Archive for the Politics Category

The Sunday Intertitle: Die, Pest!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2017 by dcairns

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DIE PESTE IN FLORENZ — the plague in Florence — is a 1919 German epic scripted by Fritz Lang in his usual cheery style — the Florentine’s throw off the shackles of religious repression, and life becomes one non-stop orgy, at which point a plague descends and kills everyone. Lang’s grim sensibility is remarkable in the sense that it was commercially successful despite being so unremittingly bleak — look at DIE NIBELUNGEN, in which everybody is morally compromised and everybody dies. Can this really have been the Nazis’ favourite film? If they saw themselves in it, it’s prophetic, and also suggests a self-destructive drive at the root of their movement. I have my doubts. I’m not sure they had that level of insight.

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A slightly wishy-washy reconstructed intertitle, but we can make up for that with an ecstatic gallery — The Triumph of Death!

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Heavily inspired by Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, I assume, this movie ends with the Plague Personified (Juliette Brandt, the best actor in it) fiddling among the splayed corpses of the city, descending stairs towards us like Norma Desmond, though alas director Otto Rippert doesn’t have her fill the lens with a grotesque soft-focus close-up. But I like that she’s so chirpy, skipping and grinning away, reminiscent a little of the bandaged apparition of Simone Choule in Polanski’s THE TENANT. It’s a happy ending, for Death.

In other news — am contemplating staying up all night with friends, watching the Oscars, in which case I shall probably live-blog it. Since the event doesn’t really have much to do with movies, I guess I’ll just be ranking the frocks and political speeches and noting how few, if any, of these films I’ve seen… If I go for it, watch out for an ever-expanding blog post here. If I feel too sleepy, watch out for nothing.

Truth is a menace

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , on February 10, 2017 by dcairns

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“You walk into this room at your own risk. Because it leads to the future. Not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world. It is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It is patterned after every dictator who has planted the ripping imprint of a boot upon the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements. Technological advancements. And a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule. Logic is an enemy and truth is a menace.”

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Words and images from The Twilight Zone season 2, The Obsolete Man, written by Rod Serling, directed by Montgomery Pittman, starring Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver. This is not the future that will be, but the future that was. The present.

An Alternative to Facts

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2017 by dcairns

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DENIAL is something we opted to watch on BAFTA screener when something else didn’t grip us (not fair to talk about the non-gripper since we didn’t finish it). We knew DENIAL would offer a good STORY, which is what we craved, and so it did.

What has Mick Jackson been doing? I know his name from L.A. STORY, which was a while ago. He’s been on TV, I see. Well, I kind of know what he’s doing here — he’s been brought in to give it a touch of cinema. It’s a BBC film, see, and written by David Hare — very intelligently written as far as the issues are concerned, occasionally clumsy as it draws in bit players to comment on the issues. But compared to much recent exposition, very decently done.

(We attempted a screener of MY WEEK WITH MARILYN once and were appalled at the leaden way characters kept explaining things to each other that they both clearly already knew. I spoofed this with the line, “As you know, I’m your father,” and after ten minutes we’d almost convinced ourselves this was a genuine bit of dialogue.)

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The trouble is, a writer like Hare, schooled in the theatre, leaves no room for cinema or “cinema” — he gives you strong dramatic scenes of people talking to each other. A master of such stuff — and it would be lovely to see Otto Preminger getting to grips with this material — can make cinema out of just such scenes. There’s nothing wrong with Jackson’s handling of them, and he renders London in photogenic, grey, wet panoramas. Lots of frosty, foggy, atmospheric shots of Auschwitz too. It’s the bursts of attention-getting technique applied to the Holocaust that seemed a bit egregious. I’ll allow the barely audible sound of screams heard as our characters stand on the roof of a former gas chamber, since I allowed the barely audible sound of cheering in the deserted Nazi Olympic stadium in THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM — the coincidence is so striking, I have to embrace it. But the sudden horror movie plunge into a photograph of a gas chamber window, which becomes live-action and filled with distressed, clawing figures who look like ZOMBIES — that was bad, both because it belonged in a different film, and because any time a filmmaker uses such historical events to show off, I get repulsed.

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But that is, to be fair, one tiny moment in an otherwise strong, sensitively handled drama. Rachel Weisz, who made an unconvincing librarian in THE MUMMY and AGORA, makes a convincing historian here and her accent is enjoyable to listen to. EVERYONE is doing an accent, except Tom Wilkinson, who refuses to make any compromises in the direction of being Scottish. Good for him, I say, he has the right idea. Wilkinson brings the entertainment, as does Andrew Scott as his fellow lawyer (I won’t get into the whole barrister/solicitor thing) — Scott annoyed us no end in Sherlock (he’s Moriarty — we enjoyed the show but not him) but it turns out to have been to a large extent the fault of the writing. He uses many of the same tics here, but they don’t come off as tics: he has a sort of flip, aggressive way of jumping in with a line and cutting it off short, which is helpful as he’s essentially playing antagonist to a woman who wants to talk about things. One of those Sherlock writers is here too, Mark Gatiss playing Polish — and he’s really excellent, very restrained, he makes you forget the oddness of that casting (are there no Poles in Britain? To read the tabloids, not that we do, one would think there was nothing but.)

Holocaust denier David Irving is played by Timothy Spall, and just as Weiss is technically too cute to play Deborah Lipstadt, who should look like an ordinary person, Spall is not handsome enough to play Irving, who looks like the portrait of Dorian Gray if Gray were a big rugby-playing type — traces of handsomeness in a face grown gross and harsh and corrupt. Spall has actually lost a shit-ton of fat (by the looks of things, siphoning it off into John Sessions) and now looks kind of like Tim Roth wearing Timothy Spall’s abandoned skin, something I have no doubt Roth would do, given the chance.

But these observations ultimately don’t matter — you get used to the strange accents emanating from Weiss and Spall (and everyone else) and to the fact that they’re imperfect embodiments of the personages they represent, because the actual ACTING is what counts (along with the writing, of course) and it’s very good. And it all manages to express a point that shouldn’t need to be expressed, with enough subtleties around the edges (for instance, why one shouldn’t put survivors in the witness stand in a case like this) which are far from obvious and fascinating to hear argued so well. When Scott tells Weiss that he’s not going to let her testify, I was surprised and impressed and waited for the movie to change its mind and give her a BAFTA-winning speech from the box, but it never came. Almost uniquely in a film centred on a female protagonist, her job is to remain silent, to bear witness, to not debate a man who doesn’t deserve to be debated. The film’s courage in sticking to this principle is praiseworthy.