Archive for Kathryn Bigelow

Battle of the Algiers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 11, 2017 by dcairns

Fiona and I went to see director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s DETROIT as an anniversary treat (four years since Norman Lloyd married us in a blasphemous midnight nuptial). That was… fun?

One fascinating thing about the film is its patchwork texture — throwing in TV news footage and still photographs to flesh out its period reconstruction of the 1967 Detroit riots. Another is its unorthodox structure, starting with a big picture network narrative, drawing the characters together for a taut, contained hostage situation with protagonists held at gunpoint by cops in the Algiers Motel, then breaking free and trundling along through a protracted, disjointed aftermath that leaves the viewer with no idea where the thing is going or when it will stop. This rather fascinated me, because you rarely encounter that kind of loose, unpredictable shape in this age of rigorous three-act structure movies written according to a manual of somewhat made-up “rules.” I tried to work out whether an alternative approach might have worked better, but as far as I can see, going into flashbacks framed by the trial, etc, would have spun us round into cliché.

To adapt a true incident around which some mystery still lingers (the Wikipedia entry is like RASHOMON, at least as far as the details are concerned), with living participants and the possibility of lawsuits, Boal has fictionalised, creating cop characters with invented names but who commit real crimes. Will Poulter plays the main rogue cop with a compelling psycho stare. This might be controversial, but I don’t think his character is particularly racist. I mean, he’s clearly QUITE A BIT racist — his attempts to compliment John Boyega’s character as being, essentially, superior to most of his race, are sickeningly offensive, though not unusually so for the time. But I don’t think racism is at the root of this character’s murderous behaviour, as portrayed in the film. Power is at the root of it.

We see at least one of the white cops looking disgusted after finding two white girls in a room with some black guys. He’s in thrall to a powerful and corrosive race hatred, and it’s mingled with sexual jealousy. It’s this kind of evil that Poulter’s character exploits, because he can.

The film, during its long, gruelling middle section reminded me of the Stanford Prison Experiment, where students were randomly divided into prisoners and guards, and without clear rules to limit them, the guards quickly descended in barbarous fascism. Here again we have authority figures and their charges, arbitrarily assigned their roles in life (one cop is so dumb he doesn’t even understand the power games and psychological torture he’s participating in), but added to that is the fact that one group is predominantly white and the other mainly black. Well, that’ll give them something to talk about, I expect.

One thing I didn’t understand. As part of its odd mix of textures (Ken Loach’s cameraman Barry Ackroyd alternates between grainy shakicam for the tense confrontations and supersaturated colour for the concert scenes — yes, it’s kind of a musical, too), the film opens with an animation based on Jacob Lawrence’s paintings of the Great Migration that formed Detroit’s ghettos. Captions tell us that the tensions of big-city racism led to an untenable situation where change was inevitable.

What I don’t get is, what change? What we see in this movie feels very current, and relevant to the era of Black Lives Matter. It seems to me that the events portrayed could totally happen today, and the only difference would be the music would be hip-hop not doo-wop and people would have cell phones to film it on.

So, what change?

What change?

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A Woolrich Gallery #2

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2010 by dcairns

Francis M Nevins, in his Woolrich study First You Dream, The You Die (title derived from a long list of unused titles left behind by Woolrich when he died), reckons UNION CITY may be the worst of all Woolrich adaptations. But I think there’s something to be said in its favour.

“Before Twin Peaks, there was UNION CITY,” said Everett McGill, who appeared in both (those are his teeth, screen right). And the comparison is useful — there’s an arch, strained, weird sense of humour bubbling away in the background of UNION CITY, and it’s not quite clear why it’s there. It doesn’t seem to be trying to actually make us laugh. Tonally there’s definitely a connection, although the effect of TP is quite different — it often IS funny, and also you care for the characters, which doesn’t happen in Marcus Reichert’s film.

Visual artist Marcus Reichert’s first feature is extremely pleasing to the eye — along with DEADLINE AT DAWN, THE WINDOW and PHANTOM LADY, it may be the most handsome of Woolrich movies. Although Reichert’s idea of coverage is sometimes eccentric — the above long take is our first introduction to star Deborah Harry, who keeps her back to us for most of the shot. A build-up to a dramatic reveal? No, the moment of revelation is thrown away.

Cinematographer Ed Lachman (STROSZEK) serves up some nice mood lighting, although some of the camera operating is notably poor, but the real visual honours go to the design, which Reichert himself supervised. Not only is the fifties setting nicely evoked (updating the story from Woolrich’s thirties depression-era), but the colour combinations are really pleasing and original.

As in Woolrich’s story, The Corpse Next Door, a temperamental husband accidentally brains the guy who’s been stealing the milk off his doorstep, and goes to pieces after stashing the body in a murphy bed in the unoccupied next door apartment. Woolrich’s story offers a rare unsympathetic protagonist, who nevertheless becomes a sacrificial lamb on the altar of gruelling suspense. It’s an odd story to adapt to feature length, because it seems almost overstretched at twenty-one pages, and the main character is almost totally inactive between the violent incident and the climax. By padding the story out with irrelevancies, Reichert diffuses what tension there might have been. Perhaps hoping to use Woolrich’s slow fuse to keep the audience engaged as he throws in side-shows and character bits, he actually dissolves the drama before our eyes.

But there’s still plenty to enjoy. As the nominal protagonist, Dennis Lipscomb creates a sweaty, anxious and petulant characterisation worth anybody’s five bucks. The character’s obsessive pettiness is well evoked by showing him in bed with Debbie Harry, yet preoccupied with rigging a Tom & Jerry style trap to catch the milk thief. This guy has problems.

The woman I can’t help but think of as Debbie Blondie gives a remarkable perf, where she doesn’t seem to be acting at all. Oh, she squints a lot, and her lips wander all over her face like confused draught excluders, but that’s part of her thing: she just seems to be behaving, rather than acting. That face is out of control: either it’s been taken over by warring aliens, or it’s just numb from cocaine and she’s trying to spasm it back into life. Pat Benatar shows up too, and for really no reason. Taylor Mead and CCH Pounder add cult appeal, and Kathryn Bigelow was script supervisor. The movie’s fifties setting may have been an influence on THE LOVELESS, her own directorial debut two years later.

Blondie member Chris Stein contributes a reasonably hideous and anachronistic score, which was the one thing I really couldn’t enjoy on any level, other than the “it’s interesting because it’s him doing it” one. But there’s something interesting going on here, and I wish Reichert could have been more prolific so as to hone it.

Film Directors With Their Shirts Off: The Next Generation

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on March 9, 2010 by dcairns

Sofia Coppola.

A second generation topless filmmaker, no less, since I featured Sofia’s dad and his lovely moobs some time ago.

This image comes from This Isn’t Happiness, a beautiful picture blog which is updated with spectacular frequency, ensuring you get a regular image-fix several times a day. The only downside is their tendency to feature rather a lot of pics of sexy ladies in states of undress, which I certainly don’t approve of.

In this case, the image was culled from The World’s Best Ever, another sterling image blog.

We could now have a heated debate about the merits or otherwise of Sofia Coppola’s filmmaking, but it doesn’t seem quite right to do so under a topless picture of the crooked-smiling auteur. Nor does it seem appropriate to simply remark “Nice rack.” And tying it in somehow to Kathryn Bigelow’s epoch-making Oscar win, or International Women’s Day, didn’t quite seem right either.

So let’s turn this into an APPEAL — Send me your topless director shots! Still looking for an Orson Welles, a Ken Russell and an Otto Preminger.