Category Archives: Film

Hunger by Steve McQueen

My earliest vivid memory of a TV news report was one on the dirty protests at Northern Ireland’s Maze prison. Some earlier events left vague memories – Thatcher’s election as Conservative leader, the rescue of the US hostages from Iran, the Winter of Discontent – but those shit-covered H-Block walls and the hosepipes spraying them down are still clear in my mind as if I’d seen them yesterday.

So tonight I went to see Steve McQueen’s film Hunger:
Continue reading Hunger by Steve McQueen

In the Bowels of Earls Court

As part of my preparation for Richard III next month, I have been immersing myself in the source material. Including several viewings of the movie versions by both Lawrence Olivier and Ian McKellen. The McKellen version, set in an imaginary 1930s England of civil wars and facism (close to the England that may have transpired had Edward VIII not abdicated on his marriage to Mrs Simpson), is stunningly beautiful in its choice of eccentric locations (as well as in the costumes and props used). Every scene brings on a new and mouth-watering piece of architecture. I have just been reading more about the locations used on Ian McKellen’s website, where I saw this:

Earls Court Exhibition Center is frequently used for rock concerts and opera but no one has ever shown interest in the bowels of the building. The barren, concrete lower levels provided the behind-the-scenes area of the arena where Richard held a Nuremberg style rally. Soviet and Italian inspired murals proclaiming a new order of prosperity, productivity and full employment decorated the walls of the green room.

When I was 17, and was acting as photographer for a new Richmond College newspaper alongside reporter Andrew Gilligan, Andrew and I visited Earls Court station. He told me about the elaborate network of tunnels that existed underneath the station, and together we sneaked inside them while the railway staff weren’t looking. The tunnels really are quite incredible, an underground city. We wondered around them lost for some 30 minutes, dodging into alcoves whenever we heard footsteps approaching, before finally ducking through an unmarked door and finding ourselves in the exhibition space, right in the middle of the Earls’ Court Boat Show (making a significant saving of some £20 on entrance fees). Truly an experience to remember.

Taxi Driver and Street Photography

I watched Taxi Driver last night. Last time I saw it was over 15 years ago, and I remembered very little about it. Great film, especially the cinematography. I’m not sure how much this just reflects my current interest and frames of reference, but the photographic style of the movie seemed very much influenced by American street photographers. All of those hazy, sleazy neon-lit night shots made me think of any number of different things. A lot of the scenes of political ralleys put me in mind of Gary Winogrand’s book Public Relations, but most of all the general grainy night-time feel, and in particular the bloody crime scene towards the end, made me think of the (much earlier) photos of Weegee.

Update: OK, I was just watching TV for a couple of hours (the longest in months) and I realised that everything on there also looks like various forms of photography I’ve been looking at recently. Realised that I also haven’t watched any movies for a long time. Hence, this “Weegee influence” is probably more a reflection of a change in the way I look at things than it is specific to this movie.

Hidden

I would write something here about Michael Haneke’s film Hidden (Caché), but I can’t because my brain isn’t working this morning. But what I will do, mainly for my own benefit, is link to this brief review and anything-but-brief discussion of the film, which helped me to unravel some of the themes and in particular the “what happened there?” ending. Something I love about Michael Haneke’s films: they’re never over at the end, the audience is expected to work hard and, in doing so, gets so much more out of the movie.

And a quote from the lead character which gives away the movie’s context:

Terrorize me and my family and you’ll regret it.

I saw this movie a fortnight ago, and realisations about it are only just blossoming within my head. Although many of the themes within it relate to France’s treatment of Algeria, I believe many elements within the film actually refer to the USA’s treatment of Iraq (from the obvious – the TV news footage shown while the Laurents fret over their missing son, to the less so – the fact that Georges is convinced his once-almost-brother Majid is terrorizing him but Majid strenuously denies this and eventually the audience comes to believe his denials. Hell, even the fact that the main character is called George(s) and (possible spoiler this) the brief suggestion that the “terrorists” could be the children of Georges and Majid, an allegory for their own deeds coming home to roost).

Damn, yes. A hell of a lot to think about.

Factotum and Bombon

I went to see the film Factotum last week. I had very high hopes, partly because I had seen one or two good reviews, but mainly because the film is directed by Bent Hamer – with hinsight, his previous film Kitchen Stories is the best movie I have seen in the last couple of years. I was also interested in the fact that Factotum is based upon a book by Charles Bukowski – I don’t know a lot about the man, but during the hazy period when I borrowed David’s Bow flat for my weekly London visits I discovered a copy of Post Office there, picked it up out of curiosity and found it very hard to put down again.

So, I was expecting something truly wonderful, but in fact I would say the film was just “OK”. There was some great acting, and some interesting scenarios, but the whole thing felt rather thrown together, just a series of barely-connected events from the writer’s life with no real thread or purpose. A disappointment.

Far better was Bombón (El Perro), which I watched on DVD the night before last. This movie is set in Patagonia, somewhere I know only through Bruce Chatwin’s book, and the cold alien landscape and somewhat dismal lives of the people there matched the expectations the book had inculcated in me. It’s an incredibly warm film though: the hero is an old man, Juan “Coco” Villegas, down on his luck and recently made redundant from his job at a petrol station. He helps a woman whose car has broken down, tows her the 150km back to her mothers house, and is rewarded by being given the dog her recently deceased father had intended to start a dynasty with. It turns out that this dog is a perfect specimen of an Argentinian dogo, and together with the rough-hewn gentle giant dog expert Walter Donado, Juan sets off to exhibit the dog (called “Bombón of Lechien”) at shows around the country.

It’s about as weird a pretext for a movie as you can imagine, and the results are equally weird – a sort of road movie version of Best In Show transposed to the furthest-flung reaches of rural South America. But the characters are so rounded that you can’t help loving them, especially Juan, Walter and Juan’s “love interest”, the Arabic-singer (who doesn’t speak any Arabic) Susana.

Deutsche Kino

I’ve been practicing my German language recently, and making good progress, as this week our friends from Bochum are coming to stay and when we last saw them (at Easter) I promised I would be fluent when we next met.

A big part of my learning has come from watching German (and Austrian) DVDs, and trying not to rely on the subtitles too much (it would be impossible at the moment to do without them completely). I’ve bought, hired and borrowed every single one I could find recently, and have had a great time watching them. I’ve been very impressed by the general quality, and wondering whether this is because German films are, in general, very good, or because only the ones worth watching ever make it into translation are the best.

Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve watched these last few weeks:
Continue reading Deutsche Kino

Sideways

We watched Sideways last week – what a great film. Could it be coincidence that the two most touchingly human films I have seen in the last two years have both starred Paul Giamatti?

Anyway, I was very heartened by the following quote, it made me feel far more justified in my own wine prejudices:

Jack: “If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.”

Miles: “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any fucking Merlot!”

Team America

I watched Team America on DVD last night – already saw it at the cinema, where I loved it and rated it four stars. Well, on second viewing I think I should upgrade that to a five. It’s a perfect film in almost every respect, and pant-pissingly funny. The scriptwriters and puppeteers have every Hollywood cliché nailed: Will, who watched it with me, said “those puppets are better actors than actors” (to which, of course, I should have replied “yeah dude, that’s why they call it acting).

Didn’t have time to watch all of the DVD extras, but the interview clips with Trey Parker & Matt Stone which I did watch were enlightening. They said their original intention had been to do an exact remake of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, using puppets. They said that Bruckheimer movies were already comedy, but the puppets would emphasize that, which is exactly what they do: as I mentioned, every Hollywood cliché is worked in, but the use of puppets makes these clichés so damn obvious that you can’t help laughing.

Some great insight on Kim Jong Il too. His tearjerker song in the film, “Lonely” (“I’m so ronery….”) was funny but, as Trey and Parker pointed out, probably pretty close to the truth. “Kim Jong Il is a big movie buff, he has a collection of 25,000 movies in his presidential palace. You can be pretty certain he’ll see this movie at some point, and when he sees that song I think he’ll cry”.