enitharmon: (film)

Brokeback Mountain my arse! The original Gay Cowboy flick was Red River. Although todays audiences may want it all spelt out for them, in 1948 it just wasn’t on to be explicit or your film just didn’t see the light of day. But those in the know - and that surely included a goodly proportion of those in the industry, as well as fans of male-bonding films like this one - would have read the signs and smiled inwardly.

No, I don’t mean the central relationship between Tom Dunston, the want-it-all-and-want-it-now tyrant who wants his cows driven to Missouri at all costs, and his young protegé Matthew Garth who eventually stands up to him and leads a mutiny to take the cows to Abilene through safer country. That is important, but it is essentially a father-son relationship. No, I’m referring to the more discreet one between Garth and Cherry Valance, the gunslinger taken on to add extra muscle to the drive. Watch them size each other up when they meet and these days it’s impossible not to see it’s not each other’s guns they’re comparing.

As it happens, Montgomery Clift and John Ireland were rutting away together off-camera, and the wily Howard Hawks projected that into the fiction. You can probably imagine how John Wayne reacted to that, along with his sidekick Walter Brennan. Perhaps that’s what put the extra bit of fire into Wayne’s performance that had John Ford allegedly remarking to Hawks, “I didn’t know the son of a bitch could act!” He could, here, too. This is, to my mind, Wayne’s finest hour.

Howard Hawks, of course, is best-known for his wacky comedies and his strong women - Hepburn, Russell, Bacall. He makes a fine job of this more sombre work, but it doesn’t stop him weaving a thread of humour through the piece, and although this is almost entirely an all-male film, there’s a good sassy cameo for a newcomer, Joanne Dru. She never made the big time but became the staple of dozens of those Western TV dramas that I used to enjoy so much. Whatever happened to them? The Western is still what Hollywood did better than anybody and this is quite possibly the best Western of them all.

Film Diary

Nov. 10th, 2008 09:49 pm
enitharmon: (film)
So, how do you make a film about a distinguished mathematician and get away with it to the extent of winning a fistful of Oscars for it?

You turn it into a thriller about a terrorist plot against the US that may be completely imaginary, and you release it in the shadow of 9/11 and its fallout. Oh, and you put Russell Crowe in the lead.

Read all about it.

Film Diary

Nov. 2nd, 2008 05:29 pm
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Love him or hate him as a writer, it's hard to deny that what Dickens wrote was a gift for the cinema when it finally arrived. And David Lean certainly made a good fist of Great Expectations.

Read all about it.

Film Diary

Oct. 26th, 2008 07:59 pm
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This week we pick up from the last Film Diary, and follow the further adventures of schoolboy revolutionary Mick Travis from if... as he rises in society and... But let's not go there, hey.

Yes, it's O Lucky Man. Also featuring, and be warned Alec if you're reading this, a young Helen Mirren getting her kit off.

Film Diary

Sep. 22nd, 2008 11:54 pm
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Dark goings on and epic adventures in fields near Basingstoke. Yes, it's Watership Down, over at Enitharmon's Cave...

Film Diary

Sep. 14th, 2008 08:58 pm
enitharmon: (film)
Over at Enitharmon's Cave you can read about a seminal film of the 1960s, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier.

Film Diary

Aug. 31st, 2008 08:58 pm
enitharmon: (film)
From the Old West last week to the wilds of Enfield this week.

Yes, over at Enitharmon's Cave we're in Mike Leigh country for his 1991 romp, Life Is Sweet
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In 2005 the banlieus of Paris erupted into riots as the frustrations of the sidelined Arab and African communities boiled over. It came as a shock to the bourgeoisie Parisienne, which had drawn a veil over the suppression of the Algerian Liberation movement, forty-five years earlier.

Caché opens with a shot of a comfortable suburban neighbourhood. The shot lingers and lingers, people pass, cars come and go, it's just an ordinary day. And then, just as we wonder what's going on, the shot is revealed as a video, shot by a CCTV-like hidden camera and left on the doorstep of the house at the centre of the camera's vision. The house is the home of Georges Laurent, a presenter of literary television programmes, his wife Anne and their talented but restoless 12-year-old son Pierrot.

More of these videos keep arriving, showing scenes from Georges's life and accompanied by childlike drawings of violence. Georges, who is accustomed to being under the scrutiny of the camera, is nonetheless terrorised by these banal images, and the strains begin to show. Can the videos be awakening memories of a dark secret in Georges's past? And what has this to do with Majid, the Algerian boy adopted by Georges's parents when he wasa small child.

This is a film where very little actually happens, yet it is full of significance. When something dramatic does happen, it sends a jolt through the audience (and this is a film which really needs to be seen in a cinema). Though on the surface the events depicted affect only a few people and yet, through the medium of the big-screen television, we are reminded of the wider context: the earlier brutality shown to the Algerian demonstrators, and the ongoing conflict in the Arab world.

Those who need the quickfire cutting of Fight Club and the soupy scoring of Gladiator will no doubt find this film baffling. Much of the film is made up of long, lingering shots like that opening one, of noting very much. You are expected to work quite hard, however, because there's more going on in thise shots than you might first realise and there's a wealth of detail to take in. Hint: This is especially true in the very last shot. There's a lot going on but you need to be watching out for somebody you will recognise.

I found this showing at the Reading Film Theatre, tucked away in the middle of the University campus where townies such as I seldom venture. It was very well-attended but I was disappointed and a bit annoyed to hear that the RFT had cut its showings from three a week to two a week, and dropped most showings of non-English Language films. This one was an exception, and the policy of Anglo-hegemony is ironic given the underlying message.

I doubt if you'll find this at the local multiplex, but if you do appreciate good cinema it's well worth finding somewhere that's showing it. Cracking stuff!
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The first rule of Fight Club is, you don't tak about Fight Club, you just bang on about how wonderful it is. Presumably so that mugs who go to see it and can't see how wonderful it will feel somehow inadequate.

All right, this isn't really a film about fighting. It's the spiky existential nightmare of an anomic character, who might be a distant cousin of Camus' Étranger but is far less likeable, lashing out against a smug, decadent consumerist society and unleashing somthing far worse.

At least, I think that's what it was about. At times I felt it was simply about being gratuitously unpleasant. It's certainly one of that new breed of film in which no shot is allowed to linger for more than half a second, lest the atrophied brains of the MTV generation have to strain themselves to think.

I'm told it's full of terribly clever cinematic and consumerist jokes which you need a satellite scanner and a PhD in cryptology to pick up. I didn't pick any of them up. But then the old maxim applies - if the audience don't get the joke, it's the comedian's fault.

In short, I though Fight Club sucked. Maybe I'll revise my opinion if I can bring myself to watch it again. Maybe some kind soul will show me the key.
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This is by way of complete contrast to The Seventh Seal. If Bergman's fable was a spoonful of caviare then Gladiator is a veritable Mississippi Mud Pie of a film - the pleasure it provides isn't a symphony of flavours and textures to be savoured and thought about and remembered, it's about sheer overindulgence and you don't care too much where the choclate beans came from or that the cream came from a can

And that's the thing. Gladiator is immensely enjoyable in its way, but it works by a constant bombardment of the senses. It's full of things that work like sugar and give you a rush of energy and leave you feeling full and having a good time, But a few hours later you feel strangely empty. There's not much story there that hasn't been told many times before. After all, in less tha two hundred years Rome had had Caligula, Nero and Domitian. The emperor Commodus is a bit of an also-ran as bad emperors go!

Having said that, Russell Crowe is bloody marvellous. Good company for those venerable hell-raisers Richard Harris and Oliver Reed who also shine in minor roles. Joaquin Phoenix's Commodus kept on inviting unfavourable comparisons with John Hurt's camply sinister Caligula from the BBCs I, Claudius (though that was a very different kind of drama). I can't remember who played Lucilla, such was her impact. It was a very macho film, after all, and it cried out for a Katharine Hepburn, a Bette Davis or a Rita Hayworth to cut through all that testosterone.

It was about spectacle, after all, which is why it was twice as long as it needed to be, and why it opens with an extended, confusing and rather pointless battle scene presumambly to get the adrenaline pumping. There was once a chap called Shakespeare, you know, who wrote a play called Macbeth. He, like Ridley Scott opened with a glorious victory in battle against the odds by a general. Only he conveyed it, not with pyrotechnic wizardry, but with one wounded soldier reporting to his ageing king. That's all you need.

It's interesting that I saw this in the weekend that saw the death of J K Galbraith. Galbraith recognised that a capitalist society has a problem. It needs an educated population to keep generating new commodities for people to consume in order to keep. But it also needs to keep the same population from thinking too hard about what it is being pressured into consuming. The answer is to numb the senses by pummelling them into submission and not allowing the individual either the time or the space to think critically. That's what Gladiator, along with most contemporary culture, is doing and as such it is a fine symbol of our time.


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