My thoughts on Spectre

My thoughts on Spectre

So a few months back I made a comment about the trailer for SPECTRE looking so urine yellow that I wondered if Sam Mendes hadn’t just opened up the camera and pissed into it. Well, it turns out I was wrong as having now seen the film it turns out he took a massive shit in it instead. So with that in mind let’s take a look at the cinematic equivalent of gastroenteritis that is SPHINCTER… I mean SPECTRE!

Now I don’t normally go through the plot points in a film as I hate giving anything away, but this time I don’t care and have a lot to say so I’m going to spoil the shit out of this fucker, so let’s get on with this “film”.

Directed by Sam “author of all our pain” Mendes and containing a plot as tightly and tautly structured as a prolapsed anus, the film opens with Bond in Mexico City for the annual “ripping off Touch of Evil Day” when Bond realises he needs a breath of fresh air and climbs out his hotel window to stop some bad guys blowing something up. He accidentally blows them up and, presumably, kills a number of innocent people and immediately we know this is a Bond that is great at his job and we can be confident he’ll do the right thing and never fuck up. A dramatic fight then ensues on a helicopter between some visual effects artists and the limitations of green-screen until Bond steals a man’s jewellery and fucks off in the helicopter as the strains of a cat being fucked in the ass on helium and set to some Japanese Hentai fill the screen as our credits roll.

After the credits we find out that Bond has gone rogue A-FUCKING-GAIN!!!!! and that he is grounded. Judy Dench then skypes him from the grave to drive the plot forward seeing as Bond clearly has the IQ of a moron and must always be told where to go next. Bond is then introduced to C when he… hang on! Bond ISN’T introduced to C. He is introduced to someone he then unilaterally decides to call C. So I guess superiors code names don’t really count for anything in this world. Jesus Christ… moving on!

So Bond travels to Rome where he threatens and then sexually assaults a grieving widow on the day of her husband’s funeral then pretty much leaves her to her death whilst also leaving the audience in a state of suspense as we are left thinking “What sort of morally horrific event is Bond going to get up to now?!” Anyway, Monica Bellucci tells Bond where the baddies are meeting so the plot can move along. Bond manages to gain access to the meeting by flashing his magical Green Lantern ring at them whereby he is shown inside to a highly top-secret conference attended by only the select few of SPECTRE’s inner circle… along with a couple of hundred audience members, butlers, accountants or whatever the fuck all these people are or are supposed to be doing at this heavily attended private fucking meeting. There was a reason that previous SPECTRE meetings were between only a select few and were only identified by numbers to maintain anonymity: because it really gave the feeling of secrecy. This just feels like Bond has wandered onto the orgy scene of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shu… oh, its Mendes going for a Kubrick vibe isn’t it? I get it now. Well, it just looks like people sitting around waiting for dinner. So Bond finds out practically nothing of importance at this meeting apart from the possible location of Mr White and the fact that there is a henchman, played by David Batista, who kills people using his French nails. Why? Because he’s on fleek and why not because you know, YOLO. (Or should that be YOLT) Christ, I fucking hate this film.

However before the soup can be served, Bond is spotted and escapes and what follows is a car chase containing all the sparkling lethargy Mendes can muster and throw at the screen. And all shot in glorious shit and piss yellow/brown! This car chase is so dull, so boring and shot in such an ugly way that it feels more like a Top Gear segment than a Bond set piece. It’s just mediocre beauty shots of expensive cars zipping about a European city intercut with close ups of dashboards and medium shots of cars sliding about with some gags that fall Clarkson-level flat thrown in.

Meanwhile back in London, Nick Fury, played by Ralph Fiennes, discovers that SHIELD is compromised and that Government surveillance is bad and decides to confront C about why they seem to be in an episode of Spooks.

Bond, meanwhile, has managed to find the cellar in Austria that Jesper Christensen has been hiding in to avoid being in this movie. He then tells Bond that he is a “kite”… wait, a what?!… “dancing in a hurricane” (oh, he must have meant “kite”) and the location of his daughter before killing himself after reading the rest of the script.

Bond then travels to a clinic on top of an alpine mountain which, despite what I have just described, didn’t make me think of OHMSS even once because it never ever felt OHMSS, so he can talk to Mr White’s daughter and walking Proust metaphor with tits, Madeline Swann. Q appears, for some reason, and in an almost incomprehensible sequence they find out, through the One Ring, that all of Daniel Craig’s adversaries have the same taste in bling accessories. But Madeline is captured by the baddies forcing Bond to use the Green Lantern ring to make a plane magically appear and rescue her in some rather underwhelming action and leaving the audience with the shocking realisation that despite all the nods to OHMSS that this film will contain NO FUCKING SKIING AT ALL!!

Madeline tells Bond what to do next and they get on a train where Madeline orders a “dirty martini” which is pretty appropriate as this film feels like a Bond cocktail with a turd floating in it, have a fight with Mr French Nails (which is actually pretty decent) and now that Bond has saved her life twice she can finally open up her lady garden and let him water it. They reach their destination where Bond struggles with his alcoholism and, whilst sitting alone drinking in the middle of the night sees a mouse scurrying acro… whoa!! Hang on, are they tipping their hat to The Long Weekend here? Oh my god yes, this is awesom… oh no, it’s just a mouse showing Bond what to do next. Fuck me in the ass.

So after getting the location for Oberhauser’s base from Agent Squeaky, they set off into the desert where they are picked up by a Goldfinger reference and taken to a base located in the crater of a meteor impact. This base is actually incredibly well designed and really has that old-school Bond feel and that wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright with a bronze glow that Ken Adams was so good at capturing. Also… wait a minute! What the hell was that? Was that… was that a pan and scan reference? Did Mendes just do, in a modern day theatrical release, a pan and scan nod? Did that camera move deliberately keep panning along just a little longer than it needed to, just like in Diamonds Are Forever when it was shown on TV? If that is the case, if there is even a small chance that I am not reading too much into this (and chances are I SO am) and that was a nod to pan and scan in Bond on TV then I will happily get on my knees and declare Mendes a genius and that that particular shot one of the greatest in cinema history. And considering the number of extraordinarily obscure, subtle and nuanced references to Bond history then I wouldn’t be surprised. Either way, the pull up to Blo… Oberhauser’s lair is a wonderful, brilliant nod to the pull up to Slumber in Diamonds. Nice Mendes, very nice indeed.

We then meet the villain of this film, Franz Oberhauser, where he gives a brief lecture on astro-geology in front of the oldest metaphor to strike the Earth when he tells Bond that all of his previous adventures — you know, how a story about financing terrorism through a game who’s winner is almost impossible to predict, or the death of Vesper that would have been almost impossible to contrive or practically execute in any way whatsoever, or the Bolivian water whatever the fuck Quantum was about, and the death of M which kinda seemed more like an accident — well all of these events, all of these chaotic and totally uncontrollable events have been manipulated behind the scenes by Oberhauser purely to torment Bond. Sweet fucking god. This is the point where the entire franchise almost collapses frothing and foaming at the mouth like a horse in the Grand National. The sound of the crow barring of previous Craig films purely to give this film a plot and “continuity” (something Bond films actively rejected in the past!) almost drowns out the sounds of the drills being plunged into Bond’s skull. The only saving grace is that they didn’t give Oberhauser some sort of stupid fucking back-story.

So anyway, Oberhauser keeps torturing Bond and then we find out that his name is actually someone called Blofeld and we then find out that Blofeld is actually James Bond’s foster brother and that the whole reason for SPECTRE destroying and toying with Bond’s life is that Blofeld’s dad never taught him how to ski and… and… hang on… (cough)…

COME ON DOWN MENDES AND CLAIM YOUR PRIZE!!
That’s right Sam, you did it. You finally managed to come up with the most god-awful moment in the entire Bond franchise, the stupidest, most idiotic piece of film to bear the Bond name. You know that bit in Moonraker with the double-take pigeon? Well, take that bit and combine it with the CGI surfing sequence from Die Another Day and the swanny-whistle from Golden Gun and you might, you MIGHT, come close to matching the fucking idiocy that is this moment in SPECTRE. Yes, you did it Sam. You came up with a moment that is so stupid and cynical that it could potentially retroactively ruin the entire franchise with its implications and all done for the sake of “if they have a family connection then that equals depth.” If I had not already known about this plot “twist”, if I had not already had the chance to prepare myself for this reveal and had come to this part in the film cold then I could have quite possibly went totally fucking tonto.

And the film never recovers from this point on and descends to levels of inanity of mythic proportions. So Bond reaches for his explosive watch as the audience reach for the vodka and citalopram to process what the fuck they’ve just witnessed and manages to incapacitate Blofeld and free himself. Bond and Swann escape and Bond destroys Blofeld’s base with, and I am not kidding, one bullet. One well aimed shot at a pipe’s valve and BLAMMO, the entire complex explodes and only for the reason that they can have an “impressive” fireworks display that is so desperately aping the Joker blowing up the hospital in Dark Knight that it might as well just start swinging on a tire and eating its own shit. It is a scene even more ridiculous than Quantum of Solace’s exploding hotel (do architects in the Bond universe construct all buildings out of explosive materials?).

We then jump to London, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, and they decide to shut down C’s surveillance program. They set off but as they are driving through a concrete underpass they are unexpectedly ambushed by Blofeld’s men in a totally expected way because Blofeld’s henchmen have been watching The Dark Knight on dvd and thought it was cool.
They kidnap Bond and drive him to a secret destination where Bond immediately escapes but decides to go into the abandoned building anyway… making the previous five minutes totally fucking irrelevant!!!!

So in an obvious nod to Scaramanga’s funhouse Bond enters the crumbling MI5 building where the Joker has left clues and weird shit for Bond to follow. And I really must admire Blofeld’s henchmen as what with having to protect Blofeld and capture Bond we find out that they also have had to make masks of previous Bond villains as well as having some basic grasp of interior design and arts and crafts.

Bond finally finds Blofeld and, in what must be the worst, the most anaemic, anodyne, boring, uninspired and just plain downright shit ended to any Bond film, we can sense SPECTRE lurching and limping to the finishing line.

Bond finally finds Madeline tied up with silly string and the two of them escape the building before it blows up, race down the Thames after Blofeld in his fleeing helicopter with the House of Parliament beside them in a sequence Danny Boyle did better four years ago, when Bond shoots the helicopter in its exhaust port causing it to crash into London Bridge where Blofeld crawls out and gives himself up and Bond and Madeline drive off into the sunset. And that’s the motherfucking climax! AAAARRRGGGGHHHH!!!

In the name of Chubby Broccoli’s bumhole, what the shit did I just watch?! I can completely understand why some fans reacted negatively, very negatively, to this movie. We have been waiting for years for the return of Blofeld and for it to be handled in such a sloppy and patronising way is a crushing disappointment. Blofeld was MUCH scarier when he was just some guy who wanted to take over the world. It genuinely made him feel like a psychopath. But to boil it down to daddy issues and, again, family connections, just makes a total mockery of this greatest of all villains. And what was SPECTRE’s plan? Seriously, what is it they are actually up to? If all this is, as the film seems to imply, to ultimately destroy Bond then the name of the organisation is a total misnomer as it isn’t engaged in revenge or extortion or counter-espionage at all. It is simply all about spite. And that’s shit.

And yes, the opening sequence is technically impressive without a doubt but it is by no means the best Bond opening by a long shot (no pun intended). It doesn’t have the thrill of The Spy Who Loved Me and it certainly doesn’t have the pure sense of fun and great stunt work of the opening of Moonraker (Bond getting thrown out of a plane without a parachute? Now THAT’S how to start a movie!) Likewise, the fight on the train is great. It’s genuinely exciting with some superb punctuation moments and beats. But it’s over oh so quickly that the ultimate effect is one of disappointment.

Also the soundtrack is actively dull and is easily the most god-awful “score” for a movie I’ve ever heard. The orchestration is shit, if almost non-existent, and that fucking Harry Potter choral work that has always felt shit and tired and has been used almost constantly since, especially by the BBC at Christmas in a pathetic attempt to create a feeling of magic and wonder… but ultimately is just clichéd, sub-standard composing. And it went out of style about ten years ago. And it doesn’t suit Bond. And a lot of this blame can be laid at the feet of the turgid theme song. Like nearly all the post John Barry scores it struggles with the same problem — lack of a strong melodic line. Barry could not only arrange gorgeous, lush pieces but could pull a truly memorable melody from out of what seemed like thin air. It gave his scores identity. But with the bland, ill-defined mewling of Sam Smith’s song, there is practically nothing of substance for the composer to work off resulting in a score that’s almost exclusively either repetitive bombast or brain-damagingly simplistic textural faff. As I said, this is easily one of the worst blockbuster soundtracks I have ever heard to the point where it explicitly has a negative impact on the film.

And the lack of large action sequences is a problem for me. Instead of running around London at night and resulting in nothing more exciting than being in the capital and trying to get a cab at night, why wasn’t the climax at Blofeld’s crater base… with a shit load of guards rather than the five men he shoots easily? Then they could have had Felix or whoever come in with an army and have a massive, Lewis Gilbert style ending. And we haven’t seen one of those in years!!!! That could’ve been awesome and would’ve been better than what we got.

But there is hope here in SPECTRE. Hope that, finally, the James Bond and Batman/Superman franchises will drop the whole po-faced, serious, “dark approach” along with the “all the characters need to be related because that equals depth” tedious crap. Having everyone related doesn’t equal depth. It’s unrealistic, short changes the audience and shrinks the scale of the universe you have created. The Bond franchise has, until recently, been very good at reinventing and realigning the series if EON feels a certain approach or style is getting tired or unpopular. It’s one of the reasons the Bond films stand up as a series because, despite the formula, there is variation and surprises.

SPECTRE is not, in my opinion, the oedipal wreck that was Skyfall and it at least, at times, feels like a Bond film and what with the arrival at Blofeld’s lair, which was gorgeous, and the fact that it genuinely feels that it is trying to be a Bond film then… oh shit, I like this movie don’t I? I actually liked it.

Yep, when all is said and done, despite the fact that it is a car-crash of a film and that it should, and must, represent the end of a period of a certain style of portraying Bond on screen, when it comes down to it I kinda liked SPECTRE. Grudgingly. Very grudgingly. It is bad but it felt more Bond than Quantum of Solace ever did (a Bond film that felt positively ashamed to be a Bond film and not a Bourne film), less po-faced and downright dull than Skyfall and anything would be better than Brosnan’s last three outings… which were unmitigated shit (apart from Die Another Die which is almost a work of insane genius if you are pissed enough). No, I’d happily put SPECTRE in the same camp as say The Man With The Golden Gun or Octopussy or even Diamonds Are Forever. They are, in my opinion, lesser Bond films but ones that do, at the very least, genuinely feel Bond-y in nature and have enough stuff going on in them or little moments, no matter how brief or rare, to keep coming back to. And that arrival at Blofeld’s base. I’m not kidding, I love that moment. Love it to the point that it almost, almost, saves the film for me. SPECTRE has moments, genuine moments, that I have waited 30 odd years to see in a Bond film. They are the points where Mendes throws out the references to other filmmakers — Nolan or Kubrick — and has the balls to give us some unadulterated, undiluted, pure Bond and when he does so it is staggeringly great. This shows that Bond can easily stand on its own. It doesn’t need to be ashamed. It doesn’t need, and shouldn’t, reference outside franchises. And the moments with the humour, fun and glamour are by far the things that make this film watchable and, at times, very watchable. It is po-faced, overthinking, faux seriousness that causes the film to fail spectacularly.

In conclusion, and I can’t believe I’m saying this after all the above, but I’d genuinely love it if Craig and Mendes came back and did just one more Bond film, but on one condition — that they threw out the Dark Knight fetish and embraced, fully embraced, the full on traditional fun of Bond. They have demonstrated they have the capacity to do it and do it well when they want to. So don’t be ashamed, don’t hide your PPK away, be loud and proud and go full Bond. Because that’s what the fans deserve… and want. It’s time to go full Bond.

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‘Northern Exposure’ or –Bill Morrison’s ‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’

‘Northern Exposure’ or –Bill Morrison’s ‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’

So last night I went to the GFT to see Bill Morrison’s new film ‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’.

I walked into the cinema out of the rain, ordered my usual aesthete fitness drink — tap water with ice — at the bar and settled down in my seat. One of the things people can do at the GFT is sponsor a seat. Give the cinema some money and you get your name on the back of a chair in the auditorium. I looked at the name on the back of the seat in front of me: it read ‘Clyde Cablevision’. “Who the hell has a name like that?!” I thought.

I looked around. The audience was a healthy split between men and women although I couldn’t help noticing how many of the men were, like myself, totally bald. Does Morrison’s work attract bald men? There were so many of us certain sections of the auditorium looked like an open egg-carton.

While the adverts played I leafed through the GFT’s brochure, curious about ‘Dawson City’s run-time, expecting it to be around 85 mins. When I saw it was two hours I almost spat my drink out over Clyde Cablevision. A two hour long Morrison movie?! Most of his work is around seven to fifteen or twenty minutes long with his bigger pieces maxing out around an hour or just over. Could he sustain the length? Would his stylistic technique become grating at this duration?

Fortunately the answer is emphatically “No” as ‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’ is one of Morrison’s most captivating, and most moving, works. It’s a “documentary” similar to his ‘The Great Flood’ and tells the story of the discovery of a load of old black-and-white, silver nitrate silent movies from the very earliest days of cinema found buried under an abandoned swimming pool turned ice-hockey rink in the northern Canadian city of Dawson.

Dawson City was founded during the days of the Klondike gold-rush. Huge numbers (and I had no idea just how many there were) of prospective prospectors set off to the Yukon in search of gold quickly, and inevitably, followed by the corporations and industry. Thus the city of Dawson was created.

Whilst living in this remote city all these people needed something to do. Gambling and drinking were the entertainment for a while until there was a push to clean the place up and several cinemas were built as healthier alternatives for distraction. The city had a huge appetite for film but being so far north and remote, the film distributors refused to pay for the movies to be returned after they had been shown in Dawson. This was, for many film-reels, the end of the line.

There these films sat, constantly threatening to spontaneously explode into flames (were they angry they had been forgotten?) as silver-nitrate film has a wont to do. So they were used as land-fill when the local swimming pool was turned into an ice-rink. There these movies and news-reels lay under the cold earth and ice for decades, surviving through their delicate robustness, until they were unearthed in the 1970s. An act of forgetting had become an act of preservation. But just what was preserved?

Morrison does his usual, wonderful stuff here: taking old silver-nitrate film and creating a narrative from these dazzling fragments. And what we get through these images is a history of Dawson, the gold-rush, the rise of Capitalism and cinema itself. Hollywood might have had an impact on Dawson but Dawson also had an impact on Hollywood when men rich from the gold-rush put their money into the movie business, where films about the gold-rush would then be made. A feed-back loop between Canada and California.

And then it struck me: ‘Dawson City’ deals with a time and with issues that Thomas Pynchon deals with in ‘Against The Day’ — the Ludlow massacre, the destruction of labour movements and the left, anarchist attacks against robber barons and Wall St, revolting miners, film-editing techniques and film references and, of course, explosions. This was an important time that helped defined America to this very day. Advances for workers rights were made at this time — the 8 hour day etc — but, again, a huge amount (like abandoned film) was lost. Capitalism exerted itself, violently flexed its muscles, at this time only to have (temporarily) its own day of reckoning by the end of the 20’s, and ‘Dawson City’ captures all this through dazzling light.

And just how much we get to see of this lost world, how much is revealed to us, is incredible. The way these resurrected images unfold before us is utterly captivating and the way Morrison creates a narrative out of this is very impressive.

This is one of Morrison’s more laid-back works. It doesn’t have the balls-to-the-wall intensity of ‘Decasia’ or the brain-splitting rush of ‘Outerborough’ and it certainly doesn’t have anything as giddingly exhilarating or as overwhelmingly over-stimulating as ‘Spark of Being’s drum solo (but then again, what does?) but the story is so strong here that it doesn’t need all the pyrotechnics which could, in this case, have been more of a distraction. We get the chance to fully immerse ourselves in the story and images. His stylistic tropes are still there but he uses the decayed footage sequences sparingly and when he does they are beautiful, especially the final sequence, a wonderful flourish and love letter to silent film which gave me all the feels. This is a movie so full of heart I’m sure it would’ve made Clyde Cablevision well-up. ‘Dawson City’ starts by saying “Film was born of an explosive” but, like ‘Cinema Paradiso’s box of kisses, film is also emotionally explosive as well as physically.

‘Dawson City: Frozen Time’ contains more than film; it contains love.

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‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’ or — Zack Snyder’s ‘Sucker Punch’ done right

‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’ or — Zack Snyder’s ‘Sucker Punch’ done right

And this is meant to be Rivette’s accessible one?!

So Jacque Rivette’s ‘Beavis and Butthead Go Boating’ (no spoilers!) starts with Julie, a librarian, sitting in a Parisian park and reading a book about magic. She looks around her — is she trying magic out on her environment? Either way, it doesn’t appear to be working. Oh well. And then Celine appears (has Julie’s magic worked after all?!), walking so briskly through the park she drops her sunglasses in her rush.

Julie sees this, picks them up and follows Celine through Paris who is frantically moving forward dropping more of her belongings as she goes white-rabbiting on.

Finally, after a flirting around each other, they finally meet and Celine moves in with Julie where Julie discovers Celine is a magician who works in a night-club. Julie wants magic to escape her “fixedness” but it doesn’t seem to work for her. Celine seems to have too much magic and is a bit of a fantascist, especially to her friends. Julie also finds out that Celine was fleeing from a house where she had been working and something had happened but Celine can’t remember what.

Julie is determined to investigate and to figure out what is going on, to nail down the structure of whatever “reality” they have stumbled into. Curious about this strange house (and possibly wanting something exciting to dislodge her from her frozen stuckness in time) Julie enters only to reappear outside it with no memory of what happened inside .Celine then also enters to find the exact same thing happens to her. The only evidence something has occured is that they both have red hand-prints on their shoulders (similar to Lang’s ‘M’ — a sign of a murdered child) and a boiled sweet. Something, some experience, has been crystallised, taken outside and can now be transported away and put to investigative use.

What they discover is that eating this sweet (“eat me”) allows them access to the “story” that is/was/has unfolded/ing inside the house. On eating the sweet what they “see” is the house’s family repeating the same sequences time and again but fractured and confusing and suggesting a mystery and a possible murder. However they soon run out of sweets and so can therefore no longer access the memories. Fortunately Julie is a librarian and knows there are magic books inside the library where she works which they decide to steal in a daring, night-time, rolling-skating robbery. These books detail how to make a “memory potion”. Thus fortified and ready for transportation they sit down and “watch” the memory unfolding before them like a movie. But it wears off before they get to the end! The only solution is for them to go back into the house together.

Armed with their baby dinosaur eyes and clover they enter determined to save the child inside. But it seems as though the very act of entering the house thus armed (not entering it via memory access) has caused those memories to start dying. Celine and Julie seem to have brought the most important weapon against memory into the house — time — and now those memories seem to be decaying or to be revealing themselves for what memories truly are — not real life.

But will they succeed? Can they defeat the narrative of the house and save the child (themselves) or will they be pulled back into it and memory loss? Will Celine and Julie actually get to go boating?

I absolutely adored this movie and it also blew my mind out of my fucking skull. They certainly do go boating but they go boating down a swirling rabbit-hole of illusions, dreams, swapped identities and that’s only scratching the surface. I thought this was going to be a pretty straight forward movie as I’d heard it was Rivette’s big commercial hit. It turned out to be the exact opposite as this is, possibly, the most Rivettian film I’ve seen and, at times, makes some of his other stuff seem screamingly conventional. Where the hell to start with this one?

First up there are so many wonderful moments. The opening chase through Paris is gorgeous and funny as hell (Julie running up the steps as Celine is in the cable-car is just perfection). Another one of my favourite sequences is when Julie pretends to be Celine, summoning all her strength by the “Properties and powers of baby dinosaurs’ eyes” and performs a magic show at the club where Celine works. It is wonderful. But even prepared with her talismen you can tell Julie isn’t a natural magician and gives one of the best performances of cringing embarrassment mixed with lyricism I’ve seen. And her monologue about the males gazing at her, those voyeuristic men in the “cinema”, those “Cosmic twilight pimps” (I LOVE that line!) is glorious. I could watch Dominique Labourier all day.

Similarly the look on Celine’s face whenever she takes a piece of sweet and enters the fantasy world is wonderful: a look of curiosity, anticipation, fear and courageous resolve.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of Alice in Wonderland in here from the tea party Julie has with her old nanny to the opening chase. And there so are many doublings, mirrorings and references to jewels, reds and blues that you get the feeling Rivette had been speed-reading Nabokov before filming this.

The scenes where Celine and Julie sit “watching” the movie together and commenting on it, like some French New Wave Beavis and Butthead, are glorious and the chemistry between Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier is captivating. I completely fell in love with these two friends. The way they playfully deconstruct, criticise and get bemused by what they’re seeing unfold before them is funny as hell and meta in the best possibly way (i.e. not annoying or indulgent). Again this is very much down to the utterly disarming and beautiful acting. You can’t help but love these two.

There’s so much more I could say about this movie. Everything from Bulle Ogier playing the kid’s game Statues showing her at her sophisticated, glamorous, graceful best or the fact that the men dress in black like angel-fish and (at times) talk from the inside of cupboards and mirrors. Then there’s all that could be said about cinema as a form of dream-travel (astral-(cinematic)projection). This is a film that tears up a memory like tearing up a magic trick to show there is nothing there. It is one of the reasons it sometime reminded me of Orson Welles’ ‘F is For Fake’.

And, without giving too much away — the end? Celine has escaped her “movie” and Julie has escaped her fixedness or, at least, learned to live inside it. They have broken a cycle and now can effect the story, much like Julie has been wanting to do with her life but felt stuck. The “actors” from the house, however, have and cannot. They remain to forever float in stasis. Unlike Celine and Julie, they cannot go boating or, at least, not with any form of agency. And of course, having agency means being able to play and that is what I love about this film and Rivette in general — that sense of play, of fun.

So Julie and Celine are now part of the world. How will they get on as they move forward, even if it’s in cycles? Fortunately they are armed with dinosaur eyes and clover so I think Celine and Julie are going to be just fine. These two will be boating together with each other throughout time and I’m so glad I was able to join them.

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‘O Lucky Man’ or — Bean Flick?

‘O Lucky Man’ or — Bean Flick?

So the story of ‘O Lucky Man’ concerns Mick Travis (played by Malcolm McDowell), a coffee salesman for the Imperial Coffee Company, who travels to the North East of England and then Scotland. During his odyssey he encounters various characters and institutions all seemingly representing various aspects of modern day, British capitalist society. These encounters challenge his principles although sticking to those principles results in his decline in society. Yet maybe there is a light at the end of this tunnel; some star to guide him or possibly even to manifest into? Will he get lucky?

Yet I think the real story of ‘O Lucky Man’ is this: Malcolm McDowell becomes super famous after ‘If…’ (1968) and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971). This success goes to his young head and, therefore, he starts thinking his life is worthy of being turned into a feature film. Lindsay Anderson, somewhat besotted and enamoured by the young star he helped create and flattered by the thought of appearing as a god-like figure in his own movie, agrees to make it. However, it soon becomes apparent that McDowell’s early life as a coffee salesman lacks any real intellectual weight so another writer is brought in to add extra layers of political and social satire whilst Anderson decides to use his bag of tricks he’s picked up from the Nouvelle Vague and European art-house cinema to add artistic cache, even though he originally wanted to make a film about Alan Price but hey, why not just the band in as some sort of Greek chorus and, hey presto, before anyone knows it they have a pretentious three hour mess on their hands.

That’s the big problem with ‘O Lucky Man’ and it comes right at the end when it declares — “Based on an idea by Malcolm McDowell”. Then everything — the self-indulgence, the self-congratulatory air, the empty political posturing — makes sense. It feels very much like nothing more than an idea stretched out to a three hour run-time with everything else just bolted on. Rather than an actual Pilgrim’s Progress ‘O Lucky Man’ is more an assembly of various encounters, all discreet units, that could easily all be rearranged in order with no discernable impact on how the film plays out overall. And that’s a problem.

At its best the film functions similarly, though not as effectively, as Roy Andersson’s stunning ‘Songs From The Second Floor’ (2000) as treacle-paced, stylised surrealism melds with social and municipal observation and critique. Yet Andersson knows how to keep things succinct and fresh whilst Anderson’s film feels lumbering and laboured. Anderson is also displaying his influences heavily here with political texts smashed hard onto the screen in the style of Godard and the dropping in of black frames whilst some factory and machinery shots seem lifted straight from Antonioni’s ‘Red Desert’ (1964). But it doesn’t quite hold together and Anderson might share Godard’s desire for satirical political mischief but he lacks Godard’s genuine sense of fun and play.

This is extraordinarily frustrating as some of these sequences are handled and shot brilliantly with some real moments and flourishes of genius, yet this lack of cohesion and its length makes the movie a slog and, ultimately, almost meaningless.

So I’m still struggling to figure out what ‘O Lucky Man’ was about? If it’s a critique of British capitalism and decline of Empire then it fails as it raises issues but addresses none of them. Is it about Malcolm McDowell’s rise to fame? If so that story has been done better elsewhere such as in Peter Watkins ‘Privilege’ (1967). Is it about a young man who can’t fit into a society that seems both against him and also tolerant of his excesses? Again, why not just re-watch ‘A Clockwork Orange’?

I’m going to spoil the ending here. At the end Mick decides to audition as an actor for a feature film. It’s his one last chance to make anything of himself. The director, played by Lindsay Anderson himself (there’s more ego sloshing about here than in Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2’ — 2017), wants Mick to smile, but Mick needs to know “why”? The director simply slaps him across the face. There’s the problem, for me, right there with this movie: it doesn’t feel like it is Mick that Anderson is slapping across the face but more that it is us, the audience. The stars and crew might engage in a self-congratulatory, meta-part at the end but we’re left feeling like we’ve been viewed with contempt.

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‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981)

‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981)

Lucio Fulci’s ‘The House By The Cemetery’ (1981) is really gross!

The film tells the “story” of the Boyles, a family who rent a house where the father’s ex-colleague, Dr Peterson, hung himself after killing his girlfriend. It seems Dr Peterson was doing research into a certain Dr Freudstein (how did you come up with THAT name, Lucio?!), an insane Victorian doctor who performed unnatural experiments. Oh, and Dr Freudstein’s body is buried inside the house so, you know, nothing to be at all concerned with here!

Bob, the Boyle’s young son, has visions of a little girl warning him to stay away from the house but, being a horror film, little Bob completely ignores this. Strange events start to afflict the family and it isn’t long (well, about forty five mins run-time) until they figure out something is not quite right. And it seems that anyone who visits the house is brutally murdered! Has Dr Freudstein returned? Did he ever go away initially? Or is someone else using his name for their own agenda? And why is there only one head-stone in the cemetery this house is, supposedly, next to?

This film is typical Fucli in that it’s grungy, nasty and barely makes sense. It’s also a blatant mash-up of Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ (1980) and Jack Clayton’s ‘The Innocents’ (1961) except Fulci does manage to put a somewhat original twist on it all and boy, does he milk that Freudian theme (if the house is the mind then its cellar is the subconscious). So as opposed to Kubrick Fulci doesn’t project the son’s shadow side onto the father hence turning a parental figure into a monster. No, it seems as though Dr Freudstein represents the child’s monstrous side manifest, one that the child must be reborn into to have full realisation. It’s the parents that are the ones that need to worry here and the Henry James quote at the end helps ram that home – are all children little monsters?

So despite having almost no original ingredients it certain has its own unique flavour. It’s also nasty as hell and highlights the aspects Fulci had that set him apart from the other Italian horror directors. So there are no “set-pieces” or elaborate moments of bravura camera moves signalling something is going to happen. With Fulci it just does happen, gruesomely, adding to the shock. The moments of violence burst, seemingly, out of nowhere usually coming on the heels of a scene that could be classed as “dull”. It adds an interesting contrast but also helps keep us on our toes as nothing is explicitly flagged up. The deaths are nicely unexpected and very, very gross. It’s not often I go “Ewwwwwww!!” during a film but I did here… a number of times.

Having said that, I still find I really have to meet Fulci half-way with his movies as they always seem on the verge of collapsing into shit (which is also part of the thrill of watching them and almost as nerve-wracking as the monsters). So if you have a low tolerance for almost incomprehensible storytelling, bad dubbing, annoying kids, cheesy music and even cheesier shifts in tone then you might struggle with this one. If, however, the thought of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) mixed with ‘The Shining’, Freudian analysis, a shit load of gore and one of the most outrageous bat attacks in horror cinema sounds like your cup of tea then I heartily recommend a visit to ‘The House By The Cemetery’.

‘The Collector’ (1965)

‘The Collector’ (1965)

Written by  Colin Edwards

Last night I watched William Wyler’s adaptation of John Fowles’ ‘The Collector’ (1965) where a young bank clerk, Freddie, kidnaps a young art-student, Miranda, and keeps her prisoner in the cellar of a country house. He doesn’t want to kill or assault her; he simply wants her to get to know him. He’s not very good with people you see, preferring the company of dead butterflies which he collects and displays. Understandably Miranda doesn’t want to get to know Freddie and wants only to escape, but will she get the chance? Even if she does get the chance then will she take it? What are the barriers that stop us leaving an abusive relationship? Physical or psychological? More unnervingly, do we actually want to leave when given the chance?

‘The Collector’ is a very good film and one that straddles interesting territory. It’s post ‘Psycho’ yet pre-empts Stockholm Syndrome (first termed around 1973) as a focus for drama as this movie is very much (in fact, purely) about Freddie and Miranda’s relationship.

This film feels on the cusp of so many things. Made slap bang in the middle of the 60s, and following both ‘Psycho’ (1960) and ‘Peeping Tom’ (1960) by a good four years, it feels both older and newer than its predecessors. The filmmaking style feels more restrained (which is appropriate) and old-school yet it also doesn’t opt for the typical psycho-sexual explanation for Freddie’s behaviour that could’ve been the clichéd way to go, allowing Fowles and Wyler to address something more subtle and identifiable – the violence we can inflict on each other because of our need for “love”. It’s not the urge to kill (although the urge to destroy is there) or ravish but to be wanted, something we can all identify with. Also, once the “relationship” between Freddie and Miranda is established the thoughts, feelings and interactions they have are those that can exist in any relationship. You don’t need to be a psycho to get this film; maybe just married. This makes Freddie less of a monster but, hence, also way more dangerous. This ambiguity means there are plenty of moments where our sympathy shifts leaving us wondering just who is torturing who. Although, when it boils down it, it’s pretty obvious (he torturing her!).

It’s also shot in a way that suggests modernity for that time, sometimes lapsing into colourfully gothic displays with some Mario Bava style lighting and design making it feel almost like a British Giallo. And the fact it seems that Freddie’s father, like happened to so many young men at that time, had died during the War emphasises this British tone, really giving the film a unique feel in both time and place and Wyler does a great job with all this.

Yet the story is still full of typical Fowlesian obsessions: natural history; manipulation; narrative sleight of hand; the delusional aspect of love; a certain snobbery regarding literature; the hierarchy of class; the possible stirrings of the author’s massive ego bubbling under the surface, etc. Having not read this Fowles novel it has made me curious to possibly check this one out.

Back to the film and the performances are great. Terrence Stamp is creepy as anything as the pathetic Freddie pulling our sympathies this way and that, sometimes vulnerable and sad, other times a knot of destructive darkness. If you ever wondered if the dashing and handsome Stamp could look as pathetically desperate as Peter Lorre then just watch this. Although it is Samantha Eggar as the captive Miranda who possibly steals the show with a whole host of emotions readable on her face at any one time. We know what she’s thinking but we don’t want Freddie to catch on too. Don’t emote too much Miranda!

And the ending? It’s pretty cool and very unexpected. It’s not that our allegiances shift (we always want Miranda to escape after all) but we’re more not wanting her to resort to desperate, albeit understandable, measures to obtain that freedom. But maybe she should? What a pickle! And all because of “love”. The climax also had me thinking of ‘American Psycho’ (2000) a little and not just in having certain truths revealed but also the question of whether or not society at large will even notice or care. It’s very chilling and extraordinarily bleak and very effective.

‘The Collector’ is a smart, intelligent and genuinely disturbing film. If you like ‘escape from capture’ types of film such as ‘Misery’ (1990) or psychological battles of will then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

If you like The Collector, you might like How To Be A Good Wife by Emma Chapman

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