Category Archives: Film

Stop Making Sense

Go on I dare you. I double dare you. Go on, I dare you not to crack a smile when you watch this.

Sublime stuff from the best live-in-concert film ever – Stop Making Sense by The Talking Heads, directed by Jonathan Demme of Silence Of The Lambs fame. If you haven’t seen it, well you should, I’ve never known a recorded gig to be so captivating. David Byrne doesn’t let you ignore him.

Let him entertain you some more…

Dérive

To some – call them capitalists, call them the driven, call them names – drifting is a plague. Something to be avoided. Health is motivation and direction. From this we progress. Drifters have holes is the wrong places. To be set adrift; just the phrase is like an unwelcome tickle to the soul. Schoolteachers and mothers are always plotting against the drifters.

Psycho-geographical drift is culturally heralded. Physical and mental wandering reveal that which may otherwise remain hidden, or rather buried beneath the white noise of life’s competing stimulants. Drift denies us the life-defying formulaic narrative of pop culture. Instead it gives us the the dream-like narrative that is a clearer reflection of our reality –  beginnings and ends fade and blend into a fraying yet seamless tapestry. When you drift there is no destination but location is crucial. You may reach states or places that planning and structure will never find. Incremental moments long since greying are as relevant as any occupying rush of the present. Insignificant glimpses of your past appear as bursts of colour; forgotten clips re-appear as fireworks in your mind having gathered no dust in storage. Illumination bleaches your being before it too fades.

Drifting is calmness but drifting can be sadness. At once detached from the self and consumed by it, your insignificance is clearer as the existence of everything ever, both past and present, muddies egotistical belief.

Patrick Keiller’s film ‘London‘ brought this on.

Keiller’s film follows an imaginary protagonist, Robinson, around the capital in the early 90’s. Blurring documentary with fiction, the miserablist London on show here is almost unimaginable to any contemporary inhabitant. 1992, the Tories win again; London seems set for further decline. The invocation of dead French poets lend a mournful context to the city’s hopeless state. IRA bombs wreck the Thatcherite financial utopia – The City – in a flash, whilst socialist dreams of harmony tune out more gradually. Faded grandeur and the charm of decay strike tenderly through the gloom but this is a beautifully pessimistic series of walks through LDN. Recommended.

Keiller held a Q&A session at The Barbican after the screening last week. I really wanted to ask him what his favourite walk through London was. Sadly the director’s ability to answer a question is in tune with his meandering films. Only a few questions were put to him before our time was up and the moment was lost.

So what are your favourite walks in London? Or bus routes? Or cycle rides? Or vantage points ? For me you can’t beat a bridge at night on a bicycle. Let me know yours, I’d like to see for myself.

David Foster Wallace as Religious Experience

I dipped into the world of David Foster Wallace for the first time recently, boy its pretty deep. DFW was an American author of contemporary fiction who committed suicide last year. Here’s his mammoth article, E Unibus Pluram, on televisual dominance, irony and the future of modern fiction for your reading pleasure. You’ll need an hour or two combined with peace and quiet, and probably a dictionary, but it’s well worth the effort. If you want to start with something lighter then I suggest this stunning article about Roger Federer, a truly gladdening piece of literary sports journalism. If you really want to go deep then Infinite Jest is where it’s at…I’m still psyching myself up.

If you’re still a little daunted by volume of reading required then you could try the DFW experience via the medium of film. First-time director John Krasinki has attempted to film the unfilmable by adapting DFW’s collection of short stories Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. It’s out in the US this month so will hopefully be here soon. Here’s the trailer…

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, tune in if you are free.

Sadly this evening will be one spent pouring pints for other people. If I had a taste of freedom I would be watching this documentary, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, on More4 tonight at 1opm.

Bradley Beesley’s film looks like it has a great story to tell. Whether you enjoy the sharing of a breath of freedom and danger with the inmates or just the adrenaline of rodeo footage, or indeed the gender perspective of the story, it looks fascinating. You can find an interview with him and more on Joe Leydon’s Moving Picture Blog.

I’m hoping to catch the repeat on Wednesday 4th at 1.05am or better yet watch it on 4od if it’s available

Trash Humpers

It’s been eight days now. It’s still not clear. Harmony Korine’s new film ‘Trash Humpers’ hit the London Film Festival Screen last Monday and my head is still fuzzy. Seventy-Eight minutes of VCR of actors made to look old in footage made to look found. No plot, cackling melting-faced degenerates, with buttocks too lithe for their wizened masks, larking about the suburbs at night looking for kicks amidst trash and booze, whilst repetitively singing an eerie nursery rhyme. I like recalcitrance. It makes feel less stoopid, stupid. If there is nothing to get then I haven’t missed anything. Sure one could dig for social commentary…the decayed nature of the VCR editing evokes a feeling that we have wasted our freedom…the use of elderly miscreants suggests that the older, numerically abundant, generation’s quest to live free has screwed the planet. Sometimes it hurts to pigeon hole the ridiculous. Interpret it yourself. I tend to think that Korine could be a great film-maker if is work to date – Kids, Julien Donkey-Boy and Gummo – is anything to go by. Trash Humpers is a stage of evolution in his career. One of those random stages that isn’t caused by need but more of a freak mutation that doesn’t really affect much initially and becomes the norm. Genetic drift. That sounds rather condescending but Korine is playful, he is experimenting, perhaps kicking out at the overly-processed nature of film-making through this essay on the short, the nihilist and the random. For me Korine deals in the search for Herzog’s ‘ecstatic truth’ and I’ll watch him wade through trash trying to find it. Not every day mind you, we all need a little narrative now and again.

Speaking of Herzog and narrative, I caught the showing of Nosferatu at the Old Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey on Halloween. Nosferatu is a classic vampire horror, the classic vampire horror, originally made by the German expressionist director Friedrich Murnau in 1921. Herzog created his homage in 1979. It was this homage that was selected to be the final screening in the V22 Herzog season which has been showing the director’s work across London during September and October. It’d be great to tell you that I’d really enjoyed the film. I’m going to moan though. Not because of my precious Werner but due to one of the worst film audiences I’ve ever encountered. Oh Lord I know I sound pretentious but the constant talking, sniggering and laughing ruined my appreciation of a wonderful looking interpretation. Perhaps Halloween and the mythic Nosferatu image brought out the wrong crowd. Not that I should ordain how fellow viewers interpret and enjoy a film but once you have laughed at the sight of Nosferatu or the slight melodrama of the script once or twice is it still laugh-out-loud funny every other time? As Jeremy says to Mark in Peep Show after being kept awake by a new Aussie housemate, ‘I just want to know, what’s so funny?’ The situation wasn’t helped by the fact the organisers couldn’t work or position the projector or that glass bottles bought from the bar rattled on the concrete floor every few minutes, or that the space was cold – physically cold – and, worst of all, had terrible acoustics. All of this meant the atmosphere was poisonous for concentration; I had to near meditate to engage with the film. A good idea poorly executed, and absolutely nothing to do with the very little sleep I had the night before. Nothing.

The Ecstatic Truth

My love affair with the genius of film director Werner Herzog stretches back to a magical evening at the ICA a few years ago. I’d wandered up through St.James Park after work to meet a good friend. This good friend had been trying to get me to watch some Herzog for a while, film student as he was, but I don’t think I paid any serious attention until that night and the The Wild Blue Yonder. Like some culturally unfulfilled child of the rave I’ve been chasing the same cinematic high ever since. I probably always will be.

The Wild Blue Yonder is largely made up of stock NASA footage and film of diving explorations in Antarctica. Herzog gives the footage new life by re-contextualising it into a fictional narrative about aliens coming to Earth and the search for a suitable planet for humans to colonise. This fantastical story, played out amidst long sequences set to epic throat-singing and operatic scores, is utterly enchanting. It was a story I wanted to believe. The use of stock footage makes the fantastical tangible; it has a documentary quality which blurs the edges of sci-fi, fact and truth.

When I saw the director in conversation at the Southbank Centre last month he spoke of the ‘ecstatic truth’, something I had heard him talk of in this awesome excerpt from the making of the Grizzly Man soundtrack.  In Werner’s opinion fact does not necessarily lead to truth. He used the example of a phone-book. It may contain millions of facts – phone numbers and addresses – but it cannot tell us anything about truth or help us in our search for it. He went on to say that this is why the genre of cinema-vérité, a style of documentary film-making based on depicting reality, also fails to tell us anything about the truth. It may be reality laid-bare but it doesn’t help us to see beyond our own reality. As a fan of documentary I still appreciate verite form to tell a story – the world needs as many storytellers to tell its stories back to itself as possible – but I can’t deny that it is Herzog who leaves me ecstatic.

I saw Herzog’s foray into the crime caper at the London Film Festival last Friday. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a alleged remake of Bad Lieutenant – Herzog claims never to have seen the original and to have argued against the title – had me slightly apprehensive beforehand. Nicholas Cage? Xzibit? Eva Mendes? Val Kilmer??? It made little sense, how would these folk help me search for the ecstatic truth Werner? By making me laugh out loud, a lot, it turns out. BLT, as its been dubbed, is simply entertaining from start to finish. Nicholas Cage delivers the kind of glory days performance of David Cronenberg’s Wild At Heart that makes the utter mind-curdling dross he has turned out – GhostRider? one of the worst films ever made perhaps? – so frustrating. I think the collective conscious had wanted to give up on him completely but deep down we always hoped he’d turn it around. Apparently Herzog informed Cage of an old Bavarian saying, ‘to turn the hog loose’, when Cage had any questions about character motivation or such ‘bullshit’ as Werner states in this Q&A. Getting Nic Cage to fulfil his potential, I told you the man is a genius.

Oh and here’s the awesome ‘Coyotes’ from the Grizzly Man soundtrack

The Power of Adam Curtis

Adam Curtis, documentary film-maker for the BBC, has become a hero of mine. For me this is the zenith of storytelling. There is such a creeping wonder to his use of archive footage and quick edits to provide imagery for his narrative. Add to that stories that are spellbinding in themselves.

Check out the intro to his series of films, The Power of Nightmares. It’s hypnotic.