Nicolas Roeg, from The World is Ever Changing (Faber and Faber, 2013)
April 15, 2014
When I was shooting Walkabout, there was a scene where the young boy is in a state of shock and sadness as he sees two hunters shoot a buffalo. The boy gazes at the killing of the animal, and with the simple reversing of the animal falling we put it back up again and intercut it with the boy staring. It becomes a beautiful moment in the thoughts of a child. The thrill of what can be done with the retained moving image and linking it to our behaviour in life has never left me. ‘If only we could put the clock back’ – isn’t that what’s often said? Well, in film we can.
April 13, 2014
Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi, 2012). If Anthony Hopkins wasn’t right for it, who would be? Or was it just a bad idea to start with? Hopkins gets the voice but not quite the look; he waddles around looking morose, is occasionally witty, but never has the playfulness you remember from Hitchcock appearances, that kind of audacity. Hollywood biopics are about turning points in which important aspects of character are revealed. But was Hitchcock’s decision to chase a lurid B-movie project (Psycho) really one of those?
April 12, 2014
Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas, 2013). Daniel Radcliffe’s Allen Ginsberg is timid, a bystander, in a film that is a prequel even to the previous literary prequels (Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, Epstein and Friedman’s Howl and Salles’ On the Road) that used the most important fictions to tell early Beat history. This is New York, 1944. Young Columbia University student Ginsberg finds a way in to the bohemian demi-monde via the more experienced and wilder fellow student Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan, a discovery). Brideshead meets Rimbaud. The true subject of the film is Carr’s relationship with the older, obsessed David Kammerer (Michael C Hall), which ended in a sensational murder; around that event, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs slowly emerge as their public and pre-published selves. The latter two are flatly impersonated by Jack Huston (Kerouac) and a very dry Ben Foster (Burroughs) but Radcliffe is a greater let-down. DeHaan aside, this small but fascinating slice of social and cultural history is mostly undone by its poor casting. And that’s before we get to Jennifer Jason Leigh as Naomi Ginsberg, rattling around wide-eyed in the attic. (Beats on the roof, from left: Foster as Burroughs, Radcliffe as Ginsberg, DeHaan as Carr and Huston as Kerouac.)
April 11, 2014
April 9, 2014
Good choices, these. I have trouble with A Clockwork Orange myself but regardless. And who wouldn’t like the notion of Throbbing Gristle as secret Star Wars fans, hiding pieces of Lucas dialogue and film soundtrack inside the civilisation-wrecking noise?
Later, I managed to get hold of the audio from the film, and if you listen carefully to some of the early Throbbing Gristle recordings (the live tracks) you can hear all sorts of Star Wars clips that me and Sleazy (Peter Christopherson) were spinning in from cassette – bleeps, explosions, bits of dialogue. Here’s a funny six degrees of separation: in 1977 I was also working part time in a furniture store in Hampstead, London, when a buyer from Lucas Films came in and ordered a dozen or so expensive Italian black high-backed chairs. I was tasked with delivering them to Elstree studios, which I did, right onto the Star Wars set. The chairs were used in the ‘Death Star conference room’ scenes with Darth Vader and Peter Cushing.
April 6, 2014
The Rum Diary (Bruce Robinson, 2011). Hunter S Thompson’s invention of Hunter S Thompson, years after the event, is rendered as Withnail antics in Puerto Rico with occasional outbursts of oracular Gonzo speech (at the sight of Nixon, on television, 1960) not quite spoken by Johnny Depp in the voice he mastered for Terry Gilliam. A vague sense of journalism’s failure is the final moral of his life.
April 5, 2014
April 3, 2014
The Look of Love (Michael Winterbottom, 2013). If the Coogan/Winterbottom partnership has been running in parallel with the DiCaprio/Scorsese one, maybe The Look of Love is their Wolf of Wall Street. Rename it The Smut-peddler of Soho (indeed, The King of Soho was the original title). The biopic’s subject is Paul Raymond, property developer, strip club proprietor, lad mag owner, but Winterbottom, Steve Coogan and writer Matt Greenhalgh (Control, Nowhere Boy) don’t have much of a point of view on him or his times. Is he a tragic figure? Is he comic? (Coogan is more comfortable with the comic, busting out a Sean Connery impression.) It’s at its strongest when it focuses on the downward spiral of Raymond’s relationship with his daughter Debbie (a very good Imogen Poots), and at its weakest in the repetitive sex, coke and disco montages that are compulsory in films about pornographers (“That 70s montage”, they call it, in relation to American Hustle), as we go from topless innocence to seedy experience.
April 1, 2014
Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014). From a few lines in Genesis, and some more from The Book of Enoch (those Watchers, or awkward stone angels), Darren Aronofsky fashions a typically idiosyncratic psychedelic Biblical epic, a multi-million dollar personal film that may prove to be less provocative in the long run than The Last Temptation of Christ or The Passion of the Christ and closer in its strange and singular vision to the Matrix trilogy, but with as much to say about right now (extinction, stewardship and, for a moment, the appealing idea of a world without people) as the Christ films did about back then. (You might also wonder if Aronofsky has been watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s dread-drenched psychedelic art film Valhalla Rising, which was shot, like much of this one, in Iceland). I liked the commissioned Patti Smith song about mercy but Aronofsky could have easily played Leonard Cohen’s “The Story of Isaac” over the closing credits, because in the end maybe that is what this is, what Aronofsky has to struggle with: how do we understand that Old Testament moral view now? Where does mania intersect or overlap with conviction, or cruelty with justice? Terrence Malick was working his way through similar material in The Tree of Life. He had dinosaurs but Aronofsky has stone angels. I liked the stone angels. I even liked Anthony Hopkins and Russell Crowe. When did that last happen?
March 24, 2014
March 22, 2014
Mick Jagger as Turner in Performance (1970). Tom Hiddleston as Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). Blog title from my piece on Only Lovers Left Alive, post-NZFF last year (link). Could have added “and his books and his heroes”, William Burroughs in both. Coincidentally, Only Lovers Left Alive was almost the title of a Rolling Stones film in the 1960s (details).
March 21, 2014
Performance (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg, 1970). All week, since the death of L’Wren Scott, Jagger’s voice has seemed so poignant on the sad songs – “Sister Morphine”, “Memory Motel” – and for the first time ever, he has seemed vulnerable in public. If Keith Richards has become more loved over the years than Jagger (you can’t imagine a Jagger memoir outselling the Richards one) it’s because Richards has had those very human qualities – vulnerability, flaws, a sense of humour – that Jagger buried. There was a very basic polarity established sometime in the 1970s – one as artificial and dilettantish and one as rebellious and authentic; one as a mimic and one as his true self – that has left both playing characters ever since. No one saw Performance in 1970 but it surely had a part to play in the way that mimicry was taken as a kind of reality.
March 17, 2014
March 16, 2014
March 14, 2014
March 8, 2014
March 6, 2014
March 4, 2014
The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013). Horror Retromania. The hauntings in this fact-based (aren’t they all?) early 70s-set horror can feel like a warm-up for the Amityville story that came later in the same decade, with bits of The Exorcist and The Birds thrown in. Creaky old houses, the creepiness of toys and mirrors, sleeping children, mysterious noises, stopped clocks, secret basements, heroic priests, paranormal-research technology: director James Wan (Saw) and cinematographer John Leonetti – great subjective camera set-ups – deliver old-fashioned shocks with intense regularity. But the best feature might be Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga (above) as demonology duo Ed and Lorraine Warren who appear like a Masters and Johnson of the paranormal. You could call it Masters of Ghostbusting and it makes sense that a franchise will follow. Incidentally, this must be the only horror film in which “Caroline, no!” appears as a line of dialogue.