Tower of Terror

Three recent things we saw — JOJO RABBIT, PARASITE, THE LIGHTHOUSE.

The first two are about people hiding in your house. The third isn’t. Unless they were very well hidden.

JOJO is very well done — on its own terms, close to perfect. I’m not sure if I accept those terms or not, though. But the kids are really good, aren’t they? The round kind who can’t do a German accent, he’s FANTASTIC. And Johanssen is great.

The most noticeable weak point storywise is Jojo suddenly turning detective and locating a secret panel just because he heard a noise. It’s weird they couldn’t devote more attention to that nailing the logic of that key moment.

It’s not a film that worries about setting things up in advance — apart from the shoes and shoelaces business which they make sure to hit hard and often, and then they certainly reap the dramatic rewards. It’s surprising that they wouldn’t plant a single clue before the big reveal of the hider in the house.

I can’t quite decide if the film is a problematically inadequate response to its subject, the way that most of us seem to feel LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL was. I haven’t put my finger on the one thing that would clinch that. In the Benigni film, it’s the idea of a father being able to pretend to his son that a concentration camp is a holiday camp. To suggest that’s possible requires us to adopt the view that life in Belsen wasn’t that bad, that the awfulness was deniable. I can’t get on with the idea of THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS either. Any child is going to know when something that terrible is facing them.

But, as I say, I don’t have a clear sense of where Waititi’s film may have put a foot wrong. Although I wasn’t as moved as I expected or as amused as I expected, and I did feel a tension that the film at any moment might do something unforgivable. But, for me, it just made it to the far end of its tightrope.

PARASITE really is close to perfect, and took almost equal risks, and seemed to me to achieve more. It was genuinely thought-provoking. It was beautifully worked out — the end of the first movement of the story, as the family of impostors infiltrates the house, was a crux, because Bong needed to do something new, unsurprising, and equally brilliant, to carry the film into its second act, and it really looked as if he hadn’t prepared anything.

He had, though.

THE LIGHTHOUSE is just extraordinary. Not a lot going on with the story, perhaps, though it makes ambiguity interesting again. There is gaslighting, which makes it somewhat topical.

Mainly, though, it’s the way each shot, undergirded by the sound design, is not only staggeringly beautiful but POWERFUL in a way that always seems exactly right. We were impressed by THE WITCH, though I’d resisted seeing it for a while because I’m broadly pro-witch and I didn’t like the idea of the film taking a witchfinder’s attitude. It doesn’t exactly do that, though — again, ambiguity is everywhere.

Eggers is a major talent. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

7 Responses to “Tower of Terror”

  1. Fiona Watson Says:

    Life Is Beautiful infuriates me. We can thank Harvey Weinstein’s machinations for Benigni’s Best Actor award (and the others), robbing Serena/Sir Ian McKellen, the rightful winner that year. In fact, most of the time, the Oscars infuriate me, with only this year’s awards for Parasite getting it right, and making history into the bargain.

    Any idiot would be aware that children incarcerated by the Nazis in concentration/extermination camps were deeply affected. See the recent drama, The Windermere Children. And even that doesn’t convey all the horrors. Most children put into so-called ‘therapeutic’ settings in Europe were soon deemed to be hopelessly psychotic, and also institutionalised. Windermere’s masterstroke was giving the children complete freedom and it was anything but institutional. Miraculously, it worked. Even more miraculously, it worked in months rather than years.

  2. Tony Williams Says:

    Thanks for these comments, Fiona. I remember Robin Wood once saying to me how incomprehensible the scenario of LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL was. In a concentration camp, the brutality, to say nothing of the starvation and stench would be enough to alert all but the most stupid youngster as to what was going on. Robin stated that he would wait for the film to appear on DVD at a time he could take it but I don’t think he ever watched it.

    Also, you noticed another significant detail: the issue of denial, something that Weinstein counted on his his long path of infamy and the same pattern aiding Jimmy Saville throughout his loathsome career. So it was not accidental that a film involving denial with an actor performing a lie gets officially acclaimed. I must try to see THE WINDERMERE CHILDREN. Thank you for the reference.

  3. We may also recall Weinstein’s stunt of releasing Polanski’s police record in order to try and knobble The Pianist at the Oscars, a dirty trick whatever one thinks of Polanski.

  4. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    You know I can’t help but think that the reason Weinstein got busted, or was no longer “protected” was the decline of the middle-film or the adult-audience drama that has largely migrated to TV. With all these superheroes and so on around, there was no reason to validate or put up with Weinstein’s predatory con and general BS. And Weinstein in his downfall had a far bigger impact than anything he did since…about the mid-90s, and in the end will undoubtedly become the most important part of his life. Because when you look at it, there aren’t many genuinely great movies that Weinstein produced.

  5. Weinstein’s hands-on approach made great films unlikely. To escape his interference you had to be Tarantino… or Kevin Smith.

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    I don’t think either have ever made “great films.” The first is Harvey’s boy!

  7. Oh they both enjoyed a huge amount of support from HW. When both might have benefited from a strong producer… but not Scissorhands.

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