Archive for Netflix

Birdbrained

Posted in Politics, Television with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2019 by dcairns

Hmm, Bird Box is quite offensive, really. Well made, compelling, but with a truly obnoxious concept, not quite at the heart of it, but close. I’d say it was operable: if you were concerned about defaming the mentally ill you could remove the offending material, replace it with something less fascist, and go about your business.

No way to get into this without some spoilers. As I say, the show is tense and involving so you might want to watch it first. But then you should think about what you watched.

Alien, windy things arrive on earth and everyone who sees them has to commit suicide. They’re like the little girl in KILL BABY KILL, or worse, THE WOMAN IN BLACK. That part isn’t offensive. It doesn’t say anything about real-world self-harm that I object to. It’s a pure fantasy concept.

But mentally ill people are affected differently. They don’t kill themselves, but they run about forcing other people to look at the that-which-must-not-be-looked-upons. The crazies in question include the escaped populace of an institution for the criminally insane, but also a hitherto harmless but weird guy who works at the local supermarket.

Tom Hollander is really good in this, by the way.

But what the show is saying, it seems, is that all mad people are basically the same, so that they might all be affected by an alien influence in the same way. And you can’t trust them.

Pretty clearly, if they’d made a show in which all black people or all gay people are turned into agents of the alien invader, that would have been seen as offensive.

Of course, insane people ARE different from any ethnic minority or sexual preference. But they’re also different from one another.

You could make a comparison with Joe Dante’s grim Masters of Horror episode, The Screwfly Solution, based on Alice Sheldon’s story. In that alarming anthology episode, an alien influence causes men to become murderously violent towards women when sexually aroused. The differences between that and Bird Box being that (1) you’d have to be a seriously butthurting male chauvinist to object to this premise. If the story is offensive to men, it’s offensive to the group who has the most power in human society. Also, this story touches base with our reality in several places: serious male-on-female violence is much more common than the reverse; the male sex drive and the aggressive drive are somewhat intertwined; making one gender kill another rather than procreate with it would be a wickedly effective way to exterminate a species. And (2), closely connected with the previous point, the makers of The Screwfly Solution and the original author pretty clearly thought about what they were saying and portraying.

The makers of Bird Box pretty clearly didn’t.

Bandersnatch is really good, though. Watch that.

 

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I have seen The Other Side of the Wind

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2018 by dcairns

I took Netflix up on their “first month free” offer to do it. It’s really at least my second month, because I did this before in order to see Community. I kept the service for a few months that time, and may do so again — they deserve something for finishing THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

It stars Noah Cross, Sammy Michaels, Sally Groves, Marty ‘Fats’ Murdock, Emma Small, Max Morlan, Carl Evello, George Washington Cohen, Frank Booth, the Masterblaster. Yes, some of those are quite obscure, but they are almost as obscure, some of them, when called by their right names. It’s a very odd cast, made up of people Welles had met and liked, or worked with in the distant past, anyone he could lure into his web. In this film structured around an unending party in which every hand seems to come clutching its own whisky glass and cigar, the real-life alcoholics abound: if you’re acting with Welles, your career/life must be in trouble.

I think it’s fantastic. While I was watching it, I was already fantasising about watching it AGAIN. Instead I watched one of the making-of documentaries, the erratic but fascinating THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD. But I still have a fantasy about rewatching it every day of my free Netflix month. That seems quite appealing.

All those actors. Welles gets variable results from them, but it’s a variable film in every way. And he was never a great unity guy — what school of performance unites Joseph Cotten, Welles, Everett Sloane and the hyperventilating Erskine Sandford of CITIZEN KANE, and yet there they were in one scene. Here we have striking, delicate work from Dan Tobin and Tonio Selwart, who both look like scarecrow cadavers but do beautiful things, jostling against Edmund O’Brien, who is just a big drunk (“Eddie is a magnificent ruin,” said Welles, perhaps missing an irony?) but certainly REAL. We get into stranger territory with Norman Foster, a lousy, charmless second-string leading man in the early thirties, who became a fairly good, peppy director in the forties, helming JOURNEY INTO FEAR for Welles at RKO, then returning to acting for a few things in the 70s, including this. I find it hard to assess his performance, which seems to draw upon the pathos of his oddly young/old face and his uncertainty (about how to say a line; about what the hell’s going on) to create a synthesis of good acting, bad acting and non-acting. His abused flunky character is basically Joseph Calleia from TOUCH OF EVIL, but with Hank Quinlan’s sweeties addiction (“It’s either the candy or the hooch,”) and I found myself enjoying him but not knowing whether to feel more sorry for the actor or the character, and unsure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that he never lived to see the movie.

Cameron Mitchell is awfully good — another drinker, one who seems to have been in more posthumous films than anybody (I guess a hard-working agent got him cameos in whatever cheapo production was rolling, including this. And I guess he’s playing some version of Welles’ pet make-up genius, Maurice Seiderman.

A lot of these excellent people are redundant in story terms, scene-swellers as well as scotch-swiggers. The magnificent Mercedes McCambridge doesn’t really have any dramatic material to work with, just exposition delivered with a world-weary or universe-weary gloom. But they had to create a convincingly populated party. The fleeting glimpses of Dennis Hopper, Curtis Harrington, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom et al really help sell this.

The leads, of course, hold it together: Huston (with son Danny voicing some lines: you’d never know) and Bogdanovich are terrific. All kinds of real-life tensions perhaps in play, with Welles perhaps resenting his leads’ success as Hollywood directors — and even if it wasn’t like that, the casting invites us to imagine it.

This is a party filmed at multiple locations over years, with actors coming and going (Rich Little, ejected from his leading role, still turns up in the background) and using a deliberate patchwork of film stocks (it looks BEAUTIFUL) — cohesion would seem like a drunkard’s dream, and yet it hangs together. The mockumentary angle should disintegrate at once, since you can’t imagine some of these scenes being enacted in sight of a camera, but the movie lets us forget the device whenever it needs to, reminds us of it when appropriate. We have to praise Bob Murawski to the skies and beyond for cutting the movie in a way that seamlessly matches the few scenes Welles had already put together: a jagged, frazzled, jazzy frenzy (Fiona got tired out and went to bed midway, but wants to come back and see it all).

It IS enervating and exhausting — it has an authentic long-party feeling, trundling on past the point anyone wants, fuelled by inebriated inertia. We’re all going to regret this.

MORE SOON!