Archive for Richard Curtis

Au Hasard, Joey

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2018 by dcairns

Since WWI finally ended on Sunday, I thought I’d watch something suitable. Unfortunately, the film that leapt out at me was Spielberg’s WAR HORSE, which I’d picked up cheap on DVD and never watched. I had just been picking out clips to show students to illustrate the art of scene blocking, which Spielberg has a real gift for. So I was feeling positive, even though friends had described WH as a right load of old guff.

I have smart friends.

The Spielberg fireworks display goes full blast in this one, and there’s much to admire from a technical standpoint. But this was a children’s book, turned into a play that used technically impressive but stylised theatrical techniques, now turned into a big budget film with a Hollywood-real aesthetic. So it’s like somebody adapted Tom Sawyer into Equus and then into GONE WITH THE WIND. The qualities of the children’s story which were perfectly acceptable in a storybook — the naiveté and sentimentality and romantic implausibility — all become glaringly obtrusive on the big screen with real people (well, actors) and a real horse (when it’s not CGI).

“Don’t do it, Steve,” said Fred Schepisi when he heard Spielberg was going to make SCHINDLER’S LIST. “You’ll fuck it up: you’re too good with the camera.” An immortal line. To the extent that Spielberg did not fuck it up, we can credit his success to the decision not to storyboard and to go handheld when possible. Handicapping himself. His decision to shoot the start of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN like a documentary also helped stave off problems. But since WAR HORSE is about long-ago events more remote than the forties, he evidently decided to let himself go full David Lean. There are some beautiful images ~It is, in fact, absolutely pornographic. The famous debate about the tracking shot in KAPO is very relevant here. But imagine ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT crossed with LASSIE COME HOME and that gives some idea. But don’t forget that, on top of all that, it has a thick coating of John Williams poured all over it. And Richard Curtis on script.

(All the nice WWI art is, in a sense, sickening. The giant display of poppies (sponsored by the British weapons trade) spilling like blood from a wound was striking, but what it accomplished was the transformation of something raw and bloody into something pretty and inoffensive. As effective a pro-war statement as you could wish for. I’ve seen people saying “Dulce et decorum,” on social media, leaving out the fact that Wilfred Owen used those words with savage irony.)

Despite the skill and effort put into it, it’s insulting. Horses charge a German camp. Stylish mayhem. The machine guns open up. Charging horses. And then suddenly horses are leaping over the guns. And we realise they’re all riderless. A clever cinematic idea, but the empty horses gag simply couldn’t happen, because you can’t shoot a man off a horse whose riding right at you because the horse’s head would be in the way. Any effective shot would also fell the horse. Now, you might get away with that kind of impossible illogic in a kids’ book or play (but it’s an inherently cinematic idea, you have to give it that) but its an absurdity here. I wouldn’t accept it in an Indiana Jones movie, but it wouldn’t bother me much.There’s one scene that manages to apply a bit of restraint: Toby Kebbell and Hinnerk Schönemann (I think) underplay a scene where they rescue the titular horse from barbed wire in no man’s land. The restraint pays off and the dialogue is less on-the-nose. And in reality, soldiers did sometimes risk death for their horses… generally to put a bullet in their brains as a mercy. So there’s a basis in reality… except here the horse lives and it’s all combined with a bit of Christmas Day Armistice sentiment. Can I have an extra rum ration, sir?

To take the taste away we had to run Losey’s KING AND COUNTRY. In order to FEEL something moderately genuine. The war horse in that one is a dead donkey full of rats.

WAR HORSE stars Swanney, Jackie Du Pré, Professor Lupin, Loki, Alan Turing, César Luciani, Koba the bonobo, Inspector Lestrade and Davos Seaworth.

KING AND COUNTRY stars Dr. Simon Sparrow, Billy Liar, Gerald Arthur Otley, Klang, Bob Rusk and Dinsdale Gurney.

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Extreme Prejudice

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2008 by dcairns

Kapo 

There’s a famous and well-respected article by Serge Daney called The Tracking Shot in Kapo, in which he discusses a movie about concentration camps by the great Gillo Pontecorvo. The article centres on a tracking shot where Pontecorvo’s camera moves in on a slain woman. Daney quotes a review by nouvelle vague filmmaker and critic Jacques Rivette: “the man who decides at this moment to make a forward tracking shot to reframe the dead body – carefully positioning the raised hand in the corner of the final framing – this man is worthy of the most profound contempt.”

Daney then defines his conception of cinema by agreeing with the above sentiment — even though he hasn’t seen the film.

This might seem like an odd kind of criticism, but it has a certain kind of legitimacy. I’ve been known to moan about a 9:11 documentary called THE FALLING MAN, in which the filmmakers have put sad music in the background over interviews with grieving relatives of terror attack victims, to make it emotional. The people I tell nod: they agree with me in principle, though of course they’d be entitled to feel differently if they saw the film and found it worked/was not offensive in actuality.

Of course, actually writing a review of a film one hasn’t seen is another matter. In The Guardian newspaper, Andrew Pulver reviewed Rivette’s own CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING, with the capsule summary, “…documents in exhaustive detail the relationship between the eponymous women. Dialogue is minimal and events, such as they are, are propelled by a whimsicality characteristic of its era.” It’s pretty obvious from this that he simply missed all the dialogue by SKIPPING OUT some time during the first half hour. The cheeky blighter! (Thanks to Comrade K. for spotting this.)

In the spirit partly of Daney and partly of Pulver, I thought it might be interesting to write about a few of the many films I haven’t seen and don’t like. I’m not condoning this practice at all, I just want to see what will happen and who I offend.

(Note: I found it so depressing trying to find images from these films to illustrate them that I just gave up and went for some attractive images of general angst, which kind of show how I feel when I think about these movies.)

 unwell

1) 9 SONGS. It’s hard to pick a Michael Winterbottom film that sums up the spectacular lack of appeal his work has for me, there are so many contenders. A COCK AND BULL STORY passed the time, but in retrospect I rather felt it had STOLEN the time. I quite enjoyed 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE for the smart script and playing, but for a film about the record industry it had no clue how to put across a song.

So I think it’s a safe bet I wouldn’t like this 2004 tale of shagging and concert-going, especially as I hate hate hate everything else I’ve seen by the man I call Michael Autumnbottom (I call him that because it’s the only way I can discuss him without feeling a bit depressed). In particular JUDE where they slaughter a pig for Dramatic Effect and attempt to capture a JULES ET JIM feeling elsewhere by the simple procedure of ripping off whole sequences from JULES ET JIM.

Based on what I have seen, Autumnbottom is one of the most visually insensitive directors working — constantly! — in the UK today. I just want him to stop.

glum

2) The remake of FUNNY GAMES. I walked out of the original around half an hour in. Haneke seems to approve of this, he says, “Those who walk out don’t need the film.” I think he is confusing NEED and LIKE.

He thinks he’s proving that we shouldn’t enjoy violent films by making a violent film that is supposed to be impossible to enjoy. But I like many violent films, I just don’t like films that are supposed to be impossible to enjoy. “Enjoy” may be the wrong word: I watch THE BLOOD OF THE ANIMALS in awestruck horror, Alan Clarke’s ELEPHANT imparts a terrible dread, COME AND SEE is like being punched in the heart. But there is some form of pleasure and beauty there still. Haneke’s film could achieve this beauty through its ideas, but the ideas are too painfully thick-headed and lumpen.

Some will argue that the film isn’t violent at all because (most of) the violence is offscreen, but adding up drops of blood is a ridiculous way to measure violence. The film is an endless parade of convincingly fear, suffering and cruelty, intended to teach us that we shouldn’t enjoy such things. I know that already. I only enjoy them when they’re faked, and when they are part of a film that is enjoyable in other ways.

As Maurice Chevalier says in LE SILENCE EST D’OR, “Some people think it is the director’s job to give the audience a hard time.”

not keen

3) LOVE, ACTUALLY. Isn’t the title reason enough? It’s like being lectured by a smug public-schoolboy before it even starts. Yet here we have a film which I suspect wants me to have a good time. I can’t fault it for that, the instinct is a generous one. But any film which has Hugh Grant as a loveable Blair-like UK prime minister is going to fail with me unless it has an interactive element that allows me to climb up into the screen and bloodily hatchet him to bits (and it’s not due to a particular dislike of the actor). Maybe Richard Curtis should write a romcom about Adolf and Eva next. FUHRER WEDDING AND A FUNERAL? Sorry, sorry.

Apart from that, I adore romantic comedies, just not too many recent ones.

quailing

4) I’m not too keen on most contemporary cinema from my own country (Scotland) but unlike the admirable forthright Ms Smith I’m somewhat afraid of alienating all my peers and the funding bodies who support them. And as these films constitute the film culture I’m stuck in, they’re of more interest to me than any old depressing, flat, unimaginitive cinema I might find elsewhere in the world. So I don’t rule out the possibility that I’ll take a look at even the most miserable of miserabilist Scottish cinema… at some point. But it’s rather disheartening if the only thing that draws one to one’s own national cinema is purposes of RESEARCH.

So, anything by Lynn Ramsey.

iffy

5) And I’m tempted to add, anything by Ken Loach, although I actually enjoyed RIFF-RAFF up to a point (it had funny bits) and HIDDEN AGENDA up to a point (though falsely pitched as a thriller, it was certainly an intriguing conspiracy story). But I can’t see anything making me choose to see LADYBIRD, LADYBIRD or RAINING STONES or most of the others. I tried to watch NAVIGATORS because I do feel strongly about the damage done to Britain’s rail services by rampant capitalism. But I didn’t make it past the titles. Loach, like Mike Leigh, is really not too strong on using music. My mate Lawrie used to say that a score can’t really add anything to a realist film, all it can do is detract from the realism, and while I’d be willing to admit the possibility of exceptions to this dictum, I find nothing in Loach and Leigh’s work to disprove it.

he died gargling

And I remember Billy Wilder’s preference for making a film at the Ritz Hotel Paris rather than down a coal mine. “What am I gonna do down there? I don’t leave the cinema elated…”

Of course, I agree that films should reflect social realities and enlighten as well as elate. I just don’t think that’s enough, or even a very good starting point. An entertaining film has more chance of being subversive, and therefore effective, than a piece of straight propoganda. Reflecting a fresh bit of society will bolster a strong film, but it will drag a dull one down into the depths of worthiness.

“Lacking a particular inclination, we all decide whether a film is worth seeing based at least on some minimal hearsay, because nobody can see everything.” ~ Peter Henne.

Yes, but what we must NEVER do is mouth off about the films we haven’t seen.

oops