Kino Keeno

"Film is not the art of scholars, but of illiterates…"

Tracks I Like #1 – Pink Frost by The Chills

by Ben Diamond

Last week I was staying with a friend in the Midlands.  We were in the kitchen, he’s always singing snatches of various vocal melodies and somehow he retrieved this one from the recesses of his memory. The next thing you know I’d listened to it fifty times in 48 hours.

It’s one of those tracks that you couldn’t possibly have conceived of before hearing it, and after hearing it couldn’t possibly imagine it not having existed for all time.

The track starts off with a – to my ears, anyway – jubilant guitar line, which then transitions into a beautiful vicissitudinal interplay between the bass and guitar, before finally settling on pre-empting the vocal melody.  So in the first minute you have the jubilant wrong footer, the mini-dialogue, and finally the killer melody, and by the minute mark the bass has taken on that familiar low-end comforting plodding quality.  Meanwhile the drums have that production which is sort of shitty as it feels separate from the rest of the instruments, something to do with the sharpness of the recording – that sense of them being distant or far away, the sting taken out of them – but at the same time totally works with the track.  It has a Joy Division-ish feel to it and the ability to summon a very particular yet indescribable mood is something I really admire in this track.  The guitar line mirroring the vocal line also reminds me of Sonic Youth’s Schizophrenia.

The lyrics speak for themselves.  I particularly like that the NZ accent is preserved.  It gives it a local character and flavour.  Thom Yorke might be my all-time fave but he still sometimes mangles his vowels to sound a little more American and it induces an infinitesimal twinge of disappointment.  People sound at their most genuine when they sound like themselves.  The question posed to the listener – ‘What can I do if she dies?’ is totally disarming here.  ‘How can I live when you see what I’ve done?
How can I live when you see what I’ve done?’  Two lines sung exactly the same in quick succession, but the last syllable is sung differently in the first and second instance.  It’s amazing how much power and meaning can be derived from the simplest of changes.

What a fantastic song.

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Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami 1940-2016)

by Ben Diamond

kiarostami

Close-Up (Kiarostami 1990, 98m)

It’s always sad when a musician or director dies, but art has an interesting relationship with the thanatotic, because, if anything, a great artist becomes immortalised through death.  The sadness, I feel, comes in part from the fact that their current filmography or discography ossifies – there is no longer the potential for one last great film, one last great album.  But, in a strange way, everything about an artist that is superfluous to the consumer, the things that they shared with all other, less brilliant humans – their daily routines and doctor’s appointments and trips to the supermarket – fade away, leaving the most important part behind: the work.  The body might fail but the spirit intensifies.

And so it is often the case that I take the opportunity to become acquainted with a filmmaker after they die, when the inevitable retrospectives roll into town.  Having seen none of Kiarostami’s films, I was pleased to see that the ICA (and I should really do a post some time about how the two most important cinemas to sign up to as a member in London are the ICA and the BFI) were doing a few screenings of Close-Up.

As an aside, I have found it more difficult to keep up seeing and writing about films since starting work full-time.  I find I have to have an espresso (least liquid = least likely to need to go to the toilet) before a film if I go after work now, otherwise I’ll focus all my attention on not falling asleep rather than the film itself.  Also, I don’t know why, considering it’s not much fun going to the cinema in hot weather, but these last few weeks I’ve had a solid run (The Neon Demon, Notes on Blindness, Queen of Earth).

Close-Up (‘based on a true story’) is about a man who gets arrested for impersonating a film director, or rather for taking a family along for a ride in thinking that he is a famous film director.  The film flits between the court case and his interactions with the family who believed he was who he said he was.

It’s a difficult film to unpack.  My main observation would be that the whole court case, where the judge seeks to determine his reasons for pretending to be a famous artist, shows:

  1. Impersonation can have its own authenticity
  2. Impersonation can be an artistic act
  3. If you try and channel the brilliance of another, that can have transcendental results
  4. It is very hard to explain or justify something you have done, outside of the act – the act speaks for itself

That will probably only make sense for those who have seen the film, and if you haven’t – check it out, it’s very cool.

I found the endless justifications as to why this man pretended to be a director fascinating.

I could also see links and connections with all sorts of other films and directors.  The car scenes – the way the camera was mounted on the bonnet and the way the conversations unfolded – reminded me of Kiarostami’s contemporary, and fellow countryman, Jafar Panahi.  The combination of driving and trial scenes must surely have influenced Nuri Bilge Ceylan, especially in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.  And the authenticity/inauthenticity theme also reminded me of the whole subplot involving a child passing a Pink Floyd cover off as his own in The Squid and the Whale.

When the impostor meets the person he’s been pretending to be at the end, the malfunctioning lapel mic doesn’t allow us to properly hear what passes between the two.  A postmodern trick to end a very postmodern film.

Son of Saul

by Ben Diamond

son of saul

A reconstructed, blood-curdling scream – Son of Saul (Nemes 2015, 107m)

I’m not sure what there is to say after witnessing a day and a half in the life of Sonderkommando Saul Ausländer, prisoner of Auschwitz in 1944.  The choice to simply show, through the eyes of one man, what was happening, in real time, in Auschwitz, is a bold one.  ‘Hollywood Holocaust’ narratives – The Pianist, Schindler’s List, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – look like they are portraying a whole different Holocaust compared to this.  Son of Saul is beholden to no-one and, as such, chooses to show, all around Saul, the sickening details that other films have turned their heads or shied away from.  Such is the freedom that has been granted to a director on his debut who, by all accounts, struggled to secure the funding needed for such a daring piece. The mounds of ashes being shovelled into the water, the bodies being dragged along the floors, the banging on the walls of the gas chambers.  All these and more are constants in the film, sickening realistic details that never simply fade into the background, no matter how repetitive. They never lose their power to shock.

Things are more complicated than a simple this-is-how-things-were account for two reasons.  Saul lives longer than most because he is a member of the Sonderkommando, the unit made up of Jewish inmates who assisted the Nazis in disposing of bodies after they had been gassed, before eventually being disposed of themselves.  So part of the complication of this film is that Saul is, in some way, a collaborator with the Nazis and a traitor of his own people.  But, for me, the more interesting, second complication, concerns the chain of events set in motion at the start of the film, where Saul spots his own son – still breathing – among the dead after the gas chamber doors have been re-opened for the Sonderkommando to remove all evidence of evil before the next group of Jews arrive.  The horrors of Auschwitz become secondary to his quest to give his son a proper burial, the camp being a nightmarish maze he must zigzag through in order to avoid his own demise, find a rabbi to say mourner’s kaddish with him, and lay his son to rest in the proper way.  Another prisoner accuses him at one point of prioritising the dead over the living, his desire for proper Jewish ceremony putting the prisoners’ plans for an uprising in jeopardy.

The film has interesting things to say about perspective, too.  There is a discord between the viewer’s experience and Saul’s experience.  The camera is almost always trained on Saul – he is usually either walking towards or away from the camera. Things happening in the background are simply that – things happening in the background.  Saul’s determination to give his son a proper Jewish burial is carried out with determination, and he is always purposefully doing something, never stumbling about aimlessly.  For the viewer, however, the experience is overwhelming, chaotic and confusing, even though Saul never has a moment where his resolve wavers.  We can’t know what he’s thinking, planning to do next, or even seeing.  This seems like a serious challenge to the idea that we can properly document or understand such dark periods of history.  We can only watch and try to interpret.  It is a rare beast where you have a strong understanding of a character’s motivation and at the same time a sense of utter bewilderment at what is going on.  There are definite parallels between the techniques used in Aleksei German’s fictitious Hard To Be a God – a similar case of a camera always in flight with terrible scenes constantly unfolding all around – and Son of Saul.

For the perpetrators, the logical extension of the telos of the Holocaust is the denial of the Holocaust after it has happened.  We witness this today.  This film is all about documenting, witnessing, remembering, in the face of forgetting.  This is the power of film – to show the impossible. Because no such videos exist of the actual atrocities.  Part of Son of Saul shows the struggle to document the horrors of Auschwitz as one inmate tries to covertly take pictures of the extermination taking place, and another hides his writings.  The Nazis also tried to exterminate the Sonderkommando.  So this film serves the dual function of documenting of how memories were erased, as well as trying to reconstruct some of that memory.  Auschwitz, of course, became the focal point of post-Holocaust memory because it was both a work camp and an extermination camp, leading to many survivors’ testimonies.

The most horrifying scene in 12 Years a Slave, another film about parts of our recent past that some would rather forget, shows the lynching of a man, low enough so that if he just stands on the tips of his toes, he can breathe.  And he struggles on for an excruciating length of time, the camera static.  The big personal revelation for me after seeing that was that I only remembered this scene again a few days after I’d seen the film – I had erased the most shocking part from my memory, pretty much as soon as I had witnessed it.  As the atrocities pile up in Son of Saul, you feel that director László Nemes has tried to construct such an unblinking portrait that it is simply impossible to forget.

Other Holocaust-related writings from this blog:

Night Will Fall

No Home Movie

See also: Martin Amis’s book, The Zone of Interest, in part told from the perspective of a Sonderkommando.

Sex Lives of the Potato Men

by Ben Diamond

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 17.18.04

“Vegas and Crook are a sleazy dream-team and brilliantly cast as the soft-core spud men… After several pints and a curry it could be the lads’ film of the year.”

-Mark Adams, The Sunday Mirror, 22nd February 2004

“Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival”

-Extract from Mark Adams’s Twitter bio

Where were you when you first watched Sex Lives of the Potato Men?

(Subtext: I am ashamed that the review of this film exists alongside my review of Son of Saul).

You can’t spend your life watching great films.

Sometimes you have to ground yourself.  Remind yourself why it is that great films are great.  Because it’s all relative, isn’t it?  If you went to see something as good as Barton Fink every week at North Finchley Vue then the spectacle would fail to astound after a while.

And so it was that I found myself in a living room in Sunderland watching Sex Lives of the Potato Men.

I remember seeing posters for this on buses when it came out.  I remember seeing Mackenzie Crook up on that poster, and the Office connection made me want to see it.  But unfortunately I was 13 years old for most of 2004.  Now I’m a big boy – 25 years old – so I allowed myself the indulgence of checking out a film that was notoriously bad.  There was a special aura of badness surrounding this film, folkloric tales of a 0% rating on RottenTomatoes, outrage at the million pounds of public funds from the UK Film Council used to make this film.

I didn’t find it to be as nasty and misogynistic as some critics made out.  I didn’t even find it so terrible, so awful, such a heinous crime of cinematic attrition.  I even laughed a few times.  Yes, it’s abysmal.  But so is loads of stuff.  It held my attention more than recent Oscar-winner Spotlight, which tried to occupy the centre ground between thriller and procedural and ended up being neither, essentially a montage of interviews with victims of abuse masquerading as a testament to the selfless heroics of investigative journalism.  The Wire Season 5 it weren’t.

Four thoughts on Sex Lives of the Potato Men, or as it was called in France, La Vie de l’Homme de Pomme de Terre.

  1. Sometimes it’s easier to write about a bad film than a good film.
  2. Someone had to write this film.  It came out of someone’s head.  I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in the psychotherapy sessions this bloke has been to.  And if he hasn’t, he really needs a few sessions.  Someone had to think of the idea that a man used to spread strawberry jam on his other half’s pudenda before he performed cunnilingus.  Someone then had to think of the idea that he missed the taste of such an experience so much that he had to start eating strawberry jam and fish-paste sandwiches to replicate the taste.  It’s like Proust’s madeleines but with a subtle hint of fanny juice.  Either the man who wrote this is a genius or needs to be in Broadmoor.  Some of the conversations in this film are so dead-end and nonsensical that they almost (almost) come full-circle and turn into a brilliant Kafka-esque satire on the banalities of modern discourse, each conversation simply a compendium of phatic utterances.
  3. In a way, this feels like a precursor to the era of Inbetweeners-style humour. Crucially, Vegas and Crook are total losers and their sex lives are shit, so they are playing underdogs.  But the tone of the film is so off, so wrong, that the fine-tuned charm of the Inbetweeners is instead bludgeoned to death.  Maybe Sex Lives of the Potato Men had to be slain on the altar of comedy for better things to come after it.
  4. Some scenes, concepts, dialogue in the film are genuinely disturbing.  And this irritates me.  Because I’ve watched Rome, Open City.  I’ve seen Fitzcarraldo.  I recently sat through the entirety of Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma.  I’ve watched the greats, kids.  And I can barely remember anything from any of them.  And I can remember loads from Sex Lives of the Potato Men.  In excruciating detail.  Like the scene pictured at the top of this article, where one character opens a door at an orgy and, in a break from the reality of the rest of the film, strolls through a neon-lit avenue of obscenities – ‘piss flaps’, ‘beef curtains’, even – and we’re talking the height of eroticism here – ‘fingering’.  Fingering.  The holy grail.  And my point here is that these neon signs are now forever burned into my mind’s eye. This film, in its shittiness, has made more of an impression on me than most of the greats.  And that has disturbing implications for art. Great art and bad art.  And how the void left by bad art is the thing that is left when the good art that you actually had to think about evaporates from your short term memory.  And if bad art leaves the strongest impression, then ad execs know, by extension, that if they throw enough shit at you, literally and metaphorically, at least some of it will stick.

Sandwiches, anyone?

Anomalisa

by Ben Diamond

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 23.21.59.png

Womb Service – Things get frisky in Anomalisa (Kaufman, 2015, 90m)

I think the image I have provided says it all.

So many Houses of Animation – Aardman, Studio Ghibli, Pixar – boast some sort of otherworldly beauty.  That is the pull of the animated film.  A distinctive visual style.  A mechanics that wouldn’t work with real-life physics.  A colour palette that couldn’t have been captured by filming real life.

So.  Charlie Kaufman is already fucking with the fabric of animation itself.  He has chosen that most pliable and versatile of styles, and he has chosen it to represent…what, exactly?  A man tenderly going down on a woman in a hotel room.  I cannot remember such an unblinking portrayal of the act since Ben Stiller ventured south in Greenberg.

Maybe these moments are the truly beautiful moments.

I had to stop and pinch myself.  Was I really watching stop-motion characters copulating on a hotel bed.  At 11.30am.  At the Barnet Everyman.

It brought to mind Philip Roth’s book Sabbath’s Theater – and the titular antihero, Mickey Sabbath, and his past run-ins with the law because of his lecherous, obscene Punch and Judy street theatre antics.

This one’s all about the horror slowly dawning on you.  And then you realise it’s been there all along.

At first you think Michael Stone is wearing a nifty pair of wire-framed glasses. Then it dawns that he has a line running along the bottom of his forehead.  A testament to the cranial pressure within.  Everyone else has these fissures too.

Then you notice the strange tonal qualities of all of the voices of the people Michael Stone interacts with.  Then you try to ignore it.  Then you come to see its significance.

The reality is probably worse than the dream.  And hundreds of other micro-realisations along the way too.

We all have ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs hanging on our doors to Hotel Subconscious.

Maid Kaufman is ignoring all such warnings.

 

Infinite Jest at 20

by Ben Diamond

“I did have a smartphone, but I didn’t like how it affected my behaviour.  I don’t feel the need to be constantly connected to things, and I didn’t feel like it was adding to my life.” – Andrew Savage, Parquet Courts

infinite jest

I can only imagine how it must’ve felt to have read Infinite Jest at the time of publication.  Perhaps just picking it off the shelf of a bookshop, and taking it home, knowing nothing about it.  A sort of ‘what the FUCK is this MONSTER I have taken on?’ moment that must have followed.  Perhaps even a sense of smugness upon finishing it, to know that you had read a true-to-God stone cold fucking classic and you now had to wait several years, if not decades, for critical and popular consensus to catch up.  Actually, fuck consensus – you would’ve had to wait years just for other people to finish the fucker.

I myself started reading it during my second year at university, and gave it more attention than I was giving to my studies.  It took me ten months to get through it all.  I was helped over the finish line by the ‘summer idleness’ after I moved out of halls and back home.  I essentially stayed in bed for a few weeks and made sure I got to the last page, then heaved a sigh of relief.

Is it going to be one of those books that I read again?  Probably.  I remember a conversation with a friend when he finished Infinite Jest, a few years after myself, and he mentioned some sort of revelation at the end of the book that I had not even noticed when I read it.  There is so much going on in Infinite Jest that it is perfectly plausible to get a lot out of it, and feel you have all these unique insights, and at the same time to miss something which another reader would find completely obvious.  Such is the nature of the beast.

If you’ve read IJ and you meet another who has done the same, there’s definitely a cultish feeling of a shared mythical experience.  You’ve both dedicated the time to reading this beast.  You’ve both been changed by it.  You both know.

I was compelled, when in Austin, Texas last year, to go to the Harry Ransom Center and try to check out the David Foster Wallace collection.  I had a feeling I would be viewed with suspicion by the librarians when asking to take out David Foster Wallace’s original handwritten manuscript of Infinite Jest, but they couldn’t have been more helpful.  I sat there, at a desk, thumbing through the manuscript.  My main thoughts were, first, a terror that I would somehow damage the manuscript, by sneezing on it or ripping it or something, and also a sense that I perhaps shouldn’t have been there, doing what I was doing (even though I was allowed to).  Would DFW have minded?  I had no academic reason for being there.  Just a sense of curiosity and an urge to complete this ‘pilgrimage’, so to speak, seeing as I was already in America.

I suppose the point of that anecdote, showing off aside, is that that is the effect David Foster Wallace can have on you.  He can make you go to Austin, Texas in search of the David Foster Wallace collection.  I also got to look through and handle some of his books from his own collection which had been donated to the HRC.  Looking through DFW’s copies of Don DeLillo books with the marginalia and underlining and everything…it was special.  I also read a heartbreakingly honest email between himself and his publisher acknowledging that Infinite Jest would probably not appeal to anyone.

 

I would love to quote just a sentence or two from Infinite Jest but – of course – my copy is currently out on loan to a friend.

What is the legacy of Infinite Jest at 20, then?

Well, let’s start with the legacy of David Foster Wallace.  I feel this is a common complaint that other readers of his work will feel too, and that is this: everything else seems really poorly written after you start reading David Foster Wallace He’s just cleverer than anyone else.  Times a thousand.  I can still take pleasure from the sparseness of a Raymond Carver sentence.  But a sentence by many modern authors often smacks of Wallace-lite.  So, in that sense, DFW has ruined reading.

Along the same lines, due to the tragic early death of David Foster Wallace, his output as an author is there in stone, already done.  There won’t be another novel in five years’ time.  So for a DFW fan, you have to ration yourself if you want it to last.  I’ve devoured all the journalism (the best collection of essays is A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, followed by Consider the Lobster. Both Flesh and Not is mainly offcuts).  I’ve read Infinite Jest and The Pale King. But I’m saving the short stories and The Broom of the System (his other novel). I can definitely make those last a decade.  I want to savour the prose.

And the legacy of Infinite Jest itself?  Well, I’m going to make the obvious point here.  The central conceit of the novel was that there was a videotape circulating that contained footage that was so addictive that once you started watching, you couldn’t stop.  Your brain just turned to mush and you had to watch it on repeat until you died.  The obvious extrapolation of this being that we’re all actually teetering on the brink of the addiction/idiocy continuum, even more so now that smartphones have taken over.  Just take a look on public transport and count the people who aren’t tethered to a smartphone.  So, um, he nailed that one.  (Also DFW oddly predicted the advent of things like Skype which, in 1996, I assume weren’t obviously going to happen or take off like they have).  So, yes. I assume there will be many a thinkpiece about the prescience of Mr Wallace.

If you get a bit obsessed with David Wallace like I have, you get a sense of the man.  You get a sense of the man through things like his handbooks he wrote for his classes when he was teaching English and Creative Writing at college.  Like this, for example, from a document entitled ‘Syllabus for David Foster Wallace’s class “English 102-Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction Fall ’94″‘:

CLASS RULES ON PUBLIC DISCUSSION

Anybody gets to ask any question about any fiction-related issues she wants.  No question about literature is stupid.  You are forbidden to keep yourself from asking a question or making a comment because you fear it will sound obvious or unsophisticated or lame or stupid.  Because critical reading and prose fiction are such hard, weird things to try to study, a stupid-seeming comment or question can and up being valuable or even profound.  I am deadly-serious about creating a classroom environment where everyone feels free to ask or speak about anything she wishes.  So any student who groans, smirks, mimes machine-gunning or onanism, chortles, eye-rolls, or in any way ridicules some other student’s in-class question/comment will be warned once in private and on the second offense will be kicked out of class and flunked, no matter what week it is.  If the offender is make, I am also apt to find him off-campus and beat him up.

Those lucky, lucky people being taught by DFW in 1994 didn’t know him as a great author back then (IJ hadn’t been published yet).  What I would’ve given to have had him as a teacher.  The hilariously titled “English 183A Your Liberal-Arts $ at Work” gives you a further insight into the humour of the man. I should mention that I found those documents through the great article ’46 Things to Read and See for David Foster Wallace’s 50th Birthday’.

Check out the video below of DFW talking just to see how reasonable, considerate and softly-spoken he is.  There is some serious megatonnage of intellect hiding behind that midwestern drawl.  It might be in the video below, it might not (apologies, not gonna watch all 90 minutes of it now to verify), but there is an amazing interview with him, on YouTube I am sure, where he talks about his own addiction to TV, and how he ‘doesn’t allow’ himself to watch TV anymore.  There’s this brilliant sense of the cognitive dissonance of the two selves, the naughty boy and the parent.

I’ve rambled for far too long now.  I’ll end with this – is it the irony of ironies that DFWs’ Infinite Jest tour is being made into a film?  I wonder if James Incandenza had a hand in the direction.

Is Werner Herzog a Radiohead fan?

by Ben Diamond

My first thought, as I imagine everyone else’s was too, when I saw the new trailer for Werner Herzog’s next film, The Connected World, was: Did the Wern-Dogg just use Radiohead’s Kid A/Amnesiac era font?

Here’s the trailer in question:

And here’s some text from that trailer if you’re too lazy to watch it all –

Herzog Trailer Font

And here’s the font Stanley Donwood, one half of Radiohead’s art department (the other being Thom Yorke, under various pseudonyms ‘Dr. Tchock’, ‘The White Chocolate Farm’, etc (I’m not making this up)), used around the turn of the millennium –

Donwood Font example

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The font, my research tells me, is called ‘BT Plakatbau’ and was created by the graphic artists’ collective ‘Büro Destruct’ (a very Donwoodian-sounding name), who formed in 1994.

Where am I going with all this?  I don’t know.  The font isn’t even the same. Herzog’s is chunkier (and I think his font has a bit more girth to it as well).  But it’s similar enough.  I’m calling Herzog out on this one.  I think he’s a long time ‘head fan.  I’m going to go further than this and speculate that he tolerates the Bends/OK Computer-era stuff but comes into his métier with the b-sides from the fruitful Kid A recording sessions.

His thoughts on The King of Limbs are unknown.

I suppose this is my long-winded way of saying that I’m looking forward to the next Herzog doc, like everyone else is.  The internet, and the connected world, and all that, is a concern of Thom Yorke’s too, so that adds some minor weight to my theory.

Here’s Thom Yorke talking about us being the commodity on the internet, within the context of his having seen Adam Curtis’s 3-part documentary All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (well worth a watch).  Our content is the commodity being bought and sold.  Much like this blog post.  (Full interview here): –

In the days before we meet, he has been watching a box set of Adam Curtis’s BBC series, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, about the implications of our digitised future, so the arguments are fresh in his head. “We were so into the net around the time of Kid A,” he says. “Really thought it might be an amazing way of connecting and communicating. And then very quickly we started having meetings where people started talking about what we did as ‘content’. They would show us letters from big media companies offering us millions in some mobile phone deal or whatever it was, and they would say all they need is some content. I was like, what is this ‘content’ which you describe? Just a filling of time and space with stuff, emotion, so you can sell it?”

Having thought they were subverting the corporate music industry with In Rainbows, he now fears they were inadvertently playing into the hands of Apple and Google and the rest. “They have to keep commodifying things to keep the share price up, but in doing so they have made all content, including music and newspapers, worthless, in order to make their billions. And this is what we want? I still think it will be undermined in some way. It doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. The commodification of human relationships through social networks. Amazing!”

And here’s one last Radiohead quote, this time courtesy of Jonny Greenwood, because it’s hilarious, fucked-up, and I couldn’t resist: –

We used to go into the IRC rooms and pretend to be us. But at the end of the session, we would say ‘I confess, my name is Steve and I am from Ottawa, I’m just sitting here with all my Radiohead books’. Then someone would come in the room and pretend to be Colin, even though Colin was downstairs playing bass. It got very twisted.

Incidentally, God bless whoever made the Radiohead site where that quote came from.  It’s very Web 1.0, but I’m glad it’s still standing.  It’s a goldmine of Radiohead quotes that I haven’t found elsewhere.  In many ways, OK Computer was very Web 1.0, too.  And props to Radiohead for going on IRC chat rooms in the ’90s.  Men ahead of their time.  Men ahead of their time.

I am aware that I’ve gone from Herzog to Radiohead, without any hope of coming back full circle.  Things often wind up Chez Thomm round these parts…

The Revenant

by Ben Diamond

revenant

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant (Iñárritu, 156m, 2016)

Warning – spoilers

Don’t you hate it when you’re on an expedition for pelts and you get into a fight with a bear, and the bear sort of wins the fight?  And then the bear gets cocky and comes back for more and you decide that you’re not going to take this bear’s shit any more?  (At this point, if someone asked me if I was going to take this bear’s shit anymore, I would reply ‘Does a bear shit in the woods?’).  So then, don’t you hate it when the bear comes back, and you shoot it, but it keeps laying into you, and you’re all ‘Get OFF me, bear!’ and eventually it sort of does, and you both roll down a ravine and the bear lands on you but you’re still alive, and your friends find you, and you think you’re home and dry, that they’ll look after you, and then they decide to kill your son and leave you for dead?  But you’re not dead?  Don’t you just flipping HATE that?

I like that director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu has clearly put the everyman at the forefront of his concerns when making The Revenant.  In David Cameron’s Big Society, we’re all getting savaged by bears on expeditions for pelts.  Every bloody day.  It really gets you down after a while.  So here’s DiCaprio, and he’s got a message for Cameron.  He’s mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take it anymore.  He’s got an e-petition for Downing Street.  And he’s just fallen off a fucking cliff, on a horse.  But he’s landed, and he’s alright. And he’s got another horse.  And he’s heading for Millbank.  And he’s not stopping at Tate Britain on the way.

But.  And there is a but.  No-one can understand what Tom Hardy is saying.  I can’t understand what Tom Hardy is saying.  DiCaprio can’t understand what Tom Hardy is saying.  Even Tom Hardy can’t understand what Tom Hardy is saying.  Come to think of it, I can never understand what Tom Hardy is saying. In any film.  Maybe all directors are desperate to have Hardy-specific subtitles, but there’s a ‘no-subtitles clause’ that Hardy’s agent writes into every contract, lest his ego be bruised.  It’s like Hardy got sent the script from a mumblecore film by accident instead and learnt his lines and everyone was too scared to tell him, so they all just went along with it.

“Is that good, what I’m doing?  All the prowling and mumbling?”  Hardy probably mumbled to Iñárritu, during filming.  “What did Hardy just say?” Iñárittu probably whispered to an assistant.  “I can’t understand a word he’s saying.  Let’s sort that out in post.  Make a note to sort that out in post.”  Alas, the post-it note to to sort it out in post must’ve got lost.  Probably in the post. Lost in the post.

Shades of Enter The Void-style Gaspar Noe, with the omniscient floating camera. Shades of Uncle Boonmee, with the implication of a second, nature-based narrative.  Shades of Castaway, with the “WIL-SOOOOON!”.  Cameron might’ve face-fucked a dead pig, but DiCaprio’s been inside a dead horse.

The Hateful Eight

by Ben Diamond

The Hateful Eight (Tarantino, 187m, 2016)

The Hateful Eight (Tarantino, 187m, 2016)

The audacity of Odeon Leicester Square to hold an oligopolgy over the 70mm Ultra Panavision print of the film and then charge £20 a ticket couldn’t spoil my enjoyment.  The cheerful on-screen imperatives during the intermission to go forth into the foyer and purchase diluted syrup Coca-Cola, Malteasers and other treats couldn’t spoil my enjoyment.  The wanker chowing down on smelly nachos next to me couldn’t spoil my enjoyment.  The middling reviews that I read in the week leading up to me seeing the film couldn’t spoil my enjoyment. Even the cunt who started looking at their mobile phone during the most tense end scene of the film couldn’t spoil my enjoyment.

Because at the end of the day, a New Tarantino is a New Tarantino and nothing can take that away from me.  I still felt the buzz driving to the cinema.  I still felt the buzz of being in the cinema.  Yes, Tarantino may have lost his edge.  He’s still head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.  His ear for dialogue may have gone.  It doesn’t matter.  He’s still the master storyteller.  And thank fuck he decided to exempt himself from acting in this one, relegating himself to the brief role of narrator.  Never before have I been so excited and intrigued by the sight of a single jelly bean lodged inbetween the floorboards.

It’s some people.  In a shed.  Being tense.  That’s basically all there is to it.  It’s great.  It has shouty Samuel L Jackson.  It has some civil war unfinished business.  It has a ‘Red Apples’ moment so people can feel sophisticated by recognising the most fucking obvious visual trope in the history of cinema Tarantino’s calling card.  Ooh, and look at the snow – outside!  Looking pretty. Cinematography and that.  Great, innit?

The Stephen Fry quote (about PG Wodehouse) comes to mind – “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.” Wodehouse and Tarantino don’t sound like they have much in common.  They don’t.  But they’re literary and filmic comfort food for the soul.  Fry’s right. Don’t analyse it.  Just bask in it.

Over the three-plus hours, there’s actually very little action.  Just little doggies, barking all day.  Ramping up the tension.  Tarantino must be doing something right.  Roll on number ten.

Top 10 films of 2015

by Ben Diamond

 

It’s the anal-retentive’s most cherished of Christmas presents – The End-of-Year List.  In reverse chronological order of viewing…

10. Taxi Tehran (review)

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I loved all the formal and meta-tricks going on in this one.  Very philosophical, very political, very accessible, funny and charming.  The idea of driving around in a taxi lent this film a mixture of claustrophobic confinement and a nervous energy, a very literal momentum.

9. By Our Selves (review)

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Admittedly, not as good as Kötting and Sinclair’s last adventure, Swandown, but I commend these two for going on a psychogeographical jaunt around Albion, retracing the steps of our forgotten national treasure, the poet John Clare.  These images are what Stewart Lee sees when he closes his eyes after he’s drunk his last ale of the evening.

8. 45 Years

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Perhaps, perhaps, a film for older people, older couples.  But the idea that things you do in the early days of a relationship come back to haunt you decades later stayed with me.  As a person in their mid twenties, I took this film as a challenge to look at my life and try to spot the seeds of destruction I’m already sowing…

7. The Falling

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I remember sitting through this and thinking halfway through that it had descended into silliness, but The Falling stayed with me for months after, especially the orchestrated faintings, en masse.  Grand choreography.  So much strangeness.  The possibilities for drawing parallels between the central mass-hysteria metaphor and all the other incidences of mass-hysteria in our daily lives are endless.

6. Wild Tales

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Six unrelated Argentinian shorts, all directed by Damián Szifron, stitched together into one anthology film.  Not entirely consistent in quality, but there’s enough humour, invention and savagery to see you through to the end.  My favourite was ‘El más fuerte‘, one of the funniest and most violent things I have ever seen.  The spirit of Bottom and Rik Mayall was looming large over that one.

5. Appropriate Behavior

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Featuring the most awkward threesome scene you’re ever likely to see.  Desiree Akhavan – just as funny and talented as Lena Dunham.  Perhaps less annoying, too.

4. It Follows

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I don’t go for horror films – but I went for this, massively.  The creepiness factor here was absolutely nuts.  Fantastic soundtrack, too.  A sudden noise can scare you, but a threatening person walking towards you in a long take from a distance will scar you for weeks.  Also love this one because it reminded me of the power of the multiplex after midnight on a Friday when you’re the only one watching in the cinema.  On the walk back to the car after, I kept looking from left to right.

3. The Duke of Burgundy

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Even writing this annoys me, as it reminds me that I’ll probably have to wait another few years until Peter Strickland’s next film.  Both this and Berberian Sound Studio are amazing and unique.  Stan Brakhage and Belle de Jour are just some of the influences on display.  Deeply sexual, deeply unsettling, hats off too to Cat’s Eyes for lovely weird music to accompany the whole thing.

2. Leviathan

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If you want to try and understand modern Russia, you need to do two things.  The first is to read Emmanuel Carrère’s book Limonov, and the second is to watch this.

1. Whiplash

Whiplash

J. K. Simmons.  Terrifying.  It’s not really about the music.  Exhausting to watch.  Won’t be taking up the drums any time soon.  Will probably stick to the stylophone for now.  Anyone want to form a skiffle band?