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Friday, 23 March 2018

Celebrities who can help your mental health - unless, of course, you disagree with them...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 March

The sporting coaches' guide to mental health

The pitch and the query :

Getting all defensive straightaway :

The passive-aggressive 'apology' :

Maybe actually saying something ? :

The long adieu :

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 19 March 2018

Empty sex is better than no sex, right ? ~ Stardust Memories (1980)

This is a review of The Square (2017)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

19 March

This is a review of The Square (2017)

Art has - though in no way uniquely - spent more than a century in both learning from itself and oftentimes rejecting its previous practices or cosy beliefs about what art is or is for.

In an imaginary 2020, The Square (2017) is squarely and falsely predicated on the notion that the director of a gallery and his or her board typically could have decided to put on an exhibition (we see it being mounted), but without knowing why it would be of interest or how 'to sell it'. Contrary to which, in the last sixty years the so-called art-world has rarely not understood - though there have been some notable mistakes - how to publicize its practitioners and to encourage viewers into all sorts of galleries to see their work.

How well does writer / director Ruben Östlund show that he understands and has observed the world of galleries and their ways of operating ? - probably as well as IMDb has, in giving us this one-liner about the film :

A prestigious Stockholm museum's chief art curator finds himself in times of both professional and personal crisis as he attempts to set up a controversial new exhibit

If that sounds like Guido Anselmi, trying – as the phrase used to have it – ‘to wing it’ in Fellini’s (1963), then that is exactly what Christian Jules Nielsen* (Claes Bang) evokes, rehearsing in the toilet – so we realize – pretending to abandon his printed speech and speak impromptu. Other film-references early on are, patently, La grande bellezza** (The Great Beauty) (2013) and, arguably, Holy Motors (2012) - for its ending, and its nature as episodes, very loosely strung together ?

This is fine, because (although this can be overplayed, and is not exclusively so) film is meant to be referential in its nature - except that The Square never seems to have anything of its own to say, other than this small idea of a show that is being installed, but without clear ideas of promoting it (enter what IMDb calls 'PR Guys', Daniel Hallberg and Martin Sööder, in the mode of the destructive duo in Michael Haneke's Funny Games (1997)) :

The film is not about those who work with art***, but it feels as little close to showing them as Elisabeth Moss' (Anne's) vacuous interview with Christian (for which he is woken from a nap), or the equally vapid interior of the head of Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) in Nocturnal Animals (2016)...

And when I love thee not
Chaos is come again
Othello (Act III, Scene 3)

If this is satire (please see below), rather than the naivety of insulting the viewership with a weak premise (and the latter can sometimes be passed off as the former), then it is a shame that it does not have the conviction of Roy Andersson. Except, that is, in the attention-grabbing, 'stand-alone' scene with Terry Notary that is made into the film-poster : even so, it is a high-energy episode that depicts another débâcle for Christian****, but without troubling to relate it to ‘the main action’ – unless generously seen as a depiction of the reign of Chaos, or an unannounced dream-sequence [and so more in the vein of than the explicable exactitudes of divine wrath that Lorgos Yanthimos would treat of in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)].

On the other hand, no one would take the premise of this entertainment of Antonio Salieri’s at face value – we are not meant to engage on a literal level with the fact that the poet is required to write a libretto in four days, and for an opera whose music has already been composed, and no one could seriously so construe the intentions of Salieri and his own librettist, Battista Casti. Yet, on this sort of construction (as with Amy Adams as Susan Morrow in Nocturnal Animals, managing, but significantly not making, art), it no more matters that Ruben Östlund has written real things that happened to him and to others into the setting of, say, a traditional three-ring circus (almost inevitably, back to Guido as circus-master in ), or of a cheese-shop with no cheese (Monty Python).

Cabaret (1972), comsummate, acerbic satire, does something useful with the conceit of a sort of circus-master, but the lack of credibility about the art at Morrow’s gallery, when she is supposed to be successful (an issue that writer / director Tom Ford misjudges, by making the work with the film's artistic team), sadly means that it boots nothing to show her as shallow and uncreative in relation to her ex-husband’s novel. However, it is Python that is closest to The Square, not for cramming more names of cheeses into one sketch than a stick can be shaken at, but perhaps for the haphazard way that (according to The Pythons Autiobiography by The Pythons) The Meaning of Life (1983) came into being.

The difference is that, amongst other things, the best sketches from that film – it is, essentially, a sketch-film (though not as is And Now For Something Completely Different (1971)) – and from four t.v. series have stood the test of time. Whoever Elisabeth Moss is meant to be (other than someone called Anne, who conducts a brief interview), it is unlikely that we will find her repeatedly saying the word Cunt !, or the bedroom tussle, on our mind next year, let alone amusing us.

Or even wanting to hear the trite question asked of her whether picking up her handbag and putting it in the gallery-space would make it art – trite, in terms of a century of debate about what art is, not least with Duchamp’s ‘ready mades’ such as Fountain (1917) (if, that is, he really was the R. Mutt who signed the original work (now lost)).


Even so, the biggest debt (not nearly repaid) is to Michael Haneke's Caché (2005), and to obsessively trying to figure out how and why one has been wronged, countless of the cost.

Film-references and others :

* Caché (Hidden) (2005)

* Funny Games (1997)

* Nocturnal Animals (2016)

* [ ] Songs from the Second Floor (Sånger från andra våningen) (2000)

* [ ] The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

* Intouchables (Untouchable) (2011)

Nude descending a staircase ~ Duchamp

End-notes :

* To IMDb, he is just Christian, because it can rarely give you detail that is in the body of the film – or tell you better than [ ] watching the closing credits what that piece of music used was (so IMDb does not mention the most obvious thing that we hear, i.e. Gounod, arranging Bach, in ‘Ave Maria’…)

** What a shame not to be re-watching, in Screen 1 at The Arts Picturehouse, the immense beauty of Paolo Sorrentino's clever, insightful and thoughtful film instead ! The flamingos, Jep Gambardella effortlessly taking down artistic pretension, La scala sancta...

*** Gerry Fox does such an excellent job with that in Marc Quinn : Making Waves (2014).

**** Please, please, please ! Of course, there is so much very obvious hypocrisy in the film (at which self-contented people in the screening happily laughed, but - awful realization - don't say that, as he is 'Christian', that this is some sort of re-working of Pilgrim's Progress...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 18 March 2018

A small remembrance of something more solid¹ ~ Blondie

This is a long-unfinished review of Mistress America (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 March

This is a long-unfinished review of Mistress America (2015)

Spirit says ‘Five feet to the left and unhappy (not dropped into body)’ ~
Dr Yang (Alice (1990))

That Blondie track contains a pertinent reference, but ‘Souvenir’ by Orchestral Manœuvres in the Dark (or OMD) is actually part of the soundtrack : a perfect (but British²) single for a skittish take on the ways of New York City [though, for some reason, Wikipedia® styles the band ‘English’] – even for someone who lived through those times, redolent of that era, but maybe less easily placeable (one first thought of Gary Numan…) ? :

My obsession
It's my creation
You'll understand
It's not important now

'Souvenir' (by Paul Humphreys and Martin Cooper)

Personnel (in order of appearance) :

* Lola Kirke ~ Tracy [Fishlock ?]

* Greta Gerwig ~ Brooke Cardinas

* Cindy Cheung ~ Karen / tax attorney

Its fast-talking quipping is exhausting - for them, as well as for us ? - before they settle to it. Till it mellows, and slackens the pace, more like the imaginary game of billiards in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, which is a conversation, cannoning off another one, that is quite parallel :

The film is a lot like the strands that go on, at the same time, in Deconstructing Harry (1997), with a hooker, an old friend who dies, and an abducted son - all in the car with Harry Block on his way to be honoured by his old college. Except that Woody Allen (a) knows to keep it short, and (b) to have the lines better complement each other than the height of intricate Renaissance polyphony, where the text, even if one has it before one, can often barely be followed.

Deconstructing Harry is the apt film to think of, not only because of its stranded nature (in one sense), but because the characters become stranded (in another) in a situation of difficulty that is almost wholly of their making (or, in Harry’s case, of his). Brooke, who barely knows Tracy (but who is impressionable, not to say suggestible), has insisted to her³ :

You have to chase down the things that you say

Tracy, though she protests Me ? I don’t know anything !, is the willing participant on this Möbius-strip of a ride, However, she is as when Ben Stiller, embarrassingly, tries to make a pitch in While We’re Young - out of her depth with what she is doing.

When Greta Gerwig and he co-wrote Frances Ha (20??), which Noah Baumbach directed, it was delightfully knowing in its allusions to Woody Allen of the 1970s, and it was a delightful film. In life, as in film, you have to Know what you’re selling, and What you’re buying, and Mistress America does not

A note on lighting :

In the use of light and dark, towards the end of the film, Greta Gerwig is in the darker part of the room, which is not just as it happens that way, but to reflect that another character is much more brightly lit – at what distance can we imagine them to be that there is such a gradient that the former is in shadow, the latter brightly lit ?

As was seen in While We’re Young (2014), although much more subtly than there, where insight and gullibility / naivety / self-deception (the recurring themes here) are also vividly pictured by extremes of lighting (Ben Stiller in darkness, Adam Driver iluminated)…


¹ From 'Picture This', by Debbie Harry, Jimmy Destri, and Chris Stein.

² Hope Springs (2012), too, pleasantly surprised with the Scottish strains of Annie Lennox.

³ Which is self-referential to the story, though not in the rather patent and unsatisfying way of Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths (2012). One related, difficult element (to joking with 'psychopathy') of Mistress America was mention of a mother with bi-polar experience (or diagnosis ) – talking about someone as if that person is a creature from a fairy-tale or myth...

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Don’t you think they’re the same thing, love and attention ?

This is a review of Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

This is a review of Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig

As actor and as writer, Greta Gerwig has always seemed at her best when she embraces the fact that, polished veneers apart, life is full of awkwardnesses (although, at the same time, this actually seemed to be the least successful aspect of Mistress America (2015) – perhaps the extent to which others felt awkward was too great¹ ?).

Both tall and immature, awkward and graceful, blundering and candid, annoying and engaging, Greta has won all hearts in the title role of Frances Ha(liday) ~ Greta Gerwig's biography on IMDb

In no bad or derivative way, the script of Gerwig’s film feels as though it is harking back to that which she co-authored with Noah Baumbach for his Frances Ha (2012), though hardly because both title-characters (the latter played by Gerwig herself) have both adopted their names, since, in the case of Frances, it happens through pragmatism and at the very end of the film. What is more enlightening is that it is part of both of them that they have to find a way of being comfortable in the world, before they can relate to it. In the case of Lady Bird – insisting on being called that, because she can – we know how she plans to give herself what she seeks, and how, despite everyone else’s refusing to do so, she credits her abilities.

On that level, although the film does not make this a message, we do see someone who perseveres, based on her self-belief. It is on the level of her relations with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) that things are really interesting, however. As her father (Tracy Letts) puts it, in talking to Lady Bird, You both have such strong personalities, and we find, in the car at the outset, how that can be good and also less good. One is reminded that it is said of psychiatrist R. D. Laing that he gave much to his patients, but was distant from, or even hard on, his own children (which, though it can be rather loose with its facts, is how Mad to be Normal (2017) portrays him).

Saoirse Ronan excellently plays the part of Lady Bird, and her friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) and she behave, and have been dressed to look, convincingly the right age (which Greta Gerwig, born a decade earlier, could not have done). Whether she is feeding into the script her own experience (she was, in fact, born in Sacramento, CA²), or solely her imagination, is less important than that she clearly does so with a level of plausible absurdity that makes what we see feel genuine, coupled with knowing when we will be interested, amused or touched by it. It matters to her that she tell this story, and that makes the film-making powerful and worthwhile.

Frances Ha is trying to find, personally and professionally, the way of being comfortable with herself that will let her just be in the world. It is almost as though, when she does ‘fly away’ to where she feels home (as the children’s rhyme has it), Christine drops the high-school cover of calling herself Lady Bird. She is a figure akin to Frances, but seen earlier in life, and whose ways of being we see being shaped by her background.

End-notes :

¹ It seems like Bottle Rocket (1996), except that Wes Anderson’s film is a whole, so that its close makes it complete in itself and cohere – rather as does The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), when one might be wondering where it is going ?

² Where scenes in Frances Ha (2012) are also set (with Gerwig’s actual parents cast in the role), and, according to IMDb, Gerwig did attend an all-girls Catholic school, and describes herself having been ‘an intense child’…

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Fathers in the films of Wes Anderson : Some Tweets

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 March

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)