There’s a reason why Moonlight (2016) won last night at the Oscars, even after the result was fudged up by Faye Dunaway and her old pal Warren Beatty did their best during the biggest blunder of the ceremonies 89 year history. Even before the result was corrected on the stage that saw the award go to La La Land (2016) I knew in my heart that it should have gone to admittedly the stronger of the two films – Moonlight. I’d like to use this as my argument for why it should and rightly so have been awarded Best Picture.
At first I wasn’t really fussed by seeing the film, know it was something special. It took reading and listening reviews for me to change my mind and check it out. A 3 act film that follows one Black guy from child to manhood, not so different on the surface they have been urban films before, but none that tackle homosexuality and so sensitively too. A social urban film that doesn’t play up to the stereotypes of African-Americans for a white audiences. Its story is ultimately human which has allowed it to transcend the barrier of colour. The humanity in La La Land’s restricted within the confines of a couple who are striving for their own dreams. Far more selfish than most those in Moonlight. Maybe it’s that we follow Chiron played by three different actors allowing us to spend so much time with him, it’s far more intimate.
La La Land is essentially a love letter to Hollywood by the machine that produced it, a musical that loves musicals. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, however it feels constructed with the intent to win votes for last night. I know that’s not the case, with a release and campaign doing that job for the film. With Moonlight the love is for the a hard-won emotion that Chiron who begins his journey with us under 10 as Little (Alex R. Hibbert) a cute and shy kid who has far more on his mind than most kids. Picked on for being different, but why is he different, at his tender age he begins to look in on himself to consider he maybe gay. Supported ironically by drug lord come mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali) (who rightly won best supporting) who is the cause of Little’s mum Paula’s addiction. Herself played by a dazzling Naomie Harris who filmed her scenes in 3 days in between promotion for the latest Bond film.
You feel nothing but sympathy for Little’s struggle on the street, at school, at home and with his own identity. Finding strength in his young friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) who we follow also throughout Chiron’s life. All you want to do is reach into the screen and hug the little man who has so much to deal with and nowhere to turn. Juan is the only father figure in his life, who is not wanted by Paula as we later learn.
Moving onto high-school and we meet Black (Trevante Rhodes) the teenage Chiron whose grown slightly in confidence, yet still painfully shy. Still friends with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) who will play a pivotal role in Black’s sexuality and future. As we have seen before in film, high-schools harsh world for some, filled with social pressures to conform as you leave childhood to become adult. You really get a sense of the angst that has been building up before it explodes after a fight on the playground that pits friends against each other. It’s nothing short of being a painful watch for the audience. In a way you see it coming, all the pent-up rage being unleashed after a moment of tenderness’s matched with one of betrayal before violence follows.
The final act sees an incredible transformation for Chiron (Ashton Sanders) who is now a drug dealer, beefed up and wearing bling to suit the life he has fallen into. On the surface it gives him power and confidence on the streets, no one questions him, the fear he can incite into those below him. It takes a few minutes to realise this is the same guy who we saw only moments ago. We are also bang-up-to-date in terms of period. La La Land does have a character transformation with that clever and controversial twist. Here in Streets of Atlanta, Georgia you could say Chiron has come full circle, taking on the role of his once father figure who took him under his wing. Yet its all a facade that takes one phone call and two visits to his mother and Kevin.
The last third sees everything come to a close, making sense of what has just happened, he’s come so far yet has not developed emotionally to have a romantic relationship, too insecure, too damaged by his past and his position prevents him from being truly happy. Very different to Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) who made personal sacrifices to fulfill the creative ambitions, their dreams come true at great cost to each other. In Miami and Georgia reality is against Chiron, his economic, family, social and sexual background are not in his favor. Its a much richer, human drama that wipes the floor with La La Land, which is a completely different film.
Now does this show a change in Oscar voting and ultimately American films, or is it simply a fluke that 3 Black films had prominent nominations in multiple catergories. For me, its a good start to see a much more varied mix of films to enjoy and celebrate, different stories to tell and share with audiences. It’s really too early to tell if this progress is here to stay or just simply lip service, lets hope this year sees more progress, more diversity whilst still exciting stories to
After showing a portion of A Kind of Loving (1962) I moved onto Midnight Cowboy (1969)that was John Schlesinger‘s last film of the decade. It was the first X rated film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, and another two, Best Director and best-adapted screenplay.
On the surface it doesn’t share the same themes of the earlier film if anything it’s a more personal piece by Schlesinger a successful homosexual director bringing these themes to the film. It follows Joe Buck (Jon Voight) a young Texan who decides to move to New York to try his luck in his own words as a Hustler, believing his authentic cowboy image is going to attract all the women. Unaware of the images true connotations. It’s not until he gets there and is befriended by Ratso – Dustin Hoffman does he slowly begin to realize what is happening. The dream of success on the streets is shattered much like that of the sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960’s. I noticed that financially he’s always paying out and not earning in return for his “work”, things slowly get worse for him. Midnight Cowboy can be seen as the culmination of the 1960’s the pill has long been in use, allowing for more promiscuity and sexual freedom. We are seeing the results over in the States. I’d like to share a few scenes from both films back to back to show the similarities between them.
The first is the Father son chat about the future – A Kind of Loving, and Joe properly meeting Ratso – Midnight Cowboy. (Stills below)
The second we find our characters on coaches; Vic and Ingrid (June Ritchie) on the Coach – A Kind of Loving and Joe on the Coach to New York – Midnight Cowboy (Stills below)
All are starting out on new directions, the honey moon couple who as we see are de-flowered twice in a few minutes, once on the coach as they take the flowers from the button holes, and sexually. Whilst Joe is going to live out his American dream.
The third we see both Vic and Joe in arguments, Again we see Mrs. Rothwell (Thora Hird), Ingrid’s Mum giving Vic her honest opinion. And Ratso telling Joe how it is regarding his Cowboy image. (stills below)
The final two comparisons I will look at emotions at the train station and the homes that both Vic and Joe live in, which will be in the final part 3
I’m in the middle of 3 days at the cinema, I’ve just come back from an all guns blazing The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) which is as clever and fun as Deadpool (2016) however I don’t want to discuss those film which I really enjoyed. Instead I want to look at a more adult film which I caught last night 20th Century Women (2016) which I came away from feeling chilled and somehow feeling reassured if only for a short time. Coming from Mike Mills previous film Beginners (2010) which I recently learned was the directors fictional account of discovering his father (Christopher Plummer) was gay, that’s after a long absence in his life. It was a similar experience, allowing you to process the imagery differently from the average film, it had an more like a piece of video art with Plummer and Ewan McGregor as Miles. I’m struggling to really define what it was beyond being light, thought-provoking and fun.
I can see the director gets his best material from his own past, this time turning to his mother Dorothea whose played by Annette Bening, who through narration of the characters we build up their personal history, talking directly to the audience, like an open diary that takes a loose documentary. First meeting Dorothea herself who was born during the depression, its 1979 and she’s now 55 years old, a lot has changed during her life already. We get a brief life story to this point, she’s a single mother who starts to doubt her own parenting on only son Jame (Lucas Jade Zumann) aka Mike, with no father in his life how will he grow up to be a fully formed young man. I guess all parents wonder how they are to mold their children especially as they enter puberty. It’s the last chance they can try to leave their mark on them before they make their own way in life.
Living in a house under renovation we see handy man William (Billy Crudup) a mechanic whose helping restore the house after years of neglect and a history that Dorothea doesn’t want to see repeated before the century draws to a close. She comes to the film with a wealth of life experience and the vulnerabilities that come as her emotional baggage. She’s open to what’s going on around, a sense of humor that lets her explore, yet still a woman from another time trying to make sense if this time. Which we see in stills that illustrates the close of the Seventies, punk is dying and Reagan is about to become President, times indeed are changing for everyone.
With such a small cast we have time to explore everyone of them in great detail. From the perfectly cast Bening who has reached a point in her parenting when she feels she needs help from her photographer lodger Abie (Greta Gerwig) who we learn is recovering from cervical cancer who takes on trying to form young Jamie about how to be a man. Coming from a feminist perspective, not long out of the art world of New York she is confident of her body, yet unsure of her future. Whilst Jamie’s friend Julie (Elle Fanning) two years older than Jamie we see that they share a bed, and just sleep, very odd for a teenage couple, yet they are just friends which confuses the audiences and indeed Jamie. She is also asked to help form the young man, bringing with her raw adolescent female experience to her teaching. Both these women are hoping in their own ways to shape Jamie in their image of men or the ideal, which ultimately is an impossible task for anyone.
Turning to Jamie himself, on the surface he’s just another teenage guy having fun, exploring his new-found emotions and pushing the boundaries – nothing new there. However the more time we spend with him we can see that he’s a sensitive guy, open to understanding what it is to be a man, something we all learn to grapple with. Surrounded by female advice alone he can have to choose what works for him. You can see how the directors was formed in this sly autobiography of his formative years. Whilst the rabbit in the hat in William who sits in the background while a lot of the film goes on, we have to work out his position. Before he gets more screen time and we learn his place, his past which was formed in the 1960’s, trying to fit in to stay with his girlfriend. Just wanting to be loved, doing what he can stay happy, very human if you think about it.
I found that the narration by all, especially Bening’s to be confusing half way through, talking from the past about the future, even from the grave as we learn, as if this is her message to the living. At the half way point I thought we were at the end before things start to heat up for the characters, the formation of Jamie really begins to unravel and come back to hit Dorothea. What she wanted the women to do backfires to a point, her ideas of being a man are far different from those who are younger, its a generational gap that leaves her taken aback.
20th Century Women presents us with a time which has long since left us, ideas of what being a man or a woman have changed greatly too. It’s a glimpse back to a simpler time, but was it really, it looks that way – on the surface anyway. It was a refreshing to see cut-away to stills to illustrate ideas, even if they’re recycled, the intent is different as we draw the film to a close. It’s delightfully light at times reminding you not to take life too seriously even when it can be overwhelming at times.
The second in my ongoing series if Film Talks I’m running at the Rothley Community Library. I decided to discuss two films this time A Kind of Loving (1962) and Midnight Cowboy (1969) both directed by John Schlesinger. Below are the notes from the night.
Tonight I’ll be taking a look at one of last months recommendations – A Kind of Loving (1962), which I noticed was directed by John Schlesinger who went onto make Midnight Cowboy (1969). I’ll start by sharing what makes a Kitchen sink drama or has otherwise been known as a British New Wave or Social Realism. Before moving onto look at A Kind of Loving and drawing comparisons with Midnight Cowboy.
So what is a Kitchen Sink Drama? I think you have to look at Britain socially first, in order to inform these films. I turned to The Social Structure of Modern Britain – E.A. Johns (1965); which is dated by today’s standards, but nonetheless allowed me to see how society was perceived at the time of writing. I first focused on the family,
“…the view currently held by many eminent writers is that the family has been stripped of the functions which are essential to its cohesion, and that parents have abnegated their responsibilities in favour of the government-run organs of the Welfare state.”
These essential functions of the family are :
- Provision of a home
- Production and rearing of children
- Stable satisfaction of sex need
R.M. MacIver – Macmillan 1957
Johns continued on the family by quoting W.J.H Sprott who argued that
“…The family, under Western cultural conditions has shrunk functionally” and that the social services are basically “anti-family” in that they cater almost exclusively for the individual rather than the family as a whole. This view is supported up to a point by M.Penelope Hall when she quotes the article on Social Policy and the Family…This document remarks that the family has until recently, been given only a minor place in social policy, “and over-all effect has been to lower status of the family in the national life”. Day nurseries and school meals, for example encourage a mother to go to work, but do not encourage her to create a home for her children”
There’s an improvement in opportunities for young mothers wanting to be independent, which would have a knock on effect. Whilst also looking at increased leisure time available in modern Britain.
“…the increasing adoption of the 5-day working week and introduction of labour-saving devices in the home both mean that families have more leisure time. The characteristically democratic structure of most modern families mean that husbands and wives spend more of this time together.”
I also looked at the position of women in the 60’s, first looking at the jobs they have
Married women stats
25-34 years – 2/3 are employed
35-44 years – ¾ are employed
45-54 – 2/3 are employed.
Types of work include
- distribution – insurance – banking – catering – laundries (industry jobs)
- Hairdressing – domestic service – nursing (tertiary jobs)
- Clerks – typists – shop assistance (“white-blouse brigade”)
These statistics only account for married women in employment. What about when the married couple moves away from the family home into the newly built housing estates?
“Another factor…is that when families make the sudden transition from an old-established neighbourhood with a strong social life to a virgin housing estate, they may experience a good deal of loneliness, at least initially. The wives, in particular. may miss the gossip and chatter of the streets, and see a substitute in the companionship of the office or factory”
Lastly looking at marriage and divorce, which was made more accessible, however divorce was only granted under certain conditions. This passage still carries some weight today regarding the failure of marriages.
“I think the most significant element, however, is the egalitarianism which characterizes the relationship between married partners today, by contrast with the patriarchal authoritarianism which was accepted as the normal pattern in the nineteenth century…The marriage a girl enters today has far more stresses than her grandmother’s. A partnership needs much more forbearance than the situation which the wife just used to accept the idea of doing what she was told.”
It does however acknowledge that number of younger couples getting married, and why. The most obvious is the reason why our main characters Vic and Ingrid in A Kind of Loving.
“In 1960, nearly 62,000 extra-maritally conceived children were born to women married for less than 8 months (usually 5 or 6). Translated into proportion of all marriages this means that one in five brides was pregnant, and it is well established that the shot-gun marriage is more likely to break down.”
Johns doesn’t mention the introduction pill was made available with slowly increased access to it.
“At first it was only prescribed to married women – most older women who had already had children and wanted no more…In the past most women had to married at an early age, being expected to give up their job and become a full-time housewife and mother wile their husband went out to work. If a woman wanted to follow a career she had to give up thoughts of marriage. Now, married could, if they chose, plan a career, and rigid gender based division of roles began to change. It was the beginning of both a social and sexual revolution, and there was much talk of the ‘permissive society’ and ‘free love’”
Life in the 1960s – Mike Brown Pg. 9
So we have some social context around the Kitchen Sink Drama we know that they are focused on working class issues. If you’ve ever seen one you’ll notice they are mostly in Northern locations complete with the rich accents. They are devoid of special effects, the gloss that you get over in Hollywood or Europe lets take a closer look at the key directors of the movement. The subjects they covered were.
Now lets take a quick look at the key directors of the movement.
Then we have John Schlesinger who began his career as an actor in his early twenties before making his directorial debut with a 30-minute documentary about Waterloo station – Terminus. A year later he made his feature film debut with A Kind of Loving, which saw him work with producer Joseph Janni for the first of 6 films together. It’s also the first starring role for Alan Bates.
The film follows a young man Vic (Alan Bates) who falls for Ingrid (June Ritchie), which starts off like a school romance, the passing of notes, the boys fighting, and the social dances. That’s all until Ingrid falls pregnant after they both loose their virginity. This is when the dream of a carefree romance starts to fall away opening them up to married life. In the first few weeks of marriage they are living at her home with her mother played by Thora Hird. Who makes life difficult for them under her roof. It’s her way or the highway, and they can’t really afford to leave just yet. The classic mother-in-law type brings reality crashing down for them. She’s hardly in the film but makes a strong impression on Vic who until recently was free to come and go as he pleased, now assuming the role of the husband. I’d like to show you the portion of the film (stills below) when the school romance fades away as they become adults.
In part two coming I draw comparisons with John Schlesinger’s last film of the decade – Midnight Cowboy.
I was recently at a family do, chatting with one of my cousins who was interested in my work and studio. I wanted to share photographs of my studio, which I shamefully didn’t have. I had plenty of my work though. Also it’s been 3 years since I last allowed you into my studio at Two Queens in Leicesters Cultural quarter. The space has changed a lot since that original post. My work has grown, changing in medium and scale over that time. I still have a few old model hiding under the cardboard which I have collected, whilst the space is in a constant state of change as I move from one work to another.
I’m finally able to share with the video of my debut performance – at Imp-Fest (2016) at Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, London 19/11/16. It will be available here for a short time, taking up its home over here. I would like to thank my sister – Rachel for documenting it over the course of 3 performances that night. Here is an edited version of the whole night.
A few months ago I wrote a review about Barbary Coast (1935) which saw the Western trying to survive in the guise of another genre, then the gangster which if you think about is/was an updated version of that genre. It was fascinating to see what is honestly a much forgotten film, even with Edward G. Robinson in the lead, a fish out of water whose the shark that swims with the fishes who are the genre. Staying with the 1930’s, and the struggling Western I came across the sub genre of the Victorian epic, a more familiar film is Gunga Din (1939) however I’d like to focus on Beau Geste (1939) also.
As Richard Slotkin explained in Gunfighter Nation it was the Western in a different guise, moving the action from one large nation to another, which could be England or France throughout their all-conquering empire. Here we have the French aristocracy and 3 English brothers who’ve been adopted into it. Before meeting the brothers we see a troop of the Foreign Legion arriving at an outpost, populate entirely with the dead soldiers who once occupied. You can see they all died in battle, hanging over the parapet in the fort. They have all met grisly ends, that much is clear, we don’t yet know how they reached that fate.
Jumping back 15 years we meet these 3 brothers as children in the comfort of a stately home in the country, playing war in the pond with model battleships complete with explosives. From a young age they want to go off and play war. When a side looses instead of leaving it as that, onto the next campaign they treat the loosing side with respect, sending the loosing side off into the waters, setting fire to them, enacting a Viking burial. They have a respect for the dead even at the tender ages of 10 if not younger. They have an understanding of gallantry and honor in the field of battle, something that we shall see come through in the film. After this scene we see the sale of a sapphire, however it doesn’t get passed the children who hide, one inside a suit of knights armor – Beau Geste, on the surface its funny to see the child hiding. He’s escaping into a soldier’s uniform that has probably seen battle. Now its acts as protection against unseeing eyes in peace time of France.
Moving forward 15 years again to almost the time we first started the film, we finally meet the adult brothers, who are not really English but young American stars, still who cares they sold tickets and I’m not going to knock Gary Cooper in anything from the 1930’s. It’s all happy families in the midst of the England which they will soon go out to protect. The young girl who knew the brothers, now a young woman Isobel Rivers (Susan Hayward) is now the affections for John Geste (Ray Milland). However before they leave the Blue Jewel, (not sure if it’s a sapphire goes missing in quick switching off of the lights. A family treasure’s stolen before them. Unusually before they begin to investigate they allow Isobel to leave, as she’s a woman she’s above suspicion. It’s gallantry of an old respectable world that sees her leave, Leaving only the men and Lady Patricia Brandon (Heather Thatcher) and the men to work it out.
They don’t get very far before the action soon moves to a desert in Morocco, two of the brothers Beau and Digby (Robert Preston) are now in uniform, they’ve done their training and now ready for to defend the Empire. It’s all one happy Empire out here, and the troops are keeping the peace. This can easily be translated to America, enlisted soldiers living on the fort, protecting civilians from “Indian attack”. In Geste the land around this is sand dunes for miles, they are the only civilisation for miles. The new recruits are about to be introduced, the scruff’s that have made it this far are ready to defend. These include the final brother John who can’t be separated from them for long, combined with a strong of duty to his country.
I haven’t even looked at the broken chain of command, the power-driven Sergeant Markoff (Brian Donlevy) who will do anything to take command from the dying outpost commander Lieutenant Martin has died after a long fever leaving disciplinarian in command of the fort. This allows him to work on the men, bearing down hard on them like never before, making life hard for them. Training is over and a new regime has come into force. Teaming up with none thief and spy Rassinoff (J. Carrol Naish) who inform him of an impending mutiny among the men. They’ve had enough of being worked to death in this inhospitable landscape, time to rebel.
With all this set-up we go into a much darker second half that sees the fort pushed to the limit of endurance of following the chain of command. The Mutiny is soon thwarted when Markoff blows it wide open, placing all but the Geste brothers under arrest, they are the only ones with bayonets, armed but unable to fire at their fellow-men. The chain of commands being tested when hostile or Moroccan forces who surround them. It’s time to put the mutiny and prisoners to one side and defend, it’s all men to their stations – about 30 odd. You can see from the first wave that it’s futile to keep up the attack for too long. However this is a film and the Legionnaires must win, at least for now.Each wave represent an attack by Native Americans, coming back with more expendable warriors to fall at the guns of the Blue coats.
As the men start to fall they aren’t left as they fell, instead in a unorthodox manoeuver the fallen are propped up, acting as number of things. A second defence to take the bullets, as decoy soldiers acting as an improvised illusion, the appearance of more men when there are far less. The men left alive carry on, but know that once they fall they’re bodies will receive the respect of the fallen. I’ve never seen such a tactic used in on-screen battle, it’s a desperate move by a desperate man who wants not only power but wealth that’s promised in the rumor of the Sapphire being in the possession of one of the Geste brothers, Markoff will do anything for it. The rules if war and chain of command mean nothing to him. In the far off outpost they are alone and at times have to make up their own rules. It’s up to the Geste brothers to finally remind us of what they learned back home in England, they are the opposite of what the officers above them represent.
Maybe now I need to see more Victorian epics and see how they translate to the Western, see how the legends are created for another empire that can easily be rewritten for another. My exploration of this genre never ceases to amaze me.
I’ve had a day to really process Jackie (2016) a film I have really been looking forward to. If only to gauge into more into the history of American history, it’s a glimpse into the life of Jacqueline Kennedy around the events of her husband John F. Kennedy, which really need little explaining really. It’s the first time that any First Lady has really been given the feature-length treatment which makes for another strong reason to check out this bold film that could open up for further first lady biopic’s.
Anyways enough of the introductions to first look at Natalie Portman‘s performance which really is her best, I know the trailer gave me a glimpse of what was to be seen. It’s a role that she has completely lost herself to, becoming absorbed into a public figure who has reached legendary status, short of what her husband reached. We meet her weeks what’s thought to be a few weeks after the state funeral for President Kennedy, giving her account of events to a journalist, believed to Theodore H. White of LIFE magazine played by Billy Crudup whose faced with the most challenging interview of his career. Jackie from the outset tells him that it’s her story, which she will personally edit before being published. Throughout the film we cut back to the interview for her to tell him not to write this or that. It’s too private to be released to the public, something that has not stopped the public’s imagination and countless biographies that have since pieced together her life and events around J.F.K’s assassination. Looking at Portman which she is not for the course of the film, she is so poised that you accept her as Jackie.
Where do I start with these events that slowly move forward from the assassination through to the funeral. The process of grieving on-screen allows us to get inside the still raw and fragmented memories that are still fresh for Jackie. An approach which I had prepared myself for. These memories make up a film that feels raw and very personal, whilst also putting in the necessary fact such as the rushed inauguration of J.B. Johnson (John Carroll Lynch) which can only reminded and reinforce the fact she is no longer the first lady. Everything is happening so fast for her, whilst for us its slowed down.
I have to mention the soundtrack by Mica Levi who last provided the disturbing atmosphere to Under the Skin (2013). Here the music is more traditional with an unnerving edge that gets again under the skin of the audience. It stops you from getting to comfortable as we see a woman’s life change over the space of a few days, her position, status and situation all changed.
Portman allows us into raw and vulnerable of times in Jacqueline Kennedy’s life as we see her having to deal with the change in not only her position to having to deal with the funeral arrangements, those suitable for a man of J.F.Ks standing, wanting the same level of ceremony that’s attached to Abraham Lincoln. There is a bit of history within the film in this respect as she starts to see his own position in American history, the 3rd President to be assassinated and unique, becoming the 4th and last to date. The unfolding events in connection to Lee Harvey Oswald who was later killed. All this history packed into this heavy film.
We see touch upon a single parent having to explain to the children of their fathers death, not an easy task for any spouse that has been left behind. However we hardly see the kids, its all about her and her grief, the kids are just too young to really understand. In concentrating on the wife we see a side of the marriage and Presidency that was unknown to me – Camelot the musical, having compared him to the a few times, we hear the final track as recorded by Richard Burton blasting through the White house as she begins to really process and grieve for her husband. A montage of that time which could have been hours, a night or a few days, preparing to leave and for the funeral, still playing the role of First Lady it will take one last appearance to bring her role to a close. I’m amazed how Portman could turn on the tears with and well the eyes up, she must have been tapping into personal events to deliver the emotion on-screen.
Away from her we have reality in the White House carrying on, L.B. Johnson wanting to move in and set up in the Oval office. Whilst Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) is left with the task of looking after Jackie who needs to be handled delicately, we see him on the defensive against the new administration as he tries to grieve for his brother which takes the form of swearing. He’s guiding her through, protecting her from potential danger and reality as it happens around her.
So coming to the film as a practical novice as far as Jackie Kennedy is concerned I have gained an insight into the events which combine recreations of events, if only in part to build up an image of who she was during that tragic time in her life. What caught me was the recreation of the White House tour, putting herself on display for the world, opening up the house to the nation. Staying true as possible to the original piece. From director Pablo Larraín who created the authentic (as possible) look for the recreation comes from a much effect used for No (2012) which converted footage from an old film camera – producing a very authentic polarising and washed out SD image.
Obviously this film has been held back for the good ol’ Oscar bait, it’s not a film you’ll remember for the events depicted within, if anything its that one performance which makes it worth watch. Also one of John Hurt’s last performances, you can see a lifetime of work is on display in his role as the unnamed priest, you can see a life of experience in his face, the Irish accent is forgivable and almost natural. bring with him his natural grandeur and that little nod that raises the film further up. I hope that Portman wins best Actress, although she has stiff competition from France with Isabelle Huppert who I would like to see in Elle (2016)
If it wasn’t for John Wayne having a scheduling conflict we may not have had the Ranown cycle. He was supposed to be playing the lead in the latest Budd Boetticher film that his company was producing. However he was about to start on The Searchers (1956) instead of leaving his director and film without a lead he recommended a good friend of his – Randolph Scott the role. It was the start 7 film partnership that would form the Ranown cycle created by the actor and director. Making their own Monument Valley out of Lone Pine, another iconic and ready-made stage for the myth of the West to be played out in.
It’s been just under a year since I reviewed made my last entry regarding this series of films, as I remember some films were stronger than others, now I have come full circle and back to the beginning with Seven Men from Now (1956) which really set-up the formula which was reworked in the majority of the seven films. We begin with a stormy night, getting the drama going straight away, a tall and water-soaked figure walks away from the camera to the rocks in search of shelter. It’s the ever reliable and stoic Scott playing Ben Stride who finds a campfire, keeping two men warm. It’s all cosy now, asking for a cup of coffee, when we learn he has lost his horse sometime ago in a gunfight, he’s been walking all day, tired and wet from a very long day. The two men grow suspicious when they discover he was a sheriff, reaching for their guns, the camera cuts away amidst gunshots, before we see Scott riding away with two horses, him on the back of one. The only survivor, but was it out of murder or survival. I carry this dark thought with me for a few minutes, questioning his motives, is he the man I know on the screen or someone whose out of a ride for revenge.
As always he rides alone and prefers it, enjoying the company of no one unless he really has to, which comes in the form of the Greer’s a couple traveling to California. Annie (Gail Russell) and John (Walter Reed) a poor excuse for a man who is struggling to get his wagon out of a muddy patch of ground. How has he gotten this far without being killed by gunfighter’s, cowboys or even worse Chiricahua’s who are on the loose. Surrounded by danger from the unseen and his own lack of manhood. Yet Annie has stayed with him, there must be more to him than meets the eye. Stride the gentlemen he is begins to ride with them, out of duty for the couple who have somehow survived this far into the West.
So as much as he wants to be alone with his tortured thoughts as he acts as guide and security for the traveller’s. We learn later on more of his past when they stop at a way station and the arrival of Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and Clint (John Beradino) join him, they know more than the Greer’s who are just happy to be resting. We learn that the sheriffs wife was killed during a Wells Fargo robbery, a crime that Stride couldn’t stop, loosing his position in town soon after. He’s not only lost his wife but his position in society. He’s only a man with a debt to settle with the men who killed his wife.
There are similar back-stories throughout the Ranown cycle that have created these complicated characters for Scott to play, this is just the first of them, he’s digging deep into the psychology of the men he plays. Before we learn more we see who Masters is when they face a raiding party of Chiricahua’s who up until now have been spoken about. They are soon taken care of revealing his true colours, shooting a captive man in the back. Was he one of the seven shot down leaving six for Stride to take aim at, or was he being protected, funny how he was shot in the back though.
This is one of Marvin’s larger supporting roles before rising up to top billing. We can see how this clearly more physical actor can psychologically get under the skin of our hero. Sharing the Greer’s wagon shares a story, comparing one woman to Annie, who naturally pales in comparison, taking aim at both husband John and Stride who he was aiming at more. He doesn’t need a bullet to get under his skin, whilst John’s too cowardly to defend his wives honor. This Western is not just one of action and guns, its one of the mind, making it stand out from the standard B western.
Technically we can see that the look of the films in the series is being established, the imagery of Lone Pine. Visually it’s a bit hit and miss, editing is not as slick as it can be. The cinematography is starting to show signs of something greater, however the focusing can be distracting when we cut to a new scene. That’s not to take away from what is otherwise on-screen and in the script.
I’d forgotten how short and sweet these films really are, it’s a lean film coming in at under 80 minutes. We are soon back in civilisation where more characters are met, led by Payte Bodeen (John Larch) who is possibly the leader of these men. We also learn where the money is that has been with the Greer’s the whole time. The guilt of Strides past has never really left him, taking the money into his own care, taking responsibility, ultimately taking action for the loss of his wife and position. It’s a twist I forgot was even in the film, showing that it’s been a long time since my last viewing and just how well the film works as it moves to the finale as we see the characters all being revealed for who they are, they’ve all been hiding something from us and ultimately themselves. I’ll leave you with a clip from Blazing Saddles (1974) which just shows how much I have missed Randolph Scott on my screen and the imprint he has made on the genre.