the film, found the ending ‘facile and sentimental’. Peter Rainer in The New Yorker delivered an


“The symbolism is hard to ignore, Spielberg linking this dystopian future America to a past it would rather forget. Like Amistad and Lincoln, A.I. explores what it is to be a slave. ” extended riff on Kubrick and Spielberg’s sensibilities being in opposition. Pete Travers in Rolling Stone called it ‘a fascinating wreck’. True to form, the ever-contrary Armond White was one of the few who seemed to get it, proclaiming A.I. ‘profoundly philosophical and contemplative’. The consensus opinion – that this was an interesting failure in which moments of recognisably Kubrickian darkness were drenched in a thick coating of sweet Spielbergian buttermilk – seems entrenched. But this reading is wrong. A.I. divides into three acts, or movements, distinct in mood and style. In a brief prologue, a curiously cadenced voice informs the audience, ‘Those were the years when the icecaps melted due to the greenhouse gases and the oceans had risen and drowned so many cities along all the shorelines of the world.‘ The film proper begins in a lecture hall where Professor Hobby (William Hurt) puts to his class the proposition that they build a robot that can love. Not sexual, or romantic love, but the love of a child for its mother. In a world of low birth rates, Hobby wants to make a robot child that can act as a substitute. This child is David (Haley Joel Osmet), and after an extensive vetting he is placed with a family whose only son is in a

coma. The drama of this section is in the relationship between David and his adoptive mother Monica (Frances O’Connor). The couple have a trial period to decide if they will keep David, after which they can choose to have him imprint upon them. The process is irreversible, and if subsequently rejected, David will be destroyed. Osmet’s performance is uncanny. He appears to be a flesh and blood child, yet there is blankness to his mask-like face, a hint of something alien. Monica is torn, but eventually chooses to have David imprint on her. Interestingly for a film of intellectual ideas and concepts, many of these are expressed visually. In the opening act David is shown either separated from the family unit by ingenious framing (such as a superb shot through a ceiling light fixture that seems to reference Dr Strangelove), or frequently distorted in reflective surfaces that emphasise his status as a copy of a boy. David’s first appearance as he approaches the threshold of the couple’s home is out of focus and heavily backlit so that he appears to be a Lowry-esque stick figure. This image foreshadows the appearance of the evolved A.I.s at the end of the film (that they look superficially like the visitors from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is possibly the key to the frankly stupid assumption they are aliens).

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There is the briefest of periods of happiness before the couple’s biological son recovers. Martin, the son, sees David as a rival and, in a moment of adolescent cruelty, has Monica read Pinocchio as a bedtime story. David is convinced that if he can find the story’s Blue Fairy he can become a real boy and win his mother’s love. Martin engineers a situation in which his parents must choose between their sons. Of course this is no choice at all, and Monica elects to take David back to the factory. She fails to go through with this however, and takes a left turn into dark woods outside the facility and, in a heart-rending scene, abandons David with only a cybernetic teddy bear for company. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the world’ she tells him before leaving his image to fade into the distance in her rear view mirror. The second movement of the film opens up to show the chaotic world outside of the hermetically-sealed upper class enclave of the first movement. David falls into the clutches of a ‘flesh fair’ – a strange combination of tractor pull and

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evangelical rally, in which runaway and abandoned robots are torn apart for sport in a gladiatorial arena. The symbolism is hard to ignore, Spielberg linking this dystopian future America to a past it would rather forget. Like Amistad and Lincoln, A.I. explores what it is to be a slave. David escapes the Flesh Fair in the company of robotic hustler Gigolo Joe ( Jude Law), and they embark on a quest to find the Blue Fairy. This eventually leads them to a flooded New York and a meeting with Professor Hobby. Watching the film on its release in September 2001, barely a week after the terrorist attacks in New York, the scenes in Manhattan were so viscerally disturbing and eerily prescient many theatres carried warnings for patrons. Gigolo Joe’s line that precedes his and David’s flight to New York is particularly startling in this context, ‘Many a mecha has gone to the end of the world... never to come back. That is why they call the end of the world ‘MAN-hattan’, as are the subsequent devastating images of weeping statues in a flooded cityscape. David discovers he is to become mass-produced and, in de-


spair that he is not unique, leaps from the skyscraper into the waters below. He sinks to the remains of Coney Island where he sees a fairground statue of The Blue Fairy but, before he can make his wish, is rescued by Joe. Later he returns in an amphibious vehicle and becomes trapped under a collapsed Ferris wheel. Facing the fibreglass fairy, David repeatedly wishes to become a real boy as the batteries give out on the vehicle’s lights and he and Teddy become encased in ice as the ocean freezes. The third movement is the most controversial, and where the wheels really came off in its interpretation by critics. Thousands of years have passed and David and Teddy are discovered in an excavation of New York by evolved machine intelligences that see him as an important step in their evolution as a species and a link to the now extinct human race. Their only wish is to grant David the happiness that has eluded him in his existence. Through some quirks of quantum physics they are able to resurrect long dead humans but they will only live for a day. They indulge David’s wish and resurrect Monica for one day

of happiness. “We’re not machines J.F. we’re physical.” Replicant Roy Batty says these words to genetic engineer J.F. Sebastian in Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner. This key piece of dialogue exemplifies how Blade Runner and A.I., while appearing to ask the same fundamental philosophical question ‘what is it to be human?’, are addressing radically different queries. In Blade Runner it is the tank-born artificial humanoids that have developed the ‘humanity’ that womb-born humanoids have lost in a bleak and de-humanising future LA. In A.I. the question is not ‘what is it to be human?’ but ‘what is it to be aware?’ The dawning of machine intelligence in A.I. is not causally linked to notions of ‘humanity’. The film ultimately imagines post-humans, and a world without the human race. What Kubrick saw in Spielberg is clear. His warmth and his humanism would present the perfect disguise for what is one of the saddest films of recent years, an elegy for the human race.

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Blue is the Warmest Colour

cert (18)

director Abdellatif Kechiche writers Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix starring Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche

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Review by David Hall

release date 22nd November

It’s all about the letting go. I saw Abdellatif Kechiche’s controversial Palme D’Or winner before any of the hullabaloo over its conception but, for better or worse, gossip about the director’s supposed working methods has strongly influenced recent writing on this extraordinary film, much of which has been fascinating, some nonsensical (I’ve been particularly amused by the spectacle of straight male writers calling into question what ‘real’ lesbian sex is like). Either way, it’s not the full picture (literally). Kechiche’s treatment of female relationships and the female body is, without question, deliberately feverish and charged. It’s also an emotionally authentic and punishing depiction of young love, shot and performed with a forensic intensity that renders many coming-of-age stories fraudulent, sentimentalised and anodyne. Blue is the Warmest Colour marries the physical urgency and grandeur of adolescent desire – its giddy peaks and shattering lows – to a narrative trajectory ripe with acute social observation. Up until the moment Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) spies Emma (Léa Seydoux,) across a busy street, we have spent a lot of time with her, becoming familiar with the rhythms of her life; her routine, family background, lust for education and knowledge. The affair crystallises all of this, so when the eventual, intensely long sex scene arrives it feels entirely earned, logical and contextualised. The male gaze may linger uncomfortably for some (the hungry sights and sounds of slurping, grunting and arse slapping have worked many social commentators into a tizzy) but the picture is complicated. Male director or not, it makes sense for Adele and Emma to get lost in each other’s bodies for ages – to literally feed on one another, stripping away ego and id in their need to possess and absorb. Exarchopoulos delivers a performance of astonishing purity; the kind of unaffected naturalism that is often only achievable from a newcomer, untainted by mannerism. Seydoux, as befits both her status as a bigger star and the older, more confident partner, is more quietly powerful and no less affecting. Kechiche is strong on the way class and socio-economic distinctions, and the independence and freedom they afford (or not), have a depressing habit to ossify the strongest, most intense of relationships. And if he perhaps overcooks things with some on-the-nose dialogue and a near-comic spaghetti/oysters sequence (the whole film pulsates with gastro-erotic fervour), the juxtaposition of Adele’s practical lifestyle with Emma’s artsy bohemian coterie is expertly essayed in a series of excruciating recognisable social vignettes. Ultimately the film’s strongest and most resonant theme is that love and lust are capable of both completing and destroying and heartbreak is universal. Adele’s narrative is an all-consuming, physically painful journey (recognisable whoever you love) that ends on an ambiguous but hopeful note. She is forever changed, but the same intensity that allowed her to love with such inhibition will be necessary for a new chapter to begin. In love, lust and life – at the beginning of an affair or at the messy, tearful; snot-fuelled end – it’s all about the letting go.


Computer Chess

release date 22nd November

Review by Paul Martinovic

As we continue to become accustomed to a hi-definition world of piercingly lucid video quality, more and more filmmakers are waking up to the creative potential afforded by the use of outdated technology. Pablo Lerrain used thirty-year-old U-Matic cameras to seamlessly blend present-day and period footage in last year’s No, and now Andrew Bujalski utilises even more archaic Sony video-tube cameras to give Computer Chess the spooky, other-worldly aesthetic that the heady and deeply oddball material demands. Over the course of a weekend in the early 80s, programmers and computer scientists from around the US descend on an anonymous cheap hotel to take part in the annual national computer chess tournament. The contest consists of mini-fridge sized computers, manned by teams of fiercely intelligent yet socially maladjusted young men (and one woman, whose presence is consistently greeted with slack-jawed amazement) calculating chess moves against one another, before the eventual victor takes on a chess grandmaster (played by film critic Gerard Peary), who also doubles as the master of ceremonies. This exhibition match between humans and computers had hitherto always been desperately one-sided, but the steady advancements in technology are matched by the growing self-belief and obsessive behaviour of the men responsible for the machines, and they begin to ponder the implications of a computer being smarter that a human brain over the course of a long, strange weekend of the soul. Computer Chess does a fantastic job of evoking a period of both tremendous uncertainty and genuine hope and excitement, where the most brilliant minds in the world were faced with the possibility of consciousness as we know it being completed reinvented by the computer revolution. The existential burden that this places on these already fractious brains, it is suggested, is what causes the characters – and the film itself – to start to unravel as it reaches its conclusion. If this sounds dauntingly cerebral, don’t worry: it’s huge fun, and perfectly enjoyable as a zany lo-fi comedy even if you’re not prepared to engage with its more philosophical aspects. The cast – including unrecognizable Dazed and Confused alumnus Wiley Wiggins - are note-perfect, equally adept at awkward sex comedy as they are at the densely intellectual discourse. And while one of Computer Chess’s unique selling points is how downright weird and unclassifiable it is, it perhaps inadvertently also feels like a love letter to the low budget oddity. The latest in a long lineage of black-and-white indie works of sui generis that borrows bits from all of them, Computer Chess combines the hard science-fiction of Pi, the surrealistic imagery of Eraserhead, and the hippy-satire of Brian de Palma’s Hi Mom! And like those films, Computer Chess feels like a perfect marriage of ideas and resources and in the process drags the somewhat stagnant mumblecore genre into a new, completely unexpected direction that nevertheless feels both logical and exciting. Funny, disturbing, thought-provoking and unique, it’s the kind of film that makes you happy just by its existence, even as it makes you question your own.

cert (15)

director Andrew Bujalski writer Andrew Bujalski starring Kriss Schludermann, Tom Fletcher, Wiley Wiggins, Patrick Riester

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Review by Robert Barry

Gravity

release date 8th November

cert (12a)

director Alfonso Cuarón writers Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

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Not long ago, I grabbed a coffee with a filmmaker of my acquaintance. His latest picture – his fourth or fifth – is of a budget that would be considered enormous in any other venture short of warfare but for a feature made in America was fairly modest. I asked what kind of distribution it was getting and he told me it was due to open on just a few screens in key cities, largely in order to attract the attention of critics. The distributors were in no doubt their money would be made via online channels. This, they assured him, was increasingly the norm for pictures of this sort, and, doubtless, itself a transitional stage before the whole theatrical bit is bypassed altogether. My thoughts turned repeatedly to this conversation as the credits rolled on Gravity. From its jaw-dropping thirteen-minute opening shot, everything about Alfonso Cuarón’s latest work demands the full resources of a state-of-the-art venue. It exploits every inch of the vast screen, every degree and decibel of its surround sound, and all the illusory depth of its up-to-date 3D technology more fully and more confidently than – perhaps – any other film I have seen. As a spectacular experience, the picture is practically faultless. Had I, however, first watched this film on DVD on my home TV or laptop, or even at one of the many fine independent cinemas that my adoptive home city is so fortunate to possess, I fear I may have struggled to find anything of merit whatsoever. Stripped of the vast technical resources of a corporate cinema complex, the joins in Gravity’s ham-fisted string of plot points would be all too glaring, the heart-string grabbing backstory would seem too tacked-on. Without that expansive spatialisation of Dolby Surround making every noisy nuance part of an enveloping acoustic field, the music would come across as mere empty bombast. Were we not so physically catapulted into her situation, Sandra Bullock’s paper-thin characterisation would leave us cold. There is a great artistry at work here, but I’m not sure whether we should look to Cuarón as auteur or to the army of digital modellers, animators, and compositors, sound designers, foley editors, and protools engineers, whose assembled hive mind have built rococo cathedrals in immaculately traced virtual space. Don’t get me wrong: I had a great time in that cinema. It was thrilling, from start to finish. But I did wonder what any of it had to do with ‘cinema’. Gravity’s ancestors were clearly not the works of D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, or even George Lucas; but things like the anaglyphic travelogue Transitions made for Vancouver’s Expo ‘86, or the full-immersion motion simulator ride Star Tours built for Disneyland in 1987. Gravity is obviously not the only child of this family to have hit the screens in recent years, but it’s probably the purest specimen – and given its tremendous critical and popular success, one that is destined to prove fertile.


Review by Craig Williams

François Ozon is not one of the greats, but is often inexplicably held to those standards. The mixed reaction at Cannes earlier this year to his provocative new film, Jeune et Jolie (2013), is emblematic of the dichotomy between the qualities of the artist and the expectations placed upon him. The picture appears to represent the director’s realisation of his own strengths. The cool, dramatic artificiality is pervasively present, but it’s a breezy, precocious work of bourgeois-baiting that revels in its uncouth salaciousness. Ozon gleefully sidesteps any phoney moralising in favour of gauche titillation. Jeune et Jolie is a film doused in illicit eroticism; its vision of sexuality feels both fearlessly celebratory and slyly subversive. Marine Vacth is superb as Isabelle, the 16-yearold middle class Parisian schoolgirl who turns to prostitution. The seeds are sown during a summer holiday with her family when, determined to lose her virginity, she seduces an affable but dim German man. The film then jumps to autumn, by which time Isabelle is working as a €300 an hour call girl for uncertain ends. Her mother and stepfather are clueless, but her younger brother - seemingly her sole confessor of her sexual indiscretions – has his suspicions. Ozon is in his element with the material, careening jubilantly between the explicit sex scenes and the appalled, hypocritical reactions that confront Isabelle. It’s an act of cinematic vellication on his part; prodding the audience for a response. Ozon is not a humanist director of Maurice Pialat’s stature, so it is to the film’s advantage that he does not focus on the morality or the nuance of the story. Of course, the idea of a man making a film about a teenager who becomes a call girl because she enjoys it is inherently problematic, but it allows the director to engage in his grand act of subversion. Ozon razes his country’s cultural canon to find a place for Isabelle; she is a Sadean libertine in the great French literary tradition; she enjoys what she does and is intoxicated by her power over the people around her. In a fantastic act of directorial rug-pulling, the late appearance of a much-loved actress finds the director pushing the audience to question whether he will dare to compromise a national idol. It’s a joke played by a man with a playful relationship with French cultural history. There are palpable shades of Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) in the film’s blatant antagonism of the middle class. The people around Isabelle talk incessantly about curing her of her unthinkable affliction, but they are helpless in the presence of her unwavering drive. They speak like the all-knowing moralists, but Isabelle understands her surroundings better than they do. She places herself as the conduit of irrepressible desire, taking advantage of the animalistic compulsion behind the respectable veneer of the bourgeois male. Ozon’s brilliance is in turning a slightly queasy sexual awakening into an almost nihilistic vision of male stupidity. It’s a giddy triumph on his part.

Jeune Et Jolie release date 29th November

cert (18)

director François Ozon writer François Ozon starring Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot

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Kill Your Darlings release date 6th December

cert (15)

writers Austin Bunn, John Krokidas starring Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall, Ben Foster

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Review by Stuart Barr

director John Krokidas

Rising to prominence in the 1950s and anticipating the great social turmoil of the 1960s, the Beat movement included some of the most celebrated American artists of the post-World War II period. The beats sought to break conventions, incorporating the rhythms of jazz, exploring (often chemically) altered states of consciousness, Eastern philosophies and mysticism. John Krokidas’ film arrives at what seems like an already crowded party (recent high profile ‘Beat’ films have included Howl and On The Road) but strikes out on its own path by looking at the gestation of the Beat movement – before the manifestos – when a soft snare tap looked to find a trumpet melody and a bass string hum and coalesce into music. Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) arrives at Columbia University with naive hopes – only to be stifled by conformity and old values. An outsider, due to both his Jewish background and homosexuality, he finds inspiration in non-conformist student Lucian Carr (Dane DeHaan). Through Carr, Ginsberg discovers an exciting subterranean culture in the Jazz clubs and bohemian parties of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side. Even more importantly, Carr will introduce him to William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and Jack Kerouac ( Jack Huston). Carr arouses complex feelings in Ginsberg. It is Carr who has the idea for a ‘New Vision’ of art, but he lacks the talent to make his own ideas flesh. Matters are complicated, first by the stifling relationship between Carr and David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) - an older man who semi-sponsors the fledgling movement - then by Kerouac supplanting him as Carr’s chosen creative engine. Kill Your Darlings is a rich, dark and complex film attempting the difficult task of showing the inner life of a fledgling writer in a visually poetic way, and also exploring Ginsberg’s growing sense of self and awakening sexuality. This leads to dark places, but never becomes a dry history lesson. The cast are superb, Radcliffe looks very little like Ginsberg but, despite the presence of a pair of distinctive round glasses, I never found myself thinking of a certain boy wizard. The performance is subtle, introverted, totally convincing and marks the point at which a young actor has his report card upgraded from ‘promising’ to ‘excellent’. Foster does an incredible version of ‘literary outlaw’ Burroughs before he strapped on his six shooters. The author had one of the most recognisable speaking voices in 20th century literature; Foster finds this voice, lowers its pitch and makes it young. Effortlessly stealing scenes, his Burroughs seems like he has just landed from Mars. However this is really a relationship triangle between Ginsberg, Carr and Kammerer. As the older man, Hall is initially imperious but becomes more and more desperate as his muse slips away. DeHaan, sporting hair so blond it appears as a halo and eyes of piercing blue ice, glows like a Renaissance angel. The actor completely convinces as someone with whom one would fall ruinously in love or lust. Kill Your Darlings carries all the excitement, terror and promise of a blank sheet of paper.


Leviathan

release date 22nd November

Review by David Watson

Much is being made of Hollywood’s childish obsession with 3D and the supposedly immersive nature of the mega-budget, crowd-pleasing delights of sweet treats like Gravity and Avatar. Cuarón and Cameron, however, are mere confectioners next to anthropologists and artist/filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel of Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography Lab. Their hypnotic, abstract documentary Leviathan submerges the viewer and baptises them, in the harsh, unforgiving, nightmare environment of an Atlantic trawler. A non-narrative documentary that’s closer to experimental art cinema than the smug, smirking, self-reflexive documentary style pioneered by Nick Broomfield and filched by the far-from-Wise Magi of Moore, Spurlock and Theroux, Leviathan defies conventional description. A lot like being chased into an alley and given a refreshing kicking that leaves you gasping on the floor, the film is a bruising hour and a half of formally challenging, exciting cinema that must be experienced and endured. Shot mostly at night, using a multitude of tiny, waterproof digital cameras strategically placed in, on and around an 80-foot trawler, as well as cameras strapped to Castaing-Taylor, Paravel and the battered crew, Leviathan is a stunning, chaotic, visual and aural assault on the audience. Opening with a quote from the Book of Job that’s later referenced with a snatched sample from a Mastodon track, the film is otherwise devoid of captioning and even the most basic narration, sensorially enveloping us, its myriad dizzying, disorienting POVs place us directly at the centre of the action. Clanking chains, the growling boat engine, the rasp and groan of metal grinding on metal competes with the howling wind and the bubbling hiss of the ocean to deafen us. Indistinct rock music and reality TV shows gabble as bone-weary fisherman battle fatigue. The pitch and roll of the deck inspires nausea. With the deck at eye-level, gasping, pop-eyed fish, flopping, spasming, spill from nets and flow towards us. Knives flash, pale scaly bellies are slit, gutted, shells shucked. The deck runs with blood, guts and seawater speckle the camera lens. Ravenous, squawking gulls dive and weave around the ship. We’re plunged below the surface of the brine, white foam and abyssal blackness, Giger-like rivers of starfish streak past us, liquid noise popping and gurgling in our ears, before we’re dragged back up into the grey dawn light. Had Stan Brakhage directed an episode of the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch (which a fisherman watches as he struggles to stay awake in the film’s most meta moment) it may have looked a lot like Leviathan. From its sombre, ominous opening to its cathartic final scenes and even its credits, which lists its human participants alongside their aquatic prey (under their Latin nomenclature), Leviathan is a breathtaking sensory overload. It lays bare the perilous nature of humanity’s relationship with nature, an uneasy marriage of commerce and the sea that unfolds with an organic aesthetic that echoes the ebb and flow of the ocean to produce a truly stunning work of art that’s unlike almost anything you’ve ever seen. Leviathan is quite simply the year’s most astonishing piece of cinema.

cert (12a)

directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel writers Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel starring Declan Conneely, Johnny Gatcombe, Adrian Guillette

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Review by Kelsey Eichhorn

Night Moves

release date TBC

cert (TBC)

director Kelly Reichardt writers Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt starring Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat

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There’s a very thin line between the engaging and unpredictable and the downright purposeless and shambolic. Unfortunately for Kelly Reichardt and her fans, it’s a line she has failed to walk with her most recent feature Night Moves. There was many a high hope for this film, and the buzz surrounding its Gala screening at the London Film Festival was significant. How it managed to garner a nomination for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival is beyond comprehension. IMDB summarizes the plot of the film as “A drama centered on three environmentalists who plot to blow up a dam.” As a bare-bones synopsis, that sentence certainly isn’t false. Similarly, you could loosely claim that the film is about the psychological, as well as the physical, challenges of this act of eco-terrorism. But beyond these broad one-liner claims, it is difficult to pin down not only the direction but also the meaning of this film. Multiple story lines emerge from a tangle surrounding both poorly defined and one-dimensional characters, only to end abruptly with little or no resolution. Themes are suggested yet never fully realized. Early in the film Reichardt introduces her two protagonists: Organic farm hand Josh and ex-yuppie East-Coaster Dena, who are revealed to have a deep-seeded moral connection to environmental causes. Tedious and arid dialogue about the perilous plight of salmon, subjected to the environmental atrocities stemming from the constant need for electricity to power people’s iPods brings this point home with all the subtly of Thor’s hammer. In a scene employing overt and heavy-handed foreshadowing, the two watch a screening of a documentary made by a fellow activist. Dena jumps into the Question and Answer session at the end of the screening to ask what “grand plan” the filmmaker has in mind to combat the crisis at hand; as our documentarian cheerily responds she believes in small positive steps rather than any master stroke, the camera comes to rest on Josh’s ever-brooding scowl. Big things are clearly afoot. There is a sense that the psychological edge to this storyline is intended to percolate and mature to a dramatic physical and emotional climax. Yet it doesn’t. A handful of disquieting encounters occur out-of-the-blue and are scattered aimlessly throughout the plot, as Eisenberg’s flat performance fails to enliven the shallow shell of his character. The one consistency in a film plagued by chaos was the cinematography, which, save a few beautiful shots of winding mountain roads, (I’m a sucker for a good car-shot), was blandly adequate. For the first time in a long time I found myself checking my watch in the cinema and wishing I could recoup my ticket price. When the credits finally rolled the only thought my bewildered brain could muster was, “What the hell was that?”


Review by David Watson

50 years after the fateful 22 November afternoon in Dallas that ended the shining dream of a new Camelot in brutal, bloody, quietus, few events in recent history have captured our collective imaginations like the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. Based on Manson Family prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s exhaustive, second-by-second reconstruction of the assassination, Four Days In November (Bugliosi also authored Helter Skelter, the definitive account of the Tate-LaBianca murders), writer/director Neil Landesman’s Parkland cleaves pretty close to the accepted narrative of the Warren Commission to produce an ensemble drama (not unlike Emilio Estevez’s 2006 feature Bobby) set in the days following Kennedy’s shooting. The focus of former journalist Landesman’s docudrama is not the assassination but its aftermath, the title referring to the hospital where medics, among them Zac Efron’s rookie doctor and Marcia Gay Harden’s head nurse, battle to save first the mortally wounded Kennedy then, just days later, his assassinated alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Meanwhile, perennial scene-chewer Paul Giamatti (the best bubbling snot acting you’ll see this side of The Blair Witch Project) as amateur cameraman Abraham Zapruder, is agonising over how exactly to make money tastefully from his infamous film. Billy Bob Thornton glowers and yells as the grieving/constipated Secret Service agent tasked with procuring a copy of the film, while Ron Livingston’s glum FBI man realises he dropped the ball by ignoring the lead that may have led to Oswald. Meanwhile, Oswald’s mother and brother (a bonkers Jackie Weaver and the wonderful James Badge Dale) deal with their own grief in very different ways. A dramatisation that lacks drama, Parkland is efficiently, competently made but rather superfluous, its biggest problem lying in its lacks of any real focus, not even the titular hospital, as it bloats to encompass its disparate cast of under-developed characters. Eschewing anything so mundane as characterisation or plot development, Landesman instead chooses to fill out his frame with predominately well-kent faces, the likes of Mark Duplass and Tom Welling as panicky Secret Service men or Jackie Earle Haley as a priest, and relies on them to do their thing. The film’s first third is mechanically tense, nail-biting stuff though, as the medical team fight for the President’s life and squabble with his security detail. But, after this initial peak, Parkland dips drastically, Landesman flitting from story to story without ever engaging the audience in his characters. Perhaps his boldest choice is his decision not to use excerpts from history’s most trouser-tightening real-life snuff movie, the Zapruder Film, instead illustrating the assassination through Giamatti’s horrified witness’ reactions. It’s a bravura moment that almost feels like it’s wandered in from a far more daring film, Parkland ultimately feeling as bland, impersonal and respectful as a Crimewatch reconstruction.

Parkland

release date 22nd November

cert (15)

director Peter Landesman writers Peter Landesman, Vincent Bugliosi starring Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton, James Badge Dale

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Short Term 12

release date 1st November

cert (15)

writer Destin Cretton starring Brie Larson, Frantz Turner, John Gallagher Jr.

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Review by David Hall

director Destin Cretton

Who cares for the carers? That’s the central theme of this American independent film that seems to have emerged from nowhere to immediate, and surprising acclaim. Grace (Brie Larson), provides tough love and guidance for a group of troubled teenagers at a residential foster home, despite being barely a few years out of her teens herself. Grace is in a relationship with Mason ( John Gallagher Jr.), a fellow carer, seems happy on the surface, and clearly loves what she does, but she’s drifting and she knows it. The arrival of Jayden (Kaitlin Dever), an emo-ish girl with a history of self-abuse and family issues, throws the dynamics of her working and personal life into flux. Coupled with the discovery she is pregnant and the news that her own father is to be released from jail, Grace’s life starts to unravel – bringing her into conflict with the bureaucratic head of the care home and threatening to destroy the only stability in her life. Keeping material like this free from dread earnestness or lachrymose sentiment is a big ask for a debutant but Creton, for the most part, delivers a nuanced, layered, often funny character study that delivers some emotional sucker punches. All the talk has been about Brie Larson, and her performance as Grace is impressive, but in a film reliant on quality acting Short Term 12 has a further ace up its sleeve in Keith Stanfield, who plays Marcus, the oldest resident. Stanfield has some standout scenes, including one where he raps about his father, which in almost any other film, would likely implode under the weight of sentimentality. And the moment where he gets Mason and Grace to shave his head for his birthday will break the hardest of hearts. Short Term 12 doesn’t need to keep trying to hit emotional highs, or rely on its distracting and horribly overused score, because it has the potential for drama and power under the surface. But Creton cannot help but succumb to the indie template in the film’s less convincing final third. What saves Short Term 12 from death by Sundance glaze and elevates it above the norm is verisimilitude. The small scenes of banter between the workers and carers, along with the kids’ own inter-relationships, feel particularly well-judged and resonant; keeping the story on track when the narrative takes a seriously ill-advised detour. The hermetically sealed life of the home is captured with honesty, affection and humour and Creton explores, with some skill, the difficult and often fractious relationships between those who care and have demons of their own with the youngsters who need love but are afraid or suspicious of it. The film has been somewhat over-praised I fear, which is often disastrous for a young director’s future, but there is definite promise in this sincere and affecting debut.


In the Frame:Cabaret (1972)

words by C. J. Lines

B

ob Fosse’s film adaptation of Cabaret begins, appropriately enough, with a drum roll and a cymbal crash before throwing the viewer headlong into the giddy world of the Kit-Kat Klub. Reflected in the mirrored stage walls, we see the blurry, distorted faces of stylish dandy perverts (their appearance based on the paintings of Otto Dix). The Em-Cee ( Joel Grey) onstage, steps out of reflection, turns his garishly painted face to the camera, grins maniacally and bids us a leering “Wilkommen!” as a sleazy Brechtian tune soundtracks a kaleidoscopic explosion of weird, sexually-charged images; suspenders, bras, phallic brass instruments and grease-painted dragged-up dancers of indeterminable gender. It’s a delirious scene. Based around Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Diaries, Cabaret is set in the early 1930s and details the lives and loves of those who frequent and perform at this most notorious of clubs. At the centre of the story is a young British writer (Michael

York) who comes to Berlin seeking thrills. He finds them in the form of Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an American dancing girl who leads him down the rabbit hole as they drink and screw their way through the final days of the Weimar Republic. In so many ways, Cabaret is a story about the fleetingness of life; something ever exemplified by the spectre of Nazism looming throughout the film. Although the Nazis’ presence becomes more noticeable as the narrative progresses, they’re never the focus. This mounting sense of significance out of nothing makes the film’s perfect final frame all the more chilling. Literally mirroring the opening, the end of the Cabaret is a camera pan from the Em-Cee’s face as he finishes his farewell number. The drums roll and the stage mirror reveal the new audience, their swastika armbands clear even in the distortions of the glass. Gone are the dandy perverts. The eyes now watching do so for altogether different reasons... The characters we’ve come to love are to

be inevitably marked for death as the Reich gains ground, being Jews, homosexuals, artists and agitators. While this last frame by no means condemns them to any particular fate, it comes so soon after Minnelli’s gut-wrenching final song Life Is A Cabaret, itself a paean to dying young – it’s hard not to feel haunted by the implications. It’s a stark, sinister warning of the dangers of passivity and it resonates even now. Arguably, Fosse’s funhouse mirror is held up to ourselves – the contemporary audience – for allowing oppression to still exist. Among its many other virtues, Cabaret is a celebration of revolutionary art and people’s right to create it. This is a theme Fosse would explore even further in his incendiary Lenny Bruce biopic the following year. Cabaret’s final frame – this bleak reminder of those who seek to oppress, who still bide their time waiting to strike – leads beautifully into Lenny, reaffirming Fosse’s status as one of the great auteurs of the seventies, bridging together two of that decade’s finest films.

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Jordan McGrath

David Hall

Founder / Editor-in-Chief / Designer

Managing Editor

jordanmcgrath@veritefilmmag.com

davidhall@veritefilmmag.com

thanks: Contributors Stuart Barr Shelag M. Rowan-Legg Neil McGlone James Marsh Evrim Ersoy Robert Makin David Watson Tom Gore Paul Martinovic Robert Barry Craig Williams Kelsey Eichhorn C.J. Lines

Proofing James Marsh

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Image credits: Artificial Eye - 1,8,10,11,12,13,14,15,57,67,68 / Gramercy Pictures - 14,18 / Fox Searchlight - 14 / Lionsgate - 14,59 / Prim Leisure Corp - 19 / BFI - 23 / Film Society of Lincoln Center - 23 / Fantastic Fest - 34 / Sitges - 38 / Makurt Media - 36 / eOne Entertainment - 37 / Eureka Entertainment - 48,49,51,58 / Dreamworks - 52,53,54,55 / Warner Bros - 58 / The Works - 60 / Dogwoof - 61 / Koch Media - 63 / Verve Pictures - 64

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Vérité November 2013  

This month we talk about one of 2013's most discussed releases in the form of Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme D'Or winning Blue is the Warmest C...