September 25, 2016

Basement


The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981). Crude, often incoherent and wildly excessive and repetitive (why do something once if you can do it at least 10 times?), but packed with memorable images that seem to have poured out from an unmediated subconscious of 1970s horror, as though the nastiest parts of Dont Look Now, The Amityville Horror, Dawn of the Dead and The Sentinel (and others I have missed) were somehow spliced together as a series of unheard warnings aimed at a hungry audience that probably left cinemas more shocked and confused than they expected to be. There are basements and windows, and eyes that are constantly at risk of being gouged out or blinded.

September 22, 2016

How lonely does it get?


I Saw the Light (Marc Abraham, 2015). What if an actor cast as someone who was troubled cannot really embody that trouble? What if the highs and lows of a musical career, of a marriage, of an addiction are talked about but are never communicated to us? What if a film named itself after a gospel song that explained the division of the world into dark and light, but the film gave us neither, just a grey in-between state?

September 18, 2016

Storytelling and violence


The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015). Does this take us back to Reservoir Dogs? We have one room like a stage set, a group of strangers with aliases and secrets, backstories and revenge, plus a theme about white male fear of sexual humiliation or rape by black men (Chris Penn’s unrepeatable line about prison to Mr Blonde in Dogs; Samuel L Jackson’s remarkable flashback here). All stories inevitably end in violence, but since at least Kill Bill Tarantino’s films have been bloated with self-indulgence and clumsy attempts to include a female dimension (at its worst in Death Proof). Short answer to the latter problem: never cast Zoe Bell again. Long answer to the first: blame the Weinsteins. 

September 14, 2016

Another world was possible

David Lynch’s Inland Empire
“Extraordinary picture. It’s like standing in front of the most obscure, enormous and odd modern painting and you just connect with it or you don’t. I talked to Laura Dern a couple of days before shooting and I asked her, ‘What’s it about, because he won’t give me a script.’ And she said, ‘Well I’ve been filming for a year and I don’t know what it’s about.'”
Jeremy Irons, interviewed at Indiewire

September 13, 2016

Desert to discotheque


Simon of the Desert (Luis Bunuel, 1965). Incomplete, and with a satirical/heretical feeling that predates both Life of Brian (those comedy beards, the absurdity of asceticism) and The Last Temptation of Christ (its unexpected forms of Satan in the desert), this is Bunuel at a turning point, about to leave Mexico to return to Europe, and delivering a truly barbed ending. They’re doing dances, brand new dances, called the Radioactive Flesh. 

September 10, 2016

Grief


One More Time With Feeling (Andrew Dominik, 2016). When I reviewed the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth two years ago, at Twitter-length, I called it “a portrait of the artist as a disciplined professional” in which “Nick Cave makes a fortress out of his Nick Cave-ness”. For me, that film gave audiences the illusion of intimacy and proximity while Cave stayed behind the image he has constructed. But then, why shouldn’t he? It didn’t help that Push the Sky Away, the album the film coincided with, sounded like the work of a songwriter who didn’t have much he really needed to say, who looked and sounded settled. Hence that word “professional”. Cave in the 1980s was anything but that.
I haven’t revisited the film but Push the Sky Away has grown on me a little. The follow-up, Skeleton Tree, is similar sonically, but more minimal and sketchy, simpler overall, with a sadder and more haunted feeling. That sense of it being haunted is inescapable as the unbearable event (the “trauma”) that hangs over it is the sudden, accidental death of Cave’s son. One More Time With Feeling is the documentary that accompanies the record and the title does several things, besides being a lyric in one of the songs – it implies that this unofficial sequel to 20,000 Days is the more emotional restaging of that earlier, artificial film, and it also alludes to its own production as an observational verite documentary in which the spirit is somehow Dont Look Back as if remade by Terrence Malick. We are in the midst of a band’s process but we are also within Cave’s consciousness, relayed to us by searching, sometimes poetic, emotionally open voice-overs. It is about grief and privacy and love, and it poses questions about whether art can help you make sense of trauma or whether it’s merely a passing distraction. There is an honesty and vulnerability that Cave was reluctant to show us in 20,000 Days – this Cave is someone you warm to and feel for and the use of 3D, far from being a gimmick, increases a sense of intimacy with the subjects. It makes our viewing more individual. You are closer to them – Cave and his wife Susie and his closest collaborator Warren Ellis – and further away from the people you are sitting with in your shared (global, really) experience of communing with a private singer about a very private event. The effect is utterly absorbing. 

September 6, 2016

September 3, 2016

Language


Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014). On the DVD there is a trailer for Malick’s To the Wonder and so I came to see Goodbye to Language almost as a flipside or response to the only truly disappointing Malick film, an inscrutable and perhaps cynical version. The failure of language doesn’t point to something transcendent, something to surrender to, a religious impulse. You are in a thicket of non-meaning, carried by its broken style and amused incoherence.