/film/film-details/saw/features/ | Film @ The Digital Fix Admin Video Games en-GB https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film Sat, 05 Jun 2021 09:05:24 +0000 hourly 4 Network N https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/wp-content/themes/thedigitalfix/screenshot.png /film/film-details/saw/features/ | Film @ The Digital Fix Admin https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film 32 32 Antagonise This! The Harsh Narrative of David Fincher https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/antagonise-this-the-harsh-narrative-of-david-fincher/ Video Games Wed, 28 Apr 2021 08:16:45 +0000 Jon Meakin https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=2320 Jon Meakin takes a look back over the career of the unmistakable David Fincher.

The Digital Fix as you know it is drawing to a close, but like a phoenix from the ashes it is set to return. While we wait for the site to undergo its transformation we're taking a look back over the archive of the site and highlighting some of the best features and articles from the last two decades...

Originally posted in March 2017:

There is no mistaking the visual style of a David Fincher film, but it's rare that we talk about his approach to narrative. Despite dipping his toes into a variety of genres, the story structure is so consistent he easily satisfies the auteur theory, no matter who is trying to apply it (the rules seem to shift about a bit).

It is as simple as considering his lead character an antagonist rather than a protagonist. Things are never as simple as good versus evil, but those who pass for heroes are usually at odds with everyone else. Aliens within the narrative world so to speak, and their efforts to restore a state of equilibrium are rarely successful, or at least not as they would wish. Nihilism and despair often follow; Fincher's moral ambiguity is elegant, but never pretty. While his leads are usually the ones causing the most trouble, this makes us, the poor audience, squirm a little bit more. And we love every second. It's as if Tyler Durden himself were directing each film, whispering promises of anarchy to the viewer as he would Edward Norton's hapless narrator in Fight Club.

Fincher is far from the only one to do this. It's an obvious function in the horror genre, but putting that aside, it is put to more sophisticated use via Travis Bickle in Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver, an innocently reprehensible individual. And while not the lead character, Star Wars employs Han Solo to make sure everyone else knows how silly they are. Han's narrative function is vital to the success of the saga and his development into The Force Awakens is poetic and not at all lazy as some critics have claimed of the new film overall.

While not the only director who follows this method then, he is the only one who applies it to every film he makes. And how. He turns the screw another quarter of a turn every time, emphasising perversion, underscoring eccentricity and exposing flaws. In a final dash of cruelty, his flawed heroes are usually made to suffer at the film's close. He holds up a mirror to our world to show us how ugly it can be and how fragile our morals are; how easy it is for an outsider to unravel everything we rely on.

Let's take a look at his films and see who is causing the most trouble, whether they intend to or not. Spoilers frequently abound unhindered from here on in.

ALIEN 3 (1992, written by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson from a story by Vincent Ward)
The primary threat in monster movies is usually the monster, or at least its mastermind keeper. Not so in Alien 3; the real cause of conflict is Ripley. Her very presence is far more abhorrent than the thing she happened to crash land on the penal colony with.

The poor fellows imprisoned on the planet make for entertaining xenomorph snacks, but weirdly, they welcome this "Dragon". Death is part of a cycle that they have been prepared for with religious zeal. Meanwhile, the alien is also right at home, being the most efficient lifeform in the universe. But a woman? That really screws all of them up. Even the creature is rendered impotent when it meets her.
Alien 3 wasn't a good first impression from newbie David Fincher. That'll happen when you kill off fan favourite characters before the opening credits have finished, "have no weapons of any kind" and infer the audience should sympathise with a bunch of interchangeable bald English guys. Oops. Even the director disowned it.

Its reputation is undeserved. It is a mess, but a brilliant one; Alien and Aliens is a heck of double-bill and tough to follow. Perhaps all that's wrong with the film is that Fincher dragged an audience of Alien fans kicking and screaming right where they most certainly didn't want to go. He did at least establish a method of character and structure that he has largely stuck with. It was easy to dismiss in Alien 3 because you would expect those kinds of shenanigans in the horror genre anyway.

In all of his films, Fincher gleefully lays bare even his most innocent character's morals and punishes them for it, and so Alien 3 also establishes his other habit: the bleak, yet triumphant ending that rarely favours the hero (if we must use that term when discussing his oeuvre, then it is loosely). It is the doomed Ripley that must accept her destiny, more so than the prisoners.

At this stage, it's easy to dismiss any of David Fincher's aesthetic as merely part of the horror genre. And yet, he uses the same method even when he made dramas and wistful romantic comedies. This is going to get ugly...

SEVEN (1995, written by Andrew Kevin Walker)
A serial killer hunt is just another kind of monster movie and as with the Alien, Kevin Spacey's John Doe is our villain, but not our antagonist. (Spacey would fulfill that in Fincher-esque American Beauty). Neither is Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), instead, he is a reflection of Doe's rituals and habits; duality is another recurring theme in a David Fincher film (Alien 3, Fight Club, Gone Girl, etc). For Somerset, it's the routine of preparing his clothes in a morning. For John Doe, it's tying a man to a chair and patiently force-feeding him until he bursts. Horses for courses.

Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) is the antagonist, the outsider who can free either of the other two men. His eagerness and idealism set him at odds with those who already occupy this circle of hell. In the downbeat ending Somerset is powerless to stop Mills rewarding John Doe, effectively freeing him. Somerset is left trapped in purgatory by his own nobility.

David Fincher's ferocious thriller is his first foray into the world of serial killers and the people that find them. With something to prove after Alien 3, the aggression and nihilism is startling to this day. It's a perfect example of Fincher's approach: he follows typical narrative theory in establishing, disrupting and repairing an equilibrium, but what sets it apart is that it isn't obvious who is doing the disrupting. And can the equilibrium even be repaired? Not in this cursed city it can't.

Seven is ruthless like nothing before it, but not without precedent. Fincher still has one foot in the horror genre, following in the steps of The Silence of The Lambs to blur the line between heroes and villains, but time has proved he is second-to-none when it comes to exploring a fascination with serial killers and the similarly flawed minds needed to catch them.

The pattern in his audacious approach the narrative was always sophisticated and soon, he will really start pushing the buttons of the audience.

THE GAME (1997, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris)
This curious oddity is far from a failure, but falling in between the behemoths of Seven and Fight Club, David Fincher's third film, a sort of fucked up It's a Wonderful Life, is his most underrated. The plot contrived so much misfortune for the lead character, it came off a little too perverse. He got away with it in his first two features using a horror theme and he's asking the audience to accept it in a thriller. Certainly, the world of The Game is the most real for the audience yet.

Rather than embracing the contrast his outsider creates for others, Fincher emphasises it even more by making everyone one step ahead throughout. Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) is quite happy, being rich, dull and ignorant until the mysterious Game rudely pulls him out of his own life. He becomes his own antagonist.

You could argue it's van Orton's younger brother causing the trouble, played by Sean Penn. He's not in the film enough to drive the story alone, but his existence brings in the duality Fincher likes using. It is Penn that can see both van Orton's bleak existence and the Game that he instigates to mix things up, so they are a narrative partnership like the detectives in Seven. Either way, Fincher's direction captures the short-sighted sensationalism of the story and runs with it. The ending is clumsy and unconvincing but presses the point home. Only in a David Fincher film can narrowly avoiding suicide be considered a win.

FIGHT CLUB (1999, screenplay by Jim Uhls, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk)
If ever a character embodied David Fincher's style of directing, it has to be Tyler Durden. He's possibly Fincher's most obvious antagonist, teasing the hapless Edward Norton. But if you've seen Fight Club, you know it's not quite that simple and this is another narrative partnership, similar to Se7en. Durden is a hallucination and Norton is the "Narrator", not the first unnamed Fincher character (a specific change from the script, in which Norton was playing "Jack"). We never learn his name because Fincher saw him as an everyman. He represents the viewer.

Fincher wasn't the first to apply horror tropes to a detective thriller as he did with Seven, and even The Game leans on a couple of set-pieces and evocative imagery. Fight Club is thus far his most audacious project, trusting the audience to go with a drama that is driven by character but has enough fizz to want to be a thriller. It split critics at the time, but we should be disappointed if it didn't because the cult following it earned proved it was a success and Fincher has had the confidence to treat drama as a thriller sandpit ever since. The single-minded focus in Fight Club is so playful, it borders on being perverse.

"The things you own end up owning you" indeed. The satire is pointedly telling us that as much as anyone within the story. In that sense, it continues the theme of The Game, except it's the viewer getting picked on this time. Distorting the contrived eccentricity of North By North West, Fight Club demonstrates Fincher's appreciation of Hitchcockian themes, directing as if he was sat in the audience.

PANIC ROOM (2002, written by David Koepp)
It's an efficient, thoroughly enjoyable thriller, but there is little that makes Panic Room stand-out as a "David Fincher Film" which he himself called a good date movie. There is no unusual antagonist to speak of and the smudging of heroes and villains is rather routine. It's a survival story with the titular panic room providing the intriguing hook.

A film theory is only worth applying if it lends itself to the subject and it really doesn't in Panic Room. The point of a David Fincher film is that you shouldn't have to go looking for the deliberately antagonistic element in the plot. Others have written excellent dissections of the themes and metaphors within the film, but the narrative offers no secrets this time. It even has a happy ending.

ZODIAC (2007, screenplay by James Vanderbilt)
We're back in the world of murder and, as with the Alien or John Doe, the Zodiac killer is merely taking advantage of an environment that accepts his existence. It's the one chasing him that's the real weirdo.

Zodiac was David Fincher's first film based on nonfiction; Robert Graysmith's book on the unsolved Zodiac killings is considered to be one of the closest explanations. Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the first real-life candidate for a Fincher antagonist, the exact kind of lunatic he loves. He worked at the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the killings, but not as a hard-nosed journalist. He was a cartoonist. What on earth was he doing messing around with serial killers?

Hitchcock would frequently explore the idea of murder on your doorstep and how the macabre fascinates normal people and Dario Argento followed suite. In Deep Red, it's an actor who can't help investigating when he could easily walk away. Yet Graysmith didn't even have the excuse that he was targeted by the killer or witnessed something. He literally was just a cartoonist and put everything at risk to follow up his crazy theory. And consider that the Zodiac killer was never caught, so Graysmith saw no quick reward for his efforts perhaps until his book was published. The film captures that lovely irony in the last killer shot. Jake Gyllenhaal was a cracking choice to play this particular oddball as he, perhaps by chance, gravitates to Fincher-esque narratives. Nightcrawler follows a Taxi Driver aesthetic and Donnie Darko qualifies too.

The true story behind the San Francisco murders must have been irresistible for Fincher because he could get away with twisting the knife just a little further to really accentuate the perverse undercurrent in the plot. In a natural progression from Hitchcock and Argento, he delights in emphasising the touch of insanity that all his best characters display, but also ensures the audience can recognise themselves. Zodiac also represented a shift into a more sophisticated, electrified style.

2007 was an incredible year for American cinema. There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford are all timeless classics, as is David Fincher's Zodiac. They lay bare the flaws of the American psyche and recall the self-critical, fertile independent cinema of the 1970s (for example, Dirty Harry which was both an early exploitation film and inspired by the same killings as depicted in Zodiac). They are comparable projects the directors could have shared, but only Fincher exploits his lead character's alienation to such lengths.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008, written by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, based on a short-story by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
After a break of a few years, David Fincher returned with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It was popular, perfectly well-made and it is also his worst by a considerable margin.

Adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it appears to be sweet and romantic, a gentle tale of time and nostalgia. That doesn't sound right for Fincher, but you can see why he was attracted to it when you consider Button as one of his antagonists; his curious case of an upside-down life is literally the opposite of what is expected by anyone around him. Unfortunately, it just emphasises how much of a jerk the guy is.

Button is misogynistic, irresponsible and bears his affliction with such pious sentimentality, we should be inclined to vomit. Fincher's rejection of a protagonist is the fundamental undoing of the story as his lead character forces people to accommodate his behaviour, none more so than poor Cate Blanchett. Already misrepresented as being aloof, she has the temerity to dream of being a dancer, rather than dream of Benjamin, until a butterfly flapped its wings and she loses the use of her legs. Fate, huh? He then abandons her to raise his daughter alone. In the end, Button is saved the ignominy of old age thanks to Alzheimer's, while Cate gets to watch a baby die. Unusually for a David Fincher narrative, Benjamin is granted an easy exit. He dies unknown even to himself, a late and feeble effort to garner sympathy. Or is it?

Miracle backwards ageing aside, Button demands unearned respect merely by existing and the viewer is expected to be similarly impressed. It recalls Fight Club where Edward Norton misinterprets the stern advice of a doctor and pretends to have a terminal disease just so he can feel part of something. But that was satire, the behaviour presented as immoral and uncomfortable. This is a feel-good fantasy.

What a horrible, dishonest film. It's worse when you consider that Eric Roth also adapted Winston Groom's Forrest Gump. As with Button, the short story was changed and movie-Gump can similarly be accused of being a thinly-veiled male fantasy; a life free of direct responsibility, he's exceptionally popular just for being himself. In the end, he too doesn't have to raise his own child, because his beloved, flighty Jenny thoughtfully didn't reveal her son until she had the decency to die. Forrest is left with a kid that can dress himself, but no nagging wife.

That's a cynical and unfair reading of Forrest Gump. The film is wonderful. Even while talking about it, I can hear the theme and recall Tom Hanks' joyful performance making Forrest a generous soul so the film can use him as an ode to America. It rests comfortably on his shoulders, and Robin Wright Penn's Jenny has a tragic story, but it resonates. That's down to Robert Zemeckis' chocolate box direction that delivers charm for an audience that wants and knows what they're going to get. It's easy to be cynical, but it's a very clever film, rich in irony and occasional flashes of dark humour. In contrast, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is selfish and only offers out-of-date coffee creams.

Maybe Fincher knew what he was doing and is secretly annoyed that his film was taken at face value. In the kind of reaction you'd expect in one of his films, Fincher was so proud of the critical reception Fight Club attracted, he had a quote by critic Alexander Walker framed (see the making of The Social Network). In a rare weak moment of nepotism, did he make The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as if Tyler Durden had directed it? He often seems to, but here the joke would be on us, making the film an unlikely masterpiece as it disappears up its own backside.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich)
It's an unlikely but poetic idea that Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) should be painted as a lovesick nerd that created Facebook just to track down a crush, screwing over his best friend in the meantime. It demonstrates how The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was all a matter of perspective because the format of both films bears some comparison. We're supposed to grow to dislike Zuckerberg, he's supposed to make us wince.

The Social Network is the film for this generation. If there is such a thing as a zeitgeist, the irony captured here is almost painfully uncomfortable and it's likely to mature the more we are inclined to be excessively social with thousands of strangers via technology. The impact on art and culture will be extraordinary, but this early dissection is so simple and human that it will be the definitive commentary for some time. A David Fincher narrative couldn't be more suitable. Adapted from Ben Mezrich's book by the razor-sharp mind that is Aaron Sorkin, the very essence of the story of how Facebook came to be is perfect for Fincher's cynical view of how people affect one another.

The wonderful coda suggests the billion-dollar organisation that literally shares our lives is in the hands of a fool. And of course, we all ignore the warning. This is Fincher's Fight Club 2, where we willingly hand an idiotic Tyler Durden the power of 1984's Big Brother in exchange for the illusion of entitlement and cat videos.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011, screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the book by Stieg Larsson)
Stieg Larsson tragically passed away before he could see what a phenomenon his Millenium Trilogy would become. The Swedish film adaptation in 2009 is brilliant and was a worldwide success, so of course, flattery being Hollywood's only currency of praise, an English language remake was in production almost immediately. Though entirely superfluous, the remake is understandable when you factor in that David Fincher was the director. The story of how it came to be is rather dry, full of the usual guff about the potential of the story (arrogantly implying the first film missed the mark). It's more likely that Fincher needed to scratch a very irritating itch. The Swedish language version was the best film he never directed.

The format of the story is a textbook perfect example of how to use an antagonist. You have a newspaper journalist (not a cartoonist this time) uncovering a fairly routine scandal, the sexualised misogyny of which is typical of the current penchant for Scandi-Noir; but into the mix comes Lisbeth Salander. What an incredible character. She is an unpredictable outlaw, legally and emotionally, and has nothing to gain directly from the main plot. Lisbeth isn't constrained by any kind of etiquette society might expect from her, especially her sexuality. She is the Millenium Trilogy's punk Han Solo.

Fincher could never ignore her potential and his resulting film is excellent. It does feel overcooked at times, though that may be because Niels Arden Oplev version is so clean by comparison (which emphasises the contrast with Salander). It's difficult to say which film is better, but Fincher's wasn't first and Oplev's is more effective.

A sequel is mooted and he has an opportunity to capitalise on the plot where the original film trilogy failed. The audience may be there, but part two treats Salander as a lead character and the plot becomes as crazy as she is to contain her. It doesn't quite work and part three is down right odd, the nuances of the albeit pulp original novels fail to transfer.

GONE GIRL (2014, Screenplay by Gillian Flynn, based on her own book)
David Fincher's last feature film to date was a straight adaptation of Gillian Flynn's book and she handled the screenplay too. Nonetheless, it's possibly Fincher's most perfect realisation of his narrative method. The delicious, character-led irony is uncomfortable for the audience, despite the vicarious thrill of the extraordinary violence.

Whose fault is the narrative carnage this time? That's less interesting than why. It's Rosamund Pike's Amy, a rare lead female role in Ficher's filmography, who is in full control from the moment she engineers her own disappearance to when she returns. Narrative-wise, that's extraordinary; it embraces contrivance and revels in it with brazen disregard for convention, allowing a single character to disrupt, repair and re-establish the film's equilibrium. The result is invigorating, thrilling cinema that makes a mockery of calling the film a drama. But that's precisely what it is because aside from the visual panache of Amy's more stabby moments, this a study of marriage and of secrets. The message is deeply cynical.

Amy has the mentality of a sociopath and Pike's glorious performance is the physical realisation of what Fincher likes to achieve, no more so than in the moment when she calmly exits the car, soaked in blood, to the complete surprise of the media gathered at her home and especially to her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck). Subverting gender politics and attacking marriage itself, the story has been running rings around Nick. He isn't remotely innocent, but his punishment is extreme with another Fincher ending that dooms him to a loveless, inescapable marriage.

The one conceit David Fincher hasn't tackled in his features is breaking the fourth wall. That's odd given the potential it has and considering his delight in manipulating both his own characters and the viewer. Fight Club comes close, but the possibilities are only teased.

He makes up for this omission in his first television venture, the remake of classic British series House of Cards that starred the much missed Ian Richardson, who relished involving the audience in his thoughts. Like with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, how could Fincher not remake it? The story of a Machiavellian politician, manipulating everyone around him is perfect narrative territory for Fincher. It loses its sting during the second season when it becomes apparent that Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood is untouchable. But throughout, Spacey clearly has great fun relishing the despicable character's ruthlessness.

This October, David Fincher's next TV project will be released by Netflix. Mindhunter is based on the book by Mark Olshaker and John E. Douglas. Set in 1979 it follows two FBI agents (Jonathan Groff and Holt McCallany) who interview jailed serial killers (ala The Silence of the Lambs) to get inside and understand the mind of a killer. It's the start of profiling, something taken for granted now.

If that wasn't already rich Fincher territory on a subject he loves, the trailer shows the agents have to fight to prove their method works. Antagonists then, unsupported by the establishment. This should be fantastic television, with tons of potential to be mined.

Apart from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo sequel, David Fincher's next mooted project is the World War Z sequel, which at first appears to be an odd choice. After all, the last time he took on a franchise horror it didn't work out so well. Then again he appears to favour the horror genre without ever actually making a straightforward entry since his first, misunderstood feature. And zombie movies are particularly blunt, antagonistic things. You only have to consider the vicious social commentary that runs through the late George A. Romero's films. Romero denied he had an axe to grind and yet it's there to be found.

It's possible to read zombies as manifestations of laziness, akin to Fight Club's narrator wanting to be ill because that's something he'd be good at. Or Benjamin Button being unable to maintain a relationship because he's special. Perhaps that's why zombies are so popular with the so-called slacker generation! Why worry about school or a career when the zombie apocalypse will prove so many teenagers to be hitherto unknown monster slayers? You can see why David Fincher would want to get his teeth into it.

Top of my wish-list would be the inevitable biography of 45th US President Donald J. Trump. The man is a living David Fincher antagonist who appears to be getting away with playing a prank on the entire USA.


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The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2021 (Part 2) https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/the-japan-foundation-touring-film-programme-2021-part-2/ Video Games Tue, 16 Mar 2021 15:45:39 +0000 nmegahey https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=76698 The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2021 – Part 2
This is My Place: Carving out a sense of existence and belonging in Japanese Cinema

Every year the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme brings a diverse selection of contemporary Japanese cinema to a number of venues across the UK. Very much under-represented in UK foreign language cinema distribution, this is often the only chance a UK audience might have to see a range of films each with a unique voice that present an alternative but accessible perspective on common issues that affect us all.

This year, with the Covid-19 lockdown, the programme had to go online for the first time and made all their films free to view for limited windows with registration. In my view it was a great success, with a terrific selection of diverse, entertaining and challenging films. Hopefully, they will be able to continue and use both cinema and on-line platforms in the future, and – why not? – make more Japanese available throughout the year via pay per view online platforms.

Director: SOTOYAMA Bunji
Cast: MURAKAMI Nijiro, IMOU Haruko

Along with Tetsuya Mariko's extraordinary Miyamoto (reviewed in JFTFP 2021 Part 1), Bunji Sotoyama's Soiree is one of the more challenging films in this year's Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, and like Miyamoto, it's challenging structurally and in its content. In contrast to Miyamoto however, which pushed its style into manga-like hyper-expressionism, here Sotoyama approaches the challenges faced by youth in a wider social context and in a realist style that proves to be no less dramatic or expressive.

Shoto is a member of an acting group who visit old people care homes, doing acting exercises, readings and rehearsals involving the residents. He is not having much success with his acting career and is not always so helpful, putting his training to use preying on the weakness of elderly to defraud them in scams. His life takes an unexpected turn when he witnesses a sexual assault taking place against Takara, one of the girls who works at the care home. She has been living in fear since she received the news that a man who has previously assaulted her is being released from prison; that man is her father.

Events force Shoto and Takara to go on the run, but aside from the dramatic tension this instills, there are deeper questions posed here about youth trying to find out who they are and trying to outrun the past. Neither have a sense of worth or purpose, both have little idea of how to get on in the world. The fact that older people have a place in this film – dealt with likewise directly and without sentimentality – is not insignificant and it widens the social context of Soiree beyond that of being a 'lost youth' film. It contrasts people who live regular lives with those who are unable to fit in, who – much like the director's film about late-life dating movie A Sparkle of Life – are seen to no longer have a place in society.

This is recognisably a world where such things happen and Soiree raises many such interesting questions in these contrasts about society in a much broader context outside of Japan. Do we really have a choice or are the choices made for us? But also, on more fundamental and personal level, it's looks at how we relate to other people, simply raising an awareness of the challenges other people face in their lives and recognising ourselves in them. And with the context of old age brought in to the experiences of the younger people, it reminds us simultaneously how we once were or how we are going to be.

A Girl Missing
Director: FUKADA Koji
Cast: TSUTSUI Mariko, ICHIKAWA Mikako, IKEMATSU Sosuke

Director Koji Fukada uses slow burn and gradual reveal to devastating effect in A Girl Missing. The actual case of the missing girl is initially what raises tensions of course, but the revelations that follow in the wake of the case have a much more profound impact and tell us much about Japanese society and the media. It's interesting however to consider whether things would be different anywhere else.

Ichiko is a care nurse, looking after end of life patients. She helps Mrs Oishi look after her elderly mother, a famous local painter nearing the end of her life, and also helps the Oishi girls with their studies. The youngest girl goes missing after one of those sessions and it is later revealed that she was abducted by Ichiko's nephew. This causes great concern for Ichiko, and she is unsure how much to reveal about her connection or what impact it will have on the Oishi family. That however is not the only concern in her life at this time.

I say at this time, but there are actually two timelines running through A Girl Missing that leave you wondering where the connection between them might lie. It becomes apparent that the other perspective is from a later date to the events surrounding the disappearance of the youngest Oishi sister. In this strand Ichiko is now no longer with her husband and is forming an attraction for a young hairdresser who lives in the neighbourhood. He apparently already has a girlfriend, who curiously is the elder of the Oishi sisters.

Trying to match everything up is a bit of a puzzle but despite dropping a few hints that all is not right with Ichiko's state of mind, the full measure of the situation and where it is going hits with shocking impact. Which, when you are dealing with traumatic experiences and life upheaval is exactly the kind of impact you ought to expect. What is important is whether there can be forgiveness or redemption, or even accommodation and finding a way of living with mistakes. Some evidently are able to do that better than others, and A Girl Missing successfully covers all the angles, crucially exploring the inner life as well as the outside one.

Shape of Red
Director: MISHIMA Yukiko
Cast: Kaho, TSUMABUKI Satoshi

There appears to be a bit of contrivance in the situation of Yukiko Mishima's Shape of Red and the question of whether it is used for anything purposeful is debatable, but it most definitely creates a tense dramatic and darkly romantic situation. We find that Toko is a dutiful housewife and mother, but one not particularly well treated by the wealthy family she has married into. Trained as an interior designer, it's clear that she has had to put any personal desires and ambitions aside, including a once passionate affair with a lover. Kurata, in the same profession as her husband, turns up at a high class business function and Toko decides it's time to try to recapture her lost past.

Surprisingly her husband agrees to let Toko return to work and she takes up a position as spacial designer at the architectural firm where Kurata works. It doesn't take long for Toko to fit in, make her mark and make up for lost time. Initially she is not quite ready to jump straight back in to a relationship with the dark, silent and moody Kurata; too much has happened in the 10 years since she last saw him and she is keen to explore or consider her options and enjoy her regained freedom. But just as she is beginning to find her feet, the family decide that her young daughter needs her back.

Mishima's film adopts an ambiguous or perhaps just an impartial view of the rights and wrongs, the joys and the pitfalls of the situation. It's not that it stands back, but rather it seems to purposefully emphasise the contrast between the repressive nature of her home life – which is inconsiderate of her needs more than anything else – and the wild free abandon to passions she experiences when she goes back to work with Kurata. Toko has to take some tough decisions and dark tragic events that inevitably follow.

It's hard to find a relatable human side to the story, which doesn't really seem to say much more than it's difficult to be a woman and find enduring happiness. The "carving out a sense of existence and belonging" theme of the JFTFP however might give a clue to something deeper in the film, and the contrast between home and work the film give the impression of two options, two possibilities. Interestingly it also shows home as warm and secure but emotionally cold, while the passionate journey with Kurata is viewed through a snow storm, albeit with the comforting strains of Jeff Buckley singing 'Hallelujah'. If all you are looking for however is a dark romantic film, Shape of Red delivers that with some style.

A Beloved Wife
Director: ADACHI Shin

For all the great films you see that deal with contemporary issues, there is nonetheless a kind of formality that comes with any kind of filmmaking and indeed screenwriting. Shin Adachi's A Beloved Wife is perhaps no exception in the way that the director adapts his own semi-autobiographical situation to fit cinematic structures and conventions, but there is at least a refreshing – and sometimes shocking – human honesty about his approach to his life and career in his 2019 film.

Gota is a struggling screenwriter and his wife Chika doesn't let him forget it. Because of his failure she has to make economies and go to impractical lengths just to save a few yen. She's also economical about giving out in the bed department and Gota is getting very frustrated, resorting to flirting suggestively with neighbours and leering at drunk women in the street. Chika thinks he's useless, a loser and you can't help feel she's got a point. An opportunity comes up however with one of Gota's scripts being developed for a film, so he takes his wife and daughter on a road-trip to do a little more research into noodles. There's only one recipe on this menu however and it's a recipe for disaster.

But not a total disaster and certainly not a disaster as far as delivering an entertaining film is concerned. Or perhaps not so much the film, as in terms of plotting there's not a whole lot more to it than Gota trying to have sex with his wife and she brushing him off as a loser – but the performances of the two leads and the young child playing their daughter makes it highly enjoyable as well as occasionally deeply cringeworthy in its brutal honesty. For as much as they don't get on and as much abuse they inflict upon each other – Gota inevitably coming off worse – there's something unique about their relationship that works.

It's refreshing to see a "normal" family in a film, or if not quite normal, one that you don't commonly see in Japanese cinema. Although exaggerated somewhat for comedy (one would hope), A Beloved Wife has a sense of authenticity about the characters and about the daily challenges ordinary people face, and about how we can come to accept a more truthful reality even if it doesn't quite live up to our dreams.

Mrs Noisy
Director: AMANO Chihiro
Cast: SHINOHARA Yukiko, OOTAKA Yoko, NAGAO Takuma

Somewhat like the true story of its origin, Mrs Noisy is an indie film that started out small and became an unexpected hit in Japan. Its success however is no surprise, as Chihiro Amano's modest film has all the necessary popular ingredients, tackling personal and social issues, but also revealing a deeper human side.

Those are the ingredients that are lacking, or perhaps becoming stale, in the latest writing of Rie Misuzawa, the author of a successful prize winning novel. She hasn't been able to get to grips with her writing ever since she had a child and she and her husband moved house. Her editor tells her that her work is shallow, her characters lack depth and that she's losing her readership and popularity. Living next door to Mrs Wakata, a noisy neighbour who beats her futon loudly ever morning, doesn't help and distracts her from her work. Suddenly she realises that if she's looking for real people to write about there's plenty of material next door.

Unfortunately this draws unwelcome public attention when her private life becomes public and a video clip of the dispute goes viral. What starts off looking like a shallow comedy around a dispute between neighbours starts to develop concerning undercurrents. There are elements too in the film of social commentary as it takes in the difficulties of bringing up a child and having to deal with work pressures, as well as living in the city where is isn't safe for children. It's too simple however to view Mrs Noisy as a comedy or as a social interest drama, and as events escalate the film probes deeper into people and their place in society.

This makes for a very interesting film when considered in the context of the JFTFP's theme of finding your place and fitting in. Often it's individuals who are expected to adapt to the world, but what if the world is wrong? What if people are too narrow minded, rejecting what doesn't fit their idea of sociability and acceptable behaviour? The film touches on the phenomena of social media and trial by public opinion that is becoming more prevalent, but what director Amano really questions, with surprising effectiveness and delicacy, is how we all are too quick to judge what we don't really understand, and the shocking harm that can have on individuals and society as a whole.

Details on other films shown can be found at the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme website.

Previous Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme reviews:

JFTFP 2013 – Once Upon A Time in Japan
JFTFP 2014 – East Side Stories
JFTFP 2015 – It Only Happens in the Movies? (Part 1)
JFTFP 2015 – It Only Happens in the Movies? (Part 2)
JFTFP 2016 – Ikiru: The Highs and Lows of Life in Japanese Cinema (Part 1)
JFTFP 2016 – Ikiru: The Highs and Lows of Life in Japanese Cinema (Part 2)
JFTFP 2017 – Odd Obsessions
JFTFP 2018 – (Un)true Colours (Part 1)
JFTFP 2018 – (Un)true Colours (Part 2)
JFTFP 2019 – Love: Passion, Affection and Destruction (Part 1)
JFTFP 2019 – Love: Passion, Affection and Destruction (Part 2)
JFTFP 2020 – Happiness is A State of Mind (Part 1)
JFTFP 2020 – Happiness is A State of Mind (Part 2)
JFTFP 2021 – This Is My Place (Part 1)


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The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2021 (Part 1) https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/the-japan-foundation-touring-film-programme-2021-part-1/ Video Games Wed, 10 Mar 2021 10:24:10 +0000 nmegahey https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=76553 The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2021
This is My Place: Carving out a sense of existence and belonging in Japanese Cinema

Bringing contemporary, classic, documentary and anime features every year to all parts of the UK, out of necessity the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme went online for the first time in 2021 and showed all its films for free. Despite registration and other technical measures having to be put in place to ensure rights protection, the process worked fantastically well and brought to a wider audience another fine selection of international cinema that otherwise would be difficult to see. It also provided an opportunity to attend some informative Zoom conference talks with directors on their films and on the themes they approach in their work, giving some idea of where they fit in the diverse world of contemporary Japanese cinema.

That tied in well with the theme of the 2021 JFTFP, This is My Place: Carving out a sense of existence and belonging in Japanese Cinema. It's another universal and important theme – all the more so in the current difficult circumstances we are all currently living under – and typically, the selection of films approached this in a wide variety of ways. Some took on that perennial theme in Japanese cinema of young people trying to find their place in a changing world where hierarchical and traditional structures are inflexible – and finding new and original ways to do so – but others looked at other groups of people and individuals struggling with other bonds, conventions and expectations to discover and live their own lives.

Director: MARIKO Tetsuya
Cast: IKEMATSU Sosuke, AOI Yu

In one of the JFTFP talks organised alongside this year's screenings, director Tetsuya Mariko noted that he was tired of minimalist, everyday life cinema prevalent in Japan at the moment and wanted to shake things up a bit. He already did that with his last film Destruction Babies, and he certainly carries that sense of pent-up rage – or perhaps not so much pent-up rage as full-blown violence – through to his latest thrilling film, Miyamoto.

The theme of young people struggling under social pressures, work commitments, to tradition and the need to conform in order to make the successful transition to adulthood is a common one, and in fact, the source for Miyamoto is a manga that was popular 20 years ago, 'Miyamoto kara kimi he' by Hideki Arai. Mariko's adaptation, first as a TV series and extended out into a feature film, shows that the themes are still relevant today, and the director certainly captures a sense of the freshness and energy of a manga in a hard-hitting film that is far from the formal conventional cinematic style.

There are more than few hard-hitting punches thrown literally and metaphorically at Hiroshi Miyamoto. At the start of the film we see him battered, bruised, missing a few teeth having been in a fight that has apparently left his opponent in hospital. Definitely a case of you should see the other guy (and believe me, you will!). Miyamoto is in trouble at work, his parents aren't amused when he brings back his girlfriend Yasuko to tell them they are getting married and that she is pregnant. Either Miyamoto is uncontrollable, or life has spun out of his control.

The truth is that it's a bit of both. Miyamoto is trying to protect Yasuko from a violent partner, and is trying to correct an injustice against her. But is he up to it? Although the situations in Miyamoto tend towards extreme and exaggeration, as is often the case in manga derived material and anime, there's a sense that the style taps deeper into something real that is felt by its young characters. Knowing when to cut loose and when to step back and toe the line isn't always easy, and Tetsuya Mariko's film shows just how much of an impact that can have on people's lives.

"The balance between happiness and unhappiness is remarkable", Yasuko observes early in the film, and Miyamoto certainly demonstrates that with scenes that you have to see to believe. There's a whole lot of violence, pain, enthusiasm and humour in a frantically paced film of gut-wrenching intensity that taps fearlessly into the deepest – and sometimes darkest – of human feelings.

Director: ITO Tomohiko

Using state of the art graphics Tomohiko Ito's 2019 anime feature deals with familiar science-fiction subjects; the use of technology, time-travel and the unintended consequences that come with trying to alter events in the past. Being a Japanese anime however the treatment also has wider concerns and, as is often the case, that relates to young people finding their place is a rapidly changing world.

Kyoto high-school teenager Naomi Katagaki is naturally shy, indecisive and withdrawn but is unexpectedly presented with an opportunity to change direction. It's 2027 and Kyoto has made technological advances in digital 3-D mapping with the ALLTALE quantum memory device which allows them to open up historical views of the city. A glitch in the system however has allowed a hooded man to come from the future with a warning. Something terrible will happen unless Naomi becomes more confident and decisive and acts to change events, but first he needs to find himself a girlfriend!

With its advanced graphics, complex plotting and its dealing with the use of technology to create and potentially get lost in digital worlds, HELLO WORLD can sit comfortably alongside The Matrix or any of Christopher Nolan's work. In anime terms it's perhaps not anything new either, clearly influenced greatly by Makoto Shinkai's Your Name, but with time slip elements and a teen-to-adult tragi-romantic streak that you'll find in superior anime serials like Noein, Clannad and Sword Art Online.

Visually HELLO WORLD is impressive and, since it deals with digital worlds and technology, it makes good use of its digital CG effects, but the storyline is also extremely well-paced and designed to draw you in. It also helps that the situation is relateable. Who wouldn't want to reboot the world at the minute? Tomohiko Ito's film shows that in a way it is possible to restart things, at least as far as individuals are concerned. For all its quantum physics complexity, the underlying message of the film is simple; believe in yourself and you have the power to shape your own destiny.

One Night
Director: SHIRAISHI Kazuya
Cast: SATOH Takeru, SUZUKI Ryohei, MATSUOKA Mayu

Having seen Kazuya Shiraishi's previous films Birds Without Names (JFTFP 2018) and Sea of Revival (JFTFP 2019), I kind of knew what I was letting myself in for with the director's latest film; a bleak situation filled with desperate characters in a melodrama that packs a punch. Even so, the opening of One Night still hits hard, as a taxi driver coolly reverses to intentionally run down a drunk and abusive passenger who has just stepped out of the cab. Meanwhile, Yuji, the youngest of three children who has ambitions to be a writer, fantasises how their father might kill each of them. The two situations are not unrelated.

The taxi driver who has run the man down at the start of the film is actually his wife, who works as a driver for the family business. She has just intentionally killed her husband so that she and their children don't have to put up with any more of his violent beatings. She's proud of what she has done for her family, even if it means she won't see any of them again for 15 years. When we do catch up with them years later, the children's lives don't exactly seem to have flourished. The daughter Sonoko works as a hostess in a bar and drinks heavily, Yuji is a journalist writing for a porn magazine and Daiki's marriage is on the rocks, heading for divorce. But what about their mother?

Shiraishi certainly doesn't disappoint in providing a bleak situation that seems impossible for any of his characters to escape. One Night is however surprisingly subtle in how it makes it seem like happiness is just within reach for each of them, but it lies just beyond their capacity to achieve. Their mother can't understand what has gone wrong, as she tried to save them from this 15 years ago, but the scars clearly run deep. Shirashi's film intelligently identifies this as being as much down to their mother's actions as their father's.

If there's going to be any kind of healing, you imagine that it's going to be a long and painful process, but the film does take a bit of a shortcut to speed the process along with a little bit of manufactured drama at the conclusion. While this puts a strain on the realism of the issues raised, it does however successfully extend it out though to show that the problems are not just with one family, but are far-reaching and touch many families in other ways.

Me & My Brother's Mistress
Director: HAGA Takashi, SUZUKI Sho

It's a simple direct title and the premise of Me & My Brother's Mistress is equally as direct in its treatment of the subject, but the underlying motivations are evidently likely to be more complicated. Difficult situations faced by ordinary people is the kind of thing that indie cinema can traditionally do very well, and often it's young people in situations that are beyond their experience to grasp and deal with. Directed by cinematographer Takashi Haga with Sho Suzuki, the film manages to enter into that confusing place very well.

Yoko's dilemma is what to do when she discovers that her brother Kenji, who is about to be married, is still carrying on an affair with another woman. Kenji's fiancée however seems like she will fit perfectly into their family, even if she might not be quite as glamorous as the mistress. Yoko still can't understand why he would risk their future happiness, so she decides to follow them and, after hesitating about what to do, she decides to confront the mystery woman. Misa however turns out to be not at all what she expected.

Inevitably the situation is complicated for each of them. Yoko and her brother have been living alone for almost a decade since the death of their parents, so perhaps they have a different idea about what it means to be a family, but it turns out that the other characters all have their own issues and motivations that make it even more difficult for Yoko to untangle and know what is for the best. Yoko tries to stick to her guiding principle is that it's important to be a decent person, but finds that even that sometimes means hurting people. And, as she is about to graduate and doesn't know what she wants to do with her life, there is her own future to be concerned about.

The strength of Me & My Brother's Mistress is that it raises such conundrums but doesn't need to spell everything out for the viewer. With an authentic script, good performances and strong cinematography that focuses on faces and lets them express the inner turmoil of emotions, it's very easy to get drawn into not just Yoko's dilemma, but the issues facing all the protagonists, whose views are all are given equal consideration here.

Not Quite Dead Yet
Director: HAMASAKI Shinji

Humour doesn't always translate well and Japanese films, anime and manga certainly have their very own exaggerated stylisations and conventions. Despite their peculiarities – or perhaps because of them – comedy films do nonetheless open up a whole other view of Japanese society in a way that can be as worthwhile as they are entertaining. Shinji Hamasaki's impressive first feature film Not Quite Dead Yet is a perfect example of this. It's hugely entertaining, filled with self-referential contrivances and seemingly random and anarchic in its plotting, but it does reveal some fascinating aspects about Japanese values and culture.

Nanase's father is president of a pharmaceutical company specialising in the research and development of anti-aging drugs. He wants his daughter to follow in his footsteps and has been drilling her in science and order ever since she was a child. Nothing doing. Nanase has rebelled and started a death metal band Soulzz, whose image and songs are all based around Death. The two facts are not unrelated, since Nanase has been unable to tolerate her father ever since he put his work ahead of being with her mother when she was dying. In fact, she fervently wishes her father would drop dead. She is about to have her wish come true.

Sort of. Although Nobata Pharma haven't had much success yet with the Romeo drug, their secret Juliet one – developed by a young scientist called Grampa – is looking promising. It's not really clear what use a drug is that kills you, even if it's just temporarily for two days, but hey, it worked for Shakespeare, so you can hardly complain about it just being a convenient device for complicating comedy film plots. And complicate it certainly does, because with her father apparently dead, the rebellious Nanase is forced to become president while another company tries to take advantage of the situation to force a profitable merger.

Not Quite Dead Yet wears its silliness openly. Even for all its manga-like exaggeration, it's a little more mainstream friendly than the wilder ideas you find in the more outrageous side of Sion Sono or Takashi Miike – two better-known exponents of larger-than-life cinema. Although there are genuine laugh-out loud off-the-wall moments in director Hamasaki's film, you end up admiring it more for how it actually neatly brings everything together in a tight script that keeps the film down to a consistently entertaining and engaging 90 minutes,. And yes, it does perhaps even give you another perspective on the peculiarities of Japanese society, culture and sense of humour.

Details on other films showing in this year's programme can be found at the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme website.

Previous Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme reviews:

JFTFP 2013 – Once Upon A Time in Japan
JFTFP 2014 – East Side Stories
JFTFP 2015 – It Only Happens in the Movies? (Part 1)
JFTFP 2015 – It Only Happens in the Movies? (Part 2)
JFTFP 2016 – Ikiru: The Highs and Lows of Life in Japanese Cinema (Part 1)
JFTFP 2016 – Ikiru: The Highs and Lows of Life in Japanese Cinema (Part 2)
JFTFP 2017 – Odd Obsessions
JFTFP 2018 – (Un)true Colours (Part 1)
JFTFP 2018 – (Un)true Colours (Part 2)
JFTFP 2019 – Love: Passion, Affection and Destruction (Part 1)
JFTFP 2019 – Love: Passion, Affection and Destruction (Part 2)
JFTFP 2020 – Happiness is A State of Mind (Part 1)
JFTFP 2020 – Happiness is A State of Mind (Part 2)


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Decentralising Humanity in Science Fiction Cinema Part Two – 12 Monkeys https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/decentralising-humanity-in-science-fiction-cinema-part-two-12-monkeys/ Video Games Thu, 31 Dec 2020 10:31:49 +0000 zoecrombie https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=61156 As I suggested in part one of this article, nature does not only consist of trees and oceans – in 2001: A Space Odyssey, for instance, much of the natural world that we are shown is in the form of the unknown reaches of outer space. In 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam takes this concept in a similar yet different direction, one that seeks to complicate the idea of the linear progress of humanity. Rather than looking outward into space to highlight our significance, he looks down onto Earth, exploring the oft-forgotten fact that humans are ultimately animals, holding no privileged position aside from our current, possibly fleeting, dominance over the planet.

The Fragility of Humanity

Although Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys depicts humanity with a greater frequency and with more of a sense of personality than 2001, the question of whether humans are truly distinct from other species still lingers over the film in much the same way. This is symbolised throughout the film with the motif of cages and entrapment as a temporary way of halting nature's inevitable chaos, with Gilliam frequently shooting closeups through mesh to reinforce this theme. Additionally, the asylum that briefly holds the protagonist is not dissimilar from the lab that holds the monkeys that are eventually released, contributing to the decentralisation of humanity from a privileged position in the narrative. The monologue delivered by Brad Pitt's character Jeffrey emphasises this, especially his frantic performance, which goes against his leading man persona and gives a claustrophobic atmosphere.

The scene is shot with a constantly moving handheld camera that is usually at a canted angle, which follows Jeffrey as he rambles about how 'the system' is able to control people. Though much of the content of his speech is convoluted and difficult to follow, I'd argue that the camerawork suggests that Jeffrey's apparent insanity is justified, particularly as the grey, metallic set design creates an atmosphere mirroring that of the entrapment that he describes. The position of this scene in the narrative also aids our sympathy towards Jeffrey and the other patients, as we have seen what he describes taken to its extreme endpoint in the future, turning his paranoia into understandable concern. This sequence is just one example of how the film seeks to subjugate its human characters, reducing them to an animalistic state by placing them in situations evocative of how other non-human living beings are treated.

Unlike 2001, 12 Monkeys features a distinct protagonist played by a recognisable star: Bruce Willis as James Cole. We are spatially and temporally aligned with Cole for the vast majority of the film, and are given subjective access to the character through his flashback sequences – a distinct contrast to Bowman's lack of available interiority, and his absence from large portions of 2001. However, this protagonist is a far cry from the powerful, individualistic Willis known through films like Die Hard – instead, he is made animalistic and submissive by brutalisation, and ultimately fails to use individual power to overcome his own demise. In an early scene, he is depicted as a prisoner of what American society has become, hosed down naked and injected with medieval-looking devices after being forced into the altered modern environment for explorative purposes. This is implied to be some kind of punishment, as exposure to the world his species used to rule can now potentially lead him to physical harm or death. This presents a direct contrast with 2001: where Kubrick's film depicts humanity being assisted through the universe by mysterious forces in their goal of discovering the unknowable, Gilliam's film suggests that humanity is too frail to do the same. Additionally, while Bowman and his crew are shown to be men of science, sent out into space as part of a high ranking job that requires a great deal of intellect, Cole is made to leave against his will almost sacrificially, despite not being able to withstand the outside world for long.

A Hostile Planet

While the depictions of nature in 12 Monkeys remain grounded on Earth, the place of humanity within the natural world is still presented as precarious at best, as emphasised by the use of time travel in the narrative. Though the two time periods depicted are only two decades apart, they are impossibly different from one another – while 1990 accurately reflects the contemporary world when the film was released, 2035 is unrecognisable, with an entirely different natural hierarchy. Parallels can be drawn with the scene that depicts the outside world in 2035, and the moment at the end of the film where the zoo animals are released into urban Baltimore in the 1990s – what humanity assumes is the natural order has been entirely upended, resulting in what we perceive as chaos. Comparisons can also be drawn between James Cole's quarantine suit and that of the spacesuits in 2001, which use similar imagery for different purposes. While Kubrick's film suggests with its famous cut from a bone to a satellite that these advanced suits are an extension of the knowledge humans were granted by the monolith in the prehistoric era, Gilliam's uses it to highlight the physical weakness of humanity against the wider world.

The opening sequence of 12 Monkeys establishes that humanity's current position as the rulers of Earth has been almost entirely dismantled. The new habitat of humans is shown to be made up of underground cages – although we are only shown the prison at this stage, the lack of many other locations implies that the majority of this new world is dark and oppressive. This creates the first parallel between humanity and other creatures: earthworms and other underground species that are typically perceived to be at the bottom of the food chain. The lack of individuation between the prisoners is similar to the way the hominids are depicted in 2001; however, as the hominids eventually become more individualised humans, this suggests some kind of regression to a more primitive state is occurring here.

This is reflected in a later moment where Cole first meets Railly – he is from the future, but his physical mannerisms, lack of speech, and fewer clothes hold connotations of cavemen and other earlier forms of human life. Although one could argue that the ruling class of scientists underground indicates that some valuing of the intellectual has remained, I argue that this serves to further demonstrate the failings of humanity. We are largely separated from other species because of the size and structure of our brains, allowing us greater cognitive faculties, but as demonstrated by the precarious situation of humans in Twelve Monkeys, this does not mean we are exempt from changes in natural circumstances. Humans aren't exempt from typical evolution, but another variety of living beings that can be taken down from something as (comparatively) biologically simple as a virus – sadly, this is currently being demonstrated worldwide.

Though the majority of the film takes place in the developed urban environment of 1990s Baltimore, a brief scene with Cole and Railly in a forest suggests what I have argued is the central thesis of the film: that humans are no different from other animals, and are essentially still the monkeys of the title. This scene can even be compared to the literary concept of the Shakespearean 'green world', with characters returning to pastoral settings in order to explore their natural inclinations away from developed, repressive areas in 'a place of withdrawal'. Interestingly, Gilliam depicts this brief glimpse of the natural world as being on the margins of society – the two characters only come across it while on the run, and we have only seen urban spaces in the 1990s up until this point. Structurally, this moment serves as a break from the chaos of the rest of the movie, framing this return to the simplicity of nature in a positive light and reminding the audience of the environmental origins of humanity – we came not from high rises, but forests.

Progress, or Self Destruction?

As demonstrated here, the progress of humanity can be undone at any moment, and although it is caused in this case by humanity's own self-destruction, this still suggests that our place in nature is not privileged beyond primal impulses and physical fallibility. The fact that it is a disease that undoes humanity is significant – while characters are depicted in situations that emphasise their intellectual capacities (Railly's lecture, for instance), no one is able to escape the limitations of their body when faced with a biological threat. However, this virus did not naturally occur and was instead engineered intentionally to wipe out much of the human race. This can lead to a more damning environmental interpretation of the film; humanity's self-awareness has led us down a route of self-destruction unique to our species.

The complex time loops that the narrative of 12 Monkeys is constructed from (taken from the source film La Jetée) reflect the precarious position of humanity in the ever-evolving natural world, as well as our tendency towards self-destruction. By utilising a non-linear structure that gives a fragmented impression of reality, Gilliam encourages the audience to question the notion of time travel throughout, presenting it as Cole's subjective experience as opposed to the more objective time jumps in 2001. By seemingly using the tenseless time model, in which events are fixed to occur and cannot be altered, Gilliam creates a sense of the inevitability of humanity's collapse both narratively and thematically. Despite Cole's best efforts, or perhaps because of, he dies at the close of the film, fulfilling the loop he had foreseen as a child and in his dreams. Though the ending is ambiguous as to whether the scientists were able to prevent further spread of the virus through further time travel, Cole's demise creates a bleak tone that implies humanity's powerlessness and eventual regression to the misery shown at the start.


Although 2001 seems to follow humanity's progression as a species, while 12 Monkeys implies an inevitable downfall, both films present a relationship with nature and outer space that places humans as largely insignificant and powerless even within their own narrative. Each text decentralises the assumed importance of humanity, transforming the dichotomy of humans versus nature by showing that humans are only one small aspect of the wider world. While the newer film emphasises how humanity's intellectual, technological, and sociological progress can all be undone at the whim of the natural world, the older depicts humanity as conquerors, but not of their own merit.


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The Revolutionary Cinema of the Female LA Rebellion Directors https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/the-revolutionary-cinema-of-the-female-la-rebellion-directors/ Video Games Thu, 31 Dec 2020 10:30:50 +0000 zoecrombie https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=55265 Since the birth of modern narrative cinema in the 1910s, Black filmmakers have sought to find an adequate means of representation onscreen. In the 1970s, this had been achieved to a limited degree, with most black faces seen on white mainstream screens through Blaxploitation films like Shaft and Super Fly. As a response to this, the LA rebellion filmmakers (graduates of the UCLA film school) made independent films focussing on the reality of African American oppression, creating a new, distinct Black Cinema. As university-educated filmmakers, these directors were equipped with a broad knowledge of cinematic history. This allowed them to effectively critique prior depictions of African Americans in earlier works, and actively subvert the negative connotations attached to black people on mainstream white screens.

While some directors, such as Spike Lee, made Black Cinema within a mainstream commercial aesthetic in part for greater visibility, the LA Rebellion approach was to entirely reject white cinema, staying wholly within the confines of independent cinema to create an unfiltered aesthetic. Though as a white writer I cannot truly relate to the struggles that African American women face, I would still like to use my platform to promote the work of three wonderful directors who have created groundbreaking films centred around these experiences.

Julie Dash

The most well-known of the female LA Rebellion directors is Julie Dash, who began making shorts in the 1970s while working on her degree. Dash was able to utilise a relatively unique perspective on Black Cinema for the context of the early 1970s: that of a black woman with an education in film similar to that of her white contemporaries. This is best exemplified by her early film Illusions, which rewrites film history from the perspective of the black women who had to negotiate discrimination in their careers and compromise on success in the industry.

The protagonist of the short, Mignon Dupree, is a successful producer working at a fictional Hollywood studio in 1942, making films that provide escapism from the grim backdrop of World War II. However, we discover partway through the film that she is African American and has been passing as white, revealed when a young black woman (Esther) she works with can see through the illusion of her race. Mignon's struggle is therefore twofold, as she must navigate both gender and racial discrimination, though these identifications are not necessarily equally challenging – she has been able to progress in her career, albeit with difficulty, as a woman, but must hide her ethnicity.

She has met Esther earlier in the film when she was used to dub over a white actress singing earlier that day, in a scene with richly complex cinematography. The actress is shown on a screen within the screen, framed by the black studio space surrounding her. In the corner, far smaller than the actress, the black woman is visible, shown staring at the white woman as she sings lines to synchronise with her mouth movements. The position the actress holds as the focal point of the frame reinforces the white hegemony of Hollywood, while the singer's marginal position serves to both emphasise her lack of agency or power in this industry and to raise the issue of Black Art being appropriated for white audiences.

Mignon comments that the process is usually reversed, with the actress lip-synching to the song instead of the singer trying to follow the mouth movements, noting how much harder this method is. This highlights the invisible labour that black women have historically performed in creative industries, being given thankless, difficult tasks while a white woman is literally shown languishing on a sofa. In depicting these two characters as the main protagonists of her short, Dash is placing black women front and centre, while revealing another level of reality behind the representation we are shown in white cinema.

While Dash's short films give an early insight into her political priorities, her beautiful feature film Daughters of the Dust provides a broader exploration of the stereotypes that surround black women by focussing on a Gullah matriarchy at the turn of the century with an African American, female gaze. Women of various ages and attitudes are depicted at a key turning point in the future of the Gullah people, one which inevitably raises questions concerning displacement and identity: their migration to the mainland of Georgia.

When on white screens,  this narrative is often depicted in terms of a primitive/progressive binary, the movement of slaves from Africa to America closely paired with the implication of enlightenment. While this is subverted in less sympathetic characters like Viola, who is repressed and dissatisfied despite being supposedly 'enlightened' by her dogmatic Christianity, there are numerous positive depictions of black women that go against type in a variety of ways. The rituals and religions of African Americans are frequently depicted as 'black magic' in white media, with overwhelmingly negative connotations.

In Daughters of the Dust, Dash challenges this linear sense of progression by implying that those associated with the mainland are more repressed and lacking in autonomy than those who remain closely attached to the Gullah culture and religion. This is best exemplified by the Nana, the elderly matriarch of the family who practices African spiritual rituals. Instead of being 'othered' or possessing menacing powers, Nana is shown to be the calm mediator of the family, accepting and forgiving to those who look up to her, and refusing to leave the island and assimilate into white culture.

While others are cruel and cold to Yellow Mary because of her sex work and implied lesbian relationship, Nana embraces her with open arms, embodying the progressive spirit of their island life. Mary is also an interesting subversion of types of black women, especially as a mixed-race character – rejection from both racial communities has granted her independence, and therefore the ability to move in between the mainland and the island with relative ease. In confronting and interrogating stereotypes established in white cinema, Dash creates an alternate cinematic reality for Black women, allowing them emancipation and freedom of expression.

Barbara McCullough

Though Daughters of the Dust has made Julie Dash the most famous of the female LA Rebellion filmmakers, the influential Black Cinema of other women in the movement is also ripe for analysis. Barbara McCullough's work, though also interested in the stereotypes that control representations of black women, will be analysed in this essay for its depictions of black displacement, both physically in US history and metaphorically to the margins of white cinema. Her film Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification uses 'neo-pagan performance' to document the experience of being an African American woman living in white Christian America. Featuring a ritual performed by McCullough herself, the film depicts a woman sat with her legs spread on the dirt outside of a dilapidated home, feeling it and blowing it out of her hands. This sitting position evokes images of Mother Earth cradling the world, perhaps to place black women in an unusually privileged position of creation and control.

The setting of the film is ambiguous; although it was shot in America, the imagery in the short is reminiscent of that of West Africa, reflecting the displacement and dissonance experienced by Black women. The short is scored by a combination of African chanting and jazz, creating a soundscape that is both strongly tied to location and able to convey her individual expression and freedom. McCullough makes frequent use of superimposition, in order to emphasise the relationship between the different gestures of the ritual, as well as to highlight the spiritual trance the woman is in as she reclaims physical space in the world. The film eventually culminates with the woman urinating in a field, presumably finishing the 'water ritual' of the title. As well as using her bodily functions to literally mark out territory in a land that only partially accepts her, this act also subverts the typically passive cinematic depiction of black women's bodies. In filming herself committing an act that viewers may find shocking or offensive, McCullough is using Black Cinema to regain autonomy, asserting her physical presence through a ritual deeply rooted in her inherited culture.

Following on from Water Ritual #1, McCullough continued her examination of the relationship between black displacement and ritual practices through the documentary Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes: Reflections on Ritual Space. In this two-part video series, McCullough meets and interviews other African American artists living in LA, asking about their creative processes and relationship to rituals, and reflecting on her own work through a process of mutual artistic reflection. The film even opens with altered footage from Water Ritual #1, new psychedelic video effects having been placed onto images from the original film, suggesting an ever-evolving relationship to her art.

The aesthetic of the remainder of the documentary is minimalist, McCullough using a handheld camera to document the dilapidated urban spaces that other black artists occupy. Rather than interviewing them in talking-head segments, this insistent depiction of the physicality of their art ensures that the material conditions of being a black artist are always at the forefront of the discussion.

Most importantly, McCullough uses the documentary form to provide greater visibility for the work of black female artists who have been displaced from mainstream artistic spaces, providing an uncompromising platform for them to showcase their work. In doing so, she is creating a complex image of how women are able to express themselves as artists, best exemplified by her interview with Betye Saar, who defines artistic rites of passage as 'what feels right'. By giving credibility and weight to the subjectivity of black women, this documentary uses a low budget and distinct aesthetic as a space for uplifting the work of other female Black artists.

Alile Sharon Larkin

While Dash's films examine systemic barriers and stereotyping of black women, and McCullough's look at the physical and social displacement they experience, Alile Sharon Larkin's work is concerned with the psychological neo-colonisation of black women and girls. This idea is best encapsulated by a Malcolm X quote: 'if you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing'. Throughout her filmic career, Larkin has depicted black women's struggle for physical agency, particularly regarding their appearance and careers, and the white-enforced self-loathing that creates a barrier to emancipation. Her films use the motif of afro hair as a signifier of Black women's relationship with their racial identity, an idea that has become more broadly used in the mainstream in recent films like Nappily Ever After and Hair Love, in which young Black women gain confidence by embracing their natural hair texture.

Still from "The Kitchen" by Alile Sharon Larkin, 1975. | Image: UCLAFilmTVArchive on YouTube.

In her earliest work, her student UCLA film The Kitchen, she depicts a black maid who has been sent to a mental institution, the first shot showing her being lead down a white corridor by white workers, helpless and indignant in between them. Larkin breaks conventional continuity throughout the film, conveying the disjointed perspective of the protagonist, which has been fragmented by racial violence and oppression. There is then a cut to the same woman looking at herself in a mirror, forcing a sleek wig over her afro. This gives a sense of social isolation, and the relationship between the woman and her reflection conveys her self-loathing, particularly as she smiles when her natural hair is covered.

It is eventually revealed that she has been sectioned for abusing her daughter, violently attempting to straighten her hair with a hot comb after envying the straight hair of her white employers. This exemplifies Larkin's concerns surrounding the generational effects of neo-colonialist thought, and how internalised racism can be passed down through mundane routines, the extreme example in The Kitchen serving as a metaphor for this communal self-harm.

After changing her direction in more recent years towards children's media, having directed several live-action music videos for children's songs, Larkin has utilised the medium of animation to depict black womanhood and girlhood. In my opinion, this is a perfect match of political content and medium, as animation has been historically considered an inferior method of creative expression when compared to live-action cinema, despite its wide artistic potential. In her short animated film Dreadlocks and the Three Bears, she reinterprets the classic story Goldilocks and the Three Bears through a uniquely black cinematic lens, changing the setting to the Caribbean and the protagonist to a young black girl with 'cinnamon-brown' skin amongst other alterations.

As suggested by the title, the girl in Larkin's story has dreadlocks rather than blonde hair, subverting Eurocentric notions of white beauty by idealising a hairstyle looked down upon in America for its association with African and Caribbean cultures. There are other adaptational changes to the work designed to make the story more relatable for the target audience of African American children – porridge is replaced by 'cheese grits', for instance. The animation was achieved by using cut out construction paper, a visibly low budget and easily achieved aesthetic that may have been chosen for its accessibility and easy emulation, implicitly demonstrating a new way for young children to make their own stories.

Breaking New Ground

The films of the LA rebellion have not broken into mainstream appreciation as other modes of African American cinema like Blaxploitation have, in part due to their obtuse avant-garde aesthetics and lack of widespread theatrical distribution. Indeed, even when writing this article in 2020, many of the films discussed were hard to track down online in their entirety. But this creative independence from white mainstream screens is what has allowed the female LA rebellion filmmakers to provide effective and progressive forms of representation for black people other than straight men.

By exploring the nuances of being part of multiple oppressed groups, these female filmmakers acknowledge the intersections of prejudice in their work.  Ultimately, the Black Cinema that these women helped pioneer is a unique and revolutionary space, dedicated to validating the experiences of every kind of black person.


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Decentralising Humanity in Science Fiction Cinema Part One – 2001: A Space Odyssey https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/decentralising-humanity-in-science-fiction-cinema-part-one-2001-a-space-odyssey/ Video Games Thu, 31 Dec 2020 10:28:19 +0000 zoecrombie https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=61153 While film as a medium has traditionally centred humanity, giving us a privileged position in the world that aligns with the humanism present in art from the Enlightenment onward, science fiction is an arena in which humanity's place in nature and the wider universe is more frequently questioned. Works within this genre, more so than any other, seek to topple humanity as the presumed pinnacle of existence. I will be examining the relationship between the human and nonhuman (specifically the nonhuman natural) in two such films: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys.

By subverting typical depictions of the triumphs of humanity, these directors shake the foundations of what human 'progress' truly means. They explore how easily it can be catalysed or undone at the whim of the natural world, whether that takes the form of different species dominating Earth, or the incomprehensible cosmology that lies beyond reach. So, beginning with 2001, let's look into how cinema has the power to make us question our assumed power over the wider world.

The Inconsequential Nature of Humanity

In both Arthur C Clarke's novel and Stanley Kubrick's film, the presence of any kind of humanity is questioned throughout the work. This is clear in the fact that the first chapter of Clarke's novel is titled The Dawn of Man – humanity appears to be somewhat present in the hominids, particularly in Moon-Watcher's 'dim disquiet' at seeing his deceased father, but the distinction between animal and man is largely blurred. Even the presence of the monolith, which leads the hominids to their advancement into man, doesn't immediately make these creatures recognisable as people. This distance between the hominids and humanity as we know it is heightened in Kubrick's film version of the text. Individuality cannot be found in Kubrick's depiction of early man –  every hominid looks and acts nearly identically to the others.

Where Clarke provides us with some individuation and alignment in Moon Watcher, allowing him to be a temporary protagonist, Kubrick's hominids are barely distinguishable. The lack of any audible voiceover, point of view, or any other technique that would align us with the hominids also makes them less relatable. You could even argue that this opening portion of the film possesses a level of documentary realism often found in educational nature films: wide shots of large swathes of animals, and a lack of any kind of identifiable narrative. Visual comparisons are even drawn between the hominids and tapirs, Kubrick shooting them with equal proportions of the frame and at the same level to suggest that they are fundamentally the same: prey. While this is later overturned with the discovery of the monolith, this opening depiction of humanity foregrounds the idea that humans are just another variety of animal, who achieve greatness through circumstance and cosmic help rather than any kind of innate quality.

Though I would argue that 2001 has a narration too distant to have a true protagonist in the traditional sense, the audience is aligned spatially and temporally in acts two and three of the film with Dr. David Bowman, his last name suggestive of the more primitive weaponry that has lead humanity towards technological progress. Bowman is not a protagonist in the traditional sense of the word, which typically suggests a character whose thoughts, feelings and goals make up the motivation for the plot. Instead, the film seems to depict the trajectory of humanity as a whole, reflecting how the importance of humans within the wider universe is questioned in the film. Arguably, Kubrick actually made Bowman more generic in order to more appropriately fill this role: little is known about his life on Earth, and actor Keir Dullea's blank expressions allow him to reflect the rest of humanity without being clouded by potentially distracting specificities. This is taken even further by his ultimate fate at the close of the film when he seemingly becomes the Starchild – everything recognisable about Bowman has been removed at the whim of the unknown forces that have always guided humanity's journey.

The Unknowable Universe

Throughout 2001, the place of the natural world in relation to humanity is as an unknowable force, capable of affecting us in ways we cannot truly comprehend. This is foregrounded by the opening moments of the film: a black screen, scored by dissonant music with no sense of melody or rhythm. Evocative of importance in its ability to overwhelm, this lush, orchestral music also suggests how 2001 will draw upon an intellectual tradition, far from popular conceptions of B movie science fiction. When we are eventually provided with a visual beyond a black screen, the position of Earth is deeply symbolic; it is all we can see at first, but eventually the remainder of the solar system becomes clear, dwarfing our home planet and reminding us of the universe beyond. This image of the planets aligning also appears to hold a grand, cosmic significance, but the nature of this significance is never clearly revealed to the audience, reinforcing the inaccessibility of space. The idea that the universe is ultimately incomprehensible to humanity is particularly interesting within a historical context: the space race that took place in the 1960s largely reflected Imperialist ideas of conquering new land, while the film actively places humanity as inevitably unconscious of what exists in outer space.

Most of the runtime takes place in space and on various spacecraft, but the early sequence following the hominids depicts Earth as a hostile environment that was only truly conquered with the assistance of the monolith. Created with studio sets and matte paintings, the environment of the prehistoric African savannah is almost unrecognisable from Earth as we know it today; the dirty red hue of the rocks and the lack of plant life causes it to almost resemble concepts of the surface of Mars. This appearance can be interpreted as a subversion of the Garden of Eden from Genesis, transforming a land of 'life' to one more closely associated with death and destruction.

For instance, while Eden is described as full of vitality and plenty, with 'trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food', early Earth is a barren wasteland with little sustenance to go around. This theme is most prominent in the scene of the interaction that the monolith has with the hominids. When the first hominid touches the monolith, it does so with the index finger of its outreached hand, mirroring the gesture that Adam makes towards God in Michaelangelo's painting 'The Creation of Adam'. This creates an association between the mystery of the cosmological and religious omnipotence, in which humanity has been created by forces beyond its comprehension and control. Simultaneously, it subverts the classical beauty of this painting – rather than an image of civility and intellect, Kubrick highlights the humbler beginnings of humanity that have been scientifically identified in the time following Michaelangelo.

In contrast, a later sequence of the film that depicts Bowman's journey into the monolith is characterised by incomprehensible surrealism, enhanced by the ground-breaking special effects, that is designed to be overwhelming in the context of a cinema. The vibrant flashing colours and lights are shown from Bowman's perspective, intentionally placing the viewer in a similar position of confusion and awe rather than allowing them any greater knowledge through the narration. The length of the scene also seems designed to designate importance to what is being shown, as well as to continuously overwhelm the senses – for roughly five continuous minutes, the audience is made to travel through the stargate into the unknown. In doing so, this scene subverts typical images associated with space travel and extra-terrestrial life. Rather than referring to images like the little grey men that became a default appearance for aliens, the lack of any physical form implies that life beyond Earth has transcended beyond the plain that humans occupy, instead appearing as dazzling lights that cannot be conventionally understood. In 2001, despite depicting a journey of human progress beyond Earth, humanity is decentralised, and as a result the look of the celestial beings that control us is not derived simply from an altered version of our own image.

Planned Progression

2001 appears on the surface to chart the ever-progressing journey of humanity, as we ascend from hominids to star children. However, this progress is suggested to be from an external force, and not because of any intrinsic value that humans hold as a species. The purpose of the monolith in the narrative remains somewhat unclear, but because humanity appears to make a great leap forward after every encounter with it, it can be inferred that it is a type of alien or even divine technology, used to artificially guide humanity. It is a blank slate that can represent whatever the viewer chooses, the mystery and intentional vagueness surrounding it actually being the source of its cinematic intrigue. While it can be interpreted as a technological device, I argue that the monolith primarily exists as a symbol of the incomprehensible power that exists in pockets in our universe, humanity progressing essentially through the luck of it being placed in their path.

This can be explored through the narrative structure of the film, which can be divided into three acts: the caveman sequence, Bowman's struggle against HAL, and Bowman's journey into the monolith itself. Each of these acts is marked by different modes of humanity being influenced by the presence of the monolith, and symbolises three struggles. The first, as previously discussed, depicts the creation of humanity as we know it, conquering other Earthly species. The second arguably depicts another form of the same struggle; though it can be interpreted as humanity's mastery of technology as Bowman outwits HAL, the human qualities displayed by the AI render it similar to the more simplistic victories that humans had over other tribes in the first act. The third appears to show the beginnings of our domination of outer space and the wider universe, the image of the Starchild looking upon Earth suggesting the unlimited potential of our new form. But while this sense of progress can be distinctly charted, the purpose behind it and our place among nature and the cosmological is far less clear. Ultimately, the powers and motivations behind the monolith are never revealed, creating the sense that this progress, while spectacular, is somewhat hollow, and not because of humanity's innate value.

So how does a more recent film like 12 Monkeys differ in its depiction of humanity's relationship with nature? Find out in part two!


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Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History: Female rule breakers in film https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/well-behaved-women-seldom-make-history-female-rule-breakers-in-film/ Video Games Thu, 31 Dec 2020 10:32:24 +0000 erikabean https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=65871 Where do women fit in amongst the rule breakers in film?

A protagonist as we know it, tends to be a force for good; the Supermen, the Wonder Women, those who help and achieve things for society, looking beyond themselves and fighting for the greater good. But what about the greater bad? For as long as we've had storytelling, we've had villains. These villains have popped up time and time again as appealing likeable characters we can relate to and resonate with, as they hand some hardship back to the society that has failed them. They can sometimes take the role of the protagonist, if their motivations are clearly defined, and we can sympathise with them.

Of course, cinema has been a male domain for the majority of its life, so these motivations tend to be masculine. Based around revenge, power, status, money, or simply wanting to cause chaos. The women in these films are accessories, an extension of the power these male characters have. Jules Dassin's Rififi uses the female characters to establish the personalities of the male characters. The family man, Jo (Carl Möhner) and his wife Louise (Janine Darcey) are shown idyllically. She is a happy and dedicated mother to their son Tonio (Dominique Maurin), but isn't really developed beyond that. She dresses modestly and says little.

Tony (Jean Servais) beats his estranged wife Mado (Marie Sabouret) This act tells us he is ruthless and violent, but it isn't really suggested to be a bad thing, it is only really there as a plot device. They soften his character by showing Tony playing with Tonio, we're supposed to think he's at least partly a good guy, in spite of the violence towards his wife.

Magali Noël as Viviane in Rififi (1955)

Mario (Robert Manuel) is portrayed as quirky and fun by showing his partner Ida (Claude Sylvain) in this way. They play together and she is highly sexualised but in a effortless way. Cesar (Jules Dassin – acting and directing here) seduces the singer Viviane (Magali Noël), also a highly sexualised character but different. She is a femme fatale, and his inability to think logically about his sexual conquests is what leads to the downfall of the entire team. These characters are there to add depth to male characters rather than being truly defined in themselves, and this is something that is common through most genres with a relatively small amount of exceptions.

Although Terrence Malick's Badlands makes some effort to address this balance, in some ways it falls short. Holly (Sissy Spacek) is still mostly an accessory to Kit's (Martin Sheen) spree. She has little emotional reaction to anything that happens, including the murder of her father. This can be read two ways, either she is a psychopath, and genuinely doesn't feel any emotion about anything that happens, or she's a severely underwritten character. Malick does little to confirm one way or another, and the entire film comes across as a bizarre fantasy in which neither character seems to really understand what they are doing. It's really difficult to puzzle out Holly's motivations though, it mostly seems as though she is bored, she doesn't engage with the spree, and says little in her voiceovers to sway your reading of her either.

Both Kit and Holly are based on real people, Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Fugate was tried for first degree murder and spent 17 years in prison before her release as a model prisoner. Although Fugate claimed complete innocence as Starkweather's hostage, he claimed she had had an active role in a number of their killings. Perhaps Malick was drawing on this vagueness of accounts to portray Holly as the false version of Fugate? An innocent victim swept along for the ride. In this way we can assume that nothing we see on screen is real, simply her account of it.

Sissy Spacek in Badlands (1973)

This fantasy is taken to the extreme in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. Also based on Starkweather and Fugate, in this case Mallory (Juliette Lewis) and Mickey (Woody Harrelson) are anything but innocent; they have a true understanding of the chaos they are causing. They simply don't care, revelling in the celebrity and the excitement of it all. The difference between Mickey and Mallory is that Mallory is given a true motive for her insanity. She is severely abused by her father, and therefore when Mickey rescues her from that she falls in love with him. Mickey is a much more basic character. He is driven entirely by his Id. Desire, rage and greed. This drives Mickey forward in his spree and Mallory is more than happy to go with him. Issues in their relationship come when Mickey's id overtakes his love for Mallory; he desires other women and can't suppress his violent urges. Even for her. But we aren't really given any back-story for why he is acting in this way, the clue is in the title – he has been naturally born a killer.

Mallory is given more of a background than he is, perhaps because it was felt an audience is more likely to accept a female character acting out in this way if given sufficient motivation. In contrast to Starkweather and Fugate, and Kit and Holly, Mickey and Mallory choose to go down fighting, together. It is suggested that despite their mutual psychopathy they are genuinely in love with each other. This makes you sympathise with them to an extent, especially in the dramatic final half hour. They claw themselves towards each other, and escape, starting a life as normal citizens. Again, is this ending a fantasy? How is it possible that they could escape and live free lives after the violence they sent out? But the fantasy of a nuclear family is where they end up, regardless of the bloody path they took to get there.

The most famous of movie antiheroines must be Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde. Both she and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) are portrayed as cool and cruel, with their exploits romanticised in an effort to emphasize their celebrity. The real Blanche Barrow (Clyde's sister in law) gave her approval to use her name based on her reading of the script, confirming that it was factual. Unfortunately the director altered the script to use the character of Blanche Barrow (Estelle Parsons, in a performance that won her a best supporting actress Oscar), to emphasize Bonnie's coolness by making her out to be in Blanche's words, "a screaming horse's ass". She was embarrassed by her portrayal and sued Warner Brothers for the way she was depicted.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty as Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

This begs the question, why did they do it? The male characters weren't given an idiot sidekick to emphasize their coolness, so why must the female characters be pitted against one another? Aside from the screaming they bicker constantly and there is clearly no love lost between them. This places Bonnie in the realm of tokenism, a positively portrayed female character there alone purely to give the illusion of balance and equality. All it really does is glorifies a psychopathic character, making her choices seem desirable, the idea of robbing banks being preferable to being like "a screaming horse's ass".

The glory the Barrow Gang is presented with in Bonnie and Clyde is contrasted with their dehumanisation in John Lee Hancock's The Highwaymen. Woody Harrelson cast this time on the other side of the law alongside Kevin Costner, as Maney Gault and Frank Hamer respectively, the cops who ultimately brought down Bonnie and Clyde. In this film the two robbers are shown as faceless monsters. They have minimal dialogue and are reduced to shapes and shadows, dangerous criminals to be feared, not revered. At least until the moment of their death, when you finally see their faces. They look like children when compared to their acts and the celebrity surrounding them, and the irony of it all is revealed.

More modern films tend to give female law breakers deep seated trauma as a motivation for their crimes. In F. Gary Gray's Set It Off, each woman is forced to live through real hardships. Frankie (Vivica A. Fox) is nearly killed in a robbery, and is fired because she happens to know one of the robbers. Stony (Jada Pinkett Smith) faces sexual harassment and then the murder of her brother. Tisean (Kimberley Elise) faces losing her son, as the amount she is paid doesn't cover her childcare costs. The most masculinely presented character, Cleo (Queen Latifah), has the least motivation. She seems to mostly want the money to fix up her car. This shows how women are put through more trauma than male characters when they need to make difficult choices, they are pushed harder and broken further before it is thought that an audience will buy that they felt the need to become violent and break the law simply to survive.

Set It Off (1996)

Male characters are more often shown as criminals through choice or to gain status (see Rififi), women do it to hold on to their children, their homes, and to support their families. This is shown again in Steve McQueen's Widows. Veronica (Viola Davis) is pushed to pay off her dead husbands debts, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) wants to keep her store after her husband gambles away its value, and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) simply wants to stop having to use her body as currency. They carry out a robbery because it feels as though they have no choice, the intention isn't to become rich, but to gain some normalcy, to get back to zero, after they are continually pushed into the red by the men around them.

These films primarily focus on white, Black and Hispanic women. In looking for examples of rule breakers in indigenous or Asian cultures you need to look into different genres, primarily revenge fiction. There are often elements of mysticism or supernatural powers, particularly with indigenous women. Indigenous women in film are normally limited to victims (often of sexual violence) and love interests, especially when they are cast opposite white men. On the rare occasions they are given any more agency in the plot they are usually coming back from the dead to inflict revenge.

Sam Shepard's Silent Tongue uses the motivation of not just individual trauma, but inherited trauma. When Awbonnie (Sheila Tousey) dies in childbirth, the combined loss of herself, her agency, her child, and her mother, Silent Tongue's (Tantoo Cardinal) abuse; she has literally lost her voice after her tongue is cut out; is combined into a ghost that torments her widowed husband Talbot (River Phoenix) and her sister Velada (Jeri Arredondo). The ghost has a split face, she is trapped between this world and the next, and her husband's unwillingness to let go of her body traps her further adding to her rage. This use of inherited trauma reflects the real world, as each generation of minorities is further held back by restrictions that the American dream would have us believe doesn't exist.

Sheila Tousey as Awbonnie in Silent Tongue (1993)

Other examples include the Monsters of Horror, John Landis directed episode Deer Woman, a comedy horror short that uses a highly sexualised, voiceless, Native American "Deer Woman" (Cinthia Moura) as a seductress that lures men in before beating them to death with her hooves. As you can tell, empowered representations of Native American women are very few and far between. In this case she isn't even human, and they haven't cast a Native American woman in the lead role; Cinthia Moura is Brazilian. Fun to watch? Sure. But respectful? Empowered? No. They even mention that she has no motive, and point out that it's a silly misogynistic legend. Talk about a missed opportunity.

Revenge fiction is further defined by Asian cinema. Jung Byung-Gil's The Villainess reflects the circular nature of cinematic influence, as it seemingly takes tropes from Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2, themselves taking tropes common in Japanese films such as Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood, These films all feature a female character (Sook-hee [Kim Ok-bin] in The Villainess, Nikita [Anne Parillaud] in La Femme Nikita, Beatrix Kiddo [Uma Thurman] in Kill Bill volumes 1 & 2 and Yuki Kashima [Meiko Kaji] in Lady Snowblood) changed by trauma, and forced into a training regime where they can be useful to those who control them. Later taking back their agency and using their new skills to gain revenge on those who wronged them. It often turns out to be the ones who trained them who wronged them in the first place, how are we ever surprised? Once again it is shown that for a female character to be brought to violence she must first be put through life changing trauma, and then spend some time as a puppet to a larger organisation before she can become fully empowered and aware of the full story of what is happening around her. This is one of the few cases, where male characters go through a similar process, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins has Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) put through similar paces by Ra's Al Ghul (Liam Neeson).

Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee in The Villainess (2017)

And so we can see that for women to fully realise their potential in film, they are often put through extreme trauma as a motivation. Where male characters are often able to fall back of simple desire, greed, or just plain insanity, women need to be damaged for filmmakers to feel it is justified to allow them to express themselves violently. Why is that? Are women naturally more gentle? Less motivated by money? Less likely to be psychopathic? The films based on true stories, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands and Natural Born Killers, suggest that sometimes women can be naturally born bad. One of them even sings it out loud for us. Bonnie, Holly and Mallory are mostly bored and frustrated, rather than completely broken. But in pure fiction it is still seen as necessary to put female characters through rape, the loss of a child, partner or their own death. They have to be broken down to their absolute base instincts and then emerge barely resembling the people they were beforehand.

In a way this is a good thing, it suggests that male characters are possibly underwritten. One issue with the TV series Sons of Anarchy as time went on was that the characters seemed to go beyond logic in their motivation to continue carrying out criminal acts at the cost of their families and freedoms. Perhaps this is one way in which female characters are better, for once. As they are given genuine motivations for turning to crime. Maybe in future though, they'll move away from the sexual violence? Just a thought.


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‘It wasn’t destroying, it was changing everything…’: Alex Garland’s Annihilation and Climate Change https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/it-wasnt-destroying-it-was-changing-everything-annihilation-2018-and-climate-change/ Video Games Thu, 31 Dec 2020 10:18:12 +0000 nataliewall https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=64211 Annihilation is a strange and disturbing film from Alex Garland based on the first novel of the same name in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, which centres around the biologist and ex-soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) reeling from the recent loss of her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), on a covert and obscure mission.

The story begins with the surprise appearance of Kane, who was presumed dead, and the sudden deterioration of his health following his return. This leads Lena to the Southern Reach, a military-come-scientific research base at the outskirts of what has become known as 'Area X' – a hostile area affected by an unknown environmental event and where Kane was exploring on his last mission. These discoveries persuade Lena to become part of the eighth mission, an all-woman team comprised of a variety of different skills and specialisms, who venture into Area X for answers.

The film has a great deal of popular appeal, from its position as one of a few women-led science-fiction or adventure films, to the great diversity of the cast (although this has been met with some controversy to the beautiful and striking, if disturbing, visuals and cinematography. However, what I found most striking about Annihilation was the way that many aspects of its narrative mirror the concerns we have about the environment and climate change.

The idea of a hostile earth inside Area X, changing in ways humans struggle to understand (and with a complete disregard for human life and civilisation), speaks to a deep-seated fear of our time. Despite the film's ending and revelation of an extra-terrestrial origin, the imagery remains prescient for audiences today as Area X heals an earth seemingly damaged beyond repair by us, but does so by bulldozing over any we created. Annihilation is a story of environmental disaster, a parable of our current age in which the nature of that disaster keeps shifting and changing and remains fundamentally unknowable – just as the breadth and scale of climate change is only coming to be fully understood today.

The first visual of the film are of something hurtling towards earth, some sort of meteor or asteroid which streaks light and heat across space. These are familiar effects of disaster films gone by such as Armageddon (1998) and Deep Impact (1998) and audiences feel prepared for what comes next: the destruction of earth, or at least part of it. However, the moment of impact begins this story rather than ending it. The object strikes a lone lighthouse with seemingly little damage and the familiar disaster film formula is immediately unsettled as the stricken lighthouse emits swirling colours and lights, accompanied by calm music.

Annihilation is a film which slips through genre classifications, unable to sit comfortably in any. Science-fiction, adventure, psychological thriller, horror, or disaster are all inadequate to express what exactly this film presents audiences with. Clearly this is not a quick obliteration but a slow devastation and insidious change. The catalyst for this change – the striking of the lighthouse – goes unnoticed and only garners attention when the area grows and consumes more and more land and communities, which struck me as a perfect representation of climate change in our current time. Much of the damage has already been done but we are only just properly waking up to its effects as they grow, worsen, and threaten more human life.

Following the impact at the lighthouse the narrative shifts back to normality, showing snapshots of Lena's life both past and present. Moments depict her current job teaching medicine at a university, her previous job in the military, the relationship with her husband and colleagues, as well as her daily chores which are an apparent U-turn towards realism. However, despite the normality there is a creeping feeling that this world is not right which only develops further with the return of Kane. He appears grossly disturbed and a shell of his former self as Lena questions him about mission. His rapid deterioration of health is what lands Lena in the Southern Reach and eventually to the space of Area X. The uncanny feeling culminates in the sudden and arresting image of Area X's barrier, the 'shimmer', which resembles a vertical oil spill of swirling colours and emits a discordant rumbling, serving as a constant reminder of its threatening presence which is only growing ever closer to the base. 

An interesting aspect of the film is the intrusion of the corporate and governmental into the scientific and the fight against Area X. The size, personnel, and resources at the Southern Reach facility suggest serious money (and power) behind the missions and investigation. Furthermore, the breadth of occupations and specialisms of the five women sent on this most recent mission: a cellular biologist, psychologist (Dr. Ventress [Jennifer Jason Leigh]), physicist (Josie Radek [Tessa Thompson]), paramedic (Anya Thorensen [Gina Rodriguez]), and geomorphologist (Cass Sheppard [Tuva Novotny]), illustrate similarly the amount of resources directed at this problem. The Southern Reach's obvious monetary and political power should be an example of the time, money and status we should be redirecting towards the problem of climate change. Perhaps that is the most fantastical part of the film, that the big-guns of capitalist power are pouring money and resources into a cause which seems to be haemorrhaging funds, let alone making profit.

Once the eighth expedition are inside Area X it appears like a lush Edenic jungle, a stark contrast with the sterile and corporate Southern Reach and the relative scrubland the team walk through as they approach the shimmer. Area X's thriving environment is a brutal reminder of what we are doing to earth. The extra-terrestrial force is healing and irrevocably changing nature and this is part of its malevolence for those at the Southern Reach. The force does not have any care or reverence for humans, as the physicist points out, "it refracts" everything in its domain, altering the DNA of plants, animals, and people; changing all aspects of nature be they animal, vegetable or mineral. Its disregard for the human race is what makes it threatening but also how it transforms so potently: it does not adhere to the hierarchy we have created in which the human and Anthropocene are at the top.

Mutation is a central theme of the film. From the beginning we are shown Lena teaching a class on cellular biology, with an image of cells dividing and multiplying projected on a large screen. When she tells her students that what they looking at are cancer cells, their reproduction becomes immediately sinister. The ascribing of pathology is was creates the fear. The cells do not know they are killing their host; they simply reproduce and divide as their corrupted DNA instructs them.

Fast forward to inside Area X, where mutations abound in all the living organisms and Lena is unable to fathom the reasons behind or effects of them. Multiple different flowers grow from the same stem, a crocodile with concentric rows of teeth like a shark are some of the seemingly harmless, if disturbing, mutations in the natural order. When discussing these changes Ventress asks "A pathology?" and Lena replies "You'd sure as hell call this a pathology if you saw it in a human". This exchange is poignant as climate change deniers claim that temperatures have always fluctuated since the dawn of time and this current increase is purely nature's way. But by applying Lena's logic we have a definitive rebuttal to such claims: it may be natural or nature's innate response to our existence however, like our own rising temperatures resulting from entirely natural microbes, this does not mean it is not pathological and should not be treated.

Lena comments in her mission debrief that "mutations were subtle at first, but grew worse as we moved closer to the lighthouse", closer to the epicentre of Area X. This of course mirrors the increasing effect of climate change we see in our world as we leave the central, western superpowers and look towards the global south.

As we journey away from our own Southern Reach, the powerful and rich western governments, we see the severer effects of climate change in already marginalised countries and communities: flooding, displacement, droughts, famine to name a few. In the west we remain on the safe side of our own shimmer as we welcome hotter summers but ignore the devastation elsewhere in the world. The changes happening at the lighthouse and in Area X were never subtle to those living there they are only subtle to those not living it every day, those who can view Area X's destruction from the a balcony at the Southern Reach, watch the shimmer undulate and theorise on its cause whilst flirting and cracking jokes with their colleagues.

When discussing these mutations during her debrief Lena states "it wasn't destroying, it was changing everything, it was making something new", a claim which can be applied to the earth under climate change. We often hear laments of 'mother nature is dying' or 'we are killing the earth', usually accompanied by images of power plants billowing out smoke or layers of plastic rubbish covering the sea. Whilst these images are undeniably upsetting and highlight that it is our actions that are effecting the earth, the idea that we are killing mother nature is not true. Despite our best attempts to personify earth it is not a sentient being, it is a network of complex systems which are changing and adapting to the new conditions we throw its way. It is perhaps more accurate to say that mother nature is killing us.

The Southern Reach's misunderstanding of Area X is akin to our own misunderstanding of climate change. David Tompkins in his review of VanderMeer's novel in the Los Angeles Review of Books refers to Area X a kind of "hyperobject", too much for humans to perceive and similar to a black hole, the Big Bang or climate change as it is so vast and complex we cannot reliably or fully comprehend it. Nature will always exist, earth will endure, we are the ones who will not survive the changes it makes to do so. Just as Area X moves unstoppably outwards enacting changes to the environment, only openly hostile when antagonised.

What is perhaps one of the most disturbing things about Annihilation is that each member of the eighth mission end up resigned to their fate as victims of Area X. From the horrific footage of the seventh mission and the gruesome 'madness' they endured, to the deaths of Ventress and Radek the acknowledged inability to fight or control the force behind Area X becomes apathy. This response is one we often see mirrored in our world as how many times have you heard or been part of a conversation where someone makes a comment like 'yeah I know climate change is bad and all, but what can we do about it anyway?'. Watching out own powerlessness and apathy played out onscreen is uncomfortable and we sympathise with those who give up when faced with a foe much more powerful than them. However, we also root for Lena as she is the only character to actively fight against Area X, in fact she is such an anomaly for her fight she is treated with suspicion when she returns to Southern Reach.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, perhaps those watching this film should take a cue from Lena: instead of giving in to apathy we should fight tooth and nail against the devastating effects of climate change, unless we want the earth to become an increasingly hostile place. That is what Annihilation is showing us, Area X and its mutations are a chilling representation of humanity's destructive power, aestheticised and reflected back at us as a monstrous enemy only we can defeat.


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Beyond Rain Man: Where do Autistic people see themselves in Film & TV? https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/beyond-rain-man-where-do-autistic-people-see-themselves-in-film-tv/ Video Games Thu, 31 Dec 2020 10:14:05 +0000 erikabean https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=64221 Autistic characters are everywhere, the spectrum isn't what you think, and we can't all count cards.

Mention autism to people and a lot may picture children, often with a fondness for trains. Or if they picture an adult, it could be Raymond Babbitt – the Dustin Hoffman character from Rain Man. The misconception is believing the spectrum is a straight line, with "severe" autism at one end, Asperger's syndrome somewhere in the middle, and allistic people at the other (allistic simply means, "not autistic"). They almost always picture white males. However, this is not the identity held by a lot of autistic adults who have found people like them; in supportive groups online; an accepting coming together of people of all genders and races, who are often married, have children, are working, and able to function for the most part with variable support needs depending on how their autism manifests. This discovery often comes after years of misdiagnoses with various personality disorders or mental health issues, anxiety and depression, generally caused by their autism being unsupported and manifesting in stressed and destructive behaviours. Functioning labels are, for progressive autistics, a thing of the past, and their support needs can vary depending on the demands put upon them and the task at hand.

Autism is characterised by sensory differences, social communication differences, and repetitive behaviour patterns. Beyond that though there is a huge variation in how autism appears from person to person. A lot of autistic people with low support needs spend much of their time masking, this is mimicking those around them to "pass" as allistic, and why a lot of us are a bit annoyed when people say "but you don't look autistic". What people often don't understand is that masking is extremely tiring. A couple of hours' socialising results in a social hangover which takes time to recover from. For the negatives though, there are of course positives. Autistic people often enjoy something called special interests, things that they are absolutely fascinated by and can lose hours doing or learning about. Many of us are the masters of the Google rabbit hole. We are also often natural problem solvers, pattern and fault finders and moral compasses. My main Special Interest is film, by the way.

Rory McKenna (Jacob Tremblay) in The Predator (2018)

Autism has only existed as a recognisable diagnosable condition since the 1940s, however if you look back at historical figures, the signs are everywhere, and a great deal of famous people have been posthumously theorised as being autistic. There are films made about some of these historical figures and many are widely accepted as autistic, however in the interest of avoiding being too much of an armchair diagnostician, I will not be talking about those people here.

There are also theories about certain fictional characters, as writers create them based on people they know (or on themselves) these autistic traits slip into books and onto screens. Some writers have resisted these theories, however as autistic people are so rarely represented along with their diagnosis, if autists recognise themselves in your character then for all intents and purposes you've written an autistic character. Even if you aren't aware of it.

Occasionally characters onscreen are identified as autistic or on the spectrum. Recent examples include Rory McKenna (Jacob Tremblay) in Shane Black's The Predator (2018) and Billy – The Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler) in Dean Isrealite's Power Rangers (2017). The usual issues of bullying are approached in both films, and they both show characters who are capable and valuable whilst giving an honest face to their neurotype. Power Rangers in particular, gives a true value to Billy's character. Billy is a central part of the team and, while Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is the leader, Billy is the heart. A lot of autistics have a very strong sense of morality, a fairness beyond personal allegiances, allowing them to be the peacemakers and the conscience of a group.

Billy AKA The Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler) in Power Rangers (2017)

The Predator takes another tack, Rory is portrayed as a problem solver, but the film puts a lot of weight on autism being "the next stage in human evolution" which is... not true. Contrary to those who claim autism is a modern epidemic, there is archeological and anthropological evidence of diverse neurotypes going back to the stone age. It does make sense that the Predator would want to use some of Rory's DNA, and it's good that they see those aspects as a positive; imagine a strong hunter with out of the box thinking processes (like humans for example!). The treatment of Baxley (Thomas Jane), a character with Tourette's, is less kind, as he is regularly made the butt of the jokes throughout the film. Tourette's is also an example of neurodiversity alongside autism so this unfortunately undermines some of the positive aspects of the representation.

Another positive recent example is Holly Gibney in Stephen King adaptations Mr. Mercedes (2017) and The Outsider (2020). Stephen King is quoted as saying that Holly is one of the most interesting characters in his entire lexicon. These separate productions cast different actresses, Justine Lupe and Cynthia Erivo, who both play the role brilliantly and distinctly, representing different periods in Holly's life. Mr. Mercedes presents Holly as very young, she is infantilised by her mother especially. However Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) and other supporting characters recognise her potential as a lateral thinker and help her develop into a competent investigator. In The Outsider Holly has matured into an independent investigator, with a reputation for seeing things that others can't, filling a similar role to Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) in the series Hannibal (2013). Long thought of as a male condition it is becoming more and more clear that autism is present across all genders and races. It is refreshing to see this character type across different productions, allowing autistics from different backgrounds to find empowering representations of themselves on screen.

The eccentric creatives that are a common feature in King's work can almost all be read as being potentially on the spectrum. Even King's recurring supernatural elements; telepathy in particular, are manifested physically as a hypersensitivity to stimuli. An autistic watching these hypersensitive characters who need to hide from people sometimes, and protect themselves by wearing sunglasses or ear defenders, will relate to and understand how these characters feel. Even if they don't have actual superpowers. Likewise, a lot of alien characters can be coded similarly to autistic humans, as they are trying to navigate a world in which they aren't familiar with the customs and social rules. When I have described my own autism to people, I have suggested it as constantly being like visiting another planet where you don't know the social rules and don't have a natural way of picking them up.

Justine Lupe as her version of Holly Gibney in Mr. Mercedes (2017)

There are also characters who are coded as autistic, but are not clearly identified as such in the text. The most obvious example here is Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) from the sitcom The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019). While a lot of people find his character offensive, reductive, or stereotypical of someone on the spectrum; I watched the whole series amused at the similarities between us, especially as he matured. As much as he learnt how to negotiate his friendships, they also learnt how to work around him. There are some moments that will make some people cringe, ("I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested"), but while his friends sometimes find him frustrating, they never abandon him. This non-ableist approach appealed to me, as he didn't become more allistic as time went on. This illustrates some of the issues found in writing characters who are labelled as autistic. One person's stereotype is another's reality, and no two autistics are the same.

A character who goes some way to displaying the way an autistic brain approaches a moral problem is Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper) from The Good Place (2016-2020). Although the stereotype is that of black-and-white thinking, a great deal of us look at things very broadly, able to see every shade of grey across an entire spectrum of thinking. The philosophical arguments that Chidi deals with in negotiating the afterlife, the consequential stress caused by that, and the way a simple decision can paralyse him is something familiar to a lot of autistics; even down to making simple choices such as what flavour ice cream to have. Often autistics will make a decision in advance if possible, meaning that if they get there and that option isn't there, having to rethink their decision can take a long time. Chidi verbalises that conflict in academic and philosophical terms.

William Jackson Harper as Chidi in The Good Place

The computer programmer stereotype is also a common one, and there are some great examples of empowered autistics within that. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace/Rooney Mara) in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009/2011) is clearly coded as an autistic character. She hyperfocusses on her investigations, and appears cold and unfeeling but manifests her feelings in actions rather than words.

Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) in the series Halt and Catch Fire (2014) is another brilliant example. When she and the other female lead Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé) start Mutiny, Cameron struggles to manage the multiple parts of running a business, and relies on Donna to overcome her shortcomings so she can focus on game design and coding. It also features one of the best examples of a meltdown I've seen on screen. When Cameron believes her work has been lost, her reaction is uncontrolled and highly emotional. She is unable to see beyond what has been lost to solve the issue and seeks help to work through the problem and retrieve it. Once it has been mostly retrieved, the hyperfocus kicks in again and she can't rest until she has rebuilt her program. This does not mean that all technologically minded characters are autistic. Donna is a very strong, capable and smart female character who presents as allistic whilst also being incredibly skilled in her field.

The X-Men universe has always been a great source of solidarity for outsiders, and the autistic community is no exception. Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) wears a literal mask to get by, and in X2 (2003) when Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) asks her why she doesn't "stay in disguise all the time" she responds "because we shouldn't have to". That exchange resonates hugely as an autistic person, as we are expected to hide autistic traits and habits, attempting to pass as an allistic person in order to be accepted. There's another line in the same film where Bobby (Shawn Ashmore) is asked by his mother "have you tried, not being a mutant?". This exchange is all too familiar. That is not to say that autistic people are false, it is mostly just that we are suppressing things like stims (self stimulatory behaviour) and consciously making an effort to react, talk, and emote in a way that other people expect. The feelings are there of course, but what they look like on the outside doesn't always match what is happening on the inside without conscious effort. This conscious effort always comes at a cost, it is tiring, and eventually leads to burnout, along with those pesky mental health issues I mentioned earlier.

Mackenzie Davis as Halt and Catch Fire's Cameron Howe

If you've found this interesting there are plenty of resources out there you can have a look at. You may have read this and thought "Hey! This all sounds a bit familiar, maybe I'm on the spectrum?". If so you may want to check out the following...


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The Best Films of 2020 https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/the-best-films-of-2020-review/ Video Games Thu, 24 Dec 2020 13:24:08 +0000 thedigitalfixstaff https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=74647 When we wrote about the upcoming 'streaming wars' in our introduction to the best films of last year, little did we know just how much the likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV+ would come to the fore in 2020. Nearly every blockbuster you can think of scarpered into 2021 or beyond and the films that did make it into cinemas when doors were open – through no fault of their own – struggled to make an impression.

It will take some time before we see the real impact of COVID-19 on the film industry and society as a whole, but during these tough times film has continued to provide an invaluable escape, even if momentary. There have still been some great titles released in 2020 and the absence of bigger films has offered some exposure for those that may otherwise have been overlooked.

The Digital Fix film team have put together a list of their personal top 5's for 2020 for you to pore over. We would normally select from UK releases only, but we've expanded it to any film released globally this year because, well, 2020.

Maria Lattila

1. Possessor (Read Maria's review)

Ultra-violent, surreal and intriguingly non-specific, Brandon Cronenberg's Possessor is without a doubt the most stylish film released in 2020. Featuring impressive performances from Andrea Riseborough and Christopher Abbott, Possessor is an immersive and at times terrifying deep dive into identity, morality and what makes us human.

2. And Then We Danced (Read our review)

Following young dancer Merab's journey, And Then We Danced is a scorching, gorgeous look at not just our sexuality, but our identity and the struggle of being able to express it freely. Levan Akin's film caused controversy and violent riots in Georgia where the film is set, but it never focuses on the trauma, instead being a celebration of life, dance and passion.

3. Saint Maud

Rarely are we treated to such a confident and mesmerising debut feature as we did in 2020 with Rose Glass' Saint Maud. Morfydd Clark is excellent as Maud, a feverishly devout woman trying to save a patient's soul while falling prey to her own inner demons. Glass' film is intoxicating, an almost religious experience in its own right and that last frame will haunt you for months, if not years.

4. Host (Read our review)

Director Rob Savage made Host at the peak of the UK lockdown, socially distanced and over Zoom and the end result is one of the most effective and scary films, ever. Its brilliance lies in its simplicity and expertly crafted scares as well as the naturalistic performances from Savage's cast. Clocking in at just 57 minutes, this is mean, lean and utterly terrifying.

5. Soul (Read our review)

Pixar has done it again! Soul is the animation studio's most challenging, existential venture yet and while it's a shame Soul won't be released in cinemas, as it's one of the best-looking Pixar films, this is remarkable filmmaking from co-directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, who push the possibilities of animation storytelling. Teacher Joe Gardner's journey is marvellous and heart-warming, but also features some universal truths about our own existence.

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Sarah Miles

1. Wolfwalkers (Read our review)

I've been a big fan of Cartoon Saloon and Tomm Moore's work for a long time and this is their best work yet. A tale of friendship, magic and standing up for the right thing, it is told with achingly beautiful animation and a dreamy soundtrack. It's sweet, it's fun and it's just the kind of film that's good for your soul.

2. Parasite (Read our review)

Best Picture winner and quite possibly director Bong Joon-ho's masterpiece. Parasite draws you in with the troubles of the Kims and their various schemes to infiltrate the wealthy Parks and the dramatic social dichotomy that separates the two families. Then it takes a turn and to describe it would be a disservice, because getting to experience this yourself, and especially Song Knag-ho's performance, is a treasure you won't soon forget.

3. Host

In my review I described this as the film that best expresses 2020, and it's a statement I stand by. Not only conceived, made and released in lockdown, this scary supernatural chiller about friends who attract an uninvited guest whilst doing an online séance, expresses the communal sense of isolation that the lockdown built for many people. Check it out whilst hiding under the covers.

4. Birds of Prey (Read our review)

Just a whole lot of fun. Colourful and kinetic fight sequences aplenty, and Margot Robbie finally gets to let loose as Harley Quinn who adapts to life without the Joker (good for her). However she manages to upset a new local crime boss and has to team up with a group of badass ladies to take him down. The best kind of mayhem ensues and it's endlessly rewatchable.

5. Hamilton

There is no denying the sheer impact that this show has for viewers. As it takes us through the life of the "ten dollar founding father without a father" with the bulk of its award winning original Broadway cast, you are blown away by the music, the choreography and the sheer passion of the cast. I promise that you will want to be in the room where this happens.

Gary Couzens

1. Babyteeth (Read our review)

A fine debut feature from director Shannon Murphy, a funny, engaging and very moving film about a teenage girl finding her place in the world, despite her illness. With this and Little Women (which went wide at the start of 2020 in the UK), Eliza Scanlen is my name to watch of 2020.

2. Saint Maud

Another debut feature, from writer-director Rose Glass, with a striking performance from Morfydd Clark as Maud, carer for older American Jennifer Ehle. A study of religious obsession which takes us on some dark paths, a psychological drama crossing into the horror genre.

3. Parasite

This year the Academy got it right, with Bong Joon-ho's satire bordering on horror winning not just Best International Film but Best Film as well, the first foreign-language film to do so. So a Korean film had a full release at my local multiplex with the one-inch barrier of subtitles seemingly overcome.

4. The Lighthouse (Read our review)

Two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) spend time isolated and their mental state begins to fray. What is real and what is not comes into doubt in Robert Eggers's eccentric, compelling follow-up to The Witch. The Oscar-nominated cinematography, shot on black and white 35mm stock in the early-talkie aspect ratio of 1.19:1, is a thing of beauty.

5. The Australian Dream (Read Gary's review)

One of two documentaries about aboriginal Australian Rules star Adam Goodes, and the treatment he received when he spoke out about the racism in the sport and in Australian society. A compelling look at a reality many in his country refuse to face.

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Erika Bean

1. Amulet (Read Erika's review)

Actor turned director Romola Garai's first full length feature is a weird, surreal, haunting exploration of life in a foreign land, filled with moments of body horror, lovecraftian madness and haunted house charm. Exploitation, toxic masculinity, feminine power, xenophobia, class... there is much to explore here. It will leave you shaken and possibly confused, but it's absolutely worth looking at if you're a fan of all things weird.

2. Let Him Go (Read Erika's review)

An old story wonderfully told, Thomas Bezucha's Let Him Go transplants the classic western trope of the lost child to the Midwest of the 1960s. Diane Lane delivers an Oscar worthy performance alongside chilling turns from Leslie Manville and Jeffrey Donovan and a pared back supporting offering from Kevin Costner. Themes of colonialism and class are explored, alongside the utterly undying power of a mother's love.  

3. Birds of Prey

Everything that was missing from Suicide Squad can be found here. Yes, the opening act is a bit of a mess, but get past that and you get a brilliantly fun actioner with great performances and charming well-written characters. Margot Robbie is living her best life and you'd be hard pushed to find a better film to watch on a Friday night.

4. Greyhound (Read Erika's review)

Tom Hanks stars as well seasoned naval captain Ernest Krause, in this World War 2 thriller based on the novel by C. S. Forster. With the feel of Das Boot, but packed into a 90 minute runtime, this is an intense action packed war film that has Tom Hanks doing what he does best.

5. I Am Greta (Read Erika's review)

Partially included to combat the poor reviews written by those who disagree with her, I Am Greta is a charming portrait of a girl called upon to challenge those in power. Passion for combating climate change, confidence in doing what is right, balanced by her childlike dancing and moments of wavering confidence. The pressure on Greta is made clear and it is both sad and inspiring in equal measure.

Julien Bassignani

1. Parasite

Parasite starts off as a jubilant fool's game, set against a social chronicle background, but it progressively turns into an oppressive and cruel thriller. As usual Bong Joon-ho's mise-en-scene transcends its subject spawning a beautiful, enjoyable and powerful film.

2. Uncut Gems (Read our review)

The Safdie brothers completely reshape Adam Sandler through a bewitchingly gruelling film noir, which convokes the cinema of John Cassavetes via its hallucinated vision of New York. Uncut Gems is an experience that intoxicates as much as it suffocates its audience, demonstrating a stunning mastery of cinema.

3. Only the Animals (Read our review)

Under the guise of a social thriller, Only the Animals reveals itself as an unpredictable and pathetic tragedy. Twenty years after With a Friend Like Harry..., Dominik Moll demonstrates, via an impeccable mise-en-scene, the cynicism of a humanity in search of happiness, whilst delivering one of his best films to date.

4. The Traitor

Marco Bellochio creates a fascinating fresco, between Mafia film and judicial investigation. The Traitor is an impressive achievement which particularly shines during courtroom sequences imprinted with a sense of tragic and burlesque lyricism, somewhere between opera and Commedia dell'arte.

5. First Love (Read Julien's review)

Beneath its appearance of a crazy and fragile film, resides a lesson in cinema and storytelling orchestrated by a Miike in top form, capable of mixing social thriller, romantic impulses and gore dementia with impressive inventiveness and style.

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Jon Meakin

1. The Invisible Man (Read our review)

The opening 20 minutes are amongst the most tense in film for a long time in Leigh Whannell's follow-up to his brilliant Upgrade. He takes an old story and makes it relevant, intelligent and above all fun. Impressively, the film never defaults to simple exploitation and Elisabeth Moss' central character feels real and layered.

2. Bruce Springsteen: Letter to You (Read Jon's review)

This is a beautiful documentary to accompany the superb album and just the tonic 2020 needed. Bittersweet, it's a wonderful look at the past, enjoying the present but with an understanding that all things, good and bad, have a journey. Meanwhile, Bruce is in great form and the E Street Band are loving being back together again.

3. Tenet (Read Jon's review)

Like Interstellar, Tenet is based on pseudoscience that follows a fiercely disciplined logic. But it's used for a thoroughly entertaining slice of pulp comic book silliness. Excusing the lumpy bits of exposition and questionable audio mix, there's nothing like Tenet. It's huge and full of cool set pieces, with a plot that wilfully enjoys playing up to and against audience expectation.

4. Mank (Read Jon's review)

Pauline Kael's abrasive take on the writing of Citizen Kane is considered the least likely and unfairest to Orson Welles' legacy. So of course that's the starting point for Mank, a wild ride into a tarnished Golden Age Hollywood. It's a screenplay by David Fincher's father, but still fits the twisted narrative he always favours. If you loved Mank or if it made you angry, it's still a success.

5. Parasite

Parasite is cinema, and finds Bong Joon-ho at the height of his powers, channelling Hitchcock and inviting the audience into his games. Funny, agile, breathtakingly wicked and visually devious, it's an unparalleled success. It's success also showed the cracks in the ageing film distribution system. Thanks to 2020, we don't yet know Parasite's final legacy.

Daisy Treloar

1. Wolfwalkers

It's rare to come across a film which carries such a tangible, feral beauty. Painterly down to every last frame, Cartoon Saloon's latest animated masterpiece isn't afraid to be sincere when it comes to family, nature and standing up for what's right. 

2. Parasite

This landmark, Oscar-winning tour de force from Bong Joon-ho needs no introduction. Totally unlike anything that has come before it, Parasite simply defies genre in its farcical, creepy and, as a result, tonally transcendent approach to class commentary. 

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Read our review)

Céline Sciamma's tender study of two women and the artistry that blossoms between them captured the world's hearts earlier this year. Its epic intimacy reaches through from the 19th century into our present, deconstructing cinema's historically male gaze to build a new framework in filmic discourse.

4. Proxima (Read Daisy's review)

A refreshingly understated look at the dime-a-dozen parent-as-astronaut trope, Alice Winocour's space training gem explores the miscommunication and guilt inherent in preparing for motherhood in absentia. Eva Green exudes a distinctly quiet empathy, unparalleled by any other part she's played. 

5. Black Bear (Read our review)

Aubrey Plaza pulls off the performance of her career in this trippy, tragicomic nightmare from director Lawrence Michael Levine. Split into two parts where the three central actors switch roles in an increasingly dysfunctional triangle, Black Bear isn't just a commentary on the egoism of the film industry, but also the muddying of boundaries between pretence and reality.

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Sab Astley

1. Boys State

Boys State is a fascinating microcosm of contemporary American politics, dissecting the intervention between political individualism and the desire to succeed. The stories that Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss follow are riveting as they weave between one another, culminating in a highly emotional and powerful final act that will leave your heart pounding as though you were watching the actual US election itself.

2. Saint Maud

Rose Glass' debut feature puts many directors to shame, sanctifying her position as one of the strongest British filmmakers to watch over the next decade. From wincing to screaming, Saint Maud 's moments will make you repent. Entwining complex religious devotion with a charged eroticism that seems to possess you through the screen, the power of Saint Maud will compel you to kneel before Rose Glass as your new horror saviour.

3. Parasite

What can I say about Parasite that hasn't already been said? A masterful composition in every element, spinning more plates than you could even imagine, Bong Joon-ho straps you into a rollercoaster and sends you on a cinematic ride you'll never forget, especially when the ride finally comes to a halt and you're left to stir in the emotional climax he has given you.

4. Birds of Prey

Some say Shazam is DC's crowning achievement, I say it's Birds of Prey. With one of the electric soundtracks I've ever heard, combined with a killer cast of intense characters, Birds of Prey injects a specific style that we've been missing with comic book movies. With time, I think Cathy Yan's under-appreciated contribution will be uplifted to one of the best DC films of the last decade.

5. Spree (Read Sab's review)

Eugene Kotlyarenko gives us the ride share of our nightmares – its creative framing alone should be applauded for sticking the landing so well, but Spree goes so much further. It rewards re-watches to understand the depth of its production value, but a singular viewing still packs a powerful satirical punch that leaves you with a delightfully unhinged Joe Keery embracing what we can only imagine is the next step in Twitch entertainment.

Mari Jones

1. Relic (Read our review)

Chilling, atmospheric and utterly gripping, Relic is a terrifying yet poignant story about one family's struggle with the debilitating effects of dementia. Writer-director Natalie Erika James creates a narrative soaked in dread that delivers on the scares, but never loses sight of that powerful, touching portrayal of a family sacrificing everything to stay together. A bold, compelling horror that will get under your skin in a way few films can.

2. Parasite

Class inequality, social conflict and capitalist greed are all explored to great effect in Bong Joon-ho's Parasite – a captivating film about a family charming their way into a wealthy household. Funny, playful, yet surprisingly moving at times, Bong devises a wonderful, multi-layered tale that blindsides you with several brilliant twists and turns, keeping you guessing right until the end. A film that more than deserved its Oscar wins.

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The relationship between a painter and her female subject is brought to fascinating life in this quietly powerful drama. Céline Sciamma captures the tensions and unspoken feelings between the two women with poetic care, her story gradually unfolding in a hypnotic way. Beautifully shot, and with a haunting soundtrack to match (the song on the beach is a particular highlight), Sciamma's film will stay with you for a long time.

4. The Invisible Man

Writer-director Leigh Whannell gives the original horror a thrilling modern revamp, with a woman on the run from a violent ex who might be able to turn invisible. Despite that slightly ridiculous premise, Whannell crafts a wholly believable tale, building up the paranoia and making expert use of empty spaces, hinting at something unseen watching her (and us) to queasy, horrifying effect. With several WTF moments, this is a must-see.

5. The Personal History of David Copperfield (Read our review)

The Charles Dickens' classic is given a wonderfully inventive spin in this hilarious film from Armando Iannucci. With his vivid direction and sharp script (also written by Simon Blackwell), we watch Copperfield navigating life's ups and downs while trying to make a name for himself. The cast are a delight (especially Tilda Swinton and Hugh Laurie), but it's Dev Patel who leaves the biggest impression as the charming titular hero.

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Steven Sheehan

1.The Vast of Night (Read our review)

Debuts don't get much better than this. Brilliantly scripted and performed, it's classic filmmaking that pays attention to the small details, carefully building tension with slow zooms and large blocks of dense dialogue. And that mid-film tracking shot shows what can be done on a tiny budget. Whatever Andrew Patterson does next he'll have a queue round the block looking to fund it.

2. Time (Read our review)

Time doesn't need to take us behind prison walls to show what an abhorrently wicked place it is. Instead, it shows the effects on those outside left hanging on by a system designed to break down Black, Brown and working class people. It's an evocatively told story about love, family and the cruelness of what we have been tricked into believing is justice.

3. Red, White and Blue

It's tempting to do an LA Times and put the entire Small Axe series here instead. It has been the best thing on TV in 2020 (along with I May Destroy You) but qualifies as Steve McQueen says they are 5 feature films. This edges out Lovers Rock and allows John Boyega to offer much more of his range. It shows the police will always be a racist and oppressive institution – no matter the reforms.

4. On The Record (Read our review)

Rap has become the most popular music genre in the world. Def Jam's former owner Russell Simmons was pivotal to its commercial success. The multiple rape allegations against him should be much bigger news than it is. This genuinely affecting documentary gives voice to his accusers, and represents a tiny portion of the sexual abuse faced by women in the music industry and by Black women in society.

5. The Lighthouse

Like Parasite and Uncut Gems this feels like a film from last year but it's more than worthy of inclusion. A genuinely nutty film that puts you into a completely different headspace for 110 minutes and gives Willem Dafoe the role he was born to play. Like The Witch, you'll need those subtitles to make sense of the dialogue, if nothing else.


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Great Scott! How to hoax the planet (by accident) https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/back-to-the-future-hoax-the-full-story/ Video Games Tue, 20 Oct 2020 13:06:00 +0000 thedigitalfixstaff https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=37152 It's Back to the Future Day – so here's the inside story of the now-infamous hoax...

With the release of the Back to the Future Trilogy on 4K UHD Blu-ray we thought it was the perfect time to bump this insider's tale of the 'hoax' that took the internet by storm...

Next year marks 10 years since Back To The Future was re-released. Which means almost 10 years have passed since Future Publishing's popular entertainment magazine Total Film hoaxed the planet. We didn't know yet about fake news or how quickly it can spread. To be fair, it was an accident. And it was my fault. 

What the hell is Future Day?

Let's start by confirming, for the record, it's definitely not 5 July 2010. Future Day is the day that Marty McFly appears in the future to save his family in Back To The Future Part 2. It is actually 21 October 2015. And that is when Universal decided to do a 30 year anniversary re-release of the film in cinemas. 

So why am I thinking about this now? A pal of mine recently referred to the Future Day hoax as my claim to fame. It's been nine years and I am now a very serious, responsible and successful product manager but apparently my sole claim to fame is that I am still *that* person. So – 10 years on nearly – here is my side of the events. 

How it came about

The Total Film twitter account was – back in 2010 – the sole territory of a probably the world's greatest social media manager until WeRateDogs VS Brent happened in 2018, a guy called Dan Dalton. When he left Future Publishing, he went on to be a journalist for Buzzfeed where he wrote a confessional about the fiasco to celebrate the real Future Day. 

In both this article and a few others (about a million others) including this from The Washington Post, I am obliquely referred to as some person who had just watched the film. 

I am a geek – there are no two ways about it – and my job at the time was a sort of junior product manager responsible for a few digital brands at the once mighty Future Publishing. I usually worked with tech journos but for a year or so I hobnobbed with the mix of ultra cool and mega-nerd people that ran Total Film, once one of the top two most popular film mags in the UK. I launched a digital rebrand and tried to sort out the hell hole of their content management system, stuff like that. The team was made up of utterly terrifying, brilliant people – gonzo journos, about to be published authors and people who – unlike me – could film nerd it as an Olympic sport. I wanted to be in with them. 

On 4 July 2010 I'd been out for most of the day with some friends and fell asleep in front of BTTF Part 1 which was on the telly that evening (probably thanks to one of the many ITV channels). Doc Brown types three dates into the time circuits (birth of Christ, signing of the declaration of independence and the day he invented time travel: 5 Nov 1955). 

Waking with a hangover, I cycled into work in Marylebone and did not feel any the better for it. I stumbled to my desk and spotted an opportunity to contribute something to the fog of social media glory that Dan quietly churned out daily. I burbled some words to him about the dates typed into the time circuits and yesterday being one of them. Or so I intended. 

I wish Wish WISH I could remember what I said in detail. I couldn't a few minutes later and I definitely can't now but that was it. A poorly stated fact, mumbled to Dan across the desks followed by an inaccurate Tweet and the Future Day hoax erupted. 

And it went on for all of that day, the week and – looking back – the next five years until the actual Future Day in 2015. 


And what happened to us? Well, I wanted to die for most of the day because of the hangover but also because no matter what Dan did the legacy of that tweet ran off in so many directions. As Dan says: 

'In the hours that followed, Joe Jonas, Ivanka Trump, and Elizabeth Banks, each with over a million followers, wished their fans a happy Future Day. Even Dougie Poynter, bassist of the band McFly (named for BTTF's Marty) tweeted about it.' 

Some were retweeting and celebrating Future Day, some people were angry with us for making a mistake and then the accusations of a hoax began and it just ramped up and up and up. Dan was like a firefighter trying to quash it all with a super-fast photoshop of the time circuits which just fanned the flames further. 

The editor of Total Film online was off that day. My boss at the time was the last person anyone would go to in a crisis, so I just styled it out and waited while the world went nuts around me. As was the way at Future at the time, no one above a purely functional level seemed to notice anything was happening. I don't know if Dan ever got in trouble but I remember at some point someone – probably our audience development guy – pointed out we should post an article about the whole thing to try and get some value from the whole furore so Dan posted something to point all the search engine magic at. Looking back at the keyword volumes this probably did wonders for our display ad inventory. 

You can see the spike in keyword searches clearly here. The hoax caused a spike only slightly smaller in the UK that what I suspect was the spike around the BTTF Secret Cinema event marketing two years later. 

The next day I hoped it would be over but no. On the tube on the way to work I picked up The Metro and – horrors – on page three was their coverage of the fiasco. The social media manager for Number 10, a friend of a friend, asked to come and meet Dan. Read Dan's article, he describes how it went. 

Was it awful? No, not really. It was kind of fun to have made a ruckus but I definitely felt concern for our jobs that week, especially had Universal kicked off about it. They didn't and our jobs remained intact. 

So why do I still care?

Why have I bothered to take two hours out of a busy day to write this? Because the internet never forgets and I still stumble across oblique references to myself like in the Post article. But I am the BTTF fan. I'm not just 'a co-worker who said she'd just seen the film'. My childhood bedroom was adorned with pictures of Marty McFly, I sometimes sleep in a BTTF-themed t-shirt, there is a Welcome to Hill Valley print in my hallway that I got at the BTTF Secret Cinema. Dan is too cool for that shit. I inadvertently caused a hoax about my all-time favourite film, not some other zeitgeisty, cool-person film but Back to the Future

And as a result of hearing about it incessantly for about for days on end back then, I got sick of it. I still am. I saw it a while back at an open-air cinema. People were laughing along to the comedy and I realised I was not. 

I have decided not to watch my favourite film for 10 years so I can forget it, watch it afresh and love it again. My own personal Future Day will be some time in August 2027. I'll let you know how it goes. 

Note: I don't know Dan anymore but I occasionally see stuff by him here and there, including a book he wrote. I haven't read it yet but he is a smart, dark and peculiar person so it is probably great. Read it. 


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Cri Life: A monthly column about the Criterion Collection’s UK releases https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/cri-life-a-monthly-column-about-the-criterion-collections-uk-releases-7/ Video Games Thu, 01 Oct 2020 10:50:00 +0000 andywinter https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=68593 Silent classic Safety Last!, Claire Denis's sensual Beau Travail, and the problematic 1936 version of Show Boat are all reviewed in this month's column.

Safety Last! (1923) may be nearly 100 years old but remains as fresh as a daisy; its defining moment – Harold Lloyd hanging off a giant clock face, high above the streets of Los Angeles – about as iconic as cinema gets. This was the silent-movie legend's fourth comedy feature after years doing one- and two-reel shorts, and he plays 'The Boy', a country bumpkin who moves to the city and pretends to make it big to impress 'The Girl' (Mildred Davis), his fiancée back home. But, in danger of losing his job as a humble sales assistant at a big department store, The Boy comes up with a PR stunt to attract more customers – getting his friend Limpy Bill (real-life human-fly Bill Strother) to scale the outside of the building. Unfortunately, Bill runs into trouble with the law and Lloyd is forced to attempt the terrifying feat in his stead.

The first 45 minutes are packed with visual gags (the one at the very beginning, which makes it look like Lloyd is about to be executed, is a doozy), as the star – and his directors Fred Neymeyer and Sam Taylor – put everything in place for a bravura final half-hour in which he scales the front of the store, only to find a troublesome parade of animals and inanimate objects blocking his way to the top. It's gloriously, ferociously funny, yes, but a genuine feat of movie-making magic, too, as Lloyd and his collaborators perfected ideas and techniques they'd used on previous films to make it look like he was really hanging off the sheer face of a building several storeys up. Lloyd – whose everyman 'Glasses Character' put him in the same league as Keaton and Chaplin – made a series of so-called 'thrill pictures' in the '20s and Safety Last! is one of the very best of them. Let's have The Freshman – the star's biggest box-office hit from 1925 – next, please Criterion.

Best supplement: Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (108 mins) is a two-part television documentary shown on ITV back in 1989. Narrated by film director Lindsay Anderson (If...., O Lucky Man!) and full of contributions from a host of talking heads (including Jack Lemmon, Roddy McDowall, and Hal Roach), the doc offers a fairly exhaustive rummage through Lloyd's life and career, including the star's hardscrabble early years, the prop bomb accident that robbed him of a thumb and finger, his marriage to co-star Mildred Davis, and a wealth of stuff concerning his work (shorts, features, silents and talkies). If you want to know more about Lloyd, you'd be hard pressed to find a better place to start.

Also of note: Three of Lloyd's early short films as the 'Glasses Character' – Take A Chance (1918), Young Mr. Jazz (1919), and His Royal Slyness (1920) –  digitally restored and with their own separate commentaries. Each is enormous fun.

An adaptation of the celebrated stage musical (itself based on a novel), James Whale's Show Boat (1936) is very much of its time – indeed, to enjoy the film, be prepared to cut it some considerable slack. The story of a fractious acting troupe ("One big happy family!") that travels up and down the Mississippi River performing in a floating theatre, it has what one might politely call a complicated relationship with race. At times, the film contains material that is genuinely horrifying (Irene Dunne performs a song in blackface), at others it's keen to pursue a more progressive agenda (the expansion of Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel's roles from the stage, its skewering of racism in the Deep South via Helen Morgan's mixed-race character).

Underneath it all, you'll find an emotionally involving love story (between Dunne's aspiring actress and Allan Jones's inveterate gambler) and many of the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II's songs stand the test of time (Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man remains an absolute banger). Meanwhile, director Whale – who, by this time, had already directed a clutch of horror films, including Frankenstein – gives the film a furious pace, that wouldn't look out of place in some thrillers. But Show Boat's most celebrated moment comes early on when Robeson wraps his rich baritone around Ol' Man River, a song with which he became synonymous for the rest of his life. Even 80-odd years on, its powerful evocation of the hardships suffered by African-Americans remains deeply resonant.

Best supplements: Paul Robeson: Tribute To An Artist, from 1979, is an Oscar-winning documentary about the actor/singer/activist, directed by Saul J. Turell and narrated by Sidney Poitier. It packs a lot into 30 minutes, but pays particular attention to Robeson's political activism (he was a communist) and how it made him persona non grata in the US for over a decade in the 1940s and '50s (they even confiscated his passport). Recognising Race In Show Boat (26 mins) features a fascinating interview with professor and author Shana L. Redmond, who is unsparing in her dissection of the stage show and film's depictions of blackness.

Also of note: While American musical theatre historian Miles Kreuger's audio commentary from 1989 is full of interesting titbits about the cast and crew, and how this version of Show Boat differs from the original novel, stage show and 1929 silent picture, to 21st Century ears his uncritical history of minstrelry and description of Dunne's blackface performance as "delightful" are pretty hard to take.

Coincidentally, all three of this month's new releases contain a single scene or moment which has come to define them. For Show Boat, it's Ol' Man River; for Safety Last!, it's the giant clockface; and for Beau Travail (1999), it's Denis Lavant's extraordinary, frenetic dance to Corona's song Rhythm Of The Night, which closes the film. It's the only time we see Lavant's character – Chief Adjutant Galoup, an officer in the French Foreign Legion – truly free and cutting loose. The rest of the time, he's reserved, taciturn, buttoned-up, as he makes life miserable for the men who serve under him.

Based on Herman Melville's novella Billy Budd and containing snatches of music from the Benjamin Britten opera it inspired, Claire Denis's film is mostly set in Djibouti, director of photography Agnès Godard bringing the arid beauty of the East African country's desertscapes and mountains to dizzying life. Denis's storytelling is so elegant and stealthy you barely notice the film's gear change halfway through, as Galoup vows to "destroy" a new Legion recruit – the handsome and athletic Gilles Sentain (Grégoire Colin) – of whom he is insanely jealous.

Sentain finds favour with the soldiers' commandant, Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor unofficially reprising his role from Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film, Le Petit Soldat), and although Galoup is in a relationship with a young Djibouti woman, it is indicated his anger and envy stem from being in denial about the fact he's gay. Whether he is attracted to his superior Forestier, or Sentain himself, isn't made clear, but his inhibitions sit in stark contrast to the languid sensuality and buff homoerotism on display elsewhere in the film, as the shirtless Legionnaires are put through their paces in the baking heat of the Djibouti desert (hard physical exercise never looked so graceful or sensual as it does in the hands of choreographer Bernardo Montet).

Told in flashback, after Galoup has been thrown out of the Foreign Legion and exiled to Marseilles, Beau Travail is an elliptical and thoroughly melancholy film, with notions of shame at its centre (nods to France's colonial past sit side by side with Galoup's rejection of his own sexuality and deep regret at being court martialled). Criterion's sumptuous 4K digital restoration does full justice to a modern masterpiece.

Best supplement: Oscar-winner and new Disney signing Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) talks to Denis about Beau Travail via Zoom (he's in Los Angeles, she in Paris). Their 30-minute conversation is made more piquant by the fact it happened back in May, only a few days after George Floyd's murder by a police officer in Minneapolis. Jenkins is still reeling from the news and its aftermath, his outrage and confusion spilling over into the discussion, making it a whole lot less cosy than it might otherwise have been.

Also of note: A great interview with an amusingly dishevelled Lavant (29 mins), who talks about his "psychic connection" with Denis and how he almost pulled out of Beau Travail due to a year-long delay before shooting. DOP Godard provides commentary over a selection of scenes (22 mins) and I was particularly struck by the revelation she and Denis were "shooting blind" because their remote location in East Africa meant they were unable to see dailies.

Finally, here's a round-up of Criterion's schedule of releases for the rest of the year.

The Times Of Harvey Milk (5th)
Eraserhead (19th, pictured above)
Topsy-Turvy (19th)
Five Easy Pieces (16th)
Girlfriends (16th)
The Irishman (30th – DVD and BR)
Mouchette (14th)
The New World (14th)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes (14th)


Pierrot le Fou (6th)
Claudine (13th)
The Gunfighter (20th)
The Hit (20th)
Parasite (27th)
Girlfriends (10th)
Moonstruck (17th)
Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (17th)
Essential Fellini (24th)
The Irishman (24th)
Crash (1st)
Mouchette (8th)
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Two Takes (8th)
Amores Perros (15th)

Technical Information
Safety Last!: New, restored 2K digital transfer. Musical score by composer Carl Davis from 1989, presented in uncompressed stereo.
Show Boat: New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
Beau Travail: New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director of photography Agnès Godard and director Claire Denis, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack.


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TDF Interview: Love Sarah director Eliza Schroeder https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/tdf-interview-love-sarah-director-eliza-schroeder/ Video Games Mon, 07 Sep 2020 11:00:10 +0000 georgenash https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=67714 Like the most technical of technical challenges on The Great British Bake Off, Love Sarah, the debut feature film from London-based filmmaker Eliza Schroeder, combines a multitude of different ingredients. The story, about three women who decide to open a bakery in Notting Hill after tragedy strikes, blends humour and heartache, mixes generational dynamics with multiculturalism, and fuses doughy warmth with actual dough.

Starring Celia Imrie, Shelley Conn and Shannon Tarbet, with supporting roles from Bill Paterson and Rupert Penry-Jones, Love Sarah is a delightfully charming, Curtis-esque slice of romanticised drama that is every bit as sweet as the confectionery that adorns the windows and shelves of the women's artisan business. After release in selected cinemas earlier this year, the film reached No.1 at the New Zealand box office, where it stayed for over 2 weeks.

Talking cakes, culture and life after loss, TDF sat down with Schroeder over Zoom to discuss the film ahead of its release on DVD and VOD.

The Digital Fix: Hi Eliza. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us and congratulations on the film. It still seems like such a strange thing to be saying, but, given how the film industry has been affected in recent months, you must have been so excited when Love Sarah finally got a theatrical release in July.

Eliza Schroeder: I really have been so excited, especially because we had been debating with the distributors about whether or not we could get the film released in cinemas. It was always planned, but with lockdown and everything, we just seemed to be in this situation where we weren't sure whether we could do it. In the end, the producer [Rajita Shah] and I pushed them hard to get the theatrical release and it's been wonderful because I wasn't really expecting it in the end. When we did, it was absolutely thrilling.

And then we had this amazing success in New Zealand, which was really great. You never know how different territories and different audiences will react to a film, but in New Zealand and Australia, the audience really seemed to love the film and that's great. I've received lots of emails from people over there congratulating me on the film and saying how much they loved it so that was really quite pleasing. And then being number one at the [New Zealand] box office was just so unexpected and just amazing.

Image by Laura Radford

Of the many things this film will make you feel, hungry is definitely one of them. There are just so many mouth-watering shots of cakes and pastries. Has making Love Sarah turned you into something of a cake connoisseur?

I must admit, I've always been a bit of an expert because I just love cakes. I really have a sweet tooth — I hate to say it, but I do. I'm always excited to wander around wherever I live and check out all the local bakeries. I've always enjoyed baking, too. I come from a large family — there were six of us at home — and one of my sisters was always baking, so it has always been a passion of mine.

Do you have a favourite?

I make a mean chocolate chip cookie and some very good brownies. Lately, I've got into making a white chocolate mousse that was also quite delicious, so I'm always experimenting with baking. At the moment though, I don't actually have a kitchen — we are currently renovating a house — but hopefully I can get back to it soon.

One of the prominent themes in Love Sarah is the idea of communities coming together. To explore that through food is, I think, a wonderful concept. How integral to you was that examination of multiculturalism during the project?

For me, it was so important, because the area I live in and the area we shot in is so extremely multicultural; so multicoloured in all aspects. That was something I really wanted to reflect both on the screen and off it. We had such a diverse crew working on this film: people from everywhere who call London their home. Any skin colour, any ethnicity, any religion, it's such a rich cultural mix. It's something that I experience everyday when I go on the street and so that's really what I wanted to bring to audiences around the globe: to say that London is one of those cities where you find all these different ethnicities and you get really inspired by talking to, and being friends with, people from all over the place.

I certainly think that comes across in this film. It opens, for instance, with several lovely aerial shots of London. Was establishing that specific sense of place a really important part of this project?

Yeah, it was so important because I think London is just such a unique place and one that people should see. Especially during these times of uncertainty, it's so important to see that we all live together here in relative harmony, although we are all very different. Looking at how I grew up, and how I'm sure most of us grew up, I'm not used to that same degree of openness and mix of cultures and, in that way, London is quite special, I think.

You mentioned before about coming from a large family. How much of the family dynamic and generational interactions we see play out in the film were based on your own experiences?

I definitely took inspiration for the central characters from different women in my life, for example, my grandmother. But I think the dynamics of these women is something quite unique to the film, so I guess I've drawn more from my experiences over the decades looking at headstrong women, both in my family and friendship circle. I've always taken pleasure from people in general who have a strong mind and stand for something.  

Image by Laura Radford

It's great to see that, at the centre of this story, yourself included, there's this strong core of independent, creative women — be it through, baking, dance or, in your case, filmmaking. Was that always your intention from the start?

Yes, I wanted to try and create a film where people, especially the female audience, can go and hopefully be inspired by some of these characters or by certain facets of this character and certain elements of that one. In an ideal world, I would have an audience sit there and say "Oh, I can identify with that issue," or "I can identify with this characteristic" or find inspiration in how she has turned that problem around. I guess I was hoping to inspire people with these three very different female characters.

As I understand it, this is, in many ways, a deeply personal film for you. As much as it's an examination of grief, it also feels very much like a celebration of life. How much of the story is a reflection of your own emotional journey?

As a filmmaker, you always look to draw from your own personal experience. Losing my mother and my own experience of loss has definitely shaped me as a director and so I wanted to bring people a story that allows them to grieve, allows them to feel the grief, but also enables them to see that there is life after that.

Even today, I'm still busy thinking about what my mother would have done, or how she would have felt about certain things. And trying to keep someone alive despite the fact they aren't there anymore is, in the end, what the women in the film do. To be able to still embrace someone even though they aren't there physically is, to me, a really lovely thing.

And obviously, given what's happening globally, there will be a lot of people in the world who have suddenly and unexpectedly been impacted by grief. What do you hope audiences will take away from Love Sarah about dealing with loss?

I hope that people will see the importance of spending as much time as possible with the ones closest to you. For those who have lost loved ones, my hope is that they will see that you can give life another chance. There is always hope and if you allow yourself to step away from your usual path and towards something new, you can explore something quite wonderful. I think the three women in the film do that. They put aside their separate lives, their separate paths, and, in the face of uncertainty, come together. Although it might sound a little bit romanticised, I really think it's all about giving hope a go.

And, finally, other than your own house, of course, what other projects have you got on the go and what can we expect to see from you in the not-too-distant future?

I have a couple of projects in development that I'm excited about. One is a thriller, so I'm really looking forward to that, particularly as a female director. The other is another romantic dramedy, but it's early days so hopefully I'll be able to reveal more about that soon. All in the pipeline, all very exciting.

Love Sarah will be released in the UK on all major VOD platforms and DVD on September 7 (available through all major retailers).


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Cri Life: A monthly column about the Criterion Collection’s UK releases https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/cri-life-a-monthly-column-about-the-criterion-collections-uk-releases-6/ Video Games Fri, 28 Aug 2020 13:20:23 +0000 andywinter https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=66745 This month's Cri Life column features reviews of The Lady Eve, Marriage Story, and Taste Of Cherry.

In these miserable, Covid-ravaged times, it is hard to imagine a more effective pick-me-up than The Lady Eve, Preston Sturges' sparkling screwball comedy from 1941. Barbara Stanwyck is Jean Harrington, one of a team of card sharps at loose on an ocean liner. They make 'Hopsy' Pike (Henry Fonda), the maladroit heir to a brewery fortune with an interest in snakes, their next target, but the plan goes awry when Jean and 'Hopsy' fall for one another. When he discovers the truth about her, the pair immediately separate but, months later, after nabbing an invitation to attend a party at the Pikes' grand Connecticut mansion, Jean transforms herself into Lady Eve Sidwich, a supposed member of the British aristocracy, with 'Hopsy' once again in her sights.

Any screwball comedy worth its salt is both relentlessly paced and relentlessly funny, and that is certainly true of The Lady Eve – slapstick, romance, double entendres, and satire all coming at you thick and fast. Fonda had already worked with Stanwyck on a comedy (1938's The Mad Miss Manton) and the pair have an easy chemistry here. And for an actor who spent much of his career in serious dramatic roles – he'd already appeared in the likes of Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and The Grapes Of Wrath (1940) – Fonda proves surprisingly adept at ever-more elaborate pratfalls. But it's Stanwyck who deserves the lion's share of the plaudits; she's superb as both Jean and Eve, her posture, accent, and mannerisms changing completely for the two different characters.

This is a film that has fun subverting gender roles (Jean is the aggressor, Hopsy her meek and mild prey), delights in poking fun at the rich, and explores its Biblical 'fall of man' theme with wit and invention. A superb supporting cast – exemplified by William Demarest's no-nonsense Muggsy ("It's the same dame!") – is just the cherry on top of a stone-cold classic the New York Times made its #1 movie of 1941 – ahead of Citizen Kane.

There are a lot of very good supplements here so let's just mention a few of them. In a definite sign of the times, Tom Sturges (son of Preston) hosts a discussion about the film over Zoom (42 minutes) with a host of eminent filmmakers and critics, including Peter Bogdanovich, Susan King, and Leonard Maltin (James L Brooks has to leave the as-live discussion when his internet goes down). In a thoroughly entertaining back and forth, they touch on the director's battle with censors over some of The Lady Eve's risqué-for-the-time content, and how Sturges didn't write his scripts but dictate them, playing all the parts himself. In her audio commentary, Marian Keane offers an academic reading of the film, deep-diving into its themes and motifs, and frequently referencing Stanley Cavell's seminal essay on The Lady Eve in his 1981 book Pursuits Of Happiness. I also loved the short feature (6 mins) about Edith Head's costumes and Up The Amazon (5 mins), a song from a mooted musical adaptation of the film.

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story chronicles another tempestuous relationship, but the laughs on offer are fewer and bleaker, as Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver's divorcing couple declare war on each other. The film – originally released on Netflix last year – sees actress Nicole (Johansson) leave husband Charlie (Driver), and his New York-based theatre company, for a new life and TV career in Los Angeles. The pair initially hope their divorce – and custody of son, Henry – can be settled amicably, but when lawyers get involved (including Laura Dern's fabulously combative Nora Fanshaw) battle lines are drawn and all attempts at politeness and decorum swiftly go south.

Scenes From A Marriage (1974), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The War Of The Roses (1989), and Baumbach's own The Squid And The Whale (2005) show films about marital implosion are hardly anything new, but the director, a divorcee himself, is as much intrigued by the practicalities and nitty-gritty of separation as he is the raw emotion. Both writing and cast (which also boasts Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, and Meritt Wever) are magnificent, and I loved the nod to Herbert Ross's California Suite (1978), one segment of which sees Jane Fonda's tough-cookie New Yorker fly to LA to confront ex-husband Alda about custody of their teenage daughter.

The centrepiece of the supplements is a feature-length video diary (1hr 37mins), which includes a wealth of previously unseen on-set footage. We're shown filming on many of Marriage Story's key scenes (including the apocalyptic bust-up between Charlie and Nicole in his LA apartment), the mechanics of directing and acting – the endless discussions, negotiations and trial and error of it all – laid bare. Elsewhere, you'll find interviews with Baumbach and most of his cast (Wever the only notable absentee), which, in amongst the usual superlatives and backslapping, explore the director's preferred way of working (lots of takes, obsessional attention to detail). Better are crew segments with editor Jennifer Lame and production designer Jade Healy, who really get into the day-to-day challenges of their respective crafts. Perhaps my favourite part of the whole impressive package, though, are paper facsimiles of the 'therapy letters' Charlie and Nicole read out at the start of the film. It's a really nice and inventive touch.

I adored all three films in Abbas Kiarostami's Koker Trilogy, which Criterion released as a boxset last year, but the same director's Taste Of Cherry is a tougher, more oblique proposition. Homayoun Ershadi – who you may remember from Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and A Most Wanted Man (2014) – is Mr Badii, a mysterious stranger who drives around the barren outskirts of Tehran, occasionally stopping to ask random men if they would be interested in doing a well-paid job for him. You wonder at first if he is a murderer looking for a victim or after some sort of sexual favour, but it is eventually revealed Badii is planning to commit suicide by taking an overdose of pills and wants someone to bury his body. At no point do we discover anything more about him.

Taste Of Cherry was the first Iranian picture to win the Palme d'Or, but while its minimalism and mystery initially intrigue, the film itself is difficult to get a bead on. Badii's request is rebuffed by several men – including a terrified young soldier and a religious scholar – before Mr Bagheri, a taxidermist who once contemplated suicide himself, agrees to help, even while trying to talk him out of his plan. I think the idea is that, slowly but surely, as the film proceeds, Badii is presented with more and more reasons to live, some of them seemingly small, like the taste of cherries. To underline the point, the ugly construction sites featured in the early part of the movie give way to beautiful, life-affirming countryside, as we move into its final act. And even though I found the ending exasperating, it's of a piece with Kiarostami's penchant for revealing the artifice in his films.

Even if you're a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Kiarostami, I'd suggest you take a look at a couple of the supplements before watching the film, as they explore some of Taste Of Cherry's themes and ideas. Film scholar Professor Kristin Thompson discusses the use of landscapes and cityscapes in the director's work (7 mins), even comparing his visual connection to the outskirts of Tehran and northern Iran with John Ford's penchant for filming in Monument Valley. And author Hamid Naficy (17 mins) talks us through the film and Kiarostami's career, highlighting his economy of expression and the simplicity of his mise en scène (in Taste Of Cherry's case mostly just the interior of a car). Elsewhere, there's an excellent interview with the director from 1997 (19 mins) in which he discusses censorship, his preference for movies that "put you to sleep", and meeting Quentin Tarantino at a film festival.

Released on November 24 in the US is Essential Fellini, a 15-disc boxset commemorating the centenary of the great Italian director's birth. Containing 14 of Federico Fellini's films – 11 of them 4K restorations – the set will retail at just shy of $200 in the States (the cheapest I've found it to import online is £143, but you'll need to add shipping and import fees to that). The titles in the set are: his debut Variety Lights (1950), The White Sheik (1952), I Vitelloni (1953), La Strada (pictured above, 1954), Il Bidone (1955), Nights Of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), (1963), Juliet Of The Spirits (1963), Fellini Satyricon (1969), Roma (1972), Amarcord (1973), And The Ship Sails On (1983), and Intervista (1987).

Supplementary material includes audio commentaries on six of the films and a truly dizzying array of documentaries (including 1969's Fellini: A Director's Notebook), short films, interviews, and video essays. The set also boasts "deluxe packaging" with two "lavishly illustrated" books. Unlike the recent Agnès Varda boxset, though, this won't be a region-free release. The 4K restorations and fantastic supplements are incredibly tempting, but Fellini fans will already have a fair few of the actual films on Blu-ray (as recently as March, Cult Films released a UK boxset – Fellini: Four Films – featuring , Le Dolce Vita, Juliet Of The Spirits and I Vitelloni), so I'm uncertain a very pricey double dip is worth it.

Finally, I'd like to draw your attention to Why Are There So Few Black Directors In The Criterion Collection?, an alarming recent article in the New York Times. Journalists Kyle Buchanan and Reggie Ugwu surveyed all 1,034 feature-length films released by Criterion in the DVD/Blu-ray era (up to the end of June) and discovered only four African-American directors were represented, along with another four black directors from outside the US. Worse still, the company had had opportunities to licence movies by black filmmakers, including Julie Dash's influential Daughters Of The Dust (pictured above), but had turned them down.

And while some argue Criterion are being held to a higher standard than similar boutique labels (Kino Lorber, Arrow, Indicator etc), it's a standard the company – which has been releasing films in various home entertainment formats since 1984 – has done its best to invite. You certainly don't get dubbed the "Louvre of movies" by Wes Anderson unless you hold a significant place in worldwide movie culture.

As a white writer, who pens a monthly column about the label and buys a lot of its films (they don't send me the titles I review here), I'm embarrassed for not noticing this terrible imbalance. I'd seen Criterion recently release Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger and Spike Lee's Bamboozled, noted how they professed support for Black Lives Matter and made movies by certain black filmmakers available free on their US streaming service, and naively assumed they'd been doing their bit. I can only hope the company now takes steps to start rectifying the situation and it's something this column will certainly keep an eye on in the months ahead.

I'll return next month to discuss UK Criterion's September releases – Beau Travail, Show Boat, and Safety Last!

Product Information
The Lady Eve: New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
Marriage Story: New, 4K digital transfer, supervised by director Noah Baumbach, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Also available on DVD.
Taste Of Cherry: New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.


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Companion Pieces: The Fisher King and Welcome to Marwen https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/companion-pieces-the-fisher-king-and-welcome-to-marwen/ Video Games Wed, 26 Aug 2020 18:04:39 +0000 erikabean https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=66938 Fantasy worlds and childrens toys help these men process real world trauma.

"I think I'll be a clown when I get grown," said Dill. Jem and I stopped in our tracks. "Yes sir, a clown," he said. "There ain't one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I'm gonna join the circus and laugh my head off." "You got it backwards, Dill," said Jem. "Clowns are sad, it's folks that laugh at them." "Well I'm gonna be a new kind of clown. I'm gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks." – To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)

Is there anything more central to comedic storytelling than the sad clown? Originating with the ancient Greeks, associated with Dionysus, god of wine, theatre, insanity and freedom, the masks of comedy and tragedy are immediately reminiscent of theatre and performance, echoing the turmoil of both. So who else could play characters suffering the turmoil of mental health problems than a comedian? A literal sad clown, taking the brave step to remove the mask and perhaps allow some of their own traumas to seep into the screen.

We all know only too well now that Robin Williams struggled with his mental health, depression and anxiety, exacerbated by dementia and other physical health problems in later life, leading to his tragic death in 2014. It is hard as someone who grew up watching Jumanji, Hook and Aladdin (1992), and then found him again as a teen in Good Morning Vietnam, Patch Adams, The Fisher King and What Dreams May Come, to watch his work now, knowing that the absolute light he brought to the world is gone. It is harder still to write about them. No-one could have played the characters he did, in the way he did, and the universe is a darker place without him.

Unfortunately he is not alone, a great number of comic actors have struggled with various mental health problems and Williams is not the only one to lose his life prematurely to ill health, drugs or alcohol (often symptoms are as much as an illness in themselves). While both of the films discussed below, The Fisher King (which stars Williams) and Welcome to Marwen, use comic actors to address mental health, the star of the more recent release, Steve Carell, hasn't openly spoken about any struggles he has had personally. But as a comic actor it can't be something he is unfamiliar with, as comedy and tragedy always sit so close together.

Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King

Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King is a multi-layered examination of the way lives can interact and influence each other, a butterfly effect of simple throwaway comments taking multiple lives and creating far reaching consequences for many.

Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is living a life of excess. He feels untouchable and powerful. His work as a radio host allows and encourages him to be rude to people, to push their buttons and revel in his own narcissism. A regular caller, Edwin (Christian Clemenson) is pushed by Jack's comments to carry out a mass shooting on an innocent group of people in a bar, simply because he doesn't fit in with them. Jack doesn't realise the power of his comments, and in one moment his entire life is brought crashing down around him. He loses his job, his position, his money, his girlfriend, his apartment and develops his own brand of narcissistic depression.

When he reaches rock bottom, a boy gives him a wooden Pinocchio toy. This wooden boy follows him through the story, and he immediately asks "Anyone here named Jiminy?" as he takes the first step in his own journey to finding a conscience and becoming a "real boy". Just as he is about to jump into the river, the wooden toy taped alongside a block of concrete on his legs, he is attacked by a group of angry youths before Parry (Robin Williams) arrives, saving him from both the youths and from jumping. Parry pulls Jack into his world, and after a night of chaos, Jack learns how they were already linked.

A similar catalyst changes the life of Mark Hogencamp (Steve Carell) in Welcome to Marwen. An artist and an alcoholic, he outs himself as a cross-dresser in a bar, which results in him being severely beaten. After a long recovery he is left unable to draw due to the shakes in his hands, with no memories of who he was and with no reliance on alcohol. While The Fisher King focuses on the coincidences that cause crossovers in life, Welcome To Marwen has Mark pulling people towards him, albeit passively, by fashioning doll characters of the women in his life. He uses these dolls to try and find out who he is again, a sort of coping mechanism turned thought experiment. Putting his avatar through hypothetical situations and seeing what comes out.

Steve Carell in Welcome to Marwen

Although there is an innocence to these actions it makes people uncomfortable. When he lost his memory a lot of the methods he had for forming relationships were lost as well – he is emotionally immature and has little idea of how to develop healthy relationships. The men around him seem impatient and not particularly tolerant, while the women are sympathetic, seeing him as a harmless oddity. It's interesting to note that this gender split is exaggerated from the real world, the real Mark Hogencamp is supported in his life by both men and women (as seen in the documentary Marwencol).

Arthurian legend positions the historical "Fisher King" as a wounded King, the last remaining crusader looking for the Grail. Parry was a successful professional, an academic and lecturer named Henry Sagan, when his wife was murdered in the shooting triggered by Jack's words. This caused a psychotic break, where Parry's memories were buried and distorted and he adopted the persona of one of the characters that featured in his lectures. Taking on the grail quest as a coping mechanism and a cover for his internal turmoil. He is tormented by The Red Knight, a large man on a horse surrounded by horns and flames, a distorted manifestation of the memories he has of his wife at the moment of her death. He swings between mania, as he gets closer to finding the grail, and psychosis, as The Red Knight stops him in his tracks.

Jack, upon discovering the part he played in putting Parry in such a perilous position, feels compelled to help him. He starts by giving him money (which Parry immediately gives to another homeless man) then by trying to find him a partner, before eventually taking on the quest for the grail himself. Jack fills the role of Percival in the grail legends, a man of noble birth who continually fails to ask the right questions that would allow The Fisher King to heal.

Diane Kruger as Deja in Welcome to Marwen

Using fantasy worlds as a method of healing is central to both films, alongside the torment of mythical figures in the corner of their eye. Carell's Hogencamp is tormented by a blue haired fairy, Deja (Diane Kruger), the only one of his dolls that seems not to have a real world equivalent. In this we can see her as a manifestation of his PTSD and perhaps even his previous alcoholism, as she reminds of the green fairy associated with absinthe. Her name is a reference to memories we can't quite grasp, and familiar moments Mark can't pin down. If he lets her get too close, his own Red Knight attacks. Memories of his brutal attack are manifested in hallucinations that destroy the house around him.

The intolerance of Mark's attackers is transferred to the Nazis who constantly attack his miniature town, Marwen. They are fought off by the women who surround him, showing that the real women in his life help protect him from further pain. These female dolls are highly sexualised, which make their presence in his life feel uncomfortable, and some of the images he takes of the dolls are clearly representations of relationships he wishes he could have. However, there is an earnestness to Mark that still makes him sympathetic and keeps these women around him. They accept that the root of these actions are his emotional immaturity and fragility – but how that comes across in the film is subjective of course. His own avatar is everything he wishes he could be, strong, confident (even in women's shoes) and eternally a survivor of these Nazi attacks.

Relationships are also developed throughout The Fisher King. As Jack supports Parry in his other quest to woo Lydia (Amanda Plummer), he learns of his own dependence on a relationship he has taken for granted throughout his depression. As they follow Lydia on her daily commute, the subway dances around them, with Lydia and Parry walking to their own beat. Jack, and his reluctant partner Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), carry out an elaborate plan to bring the two together, along with a nameless cross-dressing moustachioed cabaret singer (the greatly missed Michael Jeter), who they find attempting to get himself trampled by a debutante on a horse. They help the cabaret singer, Lydia and Parry, and through all of these actions Jack is mainly focused on freeing himself from his guilt, balancing his own Karma and allowing himself to go back to his old life.

It isn't until Jack returns to his old life again that he changes and realises he can no longer live the same way and cannot truly forgive himself until he has healed Parry. He wrestles internally with the selfishness of his new life, and triggered by the return of the cabaret singer outside the skyscraper he now works in, remembers that his work remains unfinished. Parry is catatonic after the stress and guilt of potentially finding happiness with Lydia pushes him into a breakdown. Lydia is spending as much time as possible with him, bringing bedding, pyjamas and presents in the hope he will wake up so they can be together, Parry becoming her own fairytale sleeping beauty. Jack has abandoned Anne, who supported him through all his struggles.

Jack finally realises that to free Parry, he has to complete the Fisher King's quest. He needs to find the grail and therefore heal him. Unfortunately, in this case it means breaking and entering is required. Jack enters the castle, finds the grail, saves a man from accidental overdose (lots of rescuing in this) and delivers the grail to Parry.

Parry wakes, Lydia cries, Jack goes back to Anne, and they all live happily ever after. It's a beautiful fairytale ending, and exactly what all the characters deserve. There is a catharsis to this, as each character had to really work to get there. Each of them has tolerated Jack, supporting and enabling him to take the steps he needs to do the right thing. By the end, Jack has become a "real boy".

Gilliam's unusual shooting style emphasises this slow progress towards balance and catharsis, as harsh angles, wide angle lenses and low camera positions accentuate the distorted world view of all the characters. These angles slowly evolve as the plot progresses to a more traditional method of filming, as the characters see each other at eye level and without distortion.

Similarly, in Marwen, Mark is held and supported by the women around him to make the right choices and truly embrace who he is and what he loves. As he misguidedly aims his affections at Nicol (Leslie Mann), Roberta (Merritt Wever) stands back and allows Mark to eventually realise they have chemistry with each other and perhaps could develop more of a bond.

These relationships, and the processing he carries out through his model building, allows Mark to face his attackers in court and ensure they face the sentences they deserve, restoring balance in his life, much like the Fisher King's Jack restores balance in his. Mark's fantasy world allows him to project himself internally as empowered in a way he's unable to do in the real world. It may only be inside his head, but to him it is a very real battle, and one that he has to take any steps he can to win.

This similar themes of space and time and allowing people to come to conclusions by themselves is part of what makes these films so charming but also frustrating. You want to reach into the screen and shake both Jack and Mark and tell them to make the progress we know they are capable of. But of course the time taken to get there is what makes the endings all the sweeter. Perhaps these films have something to teach us about compassion for people's faults? They highlight support networks and family, and how those with faults or illness should be held and encouraged, not forced to push themselves out of their comfort zones to achieve what society thinks is right for them.

It feels as though, in this case, a visit to Marwen or to embark on a the quest for a grail might be what we all need, to learn who and what is important, and what we are all capable of.


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TDF Interview: We talk Babyteeth with director Shannon Murphy https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/tdf-interview-we-talk-babyteeth-with-director-shannon-murphy/ Video Games Wed, 12 Aug 2020 09:38:18 +0000 Alex Dewing https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=65593 Babyteeth is a deeply personal film in the way that it is personal to anyone who as a teenager experienced their first love, or who stakes claim to its emotions. Through use of evocative music, colour and cinematography, director Shannon Murphy makes a heavy topic light, fun and more digestible, exploring the ups and downs of adolescence while remaining breathtakingly tender. Although Murphy had hoped to be in London right now in preparation for the release of her debut feature, it is from her home in Australia that she talks to us about moving bodies, the music of Romeo + Juliet, wig-gait and more.

The Digital Fix: Hi Shannon, it's lovely to talk to you. I just want to start off by saying I was absolutely floored by Babyteeth, you must be so excited for it finally to be released.

Shannon Murphy: Yes, I am so excited, especially because I've just spent so much time recently in London working on Killing Eve and I just really love working there. I also felt like, you know, it'd be my dream to be there when it actually opens which can't happen now, but I'm excited for it to be in Picturehouse's beautiful cinemas.

With Babyteeth there is a sort of lack of sentimentally that I think is going to surprise some viewers, considering the subject matter, but works really well in telling the story of this film. How important was balancing this authentic story without straying into the melodramatic would you say?

You know, I think for me, my taste in storytelling will definitely always veer away from sentimentality because it doesn't really move me or feel real enough to me, to be honest. As soon as something feels a bit cheesy I just sort of naturally disengage. So I think I really wanted to make sure this was as honest as possible, both to teenagers who might see it, but also parents or an older audience as well. I think as a filmmaker you always want to be making something and doing something differently, not just repeating what has been done in the genre before.

Yeah, absolutely. I think that kind of ties into Milla's character because she has such a frenetic energy to her. How was it creating and capturing her, and Moses' for that matter, really unique physicality?

Yeah, it was really important to me to pay a lot of attention to that because, of course, that age group, they're really just coming into their bodies. Bodies are such a focus, such a visceral part and it's very sexual and exciting and changing and celebrated, so I really wanted to focus on that and also really give a strong sense of that age, whether you're in it now or you want to remember it and the feelings you used to have then. It was really important through colour and costuming and music that we really gave a holistic feel of that time, those two characters and sense of first love and all the highs and lows that come with that.

So yeah, that was a really enjoyable part of the creative process working with Angela Conte who is an amazing make-up and hair artist on developing all their different looks and how they were going to transform. We did a lot of work with their skin with both Milla and Moses; with Moses breaking down his skin and with Milla, playing with the pigment of her skin during her illness. And of course the wigs are her trying out very different looks on herself but feeling more confident and wanting really to bust out of who she's been and who she is now.

I was actually going to ask about the wig, because obviously we have the blonde one, but there's also the teal one that's in a lot of the promotional images. What was it about that specific colour that spoke to you or Milla's character?

I think for me it was really important that it wasn't a pink wig or a colour that we've seen a million times before. We were looking at different wigs and Angela she just kind of played with that teal one and we just kept coming back to it. There was something really fun and a bit manga and a bit out-there. The other one we used to call the 'Amy Winehouse wig' because, even though it's blonde it kind of has an Amy Winehouse vibe and so it was just about mix-n-matching the looks. We called it wig-gait, because we were obsessed with talking about the wigs and when we wanted to transform, for us the dream comes down to the night out Milla had a very different look because she was doing something really out-there for her, which was to completely escape from home and go out on one of the best nights of her life. 

It was also distinct that she had a cancer wig, so the long blonde one that was her wig for when she was going to school and that was a real cancer wig that people have when they've gone through that. And of course there's her bald-headed look which was interesting on the night out because she interacts with this performance artist who was alopecia in real life, and there's this celebration of that mirroring between the two of them even though Milla's got the wig on at that point when there's that moment. There was just a lot of wig talk, basically. 

I love wig-gait, that's so great.

Yeah, like everyday we'd go like "aww what wig is it?" 

Like you were saying, there's that moment when she's at the party [with the performance artist] which was really emotional and I think in that scene, and something I noted in the film as a whole, is how integral the music felt, which you've already touched upon it. Whether it was the characters dancing to it or playing it, or whether it was Amanda Brown's gorgeous score, was it always something that was important to you?

Always. I think for so many of us music is such an important part of our lives but particularly when you're a teenager. I remember when I was younger, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet came out when I was a teenager and I remember that soundtrack being so extraordinary. I played it so much and felt so many extraordinary feelings watching that film because of the music, and so I wanted the soundtrack to feel as original as that did for me in that I can't associate those songs with anything else, they don't have other connections for me. So I wanted it to be a really original soundtrack but also for it to connect to, of course, Milla and her musical family. She's got the world of Gidon and his world music that he introduces her to and, of course, she's got the classical world of her mother and her own passion for violin playing. Then there's the world of music that Moses sort of brings into her life, but also is her own inner monologue with herself about what her taste is morphing into.

I focused a lot on Australian artists, we wanted to use people like tUnE-yArDs and songs that I've always really been drawn to. Jess Moore, my music supervisor, and my editor, Stephen Evans, we are very passionate about music and we put playlists together along with Amanda Brown and we'd play them through pre-production and talk a lot about music. Then on the day the tUnE-yArDs song and the Sudan Archives song, which she dances to at Gidon's, we played them on the day so that the actors could respond to it in-situ. I think that makes a big difference as well because they're choreographically in sync with each other. 

I really loved the way the music interacted with the film and I've been listening, not to the playlist as I don't think it's out yet, but I've been listening to the songs on repeat as they really stick in your head. 

Yeah, for some reason Spotify just use playlists that have them on there.

You mentioned that you focus a lot on Australian artists, was there anything else that you think makes this film inherently Australian?

Definitely. I think the styling of the costuming from Amelia Gebler. She's an amazing costume designer who does so much work here in Australia and she's so in tune with what younger people are wearing and I've worked with her before because she offers such a fresh and youthful perspective. But also the sound. We shot in summer in Sydney and we have crazy sounding birds and cicadas and the sound they make is just so intense and I kept that in the soundtrack and just really kind of celebrated the Australian-ness of it in an urban way which is something that we don't get to do as much. And the sense of humour is definitely Australian; really laughing in the face of grey obstacles is very Australian. 

As we wrap up, like the music, I found the colour palette of the film feeling very, almost alive in itself. Did you always envision this film with that kind of outlook?

Definitely. I mean I think my work is always really colourful. I did a boxing series called On the Ropes which was very colourful as well. I think having grown up in Hong Kong, which is a really neon city, I'm very influenced by colour and similar to Wong Kar-wai who I grew up with. And also it is just how I see the world; it's a very feminine colour palette sometimes but for me, that was how Milla was viewing things. With that energy and that high-frequency and those colours just felt right to match her energy. 

Babyteeth is released in the UK from August 14.

Read our latest review of Babyteeth here.


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Tainted Candy: A Look Back at Hammer’s Creepiest Non-Horror Film, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/tainted-candy-a-look-back-at-hammers-creepiest-non-horror-film-never-take-sweets-from-a-stranger-1960/ Video Games Thu, 30 Jul 2020 17:39:19 +0000 andrewgraves https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=64286 I have long been a huge fan of film production company Hammer, though formed in the '30s it's undoubtedly best known for its superlative run of Technicolor gothic horror presentations of the '50s and '60s. I eagerly devoured repeated TV screenings of late-night creature features like The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959), they were sexy, scary and fun and oozed with Kensington gore.

They introduced me to Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt and were a welcome fixture when I was growing up in the '70s and '80s. They may have been salacious and slightly hokey at times, but they certainly knew how to entice me and a host of other young hungry horror kids into their undeniably fascinating cult. The studio knew its audience and what they wanted. So, it's curious that in 1960 the same company at the height of its powers would choose to make a film, which eschewed the velvet cloak flapping vampire, stalking zombie or werewolf howling at the moon, for an altogether more disturbing kind of monster – that of the child sex abuser. In light of recent high profile court cases like Jeffrey Epstein and the controversies which still seem to hound HRH Prince Andrew, it seems fitting to re-examine Hammer's most taboo of films, with its themes of power, corruption and paedophilia. 

Based on the 1954 play The Pony Trap by Roger Garis, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) wouldn't have exactly seemed like a good fit for Hammer. Though the studio wasn't exclusively producing horror films – they released a superb selection of thrillers and war films for instance – it wasn't known for its risk-taking capacity. They worked mainly on already established successful formulas – repeated elements which they knew had worked before – and often posters and promotion would be considered long before a single frame of film was even shot. Though now, thankfully the sexual abuse of children, is a more open subject of discussion and prosecutions of perpetrators more likely, back in the '60s, it was still a topic best avoided in discussion. The word paedophile was seldom used except in the world of behavioural science or psychiatry, and the notion of the sexual predator was often reduced to the all-encompassing and non-committal 'dirty old man'. Garis's play, for instance, was apparently based on an encounter his daughter and friend had had with one such 'rain coat wearing pervert'. So, it's difficult to see what Hammer head honcho James 'I'm not an artist, I'm a businessman' Carreras was thinking when he agreed to greenlight this 'message picture' about such a distinctly 'sordid' and 'distasteful' subject matter.

I can only say through modern eyes I'm extremely glad he did. Though it bombed at the box office, making it one of the studio's least successful ventures, partly due to the BBFC's enforced X-certificate, and the public's discomfort with such material, it remains a powerful bit of storytelling, a brave critique of the corrupt rich and their insidious habits, whose wealth places them above the law. 

When the Carter's return home, they learn from young Jean about her afternoon with Olderberry and how, amongst other things, he made them dance naked for him. Understandably outraged, Sally decides to inform the authorities and launches a tirade against the town's lackadaisical attitude about the hidden and not so hidden abuses at the hands of Olderberry. Her frustrations and ours are compounded further by Peter's initial inaction and the attitude of Jean's grandmother, Martha, who appears to place the town's reputation above the safety of her granddaughter, insisting that 'this isn't an ordinary crime like burglary or hold-up. This concerns a lot of people. People you have to live with."

Given the modern knee-jerk anger aimed at any hint of impropriety concerning children now, one of the most shocking aspects of Never is how it reminds us how much the problem of child abuse has become a societal issue only recently. The exposure of celebrity predators like disgraced pop star Gary Glitter AKA Paul Gadd, the late DJ and charity fundraiser Jimmy Saville, or the allegations aimed at Michael Jackson in recent times, have done much to broaden the issue into a national or even international debate, yet for many years, the problem, at least in the hands of the mainstream press, was seldom taken seriously. Take for instance ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman publicly 'courting' 13-year-old Mandy Smith when he was 47. This was as recent as 1984. The story made headline news, yet for many, it was treated more as a beery pub joke than a case of possible indecent assault. For a 1960 film to be tackling this subject – one of the most forbidden – in an era where much of cinema was still struggling to acknowledge the physical existence of toilets, let alone the sexual abuse of children, underlines the arguable bravery of such a project. 

Director Cyril Frankel, better remembered for bawdy British comedies like School for Scoundrels (1960), military knockabout caper On the Fiddle (1961), and batty supernatural effort The Witches (1966), treats his subject matter seriously and shows a considerable amount of sensitivity. There are of course sensationalist elements – the title screams exploitation and this is a Hammer film after all – but largely this brooding and disturbing take on a difficult subject is handled with level-headedness, honesty and subtlety. Which is not to say this a dry affair. Like many of those early 60s Hammer thrillers, it rattles along, taking as many opportunities as it can to enliven our sense of horror and injustice. The sham court case, which predictably comes out in favour of the millionaire perpetrator rather than the family of the abused girl, is a startlingly prescient cinematic reflection of our current all to the corruptible system, where wealth will often preclude justice.   

The movie's final moments though afford us the most suspense. Spurred on by yet another 'victory' in the courts, and emboldened by his seeming immunity from prosecution, the creepily voiceless Olderberry, redoubles his abusive efforts and pursues Jean and Lucille once again. In an excruciatingly close approximation of the silent slasher killers to come, the old man stalks his prey slowly but relentlessly, detestably oozing his now barley contained unhealthy urges. Momentarily, the girls think they've escaped in an abandoned boat, but terrifyingly, their hope is cut short when it is revealed that the dingy is still moored to the embankment. The look on Olderberry's face as he reels his helpless victims back to the shore is oppressively and disquietingly horrific. 

The film ends on a more positive note but not without its fair share of tragedy. In a denouement that echoes the real-life Saville case, the community and the authorities acknowledge their culpability way too late and though Olderberry is finally brought to justice, the townsfolk have a dead child on their hands. 

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger is quaint and possibly naïve in some respects, in many ways it belongs where it is, in the fuzzy changing landscape between a buttoned-down corseted '50s and a free love, mini-skirted yet to be experienced future which was only a few years away, but completely unimaginable. The performances are serviceable, more than adequate, but never outstanding and the method of delivery is absolutely of its time, with nary a hint of the kind of the more progressive European stylings that were piquing with the likes of Clouzot, Hitchcock and Bava etc. But, it is a beautifully presented piece, a clean and visually pleasing monochrome snapshot filtered through the ever keen-eyed lens of cinematographer Freddie Francis.

It is also bleak and uncommonly candid about a deeply serious issue, where we are made to think about every parent's most unthinkable nightmare yet are never manipulated or exploited. Instead, we are drawn into a family tempest that batters through courtroom drama, satire and a nerve-jangling thriller. And while it may never occupy the same space in my heart as the vivid horror dreamscapes of The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Reptile (1966) or a host of other more recognisable Hammer favourites, it remains a daring, slightly icky, but no less important piece of work, an oddity at odds with the studios own run of features and the public's refusal to face up to an all too real problem, which unfortunately isn't going to go away.


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Cri Life: A monthly column about the Criterion Collection’s UK releases https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/cri-life-a-monthly-column-about-the-criterion-collections-uk-releases-5/ Video Games Sat, 01 Aug 2020 11:39:34 +0000 andywinter https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=65329 Reviews of Female Trouble, The Cameraman, and Three Outlaw Samurai.

Von Sternberg had Marlene Dietrich, Kurosawa had Toshiro Mifune, and John Waters had Divine, the late actor/singer/drag icon with whom the Pope of Trash worked on six features and three shorts in a filthily fruitful 20+ year relationship. Female Trouble (1974) – a grotesque comic melodrama in which Divine plays fame-hungry "crime model" Dawn Davenport – was both Waters' and his 300Ib muse's favourite of their collaborations and it's easy to see why.

The thing about Waters' early films is that people get so hung up on the pooping and puking, they forget just how very funny and inventive they are. Wickedly sharp lines abound in Female Trouble (the best too lewd to repeat here) and scene after scene is packed with slapstick violence, off-at-a-tangent plot twists and hilarious character moments. The sequence in which the two characters played by Divine – Dawn and mega-slob Earl Petersen – appear to have sex outdoors on a grubby mattress is not only queasily hilarious but cleverly shot too.

There's a black-hearted glee to Waters' best films and that is certainly true of Female Trouble, Divine channelling her heroine Elizabeth Taylor early on, before transforming into the kind of gonzo pantomime monster she played to such startling effect in Multiple Maniacs and Pink Flamingos. She lops off one character's hand (Edith Massey, imprisoned in a bird cage), murders several more and, resplendent in an outrageous mohawk (pictured above), even makes time to anticipate punk. In a coronavirus-inspired cultural moment when everything feels a little too polite, Female Trouble – and its establishment-baiting "crime is beauty" theme – remains a welcome kick in the nuts of decency and good taste.

The supplements are every bit as impressive as the film, which looks gorgeous in a restored 4K digital transfer supervised by Waters. The director provides a commentary recorded in 2004 and recounts a host of hilarious anecdotes from the shoot (my favourite remains the one about the three-day-old baby smeared in fake blood and shoved up Divine's dress for a child-birth scene), before turning more serious to discuss his opposition to the death penalty and "friendship" with Manson Family murderer Tex Watson. Additionally, there's a veritable smorgasbord of interviews, talking heads, on-set footage and cut scenes and snippets, including film of Divine, as Earl Petersen, trying and failing to make himself throw up on co-star Mink Stole. If you want wholesome and classy, look elsewhere.

Humour of a less savage variety can be found in The Cameraman (1928), silent-era superstar Buster Keaton's first feature for MGM and perhaps his last truly great film. Keaton plays a clumsy portrait photographer trying to make it as a news-reel cameraman in a bid to get close to the fragrant Sally (Marceline Day), who works as a receptionist at MGM's news-gathering studio. But his klutzy attempts at romancing Sally and chasing down stories with a battered, old-fashioned camera, lead Keaton into a number of scrapes, both hilarious and dangerous, most notably a violent gang war in New York's Chinatown.

Keaton's best films were relentless and breathless; walking down the street or getting on a bus could lead to all manner of inspired slapstick, and the moment one physical gag stopped, another immediately popped up to take its place, and so it goes here. I love the scene where Keaton and a total stranger try to get changed in a too-small cubicle at a swimming baths ("Will you keep out of my undershirt!") and, towards the end, the impressively-staged Chinatown sequence in which Keaton – and the monkey he has acquired during the course of the film – fall to the ground atop a collapsing platform (it's little wonder MGM moved to stop him doing his own stunts). Keaton later said moving to the studio from his own independent set-up had been the biggest mistake of his life (they terminated his contract in 1932), but although The Cameraman never quite hits the heights of Steamboat Bill, Jr.'s cyclone sequence or comes close to matching The General's vaunted ambition, it isn't far off his best work.

The selection of supplements is outstanding. In the audio commentary for The Cameraman (from 2004), British author Glenn Mitchell does a fine job of contradicting the perception of Keaton as the "Great Stoneface", pointing out the enormous expressiveness of his eyes and body in several scenes. The underrated Spite Marriage (1929), the second film Keaton made for MGM and his final silent feature, is also included in a new 2K restoration and gets its own commentary too, courtesy of authors John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance. So Funny It Hurt (38 mins) is an excellent documentary detailing Keaton's fraught relationship with MGM and the deleterious effect it had on his personal life, while, in an interview, author James L Neibaur talks about the performer's later, post-MGM career (14 mins).

There's also a nice short film (16 mins), in which Bengtson (again) turns detective to track down some of the more obscure Los Angeles locations used in Keaton's films, and another (33 mins) which traces the evolution and development of the movie camera. A meaty 38-page booklet features a typically scholarly essay by Imogen Sara Smith and a fascinating chapter from Keaton's 1960 autobiography.

Rounding off an impressively diverse set of releases this month is Three Outlaw Samurai, director Hideo Gosha's debut film from 1964. A spin-off of a popular Japanese TV show (which Gosha worked on), it's an origin story detailing how the titular trio – noble Shiba (Tetsurô Tanba, pictured above), conflicted Sakura (Isamu Nagato) and cynical Kikyô (Mikijirô Hira) – came to team up in the first place.

The film effectively interrogates notions of duty, honour and sacrifice as the three heroes become embroiled in a stand-off between desperate peasants and a corrupt local magistrate. And while this is a chanbara (sword-fighting movie) that owes a certain debt to Akira Kurosawa – particularly The Seven Samurai (1954) and Yojimbo (1961) – it is no less compelling for that. Three Outlaw Samurai is smartly, economically told, the action sequences are suitably frenetic and the moment, towards the end of the film, when the three finally stand shoulder to shoulder, to face off against a veritable army of the magistrate's mercenaries, will give you goosebumps.

It's just as well the film is so entertaining because it's been a long time since I was so disappointed in a Criterion disc's supplementary material. There's an over-the-top trailer ("Are they mad dogs or starving wolves?"), and critic and filmmaker Bilge Ebiri's essay in the accompanying booklet is wonderfully detailed, but that's all you get. No commentary, no interviews, no featurettes delving into the history of chanbara, Three Outlaw Samurai's roots on Japanese TV, or Gosha's long and varied career (he made 27 films between 1964-92). A missed opportunity.

A few news snippets on which to end...

UK Criterion has just announced its October release schedule and there are a couple of interesting firsts. Topsy-Turvy (from 1999 and pictured above) is the first by director Mike Leigh to be added to the UK collection and, even more surprisingly, Eraserhead (1977) is the first from David Lynch. Both filmmakers have multiple titles available via Criterion in the US, so hopefully more releases will follow on this side of the pond before too long. Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) rounds off October's new releases.

Back in March's column, I mentioned Criterion was releasing Elem Klimov's powerful World War II film, Come And See, in the States at the end of June. I'd been keeping my fingers crossed a UK release would swiftly follow but, due to some sort of snafu with the BBFC, that doesn't seem at all likely now. However, the good news is that the disc released in the US has both Region A and B coding, making it compatible with UK Blu-ray players.

Finally, US Criterion are adding Bong Joon Ho's multiple Oscar winner Parasite to the collection on October 27. Yes, the film has already been released on Blu-ray in the UK through Curzon Artificial Eye, but a double dip might well be in order on this occasion, as the Criterion edition will include the much-talked-about black-and-white version of the film with a new introduction by Bong.

I'll be back here next month to cast an eye over UK Criterion's August releases – The Lady Eve, Marriage Story, and Taste Of Cherry.

Technical info
Female Trouble: New 4K digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
The Cameraman: New 4K restoration with a new score recorded in 2020, and presented in uncompressed stereo.
Three Outlaw Samurai: High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.


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Cri Life: A monthly column about the Criterion Collection’s UK releases https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/cri-life-a-monthly-column-about-the-criterion-collections-uk-releases-4/ Video Games Mon, 29 Jun 2020 11:04:46 +0000 andywinter https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=61302 This month's column reviews Husbands, Scorsese Shorts, and Dance, Girl, Dance.

The unhappy, unfulfilled lives of middle-aged men is a milieu John Cassavetes returned to several times during his career as a director, and one given full expression in his 1970 picture, Husbands. Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes himself are Archie, Harry and Gus, three New York friends unravelling after the death of Stuart, the fourth member of their tightly-knit gang. After his funeral, the three men (pictured above) go on a bender – to use the English vernacular – drinking heavily and behaving badly, in between engaging in bouts of soul-searching and self-pity. In the film's second half, the trio's breathless 48-hour misadventure continues in London, where they add gambling and adultery to their repertoire.

Cassavetes seems keen to point out that these men have never really grown up and the director underlines it in various scenes where they chase, slap and race each other on the street, like school kids in a playground. Such hijinks are the least offensive aspect of their conduct, as the treatment the three mete out to the women they encounter is routinely dreadful (the infamous scene in which they hector and intimidate Leola Harlow as she sings in a bar makes particularly uncomfortable viewing). You're never quite sure whether grief at their friend's death has inspired these unpleasant antics or whether it's their default setting, but the trio are pretty much impossible to like. Not that Cassavetes cares about that; he doesn't want you to take these characters, or their clumsily-expressed masculinity, to your heart, merely to experience something of what they feel – their confusion, their fear, their sense of being cut adrift by Stuart's death – and in that he succeeds. Husbands is long, difficult and self-indulgent, but wins you over with its excoriating honesty and ability to keep you on the back foot from beginning to end.

Recorded in 2009, Marshall Fine – author of Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented The American Independent Film – provides an authoritative but conversational commentary, packed with background and insight on the film and the director's career, plus a splash of gossip concerning his feud with critic Pauline Kael. I particularly enjoyed Fine's discussion of how counterintuitive Husbands and its predecessor Faces (1968) were at the time of their release. The latter was pro-marriage when free love was all the rage, while the former attempted to treat seriously the lives of the middle classes when it was fashionable to mock them. Elsewhere, Fine's very good at detailing the film's fraught journey to the screen – the production came close to running out of money before shooting began in England and the editing process was an interminable nightmare, with Cassavetes struggling to make sense of the 280 hours of footage he shot. At one stage, the director even dictated a 400-page Husbands novel to his personal assistant in a bid to make sense of it all.

Most of the other extras feature various talking heads discussing the film and Cassavetes' working process – weeks of rehearsals, constant improvisation and rewrites, long takes in which the camera was allowed to run and run, and minimal use of blocking and actor's marks. Producer Al Ruban (25 mins), actress Jenny Runacre (18 mins), and Gazzara, cinematographer Vic Kemper and Ruban again (29 mins) all provide fascinating recollections, and what emerges is a portrait of Cassavetes as the ultimate actors' director, someone with unwavering trust in those with whom he worked and a driven perfectionist. Award-winning documentarian Daniel Raim's video essay (13 mins) seeks to capture the essence of Cassavetes's filmmaking philosophy and turns up some great audio, including one startling quote, in which the director tells us: "I would be prepared to kill, steal, lie to the outside world... anything to make that movie". In a lighter vein, Gazzara, Falk and Cassavetes pop up together in an episode of The Dick Cavett Show from 1970 (33 mins). They are, to put it diplomatically, in high spirits and Cavett's attempt at an interview is a total car crash as the three men talk nonsense and pratfall about the set. Support the Girls filmmaker Andrew Bujalski's excellent essay in the accompanying booklet is the cherry on top of an essential package.

Cassavetes's 1958 debut Shadows was one of the films Martin Scorsese credits with inspiring him to pick up a movie camera in the first place and five of the Taxi Driver director's earliest non-feature works can be seen in Scorsese Shorts. What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963, 10 mins) and It's Not Just You, Murray (1964, 16 mins) were made when Scorsese was a student at NYU and are the work of a tyro filmmaker having fun, trying things out (there's a song and dance number in Murray), and starting to develop his own style and voice. The Big Shave (1967, 5 mins) is shorter, sharper and carries a political wallop, starting off with a guy going about that most mundane of tasks – his morning shave – before things grow eye-wateringly bloody, Scorsese making allusions to the Vietnam War and, as he has put it, "a decade of assassinations, a decade of national suicide".

The best stuff here, though, can be found in two longer documentaries: ItalianAmerican (1974, 49 mins) and American Boy (1978, 55 mins). The former is a warm and loving portrait of Scorsese's parents – Charles and Catherine (both of whom appeared in several of his films) – in which the pair (pictured above) gently bicker while imparting a thoroughly immersive sense of their lives growing up in New York's Little Italy, in the early part of the 20th Century (his mum lived in a three-room apartment shared by 14 people). The latter film – a profile of Steven Prince – is rather less cosy. A practised raconteur, as well as playing Easy Andy the gun dealer in Taxi Driver, Prince worked in the music industry, including as Neil Diamond's road manager. He has a wealth of crazy stories (not-so gently teased out of him by Scorsese), starting out with light-hearted recollections about a friend with a pet silverback gorilla, and a 4th-of-July misadventure on a boat, before taking far bleaker turns into drug addiction and death. Prince is a captivating oddball (in the extras, Ari Aster calls him a "magnet for insane shit"), but there is a genuine touch of darkness about him too, which gives this an unpredictable edge.

The centrepiece of the supplements is a new interview with Scorsese conducted by critic and blogger Farran Smith Nehme especially for this release (43 mins). I particularly enjoyed his story about how The Big Shave scandalised festival audiences ("The reaction was outrageous – booing, hissing, laughing, people throwing things...") and his indefatigable enthusiasm for the films he loved growing up (Scorsese first saw Citizen Kane on TV complete with ad breaks and the 'march of time' sequence cut out). Elsewhere, Hereditary director Aster joins fellow modern masters Josh and Bennie Safdie (Uncut Gems) for a lively but rather chaotic chat about the five films (25 mins), and there's a thought-provoking public-radio interview from 1970 (22 mins), in which a 27-year-old Scorsese talks about his lecturing role at NYU and his curation of Movies in the Park, a showcase for upcoming filmmaking talent then running in the city.

Dorothy Arzner was one of a small collective female directors (Lois Weber, Mabel Normand and Alice Guy-Blaché et al) to work in the Hollywood studio system making silent movies in the 1920s, before a whole host of talkies through the '30s and early '40s. Dance, Girl, Dance – from 1940 – is her penultimate film, a slick, fast-moving comedy, with the odd musical number and a smart feminist edge. Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball (pictured above) are chalk-and-cheese dancers – O'Hara a demure wannabe ballerina, Ball the brazen burlesque performer for whom she plays the 'stooge' in a successful Broadway show. And while O'Hara might get the film's best moment as she stops dancing to berate a crowd of sexist men for their wolf whistles and leering heckles, Dance, Girl, Dance truly belongs to Ball, whose slippery, hardscrabble Bubbles is an endlessly entertaining force of nature ("I ain't got an ounce of class, sugar, honest!"). The storytelling is immaculate, with sub-plots involving Louis Hayward's lovelorn millionaire and Ralph Bellamy's dance school owner left simmering away, before being brought to the boil at exactly the right moment to provide an upbeat, beautifully worked finale.

Dance, Girl, Dance might be a little light on supplements but what's here is fascinating. Film Quarterly editor B. Ruby Rich offers a brief overview of Arzner's life and career (15 mins), expertly hopping from point to point about the director's rapid ascent (Arzner shot through the ranks very quickly after starting off as a typist and stenographer), her uniqueness as a queer woman in Hollywood who made little effort to hide her sexuality, and her ability as a 'star spotter' (she worked with Katharine Hepburn on the actress's second film and inspired her 'look'). It wasn't all plain sailing though, and Arzner didn't always get along with the female actors she directed (Hepburn and Ball), while her films – she made 16 of them – were pretty much forgotten after she quit the industry just before World War II.

After leaving Hollywood, Arzner became a lecturer in film at UCLA, which is where Francis Ford Coppola takes up her story (11 mins) because he was one of her students. The man who would go on to direct The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now calls Arzner "a wonderful figure in my life" and remembers a time when he was really struggling financially and how a few encouraging words from her ("You'll make it – I've been around and I know") stopped him quitting college and heading back to New York. In fact, the filmmaker-turned-entrepreneur was such a fan of his former tutor, he even named a rye whiskey after her.

Criterion has recently announced its slate of releases for September in the UK and US, the highlight of which is surely Claire Denis's sublime Beau Travail, a film that has, for some time now, been tricky to find on DVD on either side of the Atlantic. Released in 1999, and loosely based on the Herman Melville novella Billy Budd, it stars Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) as Galoup, an officer in the French Foreign Legion who becomes obsessed with an impressive new recruit (Grégoire Colin). It's a film about envy, repression, desire, and self sabotage, one that interrogates notions of masculinity in a way that might even make for an intriguing double bill with Husbands. Executed with the French auteur's customary visual panache and poetry, Beau Travail is a worthy addition to the Collection which, frankly, hasn't got nearly enough Denis in it. The film will be available in the US on September 15 and in the UK on September 28.

I'll be back here next month to cast an eye over Criterion UK's three July releases: silent classic The Cameraman (starring Buster Keaton), John Walters' fantastically filthy Female Trouble, and Hideo Gosha's chanbara banger Three Outlaw Samurai. I think that's what you call a diverse line-up.

Technical info
Husbands: New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
Scorsese Shorts: New 4K digital restorations of all five films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks.
Dance, Girl, Dance: New 4K restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.


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Companion Pieces: Paris, Texas / Lucky https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/companion-pieces-paris-texas-lucky/ Video Games Thu, 25 Jun 2020 13:36:25 +0000 richjohnson https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=62270 'There's a difference between lonely and being alone.'

Two men walk out of the desert. Despite the 30-plus years between them, there is an air of familiarity. More than that in fact, a close resemblance. When they finally decide to talk they sound similar. Father and son? More likely long lost brothers... or simply kindred spirits. Both of their stories go beyond a midlife crisis and some form of finality, instead their journeys become a meditation for us all.

Harry Dean Stanton's rare lead performances in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas (1984) and John Carroll Lynch's Lucky (2017) galvanise the lone white male figure at the epicentre of American cinema. Stanton is the by-product of what the art form and, indeed, the American landscape have forged; encapsulating the blue-collar rogue who doesn't so much work outside of the law, but simply chooses to ignore it. There is an aloofness in his mannerisms — his effortless approach of 'saying little, says much more' — and as with any archetype, Stanton's features are a memorable part of how you tell a story in and of itself. Framed by every distinctive, craggy line, his delivery remained honest and truthful, no matter who he played. You can't help but warm to his relatable persona because of the flaws and questionable attributes brought to his roles.

Harry Dean Stanton lighting up the screen in John Carroll Lynch's Lucky (2017)

A Harry Dean Stanton double feature should start with Paris, Texas. Not only is this the perfect introduction outside of a myriad of supporting roles but also the perfect introduction to both German director Wim Wenders and actor Sam Shepard's wonderful written work. As part of the German New Wave of the 1970s, Wenders is perhaps most well known for the iconic Wings of Desire (1987) — but it is in several earlier films that he explored his love of America when Francis Ford Coppola brought him to prominence stateside, producing his US debut, Hammett, in 1982. Unfortunately, the film was a commercial failure leading Wenders to seek European funding for Paris, Texas from homeland Germany, France, and the UK.

The late Sam Shepard brought the fragile machismo to the screenplay — his writing as spacious as Wender's direction. Both men, tonally, fall into Jim Jarmusch territory, Shepard's later (and criminally overlooked) film, Silent Tongue (1993) — in which he wrote and directed — feels very much like a precursor to the idiosyncrasies of Jarmusch's Dead Man (1995) delivering another perfect companion piece. Wender's approach is to allow Stanton's silence to permeate the film as much as possible — where the average viewer would struggle with its running time, those more appreciative are just happy to be in the company of the characters and learn to understand what has happened to our protagonist, Travis, and his family.

It isn't to take anything away from the cast of Paris, Texas — they are all another perfect piece of the picture — as Travis's brother Walt, Dean Stockwell provides the counterbalance; Aurore Clément's sensitivity is a welcome break from the film's latent manliness; and the debut of child-star Hunter Carson as Travis' namesake son, Hunter, delivers an effortlessly real performance. It would seem that everyone involved brings some life experience to their role — something almost therapeutic — and once Nastassja Kinski arrives onscreen as Travis' wife, Jane — knowing what we know of her alleged abuse by the hands of her father, Klaus — it makes her role all the more powerful.

Picture perfect? Travis's estranged wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski)

Both films are very much character studies, Lucky, in particular, sidelining story and focussing on incidental moments where Stanton's philosophy guides us through the film. Both stories centre predominantly on male figures, but it is Paris, Texas that treats the woman as an enigma, an almost spiritual presence that navigates Travis and reminds him of his shortfalls as a human being. Despite the limited time we spend with Kinski, Shepard's script makes every second count, her reactions and final moment with her son delivering one of the most heartfelt scenes in the history of cinema.

Travis has searched for Jane. She is someone who represents every other female archetype of the Western — her corset and brothel replaced with a neon-pink angora and black tights; the artificial blonde bombshell framed like a pop art peep show. Her prison is the one-way box she is shot in — an artificial room that hints at domesticity and leads into Travis's 'bad romance' eulogy. It's the most we've heard him say. The contrast to his silence more than earned.

Hanging on the Telephone

Mothers are important but seem vacant throughout as Travis appears guided by ghosts of the living and the dead. He not only carries his guilt but also his father's and is potentially travelling the same path — a man who has always sought the love of a woman and needs to see it manifest in complex and emotional ways. Emotion in both Paris, Texas and Lucky seems as desolate as the landscape — geography is crucial — holding everything back until it needs to deliver. Where one film remains stationary, the other embraces the road movie in search for lost souls — the asphalt leading away from the traditional Western, echoing that straight line Travis walks to nowhere. No guns for hire here but searchers aplenty — defeated from the offset, not by the bad guy but seemingly himself.

The title 'Paris, Texas' is the perfect nod to its European roots — a mix of sophistication and masculinity we would expect from each continent — not so much meeting head-on in a car crash but resting next to each other; delivering a film that restores some semblance of domestic ruse before it is lost forever. To locate a home it seems Travis has had to first walk away from it all before he attempts to restore what is left.

For Lucky, he is home alone from the offset and, much like Stanton, it is more than likely his (wayward) life choice. Both films, however, are still very much about detached men who, perhaps without realising, carry nostalgia on their shoulders as they begin to conform to the rugged stereotypes of the old west. Yet, as we travel, there is a clear transition as the landscape reveals the gas stations and motels, tower blocks and billboards that paint the urban imagery carved out of the frontier. This is where the romanticised nature of American cinema is left to dwindle like Travis' own memory or a forgotten American Dream, much like the dusty plot of land he holds onto. Therefore, it is no surprise that Paris, Texas and Lucky feel isolated by the very nature of their characters, the environment and their stories.

Creature of habit. Note the tortoise ashtray

With Lucky, actor John Carroll Lynch delivers a remarkable and understated directorial debut. Writers and producers Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja craft a screenplay that doesn't only reveal the trials of old age — death tapping on your shoulder while steering around loss and physical challenges — but also a deep and meaningful look at how we interact as human beings. There is a sense of spirituality that begins to cast aside comfortable habits, reminding us of Lucky's tired old sofa that attempts to lay claim on him, objects echoing anecdotes and set pieces from Stanton's films such as a tortoise ashtray and a red phone. Pure poetry — it's as though Lucky could be the elder Travis.

Wenders' use of colour is also poetic; specifically, the use of red that seems to become more prominent as Travis slowly awakens and attempts to bring his broken family back together. Cinematographer Robby Müller, paints the film's interiors in neo-noir undertones to escape the overwhelming dry heat, while Lucky's DoP Tim Suhrstedt, only shows a brief glimpse of vibrant neon to highlight Lucky's defiance — once again, a brief contrast to the baking Californian sun that has given so much life to American cinema.

Flashes of red

In some instances, Lucky is very much the spiritual journey it was promoted to be — there is rich philosophy tethered to its centre through the eyes of an old man — except, those more familiar with Stanton's work and his true character, know that his wry smile offers much more than his sardonic nature. It pays perfect homage to his life and career as he winks at the past and smiles at his own fate. From the offset the film delivers Stanton's daily routine as Lucky exercises; cleans his teeth; drinks homemade tonic; watches game shows and sparks up a cigarette (Stanton was a chain smoker) before visiting his local diner to complete the latest crossword puzzle. Finally, in the evening, he visits the bar — modelled on Stanton's local haunt, Dan Tana's in West Hollywood, where he remained a loyal customer since its opening in 1964.

If you'd like to sit even closer to the man, look no further than Sophie Huber's documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012) that would form the perfect interlude to these companion pieces. It is a beautiful portrait reminding us of Debbie Harry wanting to dance with him — it went way beyond the Blondie song (apparently) when they finally met — and if you stay long enough at Dan Tana's you will see some familiar faces, including writer/producer, Logan Sparks, who, at the time, was a close friend and longtime personal assistant of Stanton's.

In much the same way Stanton deliberates in Partly Fiction, Lucky contemplates with those around him. We watch as he learns that, "Realism is a thing." When Joe, the bartender, pushes him, "Oh yeah? How do you mean?" Lucky explains, "It's the practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly." The bartender attempts to sum it up more succinctly, "So, what you're saying is, 'What you see is what you get'". Lucky, sharp as an old tack, replies, "But what you see is not what I get."

In stark contrast, Travis has none of this — barely a soul left, let alone a routine — but both characters' arcs are about discovering a soul. There is something ironic to Travis' line, "I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of fallin'", as he visits his brother Walt atop a billboard high above the freeway. There is something much deeper to the line that resonates above and beyond the film, echoing Lucky's own fall, that ironically happens when his feet are planted firmly on the ground.

Having passed away at the age of 91, shortly before the release of Lucky, the film should be seen as Harry Dean Stanton's swan song — unfortunately, the forgettable Frank and Ava (2018) was his final appearance — but Sparks and Sumonja's semi-autobiographical approach delivers the perfect love letter placing Stanton front and centre rather than lost and forgotten. There is something ultimately meta about Lucky as Stanton interacts with characters played by those who know him personally; actors and directors who share much more than a knowing wink. Alien co-star Tom Skerritt arrives at Lucky's local diner — a Marine Veteran cap thrown into view that tips the hat to captain Dallas — as they reminisce on their military career, Stanton's own WWII experiences coming to the surface. It's a beautiful scene from their initial connection to their obvious respect for each other on and off-screen. 

Lucky provides two Lynch's for the price of one

Then there's Lucky's friend, Howard, played by frequent collaborator, David Lynch who delivers a tortoise monologue that is not only a standout moment in the film but also of any release that year. We forgive the wonderful auteur of weird for stealing a scene or two knowing that the lines he is speaking are directly influenced by the time Sparks and Sumonja spent with Stanton over the years. "There are some things in this world that are bigger than all of us... and a tortoise is one of 'em!" his own anecdotes peppering the script.

Once Lucky breaks the fourth wall and smiles at us we know full well that 'Harry Dean Stanton is Lucky' because, as the man himself has often stated — on the screen, he plays Harry Dean.

One man walks back into the desert... the tortoise not far behind.


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Of Cults, Clans & Cages: Modern Horror and Internal Battles https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/of-cults-clans-cages-modern-horror-and-internal-battles/ Video Games Fri, 19 Jun 2020 09:42:42 +0000 erikabean https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=60049 Bubbling under the surface of the studio system, independent film companies are (contrary to popular belief) putting out original content. Away from the studio restrictions of enforced family friendliness, these filmmakers are exploring cinema in their own way, building on the influences taken from a childhood of constant input from various media sources. Filmmakers now were raised with the internet, with VHS, DVDs, and the ability to watch and re-watch their favourite films to their hearts content.

They were raised on films that were influenced by the classic stories. They aren't influenced by Lovecraft, they are influenced by film, music, games, and by the world around them. A renaissance of storytelling that builds on the concepts laid out in classic fiction, without always knowing how it does so. While the wave of 80s nostalgia that defines the last ten years has been based on mimicry, these films are stripped back; there are no fluorescent lights and neon tracksuits here. These films are built on multiple layers of beige and grey. That's not to undersell them, they are fantastic pieces of work, but they need some investment from the viewer. There is much to see and find in those layers. As you dig through, they sometimes circle back to their origins, three or four generations of storytelling back from where we are now.

The internet allows exposure to more and more concepts, individual struggles are brought home and explored compassionately, given space to be open with emotional struggles and troubled times. Every Facebook page is its own drama film, its own news story, laid out for public scrutiny and comparison. This idea is explored in the current trend of horror films, taking these classic concepts, be they creatures, cults, killers or mysterious ancient beings and applying closet monsters to internal battles.

Resolution (2012)

While Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's Spring (2014) and Resolution (2012) were regularly suggested to be Lovecraftian, they admit freely that at that point they hadn't read any of his work and didn't even really know who he was. They were working on their own influences, later films which were all a progression from Lovecraftian to what we see now. This circular progression of storytelling is again reflected in the plot itself and the loops the characters find themselves trapped in. The Endless (2018) opens with a Lovecraft quote, acknowledging their predecessor and this circularity.

Moorhead and Benson's first film, Resolution, sees two men locked in a struggle with addiction. Mike (Peter Cilella) is holding Chris (Vinny Curran) hostage as Chris detoxes from crystal meth, following receipt of a video (a trope repeated in The Endless), that concerns him enough to travel to the remote woodland where Chris is living and attempts to rescue his friend from himself. They are forced to explore their friendship, how they have grown as people and apart, as their struggles are played back to them via recordings sent from an unknown entity. Similarly, Aaron and Justin (played by Moorhead and Benson) in The Endless are called to the same area by a mysterious video tape. Interestingly, the recordings are all hard copies, a mixture of analogue and digital technology but all of it is solid. There is no internet here, no apparent risk of other hands in the pie manipulating or spying them. It is simply these two men and this entity in a battle of negotiation, first with each other and then the monster at the door.

The Endless, Moorhead and Benson's companion film to Resolution, has a continual focus on repetition, looping stories and the ability to watch and re-watch what we say and do. Much like watching short videos on the internet. Each loop is a recording that can't be changed and so it is to our lives. We don't really get a do-over, the characters are trapped in this loop with the illusion of immortality but the price of that is not being able to go anywhere. They develop skills, they can present them, and share them, but can't really use them. Aaron and Justin have different views of their childhood in Camp Arcadia due to their ages when they left. Much like memories distorted over time, the younger you are when something happens the more nostalgia and rose tint you are likely to add to it.

The Endless (2018)

This focus on nostalgia is seen in the multiple formats of visual media sent to the characters as reminders that they are being watched. While many long for nostalgia and view the past with rose tinted glasses, these two films strip back the distortion and show that memories can be manipulated as easily as editing a film. The truth of the place and nostalgia felt towards it can't be found again, you can only look at the images left behind and try to muster it in your mind. Each recording shows a point of view, it is not pure truth. Their entire lives in Camp Arcadia are like the image we present to the world through social media. It is selective; this is what we can do, it is the things we have done, but it is not who we really are.

Aaron and his distorted memory leads to a displeasure with his life as an adult, he needs to go back and see it for himself to really move on from his childhood and progress, in a way that those who remain in Camp Arcadia can't. The same entity as in Resolution overlooks all this, like a black dog at the door manipulating their perception.

Jeremy Gardner's After Midnight (2019) takes this 'black dog' concept and literally translates it to a monster banging at Hank's (played by Gardner) door. As he struggles with alcoholism, insomnia and paranoia, the monster comes back, nightly while the rest of the world sleeps. He is locked in a struggle with his own psyche and it is not until he addresses his real-world strife that he can defeat it. For the final act this film almost forgets it's a monster movie – as does the audience – as the drama between the cast plays out. The final battle is not really with the monster but with his choices. He can't fight the monster until he addresses and begins to repair his relationships.

After Midnight (2019)

Ari Aster's two films, Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019), both explore and expand on mental health problems within the confines of a family unit. Both feature people who must lean on others who are perhaps not equipped or willing to deal with what they have been handed. Other hands interfere and manipulate proceedings, pulling these people away from their current support system for their own ends. Hereditary takes a bleak view on this, comparing the family history to Sophocles' Greek tragedies (a quote from the ancient play, Antigone is used in one scene), where fate has already decided what direction they will go. They are like puppets or dolls, demonstrated by the models built by Toni Collette's Annie. Where Midsommar has Dani (Florence Pugh) on a path of rediscovery, finding a new family and support system, Hereditary plays out as a downward spiral.

Both films are catalysed in the first act by a dramatic death, Hereditary has Annie's daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) killed in an 'accident'. Though of course there are those pulling the strings and casting the spells that caused it, they pull on the cracks that are already there. The catalyst at the beginning of Midsommar does more to stall progress than anything, as the murder-suicide of Dani's parents and sister causes her relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor) to enter a strange limbo where neither can really escape from it. As raw emotion is expressed in a way usually unseen in film, this strains the bonds between the original support networks of the characters. She can't leave because of fear, he's all she has. As she leans on him more, he feels that strain and resentment weakening their bond as a couple.

Without that catalyst their relationship would have already come to a natural close, but their problems are pulled starkly into the light as they stand under the never-ending daylight of the summer solstice in Sweden. The bright sunshine shows Christian for what he really is, and in the 'Hårga' Dani finds a new support system. Dani's pain is shared by the other women in the community, and as such she is finally able to fully express it. Their barbaric customs being part of a complicated system of reliance and family, the likes of which she hasn't known before. In Hereditary the strings pull the family further and further apart, manipulating their closeness and trust to the point where they seem to barely know each other. At the end, the last remaining family member is a marionette king for the cult. Not held so much as strung up.

Hereditary (2018)

Aster's cinematic influences are clear, Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973) and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) in particular, play into both these films, but he takes the original films and deepens the theme. Adding more gore yes, but also more drama, more subtext and more weirdness.

David Bruckner's The Ritual (2017) based on the 2011 Adam Nevill book of the same name, also starts with a dramatic death. As one of a group of friends is killed in a robbery, the others go on a camping trip to Kungsleden, a hiking trail in northern Sweden, in his memory. As they all wrestle with the blame and survivors guilt they gained on that night, Luke (Rafe Spall) is held at arm's length from the rest of the group as the survivor of the robbery. His friends are unsure whether to blame him or how they would have acted in the same situation. They are all haunted by it and it deepens the cracks in their relationship, as the things they have in common get few and far between as they age away from who they were at university.

Taking influence from Rob Reiner's Stand by Me (1986), particularly in the dynamics of the friendship, there are also the echoes of Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005). The characters deprecate and communicate in the way only British people do. The Descent especially shows an earlier example of characters coming together after a tragedy when normally they should or would have grown apart. As Stephen King briefly moved away from horror to write Stand by Me, it is horror where its influence is felt now, providing the blueprint for ongoing relationships and friendships manipulated and changed by extreme circumstances.

The Ritual (2017)

Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) in The Descent and Luke in The Ritual, are both caught up in PTSD which manifests and mirrors itself in the monsters they face. Memories mix with reality and tragedy is pulled into the wilderness with them, another monster to face alongside the real one.

As these characters fight monsters of folklore, they are really fighting themselves, adulthood, change, progress and trauma. The monsters are not accurate to their history beyond what you might find going down an internet rabbit-hole, they are modernist manifestations of eternal and internal struggles. As mental health is brought into the forefront of public consciousness, and there is an ongoing rhetoric of non-shaming and supporting those who struggle with it, it makes sense that these stories become more literal.

While H. P. Lovecraft wrote about paranoia and monsters in a way that belied and hid his own struggles, today's writers run into them face on. What used to be the subtext is now the text itself. As friendships extend beyond their natural conclusion thanks to social media, so too is this expressed in these films. The boys in Stand by Me grew up and grew apart, now they continue and become a burden on those stuck with them. While the wave of nostalgia for the 80s wanes, those who grew up with ready access to media (and much more depressing 90s music) look back with grainy videos to go with their grainy memories.

Midsommar (2019)


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TDF Interview: Nour Wazzi https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/tdf-interview-nour-wazzi/ Video Games Fri, 19 Jun 2020 16:04:33 +0000 Sabastian Astley https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=61879 In anticipation of the release of her seventh short, Baby Mine, on Omeleto this Friday, we got the chance to interview writer-director-producer Nour Wazzi and ask about her early beginnings in Cyprus, her time at Goldsmiths, and how she developed her own unique style, as well as the chance to involve herself with Oscar-nominated projects.

Sabastian Astley for The Digital Fix: Tell me about your childhood in Beirut – I read about how your mother would put you in front of the TV as a welcomed distraction, what were some of your favourite films growing up?

Nour Wazzi: I was born during the Lebanese civil war and then we fled to Cyprus where I grew up. I honestly can't remember much of my youth other than what my family tells me – probably why I've always been so fascinated with memory and constructed identity.  I grew up on Hollywood movies, the standout ones in my teen years were films like Seven, Fight Club, The Matrix, Face Off, The Sixth Sense, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, Love and Basketball, Memento, The Silence of the Lambs and The Shawshank Redemption. They clearly shaped my taste today.

Within a year of moving to London, you got your first job as a runner on a Fanta commercial, what did you take away from that very first experience? 

Actually, the commercial back in 2004 was a summer training job at BBDO in Cyprus while I was at Goldsmiths. It certainly made me realise early on that commercials weren't my thing. I think my first proper job in London was in 2006 as a production and development assistant for Phoenix Film and Television which was at Mile End Studios at the time. It's long gone bust now. I don't remember much from the six month stint just that we were producing a new edition for the anniversary of The Young Ones for the BBC and filming interviews with the cast. That was probably my first introduction into British comedy going through hours of old footage. My first real taste of professional narrative film-making, outside of shorts, was when I worked as a production coordinator on the low budget feature thriller WMD a year later.

Wazzi on the set of Lab Rat (2019)

Tell me about how you felt when setting up Panacea Productions, you mentioned that your intentions were to "marry US, UK and Arab talent", and I'd love for you to expand on that. 

I knew early on that I wanted to develop my own features that reflected my unique perspective of the world and could unite the cultures that shaped me. I remember when I was trying to think of a name for my company, I wanted something that connected to my desire to tell stories that could travel universally, that were escapist and thrilling but that meant something. And then I found the name Panacea, something that is 'all-universal', an 'elixir.' I remember that being a very exhilarating moment! This was the start of my career, the world felt like my oyster and I charged ahead like something was after me. Well, I guess something was... time. That was 12 years ago.

Let's talk about Oscar-nominated Waste Land now – how did you handle adapting to documentary work and how do you reflect on that whole experience?

About the same time, I set up my company and started developing projects, I fortuitously landed a job at a production company called Almega Projects that namely focussed on documentary and I climbed from assistant to executive. The main project I managed through production and post was Waste Land, which pretty much took up five years of my life.

The company was run by a wealthy producer and documentary-making can be very dynamic and immediate when you have resources behind you. The project snowballed from a small idea to something much bigger, we partnered with O2 Filmes (City of God) and became the first production to utilise the new Brazil-UK co-production treaty at the time. We raised more money and I believe it ended up with a budget north of $1.5m. We'd shot something like 300-400 hours of footage on a multitude of different formats, it went through a few versions and directors before returning to the rightful hands of the insanely talented Lucy Walker. I spent three months in LA with her as she transformed Waste Land into a profoundly moving emotional journey that will drive you to tears. It won at Sundance and so many festivals I've completely lost count. Being around such an empowering female director invigorated me and really made me value the power of a strong directorial vision and prioritising emotion and character – in whatever format your story is in.

The experience of selling and exploiting a successful film, negotiating deals, working on the Oscar campaign and managing the aftermath – seeing a project through from inception to completion and beyond was just an invaluable eye-opening experience. After a long stint stuck behind a desk while still making shorts, some with my Almega colleagues Shirine Best and Ellie Emptage, including Baby Mine –  I knew docs were never my passion and what I really craved was more narrative filmmaking experience, plus running film sets always made me feel alive. So, I made the transition into freelance 1st Assistant Directing (on shorts, low budget features, short-stint TV, commercials and branded content) while I continued to develop my narrative slate and direct bits here and there.

In that same year, you directed Habibti, working with now-regular collaborator Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan – how did you come to meet Daniel, tell us about your relationship. 

This film and meeting Daniel actually completely changed my life. It's a story of life imitating art... but to explain this I'd need to start from the beginning! While I was working on Waste Land, we'd gone to the Cannes Film Festival to pitch the project and I ended up befriending Ari Folman who at the time was Oscar nominated for Waltz with Bashir. We hung out and he helped me come up with a story that was right for me. It would be about the culture clash and unlikely friendship between a black man and a conservative Arab Woman. There's a lot of racism in the Middle East, and I wanted to find an accessible way to explore the bias and show that there was more that unites us than separates us.

I remember fleshing out the story but didn't want to write it and was determined to find a Black British writer for the task. Then as luck would have it as I went out to walk Shirine's dog in a park in Brixton I run into a guy I haven't seen in a while who tells me he's just moved in with a screenwriter that I should meet. Do I want to come over? I did of course. And that's when I met Daniel. I immediately wrangled him into writing Habibti and we started a whirlwind romance a month before I was headed to LA for a few months for the Waste Land edit. I had ambitious plans of using this as an opportunity to plot my move to LA but the universe clearly had different plans. And in the years that followed moments from Habibti between Daniel and my own mother kept creeping in. It was pretty surreal. The short was pretty successful, and I ended up marrying Daniel of course! The story of Habibti is the story of how I met the love of my life. He went on to win a BAFTA and RTS for his C4 show Run and has some incredible projects with Working Title, Netflix and Warner Brothers. We've got a few projects together, a feature thriller and a couple other big budget sci-fi / fantasy projects on the back-burner for when we find the time!

Habibti (2010)

You've been able to reflect the quality of your work in the talent you've attracted to it; Emilia Clarke in Shackled, Maisie Williams in Up on the Roof and most recently Alexander Siddig in Baby Mine – what do you think draws them in? 

My persistence probably helped in the first instance. Every actor had their own reasons to do with their unique connection to the story, themes and character. They're all such different films. In 'Up on the Roof', Maisie connected to the loss of innocence and while being the love interest she had her own deeper layers of trauma we masked in a lyrical, carefree youth. In Habibti the incredible Hiam Abbass resonated with her journey of ignorance to connection, unpacking her character's racial bias in a light-hearted way. In Shackled, Emilia connected to the surreal imagining of the stages of grief. In Baby Mine, Sid connected to the emotional through-line of a vilified character, challenging audience bias and judgement through the lens of a thriller.

Speaking of Shackled, I know that was funded through Indiegogo, so I wondered if you could tell us more about funding your projects, and the endeavour to find financial support as an independent filmmaker. 

Short film funding is tough. Well, so are features that are so cast-dependent. I have yet to get my own feature fully financed, but possibility is in the air and feel I'm on the brink. Shackled was basically crowd-funding, friends and family support. My dramas Up on the Roof and Habibti both got some money via the Film London borough schemes plus additional crowd-funding. But crowd-funding is a lot of damn work, and not the fun kind – so by the time I got to Baby Mine I wasn't intending to put myself through that again and I wanted a much bigger budget. Pretty much all my shorts were made for an average of £13,000 and I needed at least triple that for Baby Mine as I had an aesthetic direction in mind that needed the production value. Plus we needed a few locations, action vehicles, security, a low loader, big lighting set-ups that involved scaffolding, lots of exterior mist and I wanted to pay a good crew a lot better than minimum wage.

After a number of rejections over the years, the Doha Film Institute finally gave me a grant (a big thank you to Khalil Benkirane for championing me). But it still wasn't nearly enough. After casting up, I reached out to Sami, a high-school Arab friend who'd put a bit of money in one of my other shorts and convinced him to reach out to his network. We ended up finding a handful of awesome investors like Omar Darwazah and Nabeel Sheikh who liked the story, cast and believed in my vision. We also enlisted support from short film financier Stefan Allesch-Taylor, who continues to champion emerging talent. We basically pulled out all the stops, and my production partners at Flat Cap Films Kyran and Andrew even cashed in the tax rebate which was never worth doing before now. But honestly no matter what budget you raise, it's never bloody enough!

Up on the Roof (2013)

I noticed you're a member of Cinesisters, could you tell us more about the group?

We're a collective of talented, award-winning female directors in the UK who work in film and TV. Many have made the leap into TV, have made one or two features or are at the cusp of making their first feature with a wealth of experience behind them. Before COVID-19, we'd meet up monthly with a moderated topic of discussion we'd explore together and provide support to one another. We recently started a monthly newsletter which celebrates all our little wins. It's always nice to remember that the struggle is real, and we're not alone in the world! You can check us out over at https://www.cinesisters.com/

Let's talk about The Break – this was your first paid narrative directing job, and you commented how helpful it was to you as an emerging BAME writer/director; would you say this was a particular high for your career so far? 

It was certainly a high back then as it was my first paid broadcast credit, and it was a great experience to see how TV bureaucracy works differently to film – where the director is not king. It helped me honed my craft in a different way and led to being selected as a future star on the BBC hot-list of 2017. While it was a fantastic opportunity, I'd expected to get more TV work or representation after that but the grind was still the same. It's taken three more years to finally be given a shot to direct high-end TV, that'll be happening later this year (crossed fingers).

How would you describe your directing style – I noticed you have many Pinterest boards relating to your projects, Light/Mood/Framing for Baby Mine, as well as a public toilet one interestingly – is aesthetic key to realising your projects, or does it naturally form with the tone/subject matter?

It's certainly differed across all my shorts, depending on the story and tone. Shorts allowed me to explore a multitude of genres, but as I develop long-form and my voice becomes ever clearer not just as a director but as a writer – something that co-writing on Baby Mine opened the doors to – my style is inevitably rooted in my taste which gravitates to dark, subversive and suspenseful storytelling. Making Baby Mine allowed me to explore and discover my style in a deeper way than ever before. And our BAFTA-nominated cinematographer Rina Yang (of Top Boy and Becoming fame) was a formidable talent to be reckoned with along the journey.  I'd be lying if I said I don't focus on the aesthetics, I'm a visual storyteller after all and I want every frame to be a painting. I always come up with a visual philosophy that is in line with the characters arcs and shifting dynamics to ensure my choices are motivated. Ultimately for me, the manipulation of light and colour are the backbone of emotion in visual storytelling and my aesthetic research plays a huge role in how I imagine the most exciting and impacting way to unravel my stories.

Now, Baby Mine. Inspired by Gone Girl and 21 Grams, it has a complex intersection of race and gender, with both father and mother occupying those roles – how did you develop the concept, and the characters?

I think 21 Grams inspired an early very non-linear iteration of the film but we ended up stripping back on that as was just too convoluted. Gone Girl certainly had an impact with its very flawed and complex anti-heroine – I've always been a huge Fincher fan, growing up on his commentaries. My writing and producing partner Shirine – who was recently awarded the BFI Vision Awards by the way – is half-Iranian and she'd told me a story when we'd first met about her father kidnapping her sister. We hardly ever see Middle Eastern men in interesting roles in commercial cinema, so I suggested merging an aspect of her father's story with another true story we were all excited about and crafting it into a thriller. Pulling from truth and fiction is always a challenge to get right. I just knew that I wanted it to be a gripping, emotive and subversive story that challenged stereotypes. Point of view was a hard one to navigate throughout writing and we ended up prioritising the mother's perspective to shape the narrative.

On the set of Baby Mine (2017)

I know you're adapting it into a whodunnit-style thriller feature, Don't Tell a Soul, reworking it to be in-media-res with Alexander Siddig's character – tell us more about why you decided to re-configure the narrative to that point. 

I actually ended up abandoning the story you'll see in Baby Mine – I ultimately felt like that particular story was told. However, it certainly inspired the journey to Don't Tell a Soul that I co-wrote with my husband and draws from my family history as it unravels an Arab-American perspective that revolves around a murder, a missing family, lost memory, past trauma and dark secrets...

I noticed you described Lab Rat, your upcoming short, as the very last – tell us about your future plans, both feature and television show related. 

I actually shot my sci-fi/ thriller Lab Rat a couple years ago and its definitely my last. It's launching online on the sci-fi channel Dust on the 9th July and I've been developing it into a very unique TV show that I'll be pitching soon. I've recently partnered with powerhouse producers Hans Ritter (DC's Birds of Prey), Mary Jane Skalski (American Animals), Robert Ogden Barnum (All is Lost) and former Sony Pictures' Exec Josephine Rose (Pin Cushion) on various film and TV projects. Two of my scripts are out to cast and being packaged and while I wait to shoot on the sci-fi show (which I was meant to be shooting right now), I'm just developing a bunch of my own exciting sci-fi shows along with talented emerging writers.

Currently in the midst of developing a dope dimension-hopping show that unravels a hidden ancestral past rooted in African mythology through the lens of an African-American teenager. I'm also in the middle of a new script I'm super excited about that U.S. studios loved the sound of – a sci-fi/ action/ thriller set on a prison planet revolving around three generations of women. It's my first completely solo writing endeavour, that also feels like quite an existential journey through its main theme of faith, so we'll see how that goes. Writing has undoubtedly kept me sane during the lockdown, almost given me permission to lose myself in storytelling. My philosophy is all about using what's in my control to get ahead and right now while I wait to shoot that's churning out stories I'm excited about in areas I want to know more about, pitching and finding the right partners I can count on that challenge me to be better. It's the law of probability. Something is eventually bound to stick. The challenge is remembering there's more to life than filmmaking!

On a final note, I know you were involved in BAFTAs Lucky 225, talking about increased demand for diverse female directors – what're your thoughts, how much have things changed?

I can say with near certainty that I probably wouldn't be getting my shot on the sci-fi TV show if they weren't giving more opportunities to emerging, diverse, female directors to at least get in the room. In LA, I felt a sense of excitement from execs with a renewed remit and my style also felt more at home there. The Americans do talk a good game and I loved their efficiency – reading a script in days vs months in the UK – ultimately I found U.S. homes for my genre scripts that struggled in the UK via relationships I'd fostered for years. It's been an arduous road and now I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. More female and diverse directors are getting their break in TV but, as statistics will show, the fact is we are still at the beginning of a very long journey...

I've been really inspired by Ava Duvernay – she's a real powerhouse. Not just in her thought-provoking stories that have enriched and touched me, but as someone who doesn't wait for permission and has paved roads for all of us. I cannot wait to be given the opportunity to be a show-runner on my own shows and be able to support the next generation of filmmakers. With the world's renewed craving for change, my fire is burning strong and I'm staying optimistic about the road ahead.

Nour Wazzi's upcoming short, Baby Mine, premieres Friday 19th June over on Omeleto. Lab Rat will be launching on 9th July on Dust, and all of Wazzi's previous projects can be viewed over at Panacea Productions.



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Cri Life: A monthly column about the Criterion Collection’s UK releases https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/cri-life-a-monthly-column-about-the-criterion-collections-uk-releases-3/ Video Games Fri, 05 Jun 2020 12:33:00 +0000 andywinter https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=60814 This month's Criterion Collection column reviews The Apu Trilogy, Destry Rides Again, and Lola Montès

Made in 1957, the racy and ambitious Lola Montès was butchered in the editing room by producers nervous about its box-office prospects. It then took more than 50 years for director Max Ophüls' original vision to be digitally restored and released, and it is that definitive version which gets a welcome release here. And what a film it is.

Based on the life of a 19th Century dancer and courtesan, Lola Montès tells the story of how her torrid affairs with the likes of Franz Liszt and the King of Bavaria scandalised Europe. Peter Ustinov is ringmaster at the circus where Lola (Martine Carol) has ended up; sad and sickly, she re-enacts scenes from her scandalous past to a packed house every night (pictured above), while we see her actual rise and fall in flashback. Originally filmed in CinemaScope, the HD restoration must be an absolute joy to experience on the big screen, but this release does full justice to the riot of colour and movement in the film's most extravagant scenes (and there are a good few). You spend an awful lot of time just gazing slack-jawed at the spectacle – trying to take in the costumes, the sets, the cast of thousands, and the sheer chutzpah of Ophüls' visual imagination. Detractors point to Carol's low-key performance as the film's main weakness, but Lola is clearly meant to be enigmatic. I suspect we're supposed to admire her tireless appetite for life and love, as well as her instinct for survival, more than Ophüls wants us to like or even fully understand her. Besides, as discomfiting meditations on fading glamour and fleeting fame go, there are few films to match it.

Film scholar Susan White's scripted, detail-heavy commentary covers every beat of the movie, referencing plenty of Ophüls' previous work (including La Ronde and Madame De...) along the way. I was particularly interested in her discussion of the sections that had originally been hacked out and how those changes negatively impacted the film, as well as the tricky restoration process. There's also an episode of a French TV show from 1965 (54 mins) which looks back at Ophüls' life and career, and features contributions from a host of his friends and collaborators. Max By Marcel (32 mins) covers some of the same ground but is more personal because the Marcel of the title is Ophüls' son, an assistant director on Lola Montès and a much-lauded filmmaker in his own right (see 1969's The Sorrow and the Pity). A trailer for the 2008 re-release, plus a wonderful bit of behind-the-scenes footage in which Carol models different hairstyles used in the movie, round out the supplements.

The role of femme fatale Lola Montès is one you could have easily imagined Marlene Dietrich playing in her early days in Hollywood. By the time comic western Destry Rides Again rolled around (1939), though, Dietrich had had to reinvent herself after a series of box office flops. As well as providing the actress with her big comeback, Destry was James Stewart's first western (the likes of The Naked Spur and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance would follow later), and offered a rather more enlightened attitude to violence than you'd expect to find in a traditionally macho genre full of quicksilver gunslingers and fist-swinging cowpokes.

It's Stewart and Dietrich's yin/yang chemistry that does most of the heavy lifting here; he as the titular mild-mannered deputy sheriff trying to clean up a riotous wild-west town; she as Frenchy, a devious saloon singer and girlfriend of the local villain (Brian Donlevy). There is a terrific scene where Dietrich has a full-on bar brawl with the wife of a local eccentric, whose trousers she has won in a game of poker, then goes after Destry when he breaks it up by throwing water on the pair. This looser, lighter, more knockabout version of Dietrich (pictured above) is a million miles from The Scarlet Empress or The Devil is a Woman and nearly as compelling.

There isn't a ton of supplementary material but, in mitigation, what's here is fascinating. Author Imogen Sara Smith (17 minutes) describes Destry as "probably the greatest comic western of all time", but that's the only bit of hyperbole you'll find in her typically learned discussion of the film's origin and themes, including its playful subversion of gender roles and pacifistic attitude to violence. Destry's director George Marshall (19 mins) talks warmly about his formative years in Hollywood working on silent movies, initially as an extra before moving behind the camera, while Stewart biographer Donald Dewey takes just 20 minutes to serve up a potted history of the actor's life and career. It's all rounded off with a typically breathless Lux Radio Theatre version of the film (54 mins) starring Stewart and Joan Blondell in Dietrich's role.

On any list of the all-time great film trilogies, Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (The Unvanquished), and Apur Sansar (The World of Apu) – collectively known as The Apu Trilogy (1955–59) – would be somewhere near the very top. The films (pristinely restored here in a handsome boxset) chronicle the life of Apu, a young Bangladeshi, during three different periods. We first see him as a boy living in grinding poverty in a rural village with his family, then as an adolescent (played by Smaran Ghosal, above) going through school and university, and finally as a wannabe writer and married man. Ray – initially inspired by Italian neorealists such as Vittorio De Sica – finds poetry and beauty in the everyday, although tragedy and heartache rarely stray far from Apu's door. Ravi Shankar's vibrant score across all three films is just the cherry on top of what remain, more than 60 years on, life-affirming hits of pure cinema.

There's around four hours of supplementary material spread across the three discs, including all sorts of interviews with cast and crew, as well as critical analysis of the trilogy (Andrew Robinson's video essay is especially recommended) and a wealth of stuff about Ray himself. If you don't know the story of the director's struggles to get Pather Panchali off the ground or these films' huge impact on Indian and Bangladeshi culture, you will be an expert by the end of it all.

The highlight for me, though, is a short film of only 12 minutes about how the trilogy had to be rescued and restored after its original camera negatives were almost destroyed in a London fire. The eight months of painstaking restorative work that took place – a good deal of it at Bologna's L'Immagine Ritrovata – is like something out of a hospital drama as the stricken patient (in bad shape even before getting half-melted) is slowly but surely put back together by a crack team of what could easily be described as "miracle workers" but are, in reality, just experts at the top of their game. Additionally, there's a 46-page booklet featuring Ray's gorgeous ink-and-water storyboards which he used to drum up finance for Pather Panchali.

Talk of impressive boxsets brings us neatly to The Complete Films of Agnès Varda, which Criterion is releasing in the US on August 11. As its title implies, this 15-disc set contains all 39 of the late French filmmaker's features, documentaries, shorts and multi-media works. The obvious stuff – Faces, Places (2017, pictured above), Vagabond (1985), Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962) – is all present and accounted for, as are less well-known entries in the Varda canon – The Creatures (1966), Jacquot (1991), From Here to There (the 2011 series she made for French TV) – which make their home video debuts. Expect a ton of extras, too, as well as a 200-page book in a set that looks pretty much definitive and a big step up even from Artificial Eye's excellent Varda collection from 2017.

The good news is that Criterion is making the release region-free. Less positively, Amazon US is currently charging over £200 for it and that's before you even get to shipping the thing over to the UK. Between this and July's Bruce Lee boxset, I shall probably be living on Pot Noodles and tap water until Christmas.

Join me back here next month when I will be discussing Criterion UK's June releases: Dorothy Arzner's Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner was one of a small collective of pioneering women directors who helped build the Hollywood studio system); Husbands (directed by John Cassavetes), and Scorsese Shorts (a collection of five of Martin Scorsese's early short films).

Lola Montès – High-definition digital restoration, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Destry Rides Again – New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack.
The Apu Trilogy – New 4K digital restorations of all three films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks.


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By George: How Romero became the underground hero for a whole generation of cult kids, loners and outsiders https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/by-george-how-romero-became-the-underground-hero-for-a-whole-generation-of-cult-kids-loners-and-outsiders/ Video Games Fri, 22 May 2020 07:59:21 +0000 andrewgraves https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=58608 Shortly before my sixteenth birthday, I watched a dodgy bootleg copy of Day of the Dead (1985). The worn-out VHS jumped, wobbled, and crackled its way to the last scene, and despite the tape's poor quality I had been transfixed throughout. I knew its bloody presentation would have to become a big part of my life. Not since I first saw James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) a few years earlier had I ever felt such an affinity. Viewing it made me realise that part of me wanted to stay this grubby, straggle-haired fifteen-year-old forever.

There was something about that grim tale with its ridiculously unpleasant ending that I knew was designed just for me. With it, I could walk the crappy streets of my tiny hometown, ignoring the shouted insults, knowing that I would never really be alone. Not when I could escape to the cooling shadow of the local cinema or the sticky-floored confines of the corner shop with its racks and racks of cheap gaudy video horror. It was the start of my journey into hell and I couldn't wait to get going. My guide would be a bespectacled American-Canadian director named George A. Romero. 

At the beginning of Night of the Living Dead (1968), Johnny (Russell Streiner) utters the words, 'They're coming to get you Barbara' in an immediately recognisable Boris Karloff voice. This off the cuff remark when viewed now, seems to both acknowledge the past and act as a rallying call for the new horror. The old world had served its purpose and much of it would be consigned to the grave for good. This is underlined by the fact that Johnny is done away with seconds later, not by a traditional monster such as the Hammer vampire or werewolf, but by a manic flesh-eating zombie. In that second movie fans were introduced to the way that cinematic scares were going to be from then on. 

It's hard to overstate the importance of Romero's first feature. Though the new wave of horror had arguably begun with Rosemary's Baby (1968) and might trace its beginnings back to the early sixties with Psycho (1960) or the bleakly graphic French thriller, Eyes without a Face (1960), Night of the Living Dead must have appeared to have come out of nowhere, it was not based on any existing source material and was not helmed by already established filmmakers like Franju or Hitchcock. As shocking as Polanski's piece was, it was a mainstream feature produced by corporate picture house Paramount and by comparison, Night... was an edgy independent low budget piece of exploitation cinema.

It became a hugely popular non-major studio hit, confounding the views of many critics who had derided Romero's bloody tale of 'blue-collar monsters' as too extreme. But from the get-go there was something about the director's output that would always appeal to the outsider or misfit, his grim allegorical presentations, mixing politics and social commentary with shock and awe. They balanced the fine line between Arthouse and Grindhouse, and became counter-cultural gory manifestos for the weirdo demographic. 

Like the original Alice Cooper band who would gain popularity a little later, who, incidentally, claimed NOTD as a huge influence, Romero would also target many of America's hypocrisies, and whereas the former addressed them via a deviant form of pre-punk rock-n-roll, combining elaborate stage shows with top ten hits and subversive feminine imagery, the latter sought to attack using his custom brand of late-night scary movies. Both band and director appealed to the same brand of loner kids and horror freaks – much like the future me, the ones who might smear their faces in make-up before catching the midnight double-feature of blood, guts, and Grand Guignol. 

Though, in the wake of his directorial debut, he would attempt more sedate material like romantic comedy There's Always Vanilla (1971) and the sublime proto-feminist supernatural thriller Season of the Witch (1972), Romero's stock-in-trade would be his continuing run of violent genre shockers. The Crazies (1973), now an incredibly prescient piece about a government's failure to contain a deadly virus, sought to double down on his zombie credentials, his 'plague' victims reduced to marauding loonies, unthinking and out of control. The production seemed to solidify many of the tropes audiences would come to expect of Romero, particularly during that classic phase of his career. As in NOTDThe Crazies presented us with 'the beleaguered mob', a strong black male character, and placed science in opposition to a militant, uninformed authority. The two films also riffed on an idea that would become a key factor in the director's work – that of the 'monster' being far less of a threat than the other 'civilised' humans. 

Romero became adept at exposing the fragility of respectability or accepted societal norms. In his first feature, he not only highlighted the racial tensions of the age, but he also sought to vanquish preconceived notions about traditional cinematic narratives and the status quo. The young couple of the piece are not presented as saviours of the future; instead they die prematurely, while the nuclear family is re-framed as the ultimate dysfunctional unit when a father is attacked and eaten by his own cannibalistic daughter.  

With Martin (1977), a brooding low key take on the vampire legend, cinemagoers were offered not so much a classic monster movie but a kitchen sink style, serial killer flick. It's seedy anti-hero, a troubled and delusional young man, stalks the Pittsburgian streets, the urban concrete of the industrialised landscape, replacing the castles and crumbling ruins of old-style gothic chills. In a sense, it drove a stake not just through the unfortunate protagonist, but also through the all too restrictive perceptions of the low budget horror feature and what it might do on a discernible artistic level. It of course again appealed to a peripheral audience of cynical adolescents and outsiders, it's raging condemnation of the class system and suburban isolationism, is another example of Romero inviting the disaffected quarter into his welcoming fold. 

Dawn of the Dead (1978), the belated sequel to Night of the Living Dead, is possibly the directors most fondly remembered production, and its carefully constructed satire on mindless consumerism has been much discussed, however, the third part of that franchise Day of the Dead (1985) would see Romero engaging with a whole new generation, and that generation certainly included a young me. Whereas in the past, he had played in the arena of the sixties college dropout, the late-night stoner or draft-dodger, almost twenty years later, he could now aim the latest instalment of his zombie trilogy at an ever-growing new crowd of Goths and rock kids, his return to form coinciding with a new wave of heavy metal, and a spate of ever more graphic X-rated video store splatter. 

Day of the Dead, easily his most stomach-churning effort, largely thanks to the make-up jobs of long-time collaborator Tom Savini, offered myself and kids like me a bleak and blood fuelled cold war thriller, with loads of cool effects and memorable lines. The squabbling between the meagre squad of humans represented the public's sweated paranoia, as the increasing threat of an actual nuclear war, seemed devastatingly more real with each passing day. 

Romero would continue to produce dark features until his death just three years ago, leaving behind him a trail of notable entries such as Stephen King collaboration Creepshow (1982) or the underrated Monkey Shines (1987), he would even return to his zombie creations with three more living dead sequels. But his reputation, at least on a mainstream level would never reach the heights of contemporaries like Spielberg or Scorsese, his unique brand of cheap thrills marking him as a throwaway hack in certain misinformed critical or cultural circles. And while the continued neglect of this genre master, outside of the horror community is galling, it is also strangely comforting. Those not initiated will never really understand, and that's okay because he was never for them, he was always for us. Always there for that never ageing fifteen-year-old part of me, still hell-bound and still loving it.


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The Midnight Movie: New Hollywood at its Finest https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/the-midnight-movie-new-hollywood-at-its-finest/ Video Games Sat, 09 May 2020 11:30:47 +0000 zoecrombie https://www.thedigitalfix.com/film/?post_type=feature&p=58322 As the classical Hollywood period declined in the late 1960s, New Hollywood began to rise, bringing forth new images and narratives that had never been depicted before on mainstream American screens. The most daring, countercultural works of the cycle included films that pushed boundaries of taste, broke apart narrative convention, and looked back to classical Hollywood for the purpose of critique. There was even a certain subset within the cycle that served as an experimental space within an already ground-breaking moment: the midnight movie.

Looking chronologically at the films Pink Flamingos, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Eraserhead, I will be charting how the midnight movie evolved over the course of the 1970s, examining the industrial and historical contexts that lead to the creation of these films. New Hollywood's 'newness' was dependent on concepts like making the implicit explicit, reworking old genres, and subverting familiar filmic conventions in favour of greater artistic freedom – the midnight movie allowed these ideas to flourish.

As New Hollywood is a cinematic period largely built upon revisionism, it is important to note that the term 'midnight movie' originated during the 1950s, referring to earlier Hollywood films that were shown on television late at night. This lead to many children growing up watching and rewatching the same movies, influencing a generation that would then become the cine-literate filmmakers and audiences of the 1970s, making some almost overly familiar with films that were originally branded as low culture.

The resurgence of the midnight movie in the late 1960s is, much like New Hollywood as a whole, a revision of an existing film practice, with filmmakers beginning to make films expressly for the purpose of being seen by a curious youth audience. By the 1970s, these films became known for their radical aesthetics and ideas, and were known more infamously for depictions of violence and sexuality that could never have been shown decades earlier. Personally, I believe that the chaotic, boundary-pushing tendencies of the new midnight movie embody how 1970s Hollywood is known for its departure from the conventional, classical Hollywood style.

The Implicit Made Explicit: Pink Flamingos

From the early 1930s onward, the Motion Picture Production Code played a major role in dictating what kind of films could be made in Hollywood; the Hays code, with its Catholic sense of morality, prohibited taboo imagery and subject matter. From the introduction of the code until the early 1960s, Hollywood films were almost entirely prevented from showing any kind of explicit content, with topics surrounding sexuality being completely prohibited.

With a plot featuring a drag queen's quest to become 'the filthiest person alive', Pink Flamingos is a film that exploits the newfound freedoms provided by the abolishment of the Motion Picture Production Code. As one of the earliest examples of the New Hollywood midnight movie, the obscenity of this film can be interpreted as an immediate reaction to the decline of the studio era, pushing hard into a new debauched direction against what was previously permitted. From a biographical perspective, this is understandable: director John Waters is an openly gay man, who has noted that he included these never before seen topics to 'make people consider things they'd never consider before' and 'throw the rules into anarchy'. As classical Hollywood films were unable to explicitly show 'any inference of sex perversion' or 'sex hygiene', depictions of homosexuality could only be lightly implied by filmmakers. By showing scenes of graphic nudity, intense profanity, drug use, cross-dressing, and a cornucopia of sexual acts, Waters brings images to the screen that are entirely new, that could not have been previously shown whatsoever on mainstream US screens.

While the content of the film may be the more noteworthy topic, the production and cinematography are also certainly distinct from the classical Hollywood aesthetic. Pink Flamingos was created on a budget of $10,000, this industrial context clearly influencing the look of the film. Waters shot on location in Baltimore, and the sets within the town tend to be small scale and domestic – the cramped interior of the caravan, for example. The quality of the film stock is also far lower than that of a Hollywood production, and when combined with the use of natural light this results in a distinctly fuzzy, desaturated look.

The choice of location also seems at odds with the glamorous spaces depicted in Hollywood cinema: Baltimore was notorious for crime, and the areas chosen for it are dirty and dilapidated. This suggests that Waters is depicting an underworld that Hollywood had previously been able to ignore, creating a new type of film by showing what had rarely been brought to screens before. Though the inherent radicalness in depicting these unacknowledged spaces has worn off to an extent over the years, it can be seen contemporarily as generating New Hollywood newness via bringing forth what had previously never been made explicit.

As the most notorious moment in the film, and possibly of Waters' career, the ending of Pink Flamingos demonstrates just how far the lack of a production code could be pushed, bringing a new extreme to exploitation cinema in the process. Without using any kind of off-camera innuendo or false props, Divine is shown eating dog faeces from a pavement, cementing her status as the filthiest woman alive. Filmed on location in the street with a cinema verité style realism, the scene blurs the line of fiction and reality by directly showing Divine actually committing an obscene act. The sequence primarily exists as a climax to the remainder of the film, which has gradually increased the stakes of filthiness up until this moment.

Its aims, then, seem extradiegetic – instead of solving any conflict within the film, the scene pushes boundaries of taste that extend far beyond Pink Flamingos itself, taking the original shock value ideas of exploitation cinema to their extreme end point. This is emphasised by the voiceover that closes the scene, with John Waters himself celebrating Divine as 'the filthiest actress' in the world. By signposting this act as documentary rather than narrative fiction, Waters casts a light on the artifice of Hollywood film, suggesting that New Hollywood is a realm in which the unattainability of classical Hollywood perfection is no longer relevant.

Blending Genres: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

At the decline of the studio era, the concept of classical genre films (Westerns, musicals, etc.) as pre-packaged and easily marketable products was brought into question after the high profile flops of pictures like Hello Dolly and Doctor Dolittle, two conventional musicals that were 'dismal failures' financially. A film becomes less simple to define if it belongs to multiple categorisations, resulting in a product that audiences may find potentially alienating if the generic features are contradictory.

Consequently, the notion of a 'genre film' as a safe concept was brought into question. As a film that mixes and reworks two seemingly incompatible genres from classical Hollywood – spectacular musicals and horror B-movies – The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an example of the subversive potential of the New Hollywood midnight movie. Much like Pink Flamingos, the film was born out of an underground LGBTQ+ space that produced the original musical, The Rocky Horror Show, reinforcing the idea that New Hollywood was a period in which countercultural corners of society could finally be acknowledged and brought to the foreground.

While Rocky Horror... does similarly rely on the shock value of its content, it also aims to analyse the Hollywood films that preceded it, suggesting an evolution in the midnight movie from the immediate reaction of explicit content to the reconsideration of the fringes of classical Hollywood. This is reflected in the film's choice of aesthetic reference, as science fiction was a genre at the edge of Hollywood filmmaking that was not taken seriously in the classical era.

Both the stage show and the film foreground their intentions of genre reworking with the opening song, 'Science Fiction/Double Feature'. Much like what is often cited as the first of the New Hollywood films, Bonnie and Clyde, The Rocky Horror Picture Show opens with an extreme closeup of a pair of red lips, in an undetermined location or time. This sense of destabilisation created by the lack of an establishing shot or any kind of reasoning for the extent of the closeup is opposed to the classical Hollywood style of maintaining continuity and keeping narrative coherence, removing this foundation of filmmaking for a new alternative.

Though this shot is highly sexually charged, the gender of the person behind the lips is never made clear – in fact, while the lips belong to actress Patricia Quinn, the singing voice is Richard O'Brien's, unsettling the gender binary in a way that was prohibited in older Hollywood works. The song itself is celebrates the so-called trash films that could be found in 1950s midnight movie screenings, with references to low culture science fiction movies and serials like Flash Gordon and When Worlds Collide presented in the form of a 1950s style musical number. A high-brow musical style used to present low brow content reflects the New Hollywood tendency to combine seemingly incompatible ideas in order to provoke a response of confusion or discomfort.

While examples of genre reworking can be found woven throughout the whole film, the musical sequences are most effective in bringing together seemingly incompatible styles and ideas. "The Time Warp" musical number blends the cinematography, choreography, and spectacle of a classical Hollywood musical number with the production design and costuming of horror and science fiction B-movies, combining two genres that were seemingly diametrically opposed. While the production value of the film is clearly low, the bombast and energy of the song itself gives a sense of grandeur to the scene, as do the numerous visual allusions to dance numbers choreographed by Busby Berkley. One bird's eye shot that looks down upon dancers moving in a circle is even reminiscent of the kaleidoscope patterns created in films like Footlight Parade.

The contradictory figure of Columbia (Little Nell) appears to be an exaggeration of the feminine and masculine extremes of such numbers – she has short hair, a top hat and a bow tie, but is also wearing a tight leotard and sequins. This is also reflected in the cognitive dissonance between Little Nell's voice and her tap dancing, the former being high pitched and reminiscent of child actors like Shirley Temple, the latter bringing to mind the dance sequences of actors like Fred Astaire. These references to high budget, MGM musicals, however, are subverted by the mise-en-scène: the costumes are cheap and mismatched, the set is compact and in disarray, and the lyrics refer to 'dimensions' and 'the time slip', bringing to mind the campy B-movies mentioned in the opening song.

Auteurist Oddness: Eraserhead

In my opinion, no film better demonstrates the possibilities that New Hollywood held in giving more strange, marginal movies space to be widely seen and appreciated than David Lynch's first feature film Eraserhead. With a near incoherent story and a gritty, off-putting aesthetic, the film seemingly exists more as an exercise in atmosphere than a narrative feature, and it was this oddness that allowed it to slowly gather a cult audience over several years of midnight screenings.

As a risky avant-garde project, it stands in contrast to films like Pink Flamingos, which gained an audience through exploitation style word of mouth, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which already had an established audience from its stage show origins. Additionally, rather than making explicit references to then society-wide taboos like homosexuality and cross-dressing, Eraserhead came from Lynch's internal thoughts and fears surrounding fatherhood, unleashing them through artistic expression. Much like these films, however, Eraserhead seeks to thematically and formally break down the foundations of classical Hollywood, looking to and critiquing the old in order to arrive at the new. As one of the final midnight movies of the New Hollywood era, the film represents its logical endpoint, utilising new concepts like genre reworking and explicit content to such an extent that the new product is essentially indecipherable.

The entire film is shot in black and white, drawing inevitable comparisons to earlier cinema, and the nuclear (in both senses of the word) 1950s aesthetic of many of the interiors is also suggestive of a more critical look at the era and its conventions from a New Hollywood perspective. In a scene early on, in which Henry (Jack Nance) sits down to dinner with his girlfriend Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), Lynch subverts many expectations that were established in the history of conventional Hollywood filmmaking. Notably, he distorts any sense of cause and effect from the character's actions and does not adhere to how the stock figures of a nuclear family normally behave, allowing mysterious chaotic forces to control the scene instead.

The scene begins with Mary's father, Mr. X (Allen Joseph) requesting that Henry carve the roast bird, referencing that he had an operation on his arm 'fourteen years ago' and that it is now 'all numb', adding to the theme of placing the often celebrated past in a more ominous light. The framing of the dinner table is from a strange and voyeuristic angle that places the viewer in a dark corner of the room, not aligned with any particular character. This contributes to the uneasy tone, transforming what should be a familiar scenario into something more unsettling. This unease transforms into genuine horror when Henry begins carving the bird, which twitches and bleeds, somehow causing Mrs. X (Jeanne Bates) to start having a seizure.

The editing suggests a causal relationship, as Lynch cuts back and forth between the bird and Mary's mother, but because the connection is near impossible to make for the viewer, this moment only causes more confusion. The discomfort of Mary's mother subverts the idea of the mother of the nuclear family being an accommodating host, as she instead makes both Henry and the audience feel even more uncomfortable. While it is hard to draw any direct meaning from this scene (or from the film in general), it is this withholding of any explanation that exemplifies the odd freshness of the film.

For its disturbing imagery and countercultural themes, I think that the scene in which Henry kills his baby epitomises the bizarre, personal tone of the film that provides it with New Hollywood newness, allowing the disturbing rumblings present in the film to come to a head. Notoriously, the materials used to create the baby have remained unknown since the film's release, its animalistic, slimy appearance being almost the exact opposite of innocent, angelic depictions of babies from mainstream media. Though Eraserhead is closest generically to horror cinema at this moment, the impenetrability of the film keeps it within the realm of avant-garde cinema. This aligns with a trope of New Hollywood identified by scholar Todd Berliner, who states that films of the period often 'situate their filmmaking practices between those of classical Hollywood and [...] art cinema'.

Henry's actions in the scene as the protagonist also create a similar 'conceptual incongruity' to what is present in The Exorcist, as the beating of a child is not treated entirely with disgust towards the perpetrator. This is intensified by the distressed noises the baby makes, which don't seem to align with its monstrous appearance. The baby itself could even be described as a symbol of this countercultural underside of New Hollywood: an almost incomprehensible being that ended after only a short existence, but that nonetheless left a profound impact.


As a space that allowed New Hollywood tendencies to thrive at their most extreme, the midnight movie demonstrates the period at its most extravagant, explicit, and unconventional. While this sub-genre produced many more works that the films mentioned, these best exemplify some key traits of the midnight movie, particularly those that represent how the newness of the New Hollywood period manifested formally and thematically. Rather than purely honouring America's cinematic past, these filmmakers used their newfound sense of freedom to unleash their most unconventional themes, stories and visuals.

The resulting films were so fresh and unusual that they were scandalous, taking up time slots at the very fringe of the mainstream screen. As a space that actively encouraged taboo material and experimentation, the 1970s midnight movie is New Hollywood in its most concentrated form, especially as it also embodies the contradiction that this new, inventive work was ultimately sidelined by studios for films like Star Wars and Superman.


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