Archive for Alan Parker

Dialogical Exhaustion

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

Oh no! Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual assault! It’s OK, though, he didn’t do it, not in Alan Parker’s last film, the 2003 death-house drama THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE.

This piece will be all about the spoilers, and the film has a twist ending that’s almost as good shit as ANGEL HEART, so stop reading now if, like me, you’ve been vaguely meaning to catch up with this one for the last twenty years.

This is not only Alan Parker’s last film (to date), it will also end up being Kevin Spacey’s because when they get around to digitally replacing him with Christopher Plummer in all his movies, this is the one they’ll stop at because Plummer won’t want to do it.Spacey with Rhona Mitra, the student who’ll do ANYTHING to get a pass. When your character has to actually apologise for being a retrograde cliché, it may be a sign that your character is a retrograde cliché.

One has to respect Parker, I guess, for announcing his retirement and sticking to it, something so few filmmakers can bring themselves to do. When Bergman announced that he was packing it in after FANNY AND ALEXANDER, he’d just made a masterpiece and also a really good Christmas film which would have fitted perfectly into this blogathon, but then he went on to make more than a dozen further works — OK, it’s nice that we have them, but those I’ve seen aren’t as good. Kieslowski announced he was through making movies, then changed his mind, then dropped dead. Parker has stuck to his guns.

And a good thing too, going by this. Parker bowed out with a movie that alternates between the sclerotic and the desperate-to-be-with-it. The latter tendency is apparent mainly in the awful flash-cuts of punchy words, taken from letters, emails, etc, jabbed into the edit as the camera turns upside down. By this means, Parker gets us into his flashbacks.

Scroll rapidly between these two images while blinking a lot.

The turgid stuff is actually a lot better. Because Spacey is/was a fascinating presence, and he has Laura Linney to bounce off of some of the time. Kate Winslet’s performance is less satisfying as she falls into Parker’s cliches too readily. Also, her character name is “Bitsy.” No excuse for that. Melissa McCarthy turns up briefly as “Nico the Goth Girl.”

“I’m sinking to my knees in slow motion! NOOOOOOO!”

(I like BUGSY MALONE by the way, I liked BIRDY back when it was new, THE COMMITMENTS, and, on TV, The Evacuees made a huge impression on me. And Parker was always an interesting, bolshy, curmudgeonly commentator on the British film scene.)

I knew the film had a big twist, and that most of the reviewers hated it. It’s kind of the starting point of late Fritz Lang movie BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, the idea of a man faking up evidence so he can prove that it’s possible for someone to get wrongly convicted of murder. Parker and screenwriter Charles Randolph (THE BIG SHORT) take that idea up to the next level, and don’t cop out as Lang and his scribe Douglas Morrow did. But their twist is pretty obvious (and Louis Cyphre’s cage elevator turns up at the end to remind us that Parker has form here) and the second twist doesn’t really add anything with emotional impact. And the whole scheme is pointless because a killer, a victim and a patsy collaborating to set up the frame is a sufficiently uncommon, nay, ludicrous occurrence that the lethal-injection-happy Texas governor need have few qualms that this sort of thing is going to happen a lot.

Kubrick pointed out that the trouble with anti-lynching movies is they always focus on innocent men being hanged. Since lynch mobs always think they’ve got the right man (or else they don’t care, so long as he’s the right/wrong race), they’re not going to be put off by this. In a way, Tim Robbins’ DEAD MAN WALKING is a much better anti-capital-punishment tract because it argues that even when a man is guilty of a heinous crime, maybe there’s a case against the state taking his life. But both TLODG and DMW are the movie Richard E. Grant is pitching in THE PLAYER. I remember an embarrassing interview where a journalist speaking to Robert Altman attempted to flatter him by saying he would be the man to make the uncompromised version rather than the happy ending travesty with Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts. Of course, Altman wouldn’t have touched either version, though I guess he did make THE GINGERBREAD MAN.I can see that it’s dated, and overheated, but I sort of miss Parker’s eighties pomp — blue or sepia-tinged images, every room full of smoke for no reason except to create shafts of light blasting through every window, every road slicked with rain. Only the last touch is present in TLODG, despite the fact we’re in Texas and we only see it rain once. Stripped of his ad-man’s imagery, Parker becomes rather a flat, boring filmmaker, who apparently hasn’t noticed he’s making a deeply silly film which would benefit enormously from outrageous stylistic brio if it were applied consistently. He could have his dreadful flash-cuts, if he must, if only he’d surround them with equally ebullient directorial pyrotechnics. This movie thinks it’s a deep and meaningful political drama, when by rights it ought to be THE COLOR OF NIGHT or FEMME FATALE.

Aptly, Spacey’s David Gale is the author of a supposedly brilliant book on philosophy called Dialogical Exhaustion. Which sounds very deep dish but translates as Running Out of Things to Say.

Theory: just as TLODG (why the unnecessarily boring title?) is about a man who tries to justify the abolition of the death penalty by willfully getting himself convicted of murder, Parker’s swan song could be interpreted as him trying to justify his contention that film is a young man’s game by willfully making a movie which is both tediously disengaged and frantically desperate to be exciting and “cinematic.” So we have no choice but to applaud the old bastard for stopping.

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Guney Toons

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , on August 31, 2012 by dcairns

From an old 1983 issue of Sight & Sound ~

“Don’t feel so bad, Ylmaz, they say that film you’re directing at the moment is going very well.”

To make sense of this, you have to know that Kurdish filmmaker Ylmaz Guney was credited with directing a film while serving a sentence as a political prisoner. Of course, well-meaning liberal middle-class people found this very moving and admirable. The cartoonist, wickedly, is just amused by the absurdity of pretending to direct a film while being banged up in the stripy hole.

I always felt that the artist knew he was kind of being an asshole about this, and that’s what contributed to my indecent amusement at the cartoon. But the more I know of the cartoonist, the less sure I am that he was aware. Certainly, as the director of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, he should have been aware that a Turkish prison sentence is no laughing matter.

Welcome to the cartoons of Alan Parker.

The first reference in this one is Guney again, the second is Werner Herzog, the third I don’t know and the fourth is either (a) every Coppola film, ever, or (b) I don’t know.

Again, the real target is middle-class arthouse filmgoers. I dunno, maybe there aren’t enough cartoons about middle-class arthouse filmgoers. Parker seems to regard them as a worthy target for his satirical pen.

But I thought you’d find this one most interesting of all. “THE FILM CRITIC, FROM THE DIRECTOR’S POINT OF VIEW” probably would be published today, in anything but a tabloid.

“I can only describe it as trying to run a four minute mile with an alcoholic poodle snapping at your ankles and with the ever present fear that David Robinson and Alexander Walker will jump on you in the showers.”

Somewhat homophobic, Alan. I’m also unsure why it’s so INCOHERENT. The title tells us one thing, but the subject of the speech by the baggy man isn’t “the film critic,” it’s “the act of directing a film.” I half-suspect the incoherence is deliberate, a way to divert attention away from the more poisonous elements of the cartoon. “FROM THE DIRECTOR’S POINT OF VIEW” certainly tries to cast the whole thing in a subjective, and yet impersonal light (it’s not Parker himself’s point of view, necessarily, you see).

“Homophobia” is a particularly apt word here, since fear rather than hatred is very obviously at the heart of the text. Parker fears being bummed alive in the showers, yes, but he also fears, in a less symbolic way, being reviewed by gay men who may see things differently from him and not appreciate his directorial choices in PINK FLOYD’S THE WALL or BUGSY MALONE. Does he also fear being reviewed by women, Indians, or anybody who isn’t a baggy, angry man from Islington? Maybe so.

But the confusion goes deeper. The “alcoholic poodles” are presumably meant to be film critics, but then two real human critics turn up to anally violate Alan Parker in the showers, which he fears yet somehow also craves (I’m interpreting freely). “Alcoholic” is simply fair comment on a lot of newsprint critics and journalists, especially at that time, and “poodle” seems like an apt description of the late Alexander Walker in particular: angular, petulant, white-haired and bouffant. But how can he be simultaneously a snapping poodle and a shower rapist? I can’t really fit both images of Alexander Walker together into a single concept of him. Unless Alan Parker wants me to imagine his wet, quivering body being anally violated in the showers by a giant, man-sized poodle with Alexander Walker’s face, sinking its sharp little teeth into his pink, fleshy shoulder, as Ken Russell tries vainly to repel it with a rolled-up copy of the Evening Standard. And why would Alan Parker want me to visualize that?

If you’re reading this, Alan Parker, get in touch and explain.

Yours,

Concerned.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Greenaway Way

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2010 by dcairns

(More of a subtitle, really, from 26 BATHROOMS.)

Peter Greenaway stared at the multiplex with his perpetual air of being offended by a smell. “Of course, in ten years, this will all be gone,” he mused.

The above scene, described to me four or five years ago by a member of staff from Edinburgh Film Festival, hints that perhaps Greenaway is not the world’s greatest prophet, although only time will tell. I guess only time will tell if he’s going to kill himself at aged 80, like Ruth Gordon in HAROLD AND MAUDE, as he promised to do in the Guardian this week. But the quote that really excited my interest comes from his piece in Saturday’s Independent, talking about his new film, NIGHTWATCHING, which deals with Rembrandt’s painting The Night Watch.

“In the film we very deliberately skirted the trap of showing Rembrandt paint the masterpiece; no one would believe us – any possible suspension of disbelief would entirely collapse. Martin Freeman was not bad at handling a brush with some conviction, but nobody would ever believe he could paint a Rembrandt.”

What throws me for a loop here is the suggestion that Greenaway is remotely interested in suspending our disbelief, something that never even occurred to me before. It seems flatly contradicted by his statements that “the only thing we never believe in films is sex and death” and that sex and death are the only subjects worth talking about in films. I remember being impressed by his statement that he generally avoided camera movement because it increased audience involvement, and thinking that I would bloody well move the camera in order to involve the audience. The reality is a bit more complex than Greenaway’s statement, but then it always is. “He’s a man of bold, spurious statements,” my friend at the Film Fest said.

I don’t have much time for the man, I must admit, though I wouldn’t go so far as Mr. Alan Parker, who once threatened (or offered?) to take his children to be educated in America if Peter Greenaway made another film here. Those two chumps deserve each other.

(I can, in fact, see a case for both filmmakers, but I’m equally out of sympathy with both also. Greenaway started his feature career with a genuinely unusual work, THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, unlike anything else in British cinema and made on a near-shoestring. Unfortunately, he has followed it with more of the same, until the eye aches at the repetition. A similar repetition mars Parker’s altogether different cinema. The Greenaway I like best is the above-illustrated 26 BATHROOMS, a little documentary on an alphabetical theme. Because each bathroom corresponds to a letter, it’s very easy to tell how far along we are in the film, which is only half an hour long anyway. Also, filming in confined spaces prevents Greenaway from making every shot flat and symmetrical, and using real people speaking their own words rather than actors speaking Greenaways results in a welcome change from the glib marionettes he usually dangles before us.)

The one Greenaway film I’d like to see doesn’t exist. It was suggested by Greenaway’s evocation the TV show CSI to describe his forensic approach to Rembrandt’s work. His admiration for the series put me in mind of JG Ballard, who likewise expressed his pleasure at the show’s complete lack of human emotion, which echoed that of many of his own novels. Greenaway filming a Ballardian apocalypse might be quite nice, and his interest in digital technology, expressed back when Roland Emmerich was still blowing up dollhouses with firecrackers, would stand him in good stead filming the likes of The Crystal World.

Although THE MONOLITH MONSTERS is already a pretty good version of that, with its B-movie cast and Z-movie dialogue providing a more tolerable version of Greenaway’s arch alienation.