When should you watch a shit film? When I think it’s a good shit film. Which is the case here. It’s good, sort of…
2016 certainly happened, didn’t it? Ignoring a global lurch to the right wing and the bold rebirth of European nationalism, it happened on screens as well. Here’s the first part of a review of the year with highlights of the films I actually managed to watch. Read it.
It is, at the very least, well intentioned.
Suicide Room is the story of Dominik, a Polish teen wrestling with the problems of his own emerging sexuality, career-driven parents and living in the world that doesn’t understand him. Poland. Just in case you’re unaware, being gay in Poland is not a great thing to advertise.
Driven to living in his room by bullying and being repeatedly harassed online, Dominik finds solace in a group of online friends who inhabit the ‘Suicide Room’.
It’s very easy to be trite about a film like this, a film which focuses on the problems of a teenager. A time in your life when emotions are felt more keenly and reactions often seem more dramatic or exaggerated. But the vibrancy of these experiences shouldn’t diminish their validity. Suicide Room is a film about something real and vital. Certainly in parts of the world where homosexuality is criminalised or marginalised to the extent that it is a social death sentence this is not an outlandish story.
Jakob Gierszal is excellent as the awkwardly beautiful Dominik, curling and contorting his wire frame into all manner of tortured knots. Whilst his appearance and the subject matter veer dangerously close to a My Chemical Romance music video at times it’s held together through liberal and interesting use of the Suicide Room virtual community itself. A Second Life-esque virtual arena where the interactions of the characters are as genuine, if not more so, than their real life experiences. Here Jan Komasa can further explore the main overriding theme of the film, masks.
Dominik’s main contact in the virtual world is Sylwia, a pink haired mystery woman who rules the Suicide Room. She appears in webcam conversations wearing a clear plastic mask and reminding me of Mirror’s Edge character Faith. She is masked and somehow protected. It’s not a complex or even original exploration of the ‘We wear masks to the world’ concept. But it is effective. As a teen you are going through the process of tuning and manipulating your mask to acquire its final adult form. Dominik’s mask is fractured – he exposes too much of himself, literally. And in the age of constant, and instant, digital communication any weakness or crack in the armour is ruthlessly and immediately exploited by the pack mentality. In one scene in the Suicide Room a banished member rails against the avatars presented before him pointing out how their design seeks to cover the weakness of real life. Slender characters mask obese humans, muscle-bound hulks cover withered bodies. And in this space these compensating character avatars find the safety and solace they need.
Perhaps Komasa is trying to say something about the need for more space. That by constantly exposing the masked and the protected we are forcing them further and further into darker recesses of the world. Perhaps. Either way, Suicide Room is a fine exploration of a very relevant set of issues using a classic motif.
On reading plenty of end of year reviews of books, films, games and TV I realised that this year, more than any other as an adult, I’ve just not had any time for any of that. There are several reasons for this, none of them particularly bad, one is very good (he’s 5 months old and sleeping soundly upstairs). But it doesn’t stop the feeling that I’ve missed out. You’ve lost out on experiences and things that other people have had. I’d promised myself that I’d do much more writing too, all I managed was a solitary horror story during the summer and a brief piece of freelance for a website.
So, what did I watch instead? Well, at the start of the year, inspired by Mark Cousins’ ‘The Story of Film: An Odyssey’ (watch it!) I went about watching Come and See. A film so shuddering, so affecting, that I spent the rest of the year convincing people to see it. There is no flicker of doubt in my mind that it is a defining film about war. Other films from around the world, from Black Rain (the Japanese one!) to Schindler’s List, from Nuit et Brouillard to Full Metal Jacket all pale in my mind. The broad assault on the senses is so all consuming that it overshadowed anything else that I watched.
I’d decided, along with a friend, that I needed to cover the missing spots in my knowledge (read his excellent end of year list here!). Major works of film that we’d missed out on or avoided so far. After Cousins and the experience of Come and See I was finally inspired by reading this, fairly random, list article. Tarkovsky was the only director whose work I’d never seen any of. A DVD box of the seven films he’d made was a mere £30 (it now costs £150 inexplicably). Even if all his are available online for free I did want the best available package.
So, this year I watched the seven films of Andrei Tarkovsky. It is true, he hasn’t made a bad film. He’s made a boring one. Solaris. But even that is so fundamentally brilliant and thoughtful in construction that you have to engage with it on an intellectual level. The ideas, the sheer magnitude of thought outweighs its pace. I liked them all. I felt better, smarter, enhanced for watching them. There is something special about the cinema of Tarkovsky, something so different. He’ll never get a populist revival, the pace of his work is at odds with modern life, his stories are merely skeletons, foundations of bone on which the beauty of everything else hangs.
People lend me films, a lot. I get sent films sometimes. It’s a very cool position to be in. Not quite as cool as being paid to write about them but pretty damn cool nonetheless. But there is a responsibility for you to be generous with your praise afterwards. I’m not an expert by any stretch but I know my Herzog from my Murnau so maybe, occasionally, I can offer a hint of help.
So it is with The Consequences of Love (Paolo Sorrentino, 2004). My opinion is wanted.
Mysterious hotel guest Titta di Girolamo is disconnected from everybody and everything apart from the case he delivers to a bank once a week posologie du viagra. It is all he does. Until he decides to talk to the barmaid in his hotel, and his life changes. It’s a simple premise, a straightforward reveal of a person’s life. I haven’t seen any of Sorrentino’s other films but he clearly has deft touch with the camera, smoothly sliding through the glassy minimalist Swiss architecture. He likes a mirror too, Douglas Sirk style multi-layer shot compositions are the order of the day. Like Sirk’s films this has the dubious effect of pulling you away from the story and dazzling a little with technical ability. A minor complaint but one that can stop you completely falling in with the story.
Stylistic qualities aside, the film forms a curiously neat partnership with another that I’ve watched recently – Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. Another film with twinned central themes of love and death. And that’s at the centre of Sorrentino’s film. A life without risk, without chance, is not a life at all. And what is love if not a risky enterprise? So we see the routine and serenity of Titta’s life disturbed by his gentle, burgeoning and occasionally clumsy love for the barmaid, Sofia. Various second string characters factor in to this particular view. The ageing couple who room next to Titta are caught in a spiral of debt, having sold once great riches to fund a gambling habit. The husband, desperate to die with meaning and purpose, wants to go to Monte Carlo and live his last days extravagantly; the wife still clings to former glories, objects and regrets. They wrestle with burning out or fading away. Their fate is suggested and seems to agree with Sorrentino’s own view for his main character, Titta.
Consequences benefits from a superb central performance from Toni Servillo as Titta, who reminds me somewhat of a less expressive Stanley Tucci. This minimalism of expression is part of Titta’s armour. Eyebrows gently twitch, eyes cast downward and away. It’s a wonderfully measured delivery. A more demonstrative performance and it would be an unwatchable pantomime.
As an example of a national cinema it’s interesting to plot where Consequences lies (though admittedly limited by my own knowledge). Here, the mafia are a combination of aging businessmen and thorough tracksuited assassins. Coldly sterile buildings separate the true power of the Cosa Nostra from the street level dealings. It’s glimpsed only briefly, but the obvious complicity of the bank is interesting to note. This film could be paired with the modern Italian criminal epic Gomorrah. The myriad levels of criminal enterprise don’t operate separately but instead function in the heart of Italian society.
That’s it really, an expulsion of thoughts and ideas about a film that was enjoyable, if not loveable.
Dear Mr Brand,
Recently I saw you on Newsnight. The interview was remarkably popular. It popped up all along my FaceBook and Twitter feeds. People were very impressed. They liked what you had to say, about being disengaged and apathetic toward the current status quo. I liked it. It felt good to hear someone, in the proverbial lion’s den of an interview with the revered Pax-man, so effusive about the political situation. I’m a teacher and I know that many of my pupils pay close attention to what you have to say, you have often been mentioned in my classroom. Your words carry weight. They carry this weight with swathes of people who are about to, or have just reached, voting age. Swathes of people who feel that they have no say in the way this country is run, the way it works and how it will work with them (by dint of opportunities, training or at the very least a framework of assistance in work/health/education).
But then it stopped. You told people that they shouldn’t vote if they were not happy with the system and then stopped. Don’t think this a criticism, your reasons are yours and they are valid enough. But your answer isn’t enough; not for the people whose ear you are close to. Revolution needs to be more than a word. Revolution is action. Action married to words and conviction. We live in an age where people can sit and see confirmation of any point of view they choose from the screen of a phone but so few people are in a position to take action. Instead of words, instead of ten minutes of YouTube interview that people feel justifies their apathy/anger, instead of this witty aside in the ongoing political narrative, people need an option.
I tell my pupils to vote. To vote with their conscience and their heart in what they believe in. To look beyond the big three parties and to research parties and organisations who offer more than a side in our faintly pathetic ongoing duopoly and the illusory notion of democracy. But mainly I tell them to engage and understand, because if they don’t we are in danger of losing a generation people who feel that they cannot spark the changes both you and I seem to believe that we need. Your message that they shouldn’t vote worries me. It worries me because the current parties would love people to not vote. Their vested interest lies in people not voting because the more people disengage from the process – the more difficult it is to effect change and the less people will understand about the political process itself. This is dangerous.
If you tell people to not vote but you don’t expand on the options available then you worry me.
I think what I’m suggesting Mr Brand, is that you don’t tell people to not vote. History tells us that commandments are poor form even with the best intentions. Instead, help them to engage. Engage in a ferociously critical way, engage in a manner that sees them tear into the status quo with savage intelligence and engage in building the future.
I’ve seen your twitter feed and the swirling positivity you bring to highlighting movements and groups around the country. Bring this positivity to be, don’t let it lie with empty rhetoric, soundbites lost in the social media swirl and conveniently timed publicity. You have the ear of a generation.
Also, carry on making them laugh. Donald O’Connor was not wrong in that regard.
Two men, known only as ‘Writer’ and ‘Professor’, hire a Stalker to guide them through the ‘Zone’, an off limit area where danger is supposedly ever-present. Their aim: to get to the room at the heart of the zone where their innermost desires will be realised.
It’s been a few weeks since I watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and I’ve wanted to write about it since then but, well, I’ve had to give it some time to settle in my mind. It is, first and foremost, a beautiful film. Cate Blanchett has talked about how each frame is ‘burned’ into her retina; on watching, it quickly becomes apparent why. Each frame is an exquisitely composed piece of art. Colours drip and drain whilst the textures of the world are the crumbling evidence of a creative space in a state of decay and disrepair. Because it is Tarkovsky you get plenty of time to appreciate these compositions too (141 shots in 160+ minutes, several over four minutes and one clocking in at 6 minutes and 50 seconds – Johnson/Petrie). There’s a few other familiar things in here too, his focus on the backs of people’s heads is evident and recurrent religious iconography as well as his father’s poetry being read out.
In light of enjoying I’ve bought a box with all of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films in it and I’m working my way through the lot of them. I’ve never seen any of them before, which is a bit slack, but I’ve got the bit between my teeth now and I’m enjoying them
I was going to write something on each film but Tarkovsky’s first film, Ivan’s Childhood is functionally a similar story to Come and See and suffers a little in watching it so shortly after Klimev’s powerhouse. Though it is still a superb film, stark and beautifully photographed, with a dark denouement where a wire hoop holds the answer you didn’t want.
Andrei Rublev is a different beast entirely. Having wrestled with Mosfilm, the Russian film authority, on getting the film released it’s initially difficult to understand why. In fact, at first, to Western eyes dimmed by the constant parade of over edited, over stylised, gaudy and exposition heavy produce from America, it’s easy to be completely nonplussed at a film like Rublev. It’s black and white, set in the medieval 1400s and the main character is a bit of a non-entity. At three hours in length with an episodic story that has no apparent continuity it is, in the tradition of Russian literature, a forbidding experience.
In December 1957 Charles Starkweather killed a man, Robert Colvert. By the end of January 1958 he, and his girlfriend Caril Fugate had killed 11 people (and a couple of dogs). Their violent spree-killing road trip has left a quite unexpected legacy, one that sprung to mind whilst I sat watching Bobcat Goldthwaite’s latest film ‘god bless america’ (all in lower case because that’s how it is in the film and, well, I’m pretty sure it’s like that on purpose).
Goldthwaite (probably best known in this country for his turn as ‘Z’ in the Police Academy films) doesn’t pull any punches in his film. From the moment a baby is blown away with a shotgun inside the first two minutes the nihilism on display is unremitting. This isn’t a film where there is a light at the end of the tunnel, redemption or a new found appreciation for life – it’s cynical and pissed off and it doesn’t want to vote on another vacant TV ‘talent’ show parade of underachievers. In short, I recommend it. This is a work that has the courage of its convictions and they are rare beasts indeed. Check out the excellent trailer below…
Continue reading “God Bless Starkweather?”
It became swiftly obvious during the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games that the creative director of the showpiece, Danny Boyle understands the importance of cinema, the movies, to a nation hoping to finally craft a positive identity in the modern age.
In years gone by I was taught about Australian cinema by a remarkable lady, Cath Ellis, whose key text in beginning to understand Australia as a concept and as a nation was the opening ceremony from the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. I remember discussing the importance of self-image and identity as presented by one of these events, events that are seen and consumed by the world at large. The ceremony aims to present a potted history of the country via images, music and loads of people dancing. Continue reading “Olympian Cinematic: The screens in British hearts”