Archive for Flicker

Sub Sub

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2015 by dcairns

madmax In Theodore Roszak’s novel Flicker, there’s a movie entitled SUB SUB, which is presented as the climactic achievement of cinema — a quadrophonic acid-trip caveman movie full of rape and violence with a deafening non-stop rock score. The book’s semi-serious conspiracy theory suggests that cinema is a Cathar conspiracy to prepare us for the end of the world. Cinema as anti-life equation. I do sort of believe this. I think art and religion are both ways of dealing with the consciousness of our own deaths. George Miller’s triumphal return to big-screen carnage, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD feels a lot like SUB SUB. It has a bit more humanity, to be sure, but in its high-octane relentlessness, its constant grotesquerie, its deafening onslaught of mayhem, it is the kind of movie it’s easy to imagine alien archeologists unearthing from the ruins of our civilisation, screening, and saying “Well of course these bastards became extinct: they were making things like this.” It was suggested by someone or other that our ability to imagine post-apocalyptic scenarios does not seem to make us better at avoiding the kind of behaviour that will lead to apocalypses — instead, it just feels like a dress rehearsal for the inevitable. madmaxi If the Tasmanian Devil ram-raided FELLINI SATYRICON, or the characters of THE BED SITTING ROOM discarded their “mustn’t grumble” British inertia, OD’d on bath salts and invaded Namibia, the results would resemble this dirt-caked pile-driver of a film. George Miller doesn’t need 3D to punch his audience in the face. Astonishingly, a film which steamrollers over the action movie competition of beardless youths like Bryan Singer or Matthew Vaughn, is directed and photographed by septuagenarians, and costume designed by a nice lady who used to do all Merchant-Ivory’s films.

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Production process: for over a decade, the film was waiting to get made, existing, like The Bible, without the benefit of the written word — instead, Miller papered a room with a storyboard by comic book wiz Brendan McCarthy, himself a MAD MAX fan whose punk armageddons of mutation and madness prepared him perfectly for this descent into the maelstrom. It’s in some ways the most comic book movie ever, with character simplified mostly to design and cool names (Imperator Furiosa, Rictus Erectus) and basic, primal motivations. Max hardly speaks. Engine noise and the choral freak-out of Junkie XL’s score are privileged over dialogue (weird that I enjoyed this earsplitting sensory pugilism and then, due to my noise phobia, couldn’t walk into a busy pub to discuss it — movies have SOUND DESIGN but real life can be intolerably garbled). madmaxx Miller insisted that, anamorphic cinematography be damned, the subject of interest in every shot had to be dead centre, so that the eye didn’t have to rove around to catch what was going on. He was going to cut shots into second-long blipverts, and play some of his action as fast as six frames per second, so the tardy eye was never going to have a chance if everything wasn’t always in the same space. You’d think this might lead to visual dullness, but at the manic maximum overdrive sustained almost throughout, such a thing is impossible. Fatigue is certainly conceivable, and will depend on your tolerance for sweaty brutality and desperate urgency, which never flag. You just have to keep up. Logic is present only in the characters’ basic sense of direction — from almost the start, the world of Miller’s films hasn’t made a lick of sense. In a world where petrol has run out, everyone spends all their time driving around. Don’t let it worry you. More problematic was always the use of homosexual and disabled characters as monstrous villains. Here, it’s a little more complex — Miller, a former doctor, still has a love of physical deformity, but this is evenly parcelled out amid good and bad characters. Charlize Theron, the film’s real lead character, has a prosthetic arm, and Nicholas Hoult is extravagantly decorated with scarifications and a couple of bulbous tumours (with smiley faces inked on them). Sexuality has been entirely displaced by the necessity of procreation on a dying globe, and the exercise of violence is the only means the bad guys have for getting their jollies. “no unnecessary killing!” yells one of the babes Max and Imperator are rescuing at one point, but fortunately for the sensation-seeking multiplexers, a very large amount of killing proves to be completely necessary. madmaxresdefault (2) Miller pays hommage to ozploitation films past, borrowing the spiky Volkswagon straight out of THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS and strapping Max to the front of a speedy car like a live hood ornament, just like Cassandra Delaney in FAIR GAME. It’s just one way in which Max, hung in a cage and milked of blood by the bad guys, is treated more like a leading lady than Theron. He’s not as objectified as he might have been, though, and the film also loses homoerotic points by dotting its shirtless “warboys” with hideous goitres. The two groups of women show the extent to which Aussie commercial film has/has not moved on from its blokish origins. First, Max stumbles upon a kind of bikini carwash wet T-shirt competition among the lingerie models, then he meets a commune of leathery Germaine Greers. In this way the movie can have its cheesecake AND eat it AND spit it in your face while laughing maniacally. mad-max-trailer Even if the characters are hinged cardboard, Theron in particular invests some actual humanity in the proceedings. Miller’s long-standing tendency to cast for physiognomy means he’s saddled himself with slightly more lingerie models in lead roles than a proper film should have. The guy with brittle-bone disease or something, who looks like a jester’s bladder, is such an extraordinary human special effect in himself that I wouldn’t mind if he couldn’t act, but Rosie Huntington-Whitely isn’t really artistically excusable. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is as immersive and toxic as the extraordinary HARD TO BE A GOD, and the only thing separating Russian art film from Australian-American action film is the propulsive narrative drive — a straightforward sense of mission grounded in character. Someone said that the film borrows the structure of Keaton’s THE GENERAL, and it’s true enough — a long chase one way, then a long chase back, using the same terrain in new ways. Keaton gains added variety from the fact that in the first chase, he’s after the Northern spies and in the second, they’re after him. Here, it’s basically Max and Furiosa being pursued all the time. I’m slightly bewildered to hear of friends rushing to see it a second and third time. I enjoyed myself, but I’m uncertain as to how repeatable the experience is, and do I want to do that to myself again? I don’t think I’ll discover hidden depths. But I can’t wait to own a copy so I can pick it apart in the comfort of my own home…

Last Train

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2013 by dcairns

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UNSTOPPABLE, Tony Scott’s last film prior to his unexplained jumping from a bridge — his brother was supposed to be the depressive one — is pitched somewhere in the quieter end of his frenetic, acid-coloured, shakycam style, meaning that fans of DOMINO probably don’t find it interesting enough and I can just about bear it (the way I tolerated CRIMSON TIDE and DEJA VU, which were both enjoyable stories). It’s also uncharacteristically benign, with only one death — which is at least intended to have some emotional impact — and no out-and-out villains. There’s a mild anti-corporate stance although everybody ends up not making too much of a fuss because they want to get on in life. It’s not very rock’n’roll. But it’s inoffensive — and I often find Scott’s films shockingly unpleasant and inhumane.

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It was Fiona who spotted the orange dot just ahead of the train — a woodland critter which kind of FLOWS across the tracks like a sheet of newspaper in a babbling brook — “They must have been SO EXCITED when they caught that!”

There’s a runaway train full of toxic chemicals and this time Jon Voight ISN’T at the wheel quoting Nietszche, if you remember RUNAWAY TRAIN — worse, no one’s at the wheel, and only Captain Kirk and Malcolm X can stop this mile-long juggernaut from destroying Stanton. Part of the film’s overall sweetness is that it trusts its audience to care about a town of less than a million inhabitants. Why, in ARMAGEDDON Michael Bay had to obliterate Paris just to show he meant business.

Working class heroes are welcome, Denzel Washington’s laid-back charisma compensates for Pine’s callowness, and incidentally DW gets to show why he’d be impossible to defeat or fluster in an argument — the film could’ve as well been called UNFLAPPABLE.

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Scott’s credit comes over an unfortunate image.

I remain agnostic about Scott’s imagery — I did feel a bit claustrophobic from all the colour-manipulation going on, which boosted the orange-and-teal nightmare from which American cinema has yet, it seems, to awaken, into something even more hallucinatory and queasy, which I guess is better than just using it normally without thinking. I grew to loathe Scott’s tobacco filters, so this is at least something else. Maybe that’s his redeeming cinematic trait — amping up worthless techniques until they become interesting through sheer excess — no longer fit for the banal purpose they were designed for, they suggest some ungraspably alien higher intent. Scott, I feel, would have been the ideal man to make SUB SUB, the imaginary rock ‘n’ roll post-apocalyptic caveman movie described in Theodore Roszak’s cinematic conspiracy novel Flicker — a film so  virulently “cinematic” that it could sterilize mankind. Is that a respectful thing to say about a recently death-plunged filmmaker? Possibly not, but it seems the right kind of compliment for his kind of cinema.

Collide-o-scope

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on November 27, 2013 by dcairns

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Stunning images courtesy of Paul Clipson. Paul was introduced to me by Daniel Kasman of MUBI’s The Notebook. Paul was coming to Edinburgh to visit his mum and Daniel thought we’d get along. I ended up arranging for Paul to show his films at Edinburgh College of Art and a good crowd of students showed up to get their eyes drunk on his dazzling visuals.

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Paul is a projectionist in San Francisco and with his spare cash he’s an experimental filmmaker, buying up Super-8 while it’s still out there and compiling elegantly layered movies of light and colour and movement.

Paul explained that much of his aesthetic is informed by what his camera can and can’t do. It allows him to wind the film back to do double, or triple, or infinituple exposures. But it only allows him to wind back a short way. Also, the films are edited entirely with film splicing, the traditional way, so there’s no opportunity to add longer dissolves or correct anything in post. All Paul does is select, prune, arrange.

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The films are shown at longer events with live music played alongside the movies but without regard to their content — the musicians typically look at their keyboards so the ways in which the films interact with the “soundtrack” are entirely coincidental, but often startling. For our show, Paul had shorter versions of his films with pre-prepared accompaniment played out of his laptop.

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The film’s are visually intoxicating — by crash-zooming on city lights and multi-layering via many exposures, Paul has created his own Stargate sequence a la 2001. He’s also got an effect going I’ve never seen anywhere else — by having various layers of foreground action passing between us and our nominal subject (for instance, a girl running in a forest with trees at different distances between us and her, momentarily occluding our view) and double exposing and cutting FAST, Paul can get a sequence to the point where our grasp of film language disintegrates — we can no longer tell if, at any moment, we are seeing a single image, a double exposure, a continuous shot, or a series of edits. It’s not that it all becomes a blur — each frame seems super-bright and clear, firing into our brains like a bullet — instead, the mass fragmentation results in a higher unity (a Höheren Einheit, if you will), where all the shots and layers fuse together in one.

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Afterwards, the conversation briefly turned to Theodore Roszak’s cinematic conspiracy novel Flicker, and it only struck me later that if anybody ever manages to film that tome (and many, including Gilliam, have tried), Paul is the one person who could adequately visualize the occult film techniques employed within its pages…

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