Archive for David Bowie

Small Strangenesses

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2021 by dcairns

I’ve been a fairly poor viewer of Pordenone’s offerings this week — I mainly missed THE MAN FROM KANGAROO (1920, above), directed by Wilfred Lucas and starring stuntman-star Snowy Baker. I caught ten minutes, enough to appreciate the charm of the Australian scenery and the “art titles” adorning nearly every title card.

I did see the shorts programme, which was diverting but not exceptional — SOAP BUBBLES (Giovanni Vitrotti, 1911) used delightful special effects to tell a very pat story with an obvious moral, but the trick effects, whereby real bubbles blown by a nasty child froze in mid-air and transformed into crystal balls offering portals to his future, were marvelous.

A MODERN CINDERELLA (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1913) was valuable chiefly for its behind-the-scenes footage of the Italian silent film industry, but I’ve seen such material before (eg in MACISTE, 1915) so this was a little bit of a snooze. However, I was sleepy so I can’t really say I gave it a fair try.

Far better was THE SPIDER AND THE FLY, an inventive Italian stop-motion animation with brief live-action prologue. The fly, wings plucked off by a wanton boy, flees the spider in a Keystonesque foot chase, erecting cunning traps for his pursuer — a bit of bug’s life role-reversal. The film had two flaws, both of which added to its appeal — the ravages of time had melted parts of the image into those delirious vortices and decalcomaniacal spacewarps familiar from DECASIA, and the animator’s had appeared, for a single frame, caught in the act of repositioning one of his tiny actors. He could presumably have cut this glitch out without to much trouble, but has perhaps left it as a bit of wabi-sabi or a kind of signature — a manual walk-on, Hitchcockian finger-cameo. Poignant, since the filmmaker’s name is unknown to us.

BIGORNO SMOKES OPIUM (Roméo Bosetti), its title a stark accusation, was a broadly overplayed comedy in which the grotesque clown hero is gifted an opium pipe by an explorer relative, and hallucinates a Melesian sex fantasy. The best parts of this were (a) the transition from real to unreal, in which the innumerable clutterings of the bourgeoise home dance and skate around the room at high speed, as in that short story by Maupassant (Who Knows?) or the actual Berlin hallucinations of David Bowie and (b) the return to reality, where Bigorno (real name René Lantini), in a frenzy of panic, manages to smash every single piece impedimenta in the hideously crowded room. That was actually funny. Elsewhere, the aggressive overplaying positively alarms and the thing is about as funny as the MARAT/SADE. Of course I appreciated this.

Bigorno made thirty-seven-odd shorts in three years, then presumably died of overacting.

I was looking forward to THE BLACK LILY GANG (1913), a bit of sub-Feuillade malarkey with a secret criminal society who wear domino masks to meet in their secret lair, then promptly unmask after the complex hidden doorway is closed… but their crimes are rather banal — letting the air out of a count’s tyres and stealing his jewels. There’s an impersonation (wig and false beard) and a deadly chamber that fills with water, so the building blocks of a good Fu Manchu type shocker are in place, with the stalwart Inspector Sereni supplying the copoganda. But despite the attractive locations, this cloak-and-dagger caper, appropriately anonymous, never quite caught my enthusiasm.

Frame grabs for this one stolen from here.

Reaction Shots

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on September 24, 2021 by dcairns

Help! I am addicted to YouTube reaction videos. While there’s a sub-genre dealing with films, which can be fun to skip through — watching someone react afresh to favourite bits in a movie you know well has a distinct pleasure, a bit like being in a new relationship, it’s the song ones I’m hooked on. Probably the reason they;re so addictive is that they’re so rarely satisfying.

The overall premise of the genre is “I love music but I’ve absolutely never heard any, watch me make discoveries.” I occasionally check out songs I don’t know, but the real impulse is to find a song I like and see someone’s face light up in amazement. But then you want them to make a meaningful observation about what they’ve heard, and that rarely happens. Part of the problem is that a very first listening to a song isn’t necessarily the time you’ll have the deepest things to say about it. Still, sometimes just seeing people’s faces is a joy in itself. I like these guys, Jay and Amber:

One thing that happens quite often is a song with definite gay resonance gets heteronormalized because it’s being watched without context. Or the listeners aren’t catching the lyrics — there’s at least one very embarrassing misreading/unreading of the Kinks’ Lola out there.

The above video is joyous, not for the critical insights but for the sheer pleasure displayed.

Some reactors do go deeper, and it helps if they’re musically inclined. JP is a drummer, and he does cool stuff like reading the lyrics and checking Wiki in real time, to give a better grounding in context. Like most reactors, he’s eclectic, but prog, glam and punk feature prominently on his channel.

Some of the more successful channels are quite aesthetically pleasing, in a simple way.

I told my mum about this phenomenon and she immediately said, “And do some of them maybe pretend they’re reacting more strongly than they really are?” DEFINITELY. There’s a whole genre of Black music fans reacting in astonishment to the Righteous Brothers or the Bee-Gees — having thought, from the artists’ voices voices, that they must be Black, or women. This gets a little dodgy at times — pandering to a white audience, with lots of Mantan Moreland acting. And it can also feel like some strange sequel to the “Blacks without soul” skit in AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON.

But a lot of this stuff is perfectly sincere. I like Jayy, who doesn’t get into chin-stroking analyses but whose very visceral reactions are always highly visible and who can put what she’s feeling into precise words :

The overall impression is that the younger generations (though there are some good older vloggers too) have abandoned musical compartmentalisation and have an open attitude to music quite different to the kids in my day, who used very specific musical genre choices to define themselves, and were often violently hostile to anything outside their chosen niche. This might encourage a more superficial investigation of songs and artists, but it’s still perfectly possible to go deeper, and it’s kind of the approach I favour with film viewing, which might be part of why I respond to it.

Don’t grab that scabby hand…

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2021 by dcairns

…it belongs to Mister Sniff-‘n’-Tell, it belongs to the Candyman. So sang David Bowie in his least cool phase, as frontman of Tin Machine, in an anti-drugs song called Crack City, which recycles the ahem, hook, from Wild Thing and is quite catchy, but still un-cool.

I mention it because it mentions the Candyman (as does Sweet Transvestite from ROCKY HORROR) and because in the new CANDYMAN reboot or rehook, protag Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has a scabby hand. I kept expecting him to sprout a hook, which might have been cool, but he doesn’t. If this guy is getting a hook, he’ll have to do it the traditional way.

The scabby hand gives us some of the most visceral and wince-making stuff in Nia DaCosta’s revision of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film of Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden — one moment is borrowed from Cronenberg’s THE FLY and got the strongest reaction from us of anything in there. Because CANDYMAN is quite a good film, but we were never actually scared. It’s made with great skill, the performances are good, it has ideas, and the use of colour and architecture (the title sequence!) is beautiful — a touch of Argento, who will also be all over A RAINY NIGHT IN SOHO, coming to your screens soon. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s score is lovely, though close enough to Philip Glass’s original in essence that it feels like Glass should get a credit somewhere. (Rose’s unconventional choice of Glass was one of his smartest choices.)

I’m not sure why we didn’t feel fear. Candyman mainly kills white people and we fit that demographic. He mainly kills unsympathetic white people, or people we barely know, but that needn’t be an overwhelming problem… I thought at first the film was going to be too hurried, that it would fail to spend the anxious time anticipating its kills, something Argento used to be so good at. In fact, the movie has a pretty good command of pace, but it doesn’t protract things to that ridiculous level where even though you may feel (a) this is silly (b) I don’t believe it (c) I don’t care if this person dies (d) I’ve seen gory deaths before, you still curl up a bit and want to cover your eyes. Argento could do all that, and part of it was having the courage to linger on things beyond the point where sane judgement would tell you to quicken it up just a little.

I always found Candyman a bit of a messy guy. His origin story just piles everything on — dismemberment, the meat hook added by his persecutors (WHY?), bees, and burning. It gets les disturbing the more effed-up details are thrown in. And then his M.O. is just to show up, when summoned, and kill everybody. The attempts to give him some more complex motivation got the first film into a fankle, and it kind of does the same here. There are a lot of threads in this, which is better than having too few but not as good as having the right number. Why do we get a flashback to Teyonnah Parris’s father’s suicide? Does this connect to something in the first film I’ve forgotten? Because it connects to nothing at all in this one.

One more thing that still kinda bothers me, like Columbo. DaCosta and co-writers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld introduce a couple of likeable gay characters right off the bat, and I found myself wondering about what their fates would be. It seemed obvious that you couldn’t bring in sympathetic gay characters and then graphically butcher them — everyone would hate that, and rightly so. You couldn’t even kill just one of them. Unless you had other gay characters who would survive as an intact couple. We’re not at the point yet where gay characters can enjoy an equal right of becoming splatter fodder.

The solution to this that occurred to me is that you could ENDANGER these characters — that would get the audience really tense. Not only because we like them (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Kyle Kaminsky are the film’s most appealing characters) but because we would know that murdering them would be a critical error. The film could actually play with our fear of the story going wrong (as it does in the original for various reasons I can’t quite recall — I just remember feeling it went off the rails somewheres). It’s mostly so assured we don’t feel that, and when it does go wrong (a nice character turns out to be a bad crazy person, but also a kind of narrative cul-de-sac who robs the protag of the chance to go to Hell on his own choices) it does so without warning.

The trouble with Candyman is there’s no endangering while he’s around — he always gets his man, or woman, until the end of the movie, when it seems to break its own rules. Maybe that’s my fundamental problem: when you KNOW the monster is going to kill everyone he meets, suspense is lessoned. Hard to get fond too of corpses-in-waiting, even though that’s what we all are, if you think about it.