Archive for Anthony Dod Mantle

Here comes Johnny Yen again

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2018 by dcairns

Finally caught up with T2: TRAINSPOTTING (funny title!) — I’d had mixed feelings about the original, though Danny Boyle and company did do a lot to break Scottish cinema away from pure social realism, for which I’m grateful. I would say that both movies energize social commentary with black comedy, gross-out gags, surreal images, and an appetite for style at all costs. (I met some Spanish filmmakers who could quote reams of dialogue from the original by heart. “It’s shite being Scottish,” really meant something to them.) They take place in an unreal conurbation of Glagow and Edinburgh, evincing a merry contempt for geography as well as law and order. As realism they frequently stumble badly, being quite willing to contrive situations the mind rebels against —

Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edingow after twenty years, decides randomly to visit his old friend Spud (Ewen Bremner), arriving, by staggering coincidence, just as he’s about to die of asphyxiation in a suicide attempt. The movie has a tendency to “redeem” itself at these moments by offering something entertainingly horrid: here, Spud throws up in the plastic bag he has on his head, transforming it into a mucky orange sphere which he rips apart in order to be “reborn,” slathered in puke, into the ghastly world of bodily functions he was trying to escape.

Or: Renton and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) rob an Orange Lodge pub in Glasburgh, swiping wallets from coats that have been hung up. Which is silly: people keep their wallets on them in pubs, so they can buy drinks. But then the aging boys get caught and are forced to improvise a sectarian song on stage to prove they belong, which is pretty funny, and then they use the punters’ stolen bank cards, which all have 1690 as their PIN number — the date of the Battle of the Boyne. A grand joke that kinda justifies the ripping apart of the fabric of reality necessary to get to it.

John Hodge is on script again, creating much of the plot from whole cloth while patching together bits of Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel Porno with a bit of the original novel, which allows him to finally explain the title. Ah, the derelict Leith Central Railway Station (now demolished for a supermarket — only a bit of wall remains in the car park. I crawled through the gaping fence gap as a teenager, but never saw any junkies, or another living soul. It was a big, eerie expanse with incomprehensible stone age graffiti (a towering humanoid figure in rusty dried blood hue) and an aura of hushed sorrow.

Shot by Anthony Dod Mantle in saturated shades of neon and acid stained glass, the movie looks lovely, though ADM brings his penchant for meaningless line-crossing and confused jumping around, showcased in his Von Trier joints. Which I hate, you can probably tell. I think Boyle and his editor have embraced this hopped-up jerk-off style in an effort to look young and vigorous, and like all such efforts, it comes off a bit strained and sad. This viewer, rather than feel like an invisible observer in the scene, following the action with insight and a strange ability to also be in the right place to see what I’d like to see, felt like I was being wantonly teleported about the room, an instantaneous pinball with no control, the resulting disorientation a poor substitute for involvement in the drama.

I enjoyed all the actors. Kelly Macdonald gets, basically, nothing to do (there’s more on the cutting room floor, apparently), and Shirley Henderson is photographed looking glum at a distance, a horrible waste of her massive talent. Anjela Nedyalkova provides the movie’s injection of actual youth, so of course she’s the leading lady.

MacGregor still has his boyish charm, which acquires a kind of pathos as we see how little his character’s changed (not entirely a good thing when you’re a junkie and crook); Bremner still has funny bones, and having failed to escape the shadow of Spud (please, someone, find a showstopping role for this demigod) he dives back into it with jittery glee; Miller’s now-cadaverous features glower with malevolence and pique and I realise I’ve missed him (I don’t watch Elementary). Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is morphing, somehow, into Fulton Mackay, seeming a generation older than his mates (there’s a line to explain this — he was held back at school, making him at most a couple of years older. Jokes about him being stabbed in the liver and OD-ing on Viagra, both promising body-horror gross-outs, go nowhere. But it’s all about energy, eh? And Carlyle exerts a furious force that turbo-charges the movie through some second-act doldrums.

I do kind of like the way the script splits up aspects of Welsh’s post-Trainspotting life among the cast, with one character hanging out in Amsterdam, one becoming a writer… Welsh has become a filmmaker himself, and I suppose Sick Boy is making moves in that direction when we first encounter him as a blackmailer… Welsh himself appears, as is his wont. Cannae act.

 

Hodge’s scripts tend to plunge from wild flights of fancy back into conventional genre tropes at the end (all those bags of money), and this one does the same in a new way, combining a fight in a gutted pub with a reprise of the original’s betrayal twist, which makes things feel a little bit less than you hoped for. But it’s still somewhat satisfying, and has the best closing shot I’ve seen in a while. Let’s do this again in twenty years.

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Out Where the Buses Don’t Run

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2009 by dcairns

(Please consider this your Intertitle of the Week, since I haven’t seen any silent movies this week, and anyway the film does feature intertitular chapter headings, saying things like CHAOS REIGNS and PAIN. I don’t have frame grabs of them though.)

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Well, I let you down. Enjoying my ass off with Roger Corman’s crimson-soaked social commentary flick BLOODY MAMA, I missed the Anthony Dod Mantle interview conducted by Seamus McGarvey (one master cinematographer interrogated by another) so I’m still none the wiser about the current location of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s prosthetic clitoris. I had dreams of uniting it with Nicole Kidman’s leftover nose from THE HOURS (now in McGarvey’s possession). Eventually, we could have assembled an entire artificial woman (“That should be really interesting!”) We could call her Kate Bosworth.

But I did see Mantle’s latest film as DP, Lars Von Trier’s ANTICHRIST, and took part in the Q&A afterwards.

The movie begins with stars Willem Dafoe and Gainsbourg coupling in the shower, extreme closeups of their body doubles’ genitals interlocking as water droplets fall in mega-slo-mo and Handel plays on the soundtrack. The love scene morphs into suspense as their little son heads for the window, and the whole sequence resembles a TV advertisement crossed with a Brian DePalma set-piece. “Parts of it are extremely beautiful, but it’s beauty on the level of kitsch,” critic Jonathan Romney had told us. Yet I might give Lars the benefit of the doubt here: as we find out later, all is not well in this family, and this is not the story of happy normality shattered by tragedy, it’s more like the tragedy unlocks a pre-existing malaise. So using the imagery of commercials seems like an interesting way to suggest a false surface. The nature of the malaise, unfortunately, remains completely obscure and incoherent.

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As the film goes on, the opening b&w stylisation is replaced by another version of LVT’s dogme-esque “trashed aesthetic,” with harsh cutting and handheld movement, interrupted by more lush and lyrical landscape scenes. Therapist Dafoe tries to cure his wife’s grief, and if you can overlook the banal and idiotic dialogue (I know it’s not Lars’ first language, but he really needs help from a native-speaker) this first half is a reasonably dignified and interesting study of grieving and therapy and love. The fact that Dafoe has completely submerged any grief of his own sews some seeds of anxiety, and certainly at some level the film is an attack on psychotherapy, which is something the neurotic LVT actually knows about.

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Retreating to their cabin in “Eden,” (although dedicated to Tarkovsky, the film might as well own up to the influence of Sam Raimi’s first two EVIL DEADS as well) this modern day Adam and Eve work through the early stages of grief, anger, and pain — and then the movie takes off into horror-trash carnage. Dafoe finds his wife’s psycho-gallery, where she’s stuck dripping images of witchhunts to the wall, and Gainsbourg abruptly gets medieval on his cock, battering that helpless organ until it shoots blood, then drilling a hole in his leg and bolting a large whetstone to it. Poor Willem spends the rest of the movie dragging a Flintstones wheel around on his shin. It’s all very MISERY, with a bit of HOSTEL’s hardcore horror.

The torture porn vibe is augmented when Charlotte snips off her clit in graphic closeup (reviewers always mention the rusty shears, but I didn’t actually spot any rust and I wonder where they’re getting that from). Lars cuts to a startled deer.

Willem makes good his escape, dragging his stone shin, and Charlotte freaks out. “Where are you? You bastard!” she shrieks, about eighteen times. I think I’m the only one who laughed at the deer, but a few of us are laughing now. Charlotte is too posh to swear convincingly, and there’s something absurd about her resenting hubbie for running, or rather crawling, away.

Willem hides in a foxhole where he digs up a crow, of all things, which caws at him, repeatedly (Lars is always big on repetition), threatening to give him away. Willem punches the crow. Several times. It keeps cawing. He keeps punching. It stops cawing. Then it starts again. He punches it some more. This goes on for, I don’t want to exaggerate and I don’t have accurate timings, but I want to say about two minutes.

I think there’s something inherently comic about a man punching an animal. A small animal is arguably funnier than a large one. And I’ve tried, but I can’t think of an actor/animal combination that’s devoid of comic potential. Ed Asner thumping a llama would be amusing. Ashton Kutcher bitch-slapping a gerbil would be hilarious. Sam Neill karate-chopping an anteater would at least raise a smile.

Now I did ask — I did ask — the cinematographer if any of this was meant to be funny. Mantle swears it isn’t. Lars was suffering from depression before and during the shoot — here I sympathise, that illness is a horror — and was not his usual cheeky self. Perhaps that meant he was ill-equipped to judge if something might be a bit ridiculous. Mantle more or less accused me of using humour to disengage from the film, and while I don’t think I did that as a conscious or unconscious tactic, I have seen that happen and I don’t totally discount the possibility.

In EXCALIBUR, director John Boorman seems willfully blind to the fact that Monty Python had only recently done their own version of Arthurian lore, and that his film often resembled the pre-existing spoof. And he doesn’t seem to care that some of his costumes, notably Helen Mirren’s Flash Gordon breast-plate and Nicol Williams’ tinfoil skullcap, have a kitsch quality that invites amusement. There’s actually something commendable about a filmmaker pursuing their own particular brand of beauty and not caring if anybody laughs. It’s courageous.

I do think there may be a point where that becomes folly, and that if we allow humour to have a role in our lives at all, there are some occasions when the only response possible is laughter. If a filmmaker presses those buttons unintentionally, he or she is making a mistake, however brave.

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That’s probably secondary to the major problem, which is the film’s shrill, empty-headed incoherence. There’s some debate about grief, therapy, and misogyny, but none of it goes anywhere. LVT has spoken of using his dreams in the film, and purposely avoiding story logic, plot and resolution, but the trouble is what we have is an unsatisfactory narrative rather than a non-narrative experimental film. Bergman’s PERSONA might hint at what’s being aimed at here, and Altman’s THREE WOMEN similarly took its cue from the director’s dreams, but wisely neither of those films tries to put forward some kind of didactic point, which LVT certainly seems to be trying for here. Long stretches of the film are NOT dreamlike, intense audio-visual experiences. Long stretches are talkie chamber piece in which characters fire ill-thought-out philosophies at each other. If it were a parade of visuals aiming for abstract poetry, the movie might be OK.

The charge of misogyny is being flung about, but one of gynophobia is more germane. Von Trier doesn’t necessarily hate women, but Dod Mantle admits he doesn’t understand them, and probably fears them. “I don’t think women or their sexuality is evil,” says Lars in the press notes, “But it is frightening.” To which I ask, to whom? The answer’s obvious, but the problem is not that Lars is projecting his anxieties outwards upon the world, nature and women, and then making art out of that pathetic fallacy. The problem is that he doesn’t realise that’s what he’s doing, as that sentence makes clear. His anxieties are childish and irrational, which doesn’t automatically make them uninteresting, but he’s holding them aloft as if they were great insights. In other words, he’s a fool.

Antony Dod’s Mantel

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on June 26, 2009 by dcairns

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Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (THE HOURS) is interviewing colleague Anthony Dod Mantle tomorrow at Edinburgh Film Festival. I already have a question worked out.

As reported in this very organ, McGarvey has Nicole Kidman’s nose on his mantelpiece. She gave him the prosthetic proboscis at the end of THE HOURS, since the thing was such a nightmare for him to light.

My question, for Mr Mantle: who’s got Charlotte Gainsbourg’s clitoris?

Please don’t tell me it was swept up with the cigarette butts at the end of the day.

Incidentally, I don’t mind if anybody else puts their hand up first and asks this. It just means that when/if they come round to me, I’d say “That was my question too,” which might also raise a chuckle. And we need to laugh, in these troublous times, what with films like ANTICHRIST out there.