Extreme Prejudice


There’s a famous and well-respected article by Serge Daney called The Tracking Shot in Kapo, in which he discusses a movie about concentration camps by the great Gillo Pontecorvo. The article centres on a tracking shot where Pontecorvo’s camera moves in on a slain woman. Daney quotes a review by nouvelle vague filmmaker and critic Jacques Rivette: “the man who decides at this moment to make a forward tracking shot to reframe the dead body – carefully positioning the raised hand in the corner of the final framing – this man is worthy of the most profound contempt.”

Daney then defines his conception of cinema by agreeing with the above sentiment — even though he hasn’t seen the film.

This might seem like an odd kind of criticism, but it has a certain kind of legitimacy. I’ve been known to moan about a 9:11 documentary called THE FALLING MAN, in which the filmmakers have put sad music in the background over interviews with grieving relatives of terror attack victims, to make it emotional. The people I tell nod: they agree with me in principle, though of course they’d be entitled to feel differently if they saw the film and found it worked/was not offensive in actuality.

Of course, actually writing a review of a film one hasn’t seen is another matter. In The Guardian newspaper, Andrew Pulver reviewed Rivette’s own CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, with the capsule summary, “…documents in exhaustive detail the relationship between the eponymous women. Dialogue is minimal and events, such as they are, are propelled by a whimsicality characteristic of its era.” It’s pretty obvious from this that he simply missed all the dialogue by SKIPPING OUT some time during the first half hour. The cheeky blighter! (Thanks to Comrade K. for spotting this.)

In the spirit partly of Daney and partly of Pulver, I thought it might be interesting to write about a few of the many films I haven’t seen and don’t like. I’m not condoning this practice at all, I just want to see what will happen and who I offend.

(Note: I found it so depressing trying to find images from these films to illustrate them that I just gave up and went for some attractive images of general angst, which kind of show how I feel when I think about these movies.)


1) 9 SONGS. It’s hard to pick a Michael Winterbottom film that sums up the spectacular lack of appeal his work has for me, there are so many contenders. A COCK AND BULL STORY passed the time, but in retrospect I rather felt it had STOLEN the time. I quite enjoyed 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE for the smart script and playing, but for a film about the record industry it had no clue how to put across a song.

So I think it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t like this 2004 tale of shagging and concert-going, especially as I hate hate hate everything else I’ve seen by the man I call Michael Autumnbottom (I call him that because it’s the only way I can discuss him without feeling a bit depressed). In particular JUDE where they slaughter a pig for Dramatic Effect and attempt to capture a JULES ET JIM feeling elsewhere by the simple procedure of ripping off whole sequences from JULES ET JIM.

Based on what I have seen, Autumnbottom is one of the most visually insensitive directors working — constantly! — in the UK today. I just want him to stop.


2) The remake of FUNNY GAMES. I walked out of the original around half an hour in. Haneke seems to approve of this, he says, “Those who walk out don’t need the film.” I think he is confusing NEED and LIKE.

He thinks he’s proving that we shouldn’t enjoy violent films by making a violent film that is supposed to be impossible to enjoy. But I like many violent films, I just don’t like films that are supposed to be impossible to enjoy. “Enjoy” may be the wrong word: I watch THE BLOOD OF THE ANIMALS in awestruck horror, Alan Clarke’s ELEPHANT imparts a terrible dread, COME AND SEE is like being punched in the heart. But there is some form of pleasure and beauty there still. Haneke’s film could achieve this beauty through its ideas, but the ideas are too painfully thick-headed and lumpen.

Some will argue that the film isn’t violent at all because (most of) the violence is offscreen, but adding up drops of blood is a ridiculous way to measure violence. The film is an endless parade of convincingly fear, suffering and cruelty, intended to teach us that we shouldn’t enjoy such things. I know that already. I only enjoy them when they’re faked, and when they are part of a film that is enjoyable in other ways.

As Maurice Chevalier says in LE SILENCE EST D’OR, “Some people think it is the director’s job to give the audience a hard time.”

not keen

3) LOVE, ACTUALLY. Isn’t the title reason enough? It’s like being lectured by a smug public-schoolboy before it even starts. Yet here we have a film which I suspect wants me to have a good time. I can’t fault it for that, the instinct is a generous one. But any film which has Hugh Grant as a loveable Blair-like UK prime minister is going to fail with me unless it has an interactive element that allows me to climb up into the screen and bloodily hatchet him to bits (and it’s not due to a particular dislike of the actor). Maybe Richard Curtis should write a romcom about Adolf and Eva next. FUHRER WEDDING AND A FUNERAL? Sorry, sorry.

Apart from that, I adore romantic comedies, just not too many recent ones.


4) I’m not too keen on most contemporary cinema from my own country (Scotland) but unlike the admirable forthright Ms Smith I’m somewhat afraid of alienating all my peers and the funding bodies who support them. And as these films constitute the film culture I’m stuck in, they’re of more interest to me than any old depressing, flat, unimaginitive cinema I might find elsewhere in the world. So I don’t rule out the possibility that I’ll take a look at even the most miserable of miserabilist Scottish cinema… at some point. But it’s rather disheartening if the only thing that draws one to one’s own national cinema is purposes of RESEARCH.

So, anything by Lynn Ramsey.


5) And I’m tempted to add, anything by Ken Loach, although I actually enjoyed RIFF-RAFF up to a point (it had funny bits) and HIDDEN AGENDA up to a point (though falsely pitched as a thriller, it was certainly an intriguing conspiracy story). But I can’t see anything making me choose to see LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD or RAINING STONES or most of the others. I tried to watch NAVIGATORS because I do feel strongly about the damage done to Britain’s rail services by rampant capitalism. But I didn’t make it past the titles. Loach, like Mike Leigh, is really not too strong on using music. My mate Lawrie used to say that a score can’t really add anything to a realist film, all it can do is detract from the realism, and while I’d be willing to admit the possibility of exceptions to this dictum, I find nothing in Loach and Leigh’s work to disprove it.

he died gargling

And I remember Billy Wilder’s preference for making a film at the Ritz Hotel Paris rather than down a coal mine. “What am I gonna do down there? I don’t leave the cinema elated…”

Of course, I agree that films should reflect social realities and enlighten as well as elate. I just don’t think that’s enough, or even a very good starting point. An entertaining film has more chance of being subversive, and therefore effective, than a piece of straight propoganda. Reflecting a fresh bit of society will bolster a strong film, but it will drag a dull one down into the depths of worthiness.

“Lacking a particular inclination, we all decide whether a film is worth seeing based at least on some minimal hearsay, because nobody can see everything.” ~ Peter Henne.

Yes, but what we must NEVER do is mouth off about the films we haven’t seen.


20 Responses to “Extreme Prejudice”

  1. I feel this way about the Coens. Outside of Fargo I find absolutely nothing of value in their work — especially the inexplicably praised 2007 Oscar nominee No Time For Shitheads.

  2. B.Kite once said to me something along the lines of “I’m tired of all this negativity, from now on, only positive feedback on film.”

    The only thing I personally get irritated by, is criticism that attempts to alleviate a masterwork out of its wholly “bleak atmosphere” by adolescent comments regarding the DELIBERATELY UNSPOKEN, underlying presence of “hope”, “optimism”, “romanticism” or whatnot (*shudder*), but then, this misanthropist has always been a fan of “cold” cinema that I know you, David C (how many Davids are there on here??), seem to have no time for (maybe with the exception of Clouzot’s WAGES OF FEAR).

  3. 9 Songs is possibly, no definately, the most uncomfortable cinematic experience I’ve gone through. Following my time honoured rule of finding out as little as possible about a film before going to see it (which I managed particularly well in this case) I took a girl along expecting to see some kind of love story interwoven with live perfomances from bands I liked.

    It was a disaster.

    A horrible, clumsy attempt at showing a relationship in ALL it’s glory when actually it was Winterbottom going “LOOK, THEY’RE REALLY DOING IT”

    The girl was disgusted, bridges had to be rebuilt.

    I quite like FUNNY GAMES though David, Not as good as CODE UNKNOWN or HIDDEN but still worth a watch, if only once.

  4. I don’t plan on being too negative, too often. It’s more interesting to find areas of interest even in a wretched film.

    Just ran Il Bidone for students, which is almost entirely bleak, and I love that. It’s gloriously bleak. So it isn’t a question of hating all cold or dark films.

    I’ve seen the first half of Funny Games and saw no reason to go on with it. Maybe I’ll try one of the others. But not The Piano Teacher.

    My parents went to see The Virgin Spring while they were dating. Not a good move. It took them thirty years to try another Bergman, Fanny and Alexander, which they loved. I always vaguely held it against Bergman that he conspired to prevent me being born.

  5. THE VIRGIN SPRING sucked the wind from my lungs, it’s brutal. I can see why your parents would be wary of him from then on…… Have to say though, I rate it at the higher end of his work.

    I had heard of “the Bergman method” being used by couples years ago, it was replaced by drinking a strong cup of tea standing on your head, less Scandanavian apparently…..

    Not seen F&A ….. Just (today) recieved HOUR OF THE WOLF which I’m about to watch.

  6. The Virgin Spring is indeed a stupendously powerful film, and very beautiful. I was kind of freaked to discover I’d duplicated a scene from it in my first short, without heving seen it… Must have been one of those maternal impressions received when I was as yet unconceived. It was remade as Last House on the Left, and so technically qualifies as one of Bergman’s few horror films — of which Hour of the Wolf is one.

    F&A has some scary moments but also a lot of humour (funny uncles) and melodrama. Also very Christmassy.

  7. I harshly criticise all the time so I haven’t fully honed Mr. K’s philosophy, I guess, for selfish reasons, it applies when people are talking about films or directors I like. I’m talking about Haneke in this case, definitely NOT Winteranus’s 9 SONGS – a film where the largely mis- and over-used term ‘pretentious’ *actually* fulfills its meaning. Funnily enough, the day of the screening, a representative from the BBFC was due to host a debate after the film on censorship but she ended up involved in a car crash!
    The talk was rescheduled for a screening of Mitchell’s SHORTBUS and the first thing she said was “I’m glad it’s this film and not the crappy one I was supposed to turn up for” (the opening sequence of SHORTBUS alone, jizzes in the mouth of anything 9 SONGS has to offer).

    IL BIDONE is bleak, yes, but Fellini’s playfulness tends to creep into the proceedings which, imo, disqualifies it from “cold” cinema. Same with IL CASANOVA DI FEDERICO FELLINI (a favourite), the moment where Casanova dances with the human doll (degrading, yet dignified), or the manner in which the sex scenes are portrayed (robotic, yet comical) – throw in the sound of wind and chimes and you’re left with magic.

    There’s a great bit in FUNNY GAMES where one of the aggressors is killed by gunshot. His friend, subsequently, rushes around the lounge looking for the remote control and once found, rewinds the film until his friend’s death is “corrected”; resurrection through disturbance of the film’s physical properties, which I thought was a nice touch in subverting the conventional notion of audience expectation through identification (i.e. rooting for the victims and allowing us some slack with the kid’s death). The playful callousness certainly kept *me* engrossed… I believe many critics tend to have problems with directors coming across as more sophisticated than their characters (Coens get that criticism a lot) and it’s fitting that David E should mention FARGO considering that was probably the only time when cracks began to show (with Marge – though some also take sympathy with The Dude). Unlike the Coens though, I think Haneke has something to say and is, in general, a fantastic director (have you guys seen his adaptation of Kafka’s THE CASTLE, btw? When I saw the film, it was almost exactly as I’d imagined it to be translated into film – a rarity I must say).

    Did you get ze goods, Monsieur Cairns?

  8. Haneke definitely has something to say. In FG it seems like a pretty stupid something. I feel he dislikes the audience. Have heard good things about The Castle, so I wouldn’t absolutely say NO to watching that. I have a copy of Cache which I may look at sometime.

    I got ze goods, many thanks — and just obtained Sign of the Cross for you. Is it bleak or is it playful…?

  9. regarding no country for old men: the praise probably has to do with the gulf between the rotten film people were expecting and the okay film they got; if a man is expecting to wear a turd on his head, an ordinary hat will seem like a glittering crown

    regarding the wages of fear: i don’t understand why mario drives home like that; hasn’t he seen the italian job?

    regarding 9 songs: i would rather eat a pound of stork margarine than see another second of this nonsense. there seems to have been some debate over whether it is art or porn; it’s not EVEN porn. thomas hardy pretty much packed it in after jude the obscure – maybe winterbottom should have followed suit

  10. I had heard No Country was a return to form so I was prepared to love it… I was a little disappointed.

    The very end of Wages is the one bit I’m not completely convinced by, too. Although it was always going to end tragically. My first idea was that when they washed the oil of him, underneath he’d be, like, 1000 years old.

    Mark Cousins told me that 9 Songs was put together quickly because A Cock and Bull Story had underperformed, so they were looking for something commercial. But then 9 Songs did worse than all the others!

  11. Topsy Turvey by Leigh is fantastic – he should do more historical dramas – but generally I feel I ought to be paid to see his films …

    It also pisses me off that the actors don’t get part of the authorial credit…

    I could rant for years about crap shoddily made, non thought out leftist documetaries piled with bad camera work, terrible cliches, and santimoniousness – I now just avoid avoid avoid. They preach to the converted and just exist to make the preexistingly smug even smugger (is that ligusitically possible?) they don’t tell you anything interesting or new. I put my foot down about seeing the one about Walmart – ‘I know they are a horrible corporation’ I don’t need to sit in a cinema for 2 hours and pay £10 to be told that.

  12. Have heard nice things about Topsey Turvey. But he has to make a couple more of those before I’m going to look. Am not greatly into G&S so I don’t know if I’ll care for it. The risk seems too great with the above-named filmmakers!

  13. i liked no country for old men while i was watching it but then afterwards i was comparing it to their other stuff and it suffered a bit, although i definitely preferred it over the four movies that preceded it

    wages of fear is a weird one – we get sort of unexplained act of god death (fine), then death in great detail (fine), then a death that looks like it was thought of at five minutes to five on a friday afternoon. i hoped he might watch them blow up the oil fire but then a stray rock would land on his head, like in jean de florette

    if that 9 songs story is true then it has to rank among the top 3 pottiest schemes of all time, along with making the film, and the decision cast gruey as the studly romantic lead

    ps, the imdb messageboards for 9 songs are quite good

  14. Shortbus is a masterpiece.

  15. That it is, David E.
    I was supposed to be writing an essay when I stumbled upon a screener, and, as usual, I tested the quality of the rip to see if it was semi-watchable. Once the opening sequence had finished, I was faced with a dilemma: watch the rest of the film based on what I’d just seen or get on with the essay, naturally; cumming in one’s own mouth took preference! :)

  16. Lynn Ramsey; I’ve only seen her film of Morvern Callar and, holding such love for Alan Warner’s novel (somebody please hurry up and film his Sopranos), was depressed by how wide it missed the mark. Is it just me? She seems to be untouchable in film critic circles. The casting was so wrong wrong wrong – Samantha Morton? why? – and by removing the dark humour it missed the point of Warner’s dark charm leaving behind a husk of emptiness. Is it just me? Seriously. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only human amongst the pod people with these things.

  17. I met one other book fan who hated it, pointing out that Morton’s Midlands accent meant she’d already travelled, was not as unworldly and local as the character.

    It could be that the film is just another animal, acceptable on its own terms, but I get the feeling Ramsey basically pursues the photogenic and doesn’t seem to think too deeply about much of anything.

    The pod people all declared Ratcatcher a great success, despite its only making back one quarter its cost. Now, it could still be an artistic success (though I don’t think so) but its worthwhile being clear on these things.

  18. Alex — the rock idea is nice. Too bad Pagnol had already bagged it.

  19. That Falling Man film made me incredibly, red-in-the-facedly angry (which is quite a feat, I can tell you). I had heard it described as ‘controversial’. What it should have been described as is ‘exploitative snuff badly rammed together into a faux-sensitive, festival-friendly bit of arthouse Mondo.

    Winterbottom – ever since Butterfly Kiss, the only film so far where I’ve felt justified in going up to the box office and demanding my money back, he’s been on my shit list. I doubt I could even make it through the titles of 9 Snogs.

    I saw Funny Games at a screening where Haneke was present, and he felt it necessary to come up on stage after the film and explain what it was about. In case we’d missed his sledgehammer-subtle point (“Hey Beavis!”) about, y’know, desensitized teens and, like, the media are part of the problem, and – and GRAAAAHHHHHHH!

    But you should give Raining Stones a try, it’s funny and sweet (the first hour anyway, I never got around to watching the end).

  20. “But you should give Raining Stones a try, it’s funny and sweet (the first hour anyway, I never got around to watching the end).”

    That’s a slightly half-hearted recommendation!

    I recently acquired a copy of Topsy Turvy, after various people told me I’d like it. Will watch in a spirit of experimentalism.

    Did Haneke actually say all that? That’s even dumber than I’d expect.

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