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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)


I think like everyone who first heard the news that a sequel was in the works to Blade Runner (1982) I was naturally very cautious. There have been a slew of sequels/reboots etc recently of modern classics made so long after the original that it becomes too much to even consider how a new film could follow on from a much-loved film. Then I saw Arrival (2016) directed by Denis Villeneuve which I found to be one of the best piece of science fiction in a long time to be seen on film. None of the standard flashy techniques or effects, everything paired down, to help inform the tone, that sees a female linguist fight to make first contact with visiting aliens. Wanting to use words not violence that is usually associated with the genre in the past, shoot first, ask questions later. On learning that the Villeneuve  would be at the helm this film, alongside Ridley Scott as producer, it was a massive reassurance that the not so long-awaited/muted sequel to the 1982 classic would be in very safe hands.

Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve seen Blade Runner, the final-cut seen as Scott’s definitive vision of the film. The lingering images from the film meant its something special, which is going to be hard surpass. Last night, a month since Blade Runner 2049 (2017) was first released, yes I know it’s a long time coming and I’m glad I’ve finally seen what in short is a worthy sequel without trying to outdo the original, which would have been wrong to even try. As I’ve mentioned before in countless reviews, the trailer can really affect a film before you go and sit down to watch it. Here the marketing team have put edited together a misleading piece that allowed me to be blown away by the full 2 and 1/2 hours film. Wanting to focus on Harrison Ford‘s role in the film.

I could never forget the opening sequence of the original, the all-encompassing eye and the burst of flame that reflect within. The never-ending model miniature city-scape and flying cars that zoom across, its a future that we fear but want to explore to see whats in the depth. Film noir had met the future with all the bleakness you can have wanted. A film that is both hard to really top or even live up to. I feel that Villeneuve has  definitely lived up to the challenge bring his own sensibility for the serious, insightful whilst maintaining the look, the legacy and the concepts.

Anyway enough of the build up, time to look in more detail at the film. I already knew from a few vague descriptions of the film that Ryan Gosling played a replicant working as a blade runner who we see on his latest mission touching down in a vast farming facility, ready to capture his next rogue replicant. There’s no pretense as to whether or not he’s a replicant unlike the original which had you guessing until the end the true identity of Rick Deckard until we get the unicorn at the films close. There’s less ambiguity at this point, we know who we are dealing with and following as he uncovers a new case that has the potential to change the balance of power in this dystopia. A skeleton of a former replicant is found with some surprising marks that are found during examination.

With K we see more into the Blade runner life, not just the found em and kill em aspect which we had before. Instead the life of a replicant, the regimented de-briefs/recalibrations which are scarily effective as Gosling just loses himself to this role. It’s quite intense to watch, the repetition and testing that goes on to ensure he’s inline and ready to function to the best of his programming. Very much the slave to his master, yet free to enjoy his time off. Spending most of that with his holographic Joi (Ana de Armas) who confined to the projector. It was the first reminder of another science fiction characters – the first of many reference – as I found in Arrival. The Doctor (Robert Picardo) or Emergency Medical Hologram/E.M.H. in Star Trek: Voyager whose confined to the holographic emitters in sick bay, a prisoner of his own programming and limitations. Until much like Joi they are given their freedom – a mobile Emitter or it’s Blade Runner equivalent. Carried by the program or the end-user. The E.M.H. character was exploring his sentience, whilst Joi was just discovering her new found freedom outside the apartment. We get under the skin, well the zeros and ones of how she perceives the world around her. Later touched in a a sex scene that reminded me of a very similar scene in Her (2013), technology connecting with another, via a biological host. Again this is explored more sensually from Joi’s perspective which made the scene more engaging to watch.

K’s investigation takes in some familiar places and faces (not Ford just yet) which again really gives the film stronger foundation that just being in the same universe, we meet old characters and others who reminds us of the original along with other little nods. If only briefly they contexualise what happened in the prologue which explains the 10 day blackout when most files from that time were erased. It doesn’t leave any detail out and woven nicely into the script without seeming forced. However on reflection that opening of the film, tried too hard in places to replicate the original tone that was then original, maybe this is more out of uniformity for the film. The world itself is very much the one I’ve visited before, relying on model miniatures to create as much of it as possible, allowing you to engage with the physical in this possible future which we maybe nearer too than we care to admit. Not only does it rain but it snow constantly too.

Turning to the Tyrell organisation, now under the weird control of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who sends his favorite replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to hunt down. We see so little of Wallace that I didn’t feel his presence in the film, Leto is again having a lot of fun with the role. Whilst Hoeks has a meaty role that makes her mark on the film. The henchmen of the piece, nothing stops her from getting what she wants, showing us that you don’t need to male, butch with scars to get the job done, you can be incredible feminine in appearance and still make your presence known, much like K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) whose more fierce than Deckard’s predecessor.

Looking back at this very rich piece of science fiction that gracefully nods and acknowledges the original, it doesn’t try to repeat the past plot, instead it builds and expands with ease into this world that I wasn’t expecting to find. When Ford finally makes his first appearrence, which is for about 20 minutes or so of the film it feels natural, all the build up to find him. He doesn’t try to own the film or take it away from Gosling whose in complete control. The trailer wanted us to meet him early on, without knowing why. K’s investigation is a slow burner that had me glued in silence to the screen. I had returned to a world I had once explored with awe that has been expanded, getting our fingers deeper into this world. I do however miss Vangelis ‘s inspiring soundtrack, we do have Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer who do a more than respectable job in his strange absence. My only fear is that if ever there was another sequel, which again leaves me uncertain, I would hope that Villeneuve is somewhere within its production. I would also ask that this sequel would be allowed to breathe before anything happened, to find a place and be appreciated for what it is and has achieved.

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Compulsion (1959)


I  caught this film yesterday and it’s stayed with me and not for the right reasons. Originally recorded for viewing because I thought it would be interesting to see both Orson Welles and Dean Stockwell who I’ve recently discovered when I wrote a film talk on Sons and Lovers (1960) at the start of the year. During the time I couldn’t shake his pent-up performance from my mind. Also the fact I was editing clips which he was heavily involved in. Coming to Compulsion (1959) on the off-chance to see what he was like outside of   Jack Cardiff’s direction. Also it was a chance to see Orson Welles again, in what could easily have been a two-scene cameo which he was practically reduced to towards the end of his career.

Now I tend to write 1000+ in my reviews now, I’m not so sure I have enough to go that far today, but I need to express my frustration with this film that could have been so much better than it was. Based on the 1924 Leopold-Loeb case, two students in Chicago who were tried for the sadistic, motive-less murder of another student. This thinly guised film (attempted to avoid a lawsuit) fails to actually depict the murder or even suggest with great effect that these two young men – Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie A.Straus (Bradford Dillman) who were followers of the Nietzsche theories, which produced to narcissistic individuals with superiority complexes. Not your average cocky student who feels the can take on the world and disprove the established. Carrying with them a philosophy that placed them above their contemporaries who were enjoying the student life of the 1920’s. Even with these personalities, not the most likeable of characters, you wanted to understand who they were.

First meeting them on a late night drive after robbing a house, Artie dares Judd to run over a man walking home, just for the thrill of it, setting the tone of the film. These are young men who have no regarding for general morality that we all live by. When they fail to kill the man in the street – Judd can’t carry out Artie’s order, something is holding him back. No matter they find their kicks off-screen, the murder as we learn of the murder and kidnap of Paulie Kessler, the victim in their “perfect crime”. It’s only when another student discovers the body (working for the local paper) in the morg do we learn somethings not quite right. At this point its a slow burner until Judd realises that he hasn’t got his glasses, they’re on the dead body. It’s only now we start to realise what might have happened.

The investigation soon gets underway, lead by District Attorney Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall) whose building up a case, but is waiting for the two boys to see who cracks first. The cockiness continues, even when they are found out and the stories they made up start to crack under scrutiny. What I don’t understand is why a District Attorney would be leading a criminal investigation, shouldn’t that be the police who build up a case before its even goes to court, landing on the D.A.’s desk?

By this point we haven’t even Welles’s character, a successful lawyer who never lost a capital case in his long career, a perfect role for the only “hero” of the film Jonathan Wilk  who is only known by his reputation, building up his first appearance on screen. From the moment he arrives the film is his, bring with him all the experience of his past roles, able to play the older man with 40 odd years of experience. I’m reminded of Inherit the Wind (1960) released the following year a purely court-room affair, set in the same era. The scenes are more fairly split between the two lawyers – Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March). However in the earlier film, there’s not half as much a war of words, sure they are a few disagreements and objections, but there’s not enough passion from both sides. I think partly due to the editing of the film. Made in favor of Wilk who practically given the rest of the film, with the two men on trial. Horn is left with little to do, not even his closing speech to the judge, which would have made for a longer and more impassioned film. To see why these two men should have hung. Aimed as s pro-life film, without any real counterargument for balance, letting down the film and the Marshall who had little to do in the court room besides shout.

Was the murder filmed of Kessler even filmedm or just suggested before we find the body? Given the tone of the film it could have been done in shadow at least for dramatic effect. However Anatomy of a Murder (1959) the murder is not seen on camera, we only learn of it on the arrest of the violent husband Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), was it censorship that got in the way of making a good film even better in the case of Compulsion? Leaving us with a film that has the potential to be so much, along with the script (cut or otherwise) this film could have been longer, darker and ultimately stronger. 

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)


I have to admit that I’ve avoided Cowboys & Aliens (2011) for years, not wanting to see it thinking that it was a silly combination of the two – Cowboys and Aliens, how can that work and be worth my time. So as I made a point to avoid this film. The more I have read and explored the genre, I have finally seen and actually really enjoyed this blend of two of my favorite genres; Western and Science Fiction, I never thought how fun it could be. I had been put off also by a trailer which suggested that Daniel Craig‘s character had been possessed by an alien, uncontrollable, causing destruction wherever he went. I guess that’s the art of marketing when it works well, to suggest something else from the same material.

So suspicions allayed and defences down I was actually looking forward to the blend, seeing what happens when genre’s collide. I knew that it worked when Westerns are combined with comedy and to an extent – Musicals. If your going to bring Science fiction into the West it has to be good. Going down the route of alien abduction we find Jake Lonergan (Craig) is dazed and confused, no memory of who he is or where he is, with the addition of a chunky bit of out of the world kit on his wrist. Soon surrounded by men who know he’s vulnerable, get a taste of what this bracelet can do, blasting them off the face of the earth. More power than any Winchester Rifle could ever pack. Setting the tone for the film, its going to loud, bombastic and not taking either genre too seriously. Craig’s playing the stranger that rides into town, a stranger even to himself, and the town he’s about to enter.

Getting into town we meet almost everyone who we are going to be spending our time with in the film. Paying particular attention to the cattleman’s trigger happy son Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) who takes his father position in the town to his head, thinking he can get away with almost anything. Not the usual role for Dano who we see arrested a few scenes later. Moving then to the cattle drive which is has stopped for the night this is the first time that we see the aliens presence really felt in the film. A series of explosions that leave all but one dead. It’s a mad scene of confusion that leaves everyone bewilders us, we haven’t seen the aliens, just understanding that they are here and not about to leave.

It’s only when they get to town the following night do we see the space-ships flying low, abducting half the town, looking as if they are pulled away on some metallic hooks that could have easily harpooned them. At this point I thought they would not be coming back. It’s another mad scene that both amazes and confuses everyone. Over in a flash before you can even comprehend what has happened. It’s just plain madness that leaves the townspeople both defencless and bewildered, having witnessed something that could have easily come out of a H.G. Wells novel. The nearest comparison I can draw is to The Valley of Gwangi (1969), an obscure Ray Harryhausen film that pits dinosaurs and other monsters against cowboys. Not his best effort but still fun to watch.

50 years later with more sophisticated special effects more has been achieved, I don’t even question them. I’m more concerned with how people from the 19th century would react with futurist technology, I’m thinking in terms of anthropology, how these people unfamiliar with technology that is far more advanced than even the steam train or the telegraph system that helped the development of the Western world. Here they are seeing technology far beyond their comprehension. But they aren’t really thinking about that, it’s the human cost, the loss of life that preoccupied them, the most they have to hand is a round or more of bullets.

We learn more about Lonergan when he teams up with Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who after a disagreement see the advantage he gives him and the posse that travels the open country, meeting up with Lonergans old gang, who have moved on since his disappearance, reminiscent of the leadership fight in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). We are starting to piece together who Lonergan really is, his past and how he lost his memory. A journey that leads him to only female in the film – Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) who herself is abducted by the aliens who we have still yet to meet. When we are out in the open country, the camera remains as close to the ground as possible, we are staying in the Wild West and the cinematographic conventions, its the aliens have to share that space and world, only leaving to fly around once.

It’s only when we meet the Apache do things get really interesting, For now these two sides, the white settlers and the Apache have to come together to fight, stronger together, using White leadership and tactics, there’s some sort of meeting of the minds. When it comes to the survival of humanity it’s a different story, not the a war of colours and politics that we usually find in the genre. It makes for an interesting change, it’s messy, gory and fun. Clearly the filmmakers are having fun here, pitting alien against man; white and red. This is what science fiction does – ask question, what if, how could etc. One is playing out here, how would two opposing sides in America’s West survive and alien invasion?

The finale is female led, Ella is the real hero, with Lonergan’s help as he rescue’s the abducted townspeople. I found it refreshing for a woman to save the day in the Wild West, placed in a position of power, she can talk to both White and Apache. She is superior and otherworldly, quite literally, unlike those she could just watch on as see them being killed/harvested by the aliens. Could Lonergan and the others have really come together without the otherworldly intervention that saves the day? Now I can’t see why I put off seeing this film for so long, its a great fun film to watch if you want to see cowboys and aliens fight each other. It’s not meant to go down as a classic, just to entertain which it does, the actors take it more seriously than we do, steeped in the history of the genre we are seeing something literally out of this world happening. Just kicking myself for not watching it earlier.

London Trip (26-7/10/17) Part 2


I started off the next day with a return visit to TJ Boulting which I had previously exhibited Stephanie Quayle: Jenga last November. I noticed that a few pieces had taken up permanent residence in the office as we entered. Work of a similar medium was down below Bloom – Juliana Cerqueira Leite.

These works examine the –often exasperated– gesticulations of individual subjects interviewed by the news as representatives of a certain crisis: a refugee, a soldier, a doctor or aid worker. Gesticulations by politicians and reporters, as they attempt to explain complex issues to news viewers, are also explored in these works. Leite aims to create a permanent register of these bodily means of extending language and the ephemeral articulations that shape and are shaped by the geopolitical landscape.

I was personally drawn to the mass of gestures created out of clay and resin, the movement of arms fighting to move, captured in slow-motion. The layered colouring reminded me of chewed up drumstick sweets, the two colours becoming intermixed with each bite. Really having its roots in geology, raising these pieces as if they have come from the ground.

In the next space I found framed stills of paused Youtube videos, blurred and collaging gestures, as if the video had been badly corrupted. I found these more fascinating, how much work has gone into create them.

The new photo-collages and video are both composed of screenshots from these same news sources i.e. Al Jazeera, Reuters, AP, Vice, BBC. These works isolate and capture the gesticulations of interview subjects while exploring the codified visual formats and time-frames employed by online news outlets for reporting on humanitarian crises.

The last piece in the show I physically couldn’t stand, a series of flashing images, similar to the collaged stills that were flashed for less than a second, you didn’t have time to really process what the images were. I had to leave just stop myself having a bad physical reaction. I feel bad as I wanted to sit there and understand the work, instead it was a fight or flight response.

The next gallery was another return visit to Blain\Southern, which exhibited Matt Collishaw’s – Centrifugal Circle, probably my best show of the year. I came to view the latest Chapman Brothers Show – The Disasters of Everyday. I had big expectations for this show, I think coming back with such powerful memories, and the reputation of Jake and Dinos Chapman who I’d seen last a few years ago at a White Cube Gallery. Instead I left with positive yet mixed feelings about the work. The space, now opened up and brightly lit for the show. Three of the walls were covered in reproduced sketches by Francisco De Goya, which were worked over the top in different styles. The first series – The Disasters of War on Terror (2015-16) saw childish characters placed into these horrific scenes of the Spanish Civil War, which detract from the brutality, playing it down. The second series – The Disasters of Yoga (2017) I found far less successful, less work seemed to have gone into these far more naive pieces, the sketches covered in coloured glitter. It wasn’t my aversion for the material, more the use, the excess of the material, it removes any real meaning or message in the work. It felt lazy, only a few I felt were really successful. Moving onto the final series – The Disasters of Everyday Life (2017) collages, which were more successful, paper collages, placing carefully chosen images and placing them into these horrific scenes, either creating a new narrative, making modern humorous statement. Figures would ignore the drama they are place into. I really enjoyed this series of works. The brothers are clearly playing with the horror of violence within the images directly, trying to mock them, yet never really drawing us away from the original. They are away of drawing the audience into the work that could be seen as a record of a long forgotten war.

In the middle of the space were a series of bronze suicide vests on plinths, these disturbing pieces, surrounded by the potential of death, the bodyless vests, waiting to be worn and set off killing countless people is unthinkable, and we were surrounded by them. The detail and time that went into Life and Death Vest I-VIII (2017) is incredible. I can only imagine the detail and time that went into the research, the near trouble the Chapman brothers could have got themselves into whilst making these pieces.

The last show I felt was a disappointment really, I was hoping to see more than I found. The only bonus was to experience what is now a rareity the sound of an film projector, to hear to the rush of film running through a projector reminds me of films I saw as a child, the rush and clicking of film passing through the lens. Phillip Fleischmann’s show Installation View at Belmacz, was literally just the film on the ground floor. I found the film itself interesting, focusing on the arcihtectural structures of a space rather than how we would usually perceive a space, not looking beyond the space we usually interact in.

A smaller and briefer trip than I am used to, however I did get to see some interesting and some nice cars and model miniatures so I’m happy.

Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)


Another Western that I’ve been looking out for over the years, with the wait now finally over I have mixed feelings of deflation. Comedian Rich Hall began his BBC4 documentary on the film depiction on Native Americans by starting with the assassination of Osama Bin-Laden -, soldiers uttering the word Geronimo. A word that was originally linked to the name of the Apache warrior who held out and fought until he’s forced to surrender to the U.S. army. How many other names have been so misappropriated? A name of a countries former enemy has become a term of celebration and liberation. None have the same sound to them as Geronimo as it rolls off the tongue out of all the prominent Native American figures. It’s a practice that I try to avoid, aiming to keep his name in historical context, not to use in celebration.

The 1993 film Geronimo (1993) was one of two released that year about the Apache warrior, one made a Native American produced TV movie, very different in tone, celebrating the life and times of the figure, one that I feel I should watch again to compare. And the Hollywood Western that bills the lead actor, fourth on the list below Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall. A symptom of how Hollywood make and market their films. Placing the more prominent names above others who have a larger part in the film. Also indicating the position of Native American actors in the film industry, at the bottom. The only positive you can take away from this billing is that the role went to Wes Studi, a Native American (Cherokee) and not someone in brown face, that’s some progress.

Made during the early 1990’s when there was a boom in the genre, released in between Dances With Wolves (1990), Unforgiven (1992) and Wyatt Earp (1994), the same year as the larger than life, sweeping epic – Tombstone (1993). Easily categorized as a revisionist Western, attempting to rewrite the genres pasts wrongs to tell a more honest account of history. So how did they get on? I’m reminded of Broken Arrow (1950) when James Stewart narrated Tom Jefford’s experience with the Apache, we even met Geronimo in one scene when all the tribes of the nation met for a council meeting, his own histories picked up in a Chuck Connors film – Geronimo (1962) which I might check out of curiosity. This 1990’s take on the warriors narrated by baby-faced Matt Damon as a fresh out of West point officer Lt. Britton Davis, leaving me thinking how much of Lt Dunbar has influenced him, his moments of reflection and modern thinking on a 19th century issue that’s now become part of America’s history and less talked about politics. Britton us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he waits to meet with his commanding officer Lt. Charles Gatewood (Jason Patric) heading off to join the stately and much admired Brigadier General George Crook (Gene Hackman) who was given the task of rounding up the Apache and sticking them on the reservation.

Now with all Native American revisionism its going to be more graphic – think Little Big Man and Soldier Blue (both 1970) et al, it’s brutal and attempting to take their side for again. Yet it still comes from the perspective of a white soldier – Davis who is reflecting over this period in history. There is however more screen time given to Wes Studi and rightly so really allowing us the best Hollywood can do depict the final days of freedom for the Apache. As revisionist the film tries to be, it takes a massive cue from John Ford, depicting the film entirely in Monument Valley, trying to be both a Cavalry film and Cheyenne Autumn (1964) which moved around the Navajo country, having now taken on this mythic form and space which allows filmmakers to tell the story of the West in this landscape almost exclusively at times. I found this distracting at times, thinking about Fort Apache or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon at times, not seeing for it wants to be.

With more screen-time given to Studi we’re allowed to understand his point of view, he’s not just a pain in the backside for the Army and the White House, He’s has a credible point of view. First meeting him at his initial surrender, brought the charge of the two Lieutenant’s who see this as a big moment in both their careers and history. For Geronimo it’s the end of his peoples way of life and loss of freedom, he’s not taken this decision lightly. It’s a film that wants to be taken seriously, giving time to both fact and action during the films run. Time for the peace talks that see the Apache accepting they’ve been worn down and needing to talk. Before things get messy after an Apache’s killed for a ghost dance (disturbing the peace) which triggers another war between them and the white eyes.

The action scenes are rather mixed, bloody at times, filled with dust which makes it hard at times to see what’s going on. OK we’re in the desert but its supposed to be discernible to the viewer. Suggesting that it was a bloody time for both sides, more so the Natives who are fighting for respect and honor at this pivotal time.

Turning to look at the other characters times taken to develop the two lieutenant’s and even the aging scout Al Sieber (Duvall) who has suffered 17 arrows and gunshots and still standing, he’s learned to respect his enemy whilst growing tired in his role. A nice character for Duvall to play, having been a presence in the genre ever since he got “shot to pieces” by the Duke in True Grit (1969) he gives the film extra strength by him just being there. I felt as much as those in uniform were given more time to grow, we got less time with Chato (Steve Reevis) a once feared warrior, now a loyal scout to the cavalry, outside of his obvious skill and knowledge he is only seen as a traitor to his people. At least he’s not being played by Charles Bronson in Chato’s Land (1972).

Summing up this film it’s an attempt to tell two sides to the same events, whilst naturally being slightly more biased to the Army, made by White men, it’s only able to go so far. We do have a more fleshed out depiction of the Apache which i can’t complain about and with subtitles which gives allows more depth, only speaking English when faced with White Eyes. I noticed also a bit of slopping editing, splicing in an elder to Crooks final treaty talk, it looked really out of place, shoe-horned in there. I can’t complain too much, its an early 90’s Western that attempts to rewrite events, yet still holding back in places.

London Trip – 26-7/10/17 Part 1


A shorter than usual trip, with only a handful of shows this time. Starting off with a bit of fun at the London Film Museum – Bond in Motion. Billed as the largest collection of Bond cars ever, which wasn’t my main draw, it was to see everything else on top of the cars/vehicles. Once I was there I was like a kid in a candy store, looking at the cars, especially those which the guns and rockets on show. Definitely one for the boys. The icing on the cake being a model miniature from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), that was built to allow the production team prepare how to film the finale, complete with cylindrical saws.

My next stop stayed with the filmic theme at The Photographer’s Gallery, for a show I really wanted to see. Instant Stories. Wim Wenders’ Polariods. Exhibiting some of the remaining polaroids the German took on location and for inspiration. Out of the thousands he has said to have taken only a fraction remain which allow you to get an insight to his thinking. I see them like sketches, see it, capture it and move on. Taken in the 70’s and 80’s, you get to see him working and exploring America and Germany. I really could have stayed longer than I did, going around the two floors of the show a few times, taking in each carefully framed polaroid, given a new precious status, this ones throw away images are given something far greater than was ever intended for them.

 

Posse (1975)


Another Western that I thought I would never see, so when it came up in the listings I grabbed the opportunity. A few weeks later I’ve finally caught this late period Western with an older Kirk Douglas. It first came to my attention when I found the trailer when I was working on Dancing in the West (2013), I eventually dropped the trailer from the final cut. The images of the trailer didn’t leave me, wanting to seek out the film which not so sought after in the genre. For me it was to see an older Douglas when his profile was not as strong as his son Michael. There’s enough room for two on the big screen – just.

Posse (1975) is not the longest of film by any stretch of the imagination, its straight into the action and it doesn’t really slow down, with a political edge that grabbed by attention. Texas State Marshall Howard Nightingale (Douglas) is leading a posse, we only know they are law by the badges they wear. Their actions are questionable, a nighttime raid on Jack Strawhorn’s (Bruce Dern) gang, having seen a great number of Westerns, there’s no honor in this raid, the men are caught off guard, with no chance to defend themselves. Even killed when they are clearly unarmed, which goes against the unspoken code which the audience has been educated in. All of Strawhorn’s men are killed within a few minutes, its systematic and cold, leaving the leader of the gang to ride off to fight another day.

The same systematic attacks carried out in daylight when the posse catch up with Strawhorn’s new less experience incompetent gang who are surrounded and killed one by one without really getting close. Strawhorn had briefed these men to shoot when they reach a certain point, no sooner. This doesn’t really sink in for them, firing when fired at, natural instincts come through, which the silent posse use to their advantage. Again these men are taken out one by one, some unarmed whilst others really don’t help themselves by getting in the line of fire. These are two sides where the leaders don’t directly get involved until the very end – could this be a proxy war in the West? Both men do deliver orders but don’t directly get involved until they are forced to. Nightingale finally arrests his man, bringing him one step closer to the office of Senator.

I’m reminded of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) which saw Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) who legend has it killed the outlaw Valance. This act raises his profile and helps him eventually reach the office of Senator. Except he knows he wasn’t the killer. His whole rise to power is based on a myth which he doesn’t argue with until the end of the film. Nightingale is purposefully building his own legend on the outlaws that he brings in or has killed. He is aware of his reputation and the power that it has to further his career.

We see that Nightingale has power or money at least, his own personal train that allows him to travel before breaking away with the horses that go with them. Pulling into Tesoto, a Texan town is later used for a political rally. A town where Strawhorn had previously shot a sheriff, leaving the town vulnerable to further attack, the arrival of Nightingale can only be a good thing. Bringing with him the man they wanted, Nightingale celebrated by most, but not all, the most influential man – the press – Harold Hellman (James Stacy) who won’t print favorable reports on the would be Senator.

With Strawthorn in jail, it’s time to ride the glory of the arrest, Nightingale holds an outdoor rally, which works pretty well for him, if only they went to the polls the next morning. Everything starts to go downhill from here on in. The train ride to the gallows comes to an abrupt end not too far out of town. Turning the tables on Nightingale who becomes powerless to do anything, his men are trailing behind unable to help. This is something I’ve never really seen, the hero so helpless to do anything up to the close of the film. Then again this is Douglas who has played some ambiguous conflicted men who we are somehow drawn to, neither good nor bad, this one is leaning towards the bad, riding on his political and legal powers to hopefully win the day.

None of that goes to plan, now a hostage, his men are forced to find the money to set him free, it’s the last job they’ll do for him before they cross over to other side and ride off Strawthorn. This is after they hear of their possible futures, less than desirable they hoped for.  Less money for all, and for one less status, with that threat ahead they have to fight for themselves, and who can really blame them, with the opportunity they grab it with both hands. Leaving us with a very unusual ending in film, the hero is left alone, thwarted by the bad guy who rides off into the sunset. Yet our hero doesn’t really have the classic traits, sure he caught the bad guy, but he rode off with the men who first caught him. It shows the ambiguity of real life, also that politicians will always be politicians, using their position for their own gain.

Posse is a rarity for sure that uses the genre to look at politicians in more detail in the Western guise, the image of the squeaky clean politician who fights for his people is blown clear away. One of the more overt political Westerns, a politician displaying his power which ultimtely fails in public view. The image of Stoddard cannot exist here, he like the others is corrupt, using power to fight wars and gains that they can only do with position. Lastly the casting of Dern opposite Douglas is very clever, Dern plays a darker Douglas, going that step further from questionable to being the all out bad guy or “son of a b****” that made him go for the bleaker roles in the 1970’s.

Monochrome


I am pleased to announce that I will be exhibiting Just One More Game (2013) in Merge-Art and Film‘s show – Monochrome (27/10 – 3/11/17) at The Cafe Gallery, Islington Arts Factory, London. I will be attending the preview on 27th October 6-9 where I will give a short talk and Q&A. If you want to attend please check out this link for free tickets.

Film Talk – Films Finest Women


Film Talk turned to look at Their Finest, below are the notes from the talk.

Tonight I’d like to explore the position of women behind the camera, a subject that has become more prevalent recently. Looking at representation and equality or lack of, behind the camera. Using Their Finest (2016) as a starting point for we’ll look at women working on propaganda films before jumping back to the early days of film then making our way up to the present day.

For two years the British film industry has been working closely with the Ministry of Information whose aims for feature films were

“…the importance of films as a medium of propaganda’ in putting across the themes that [Lord] Macmillan had suggested; what Britain is fighting for; how Britain fights; the need for sacrifices if the fight is to be won…”

Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 26

The film industry collaborated with the government on over two hundred films for the duration of the Second World War. It was a constant battle between creatives, production heads and the Ministry of Information to convey the messages necessary to keep morale up.

The first film to be made under this new relationship was The Lion Has Wings (1939), an Alexander Korda production. It was however commissioned before the outbreak of war but was given the approval of the MOI

“For one thing, the MOI provided “technical facilities” in the production of the film and deal struck whereby it was accordingly afforded a share of the profits. Figures as high as ’50 per cent of the profits’ were quoted by some sources and were ‘the cause of the great deal of discontent in the industry’. Whatever the exact sum, however, the MOI did not to badly out of The Lion Has Wings. It was able to pass on to the Exchequer £25,140 from the film, and that was a straight profit, after it had covered whatever costs had been accrued…”

Britain Can Take It, British Cinema in the Second World War – Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards pg 24

At the beginning of the war, women were not yet conscripted as men were leaving to take up arms and fight. Leaving a majority female audience back home at the cinema. It took MOI head at the time Jack Beddington to realise he had to

“…address the needs and desires of the predominantly working class, disenchanted, under-served and under-respected female audience. The women, it seems, wanted heart-swelling encouragement and entertainment but gave short shift to anything that didn’t smell of reality.”

Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 40

To reach that female audience, female voices were needed to communicate with them. Scriptwriter’s such as Diana Morgan who worked at Ealing and contributed to

The Foreman Went to France, Went the Day Well? (1942) The Halfway House (Basil Dearden), 1944) Fiddlers Three (Harry Watt, 1944), Pink String and Sealing Wax (Robert Hamer, 1945)

Her experience of working in the film industry was rather confusing at times

“Sometimes you got credit for something you hadn’t done, or you wrote most of the picture and you didn’t get a credit. We didn’t worry about things like that.”

“They used to say, ‘We’ll send in the Welsh bitch [Morgan] to put in the nausea.”

Sight and Sound – May 2017 Vol 27 Issue 5, Women and WWII British Films – Stephen Woolley Pg 42

The Nausea being “The Slop” in Their Finest being the women’s dialogue. Morgan’s roles reflected by another Welsh woman – Catrin played by Gemma Arterton, whose brought in after her works discovered by scriptwriter’s at an unknown studio. It’s only after she persist does she see an increase in wages and work with her male counterparts.

It’s the persistence to get what she wants which her male counterparts would not have to fight so hard for. A fight that has been going on before WWII and is still going on today.

If we go all the way back to the silent era of film in Hollywood it was a more even playing field. Even then however it was still relegated to

“…routinized film processing tasks deemed appropriate to their sex in largely segregated setting. For male entrepreneurs, however, the film industry’s first decade suggested adventure, autonomy, and riches”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward MaherPg 9-10

It was however a time in Hollywood when women could take, such as screenwriter Beulah Marie Dix who could take on extra work.

“…in addition to writing scenarios, she worked as an extra, tended the lights, and “sent a good deal of time in the cutting room”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward MaherPg 39

It was probably the only time in Hollywood when men and women had parity in the industry as film historian Wendy Holliday found.

“…screenwriting in the early 1910s created a particularly “modern’ heterosocial work culture in which male and female writers like actors and actresses, were roughly equal, having a hand in all phases of production.”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward Maher Pg 41

If Wartime propaganda films employed women to write the “nausea” or “slop”, originally Hollywood would at times cut those costs in half. In hoping to aim at the female audience they ran writing contests.

“In 1909 Evangeline Sicotte of New York City won $150 in the Georges Melies Scenario Contest for her script “The Red Star,” and Florence E. Turner of Brooklyn won third place, receiving $50 for “The Fiend of the Castle.” A scenario submitted by Mrs. Clemens to the St Louis Times not only resulted in a cash prize but also reach the screen in 1910 as a film entitled The Double.”

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood – Karen Ward MaherPg 41

Moving away from the early writers of film and across the Atlantic to France we find Alice Guy Blanche who worked as a secretary to Leon Gaumont made her own films, I’d like to share one with you – Madame a des Envies (1906) a short which depicts a woman, played by herself that indulges in whatever she wants and not thinking about the consequences. Something that has since been more regularly applied to men on-screen.

The role of editor was originally an entry-level position, which was mastered by one of the most respected editors in the industry during her time. Margaret Booth began her career with D.W. Griffith when the process was very cumbersome and frustrating.

“…joiners squinted at negatives through a magnifying glass, trying to determine where to cut with scissors and where to rejoin with tape. They couldn’t watch the film as they were working on it, so the only way to see the print was the pull the negative quickly between their fingers… The process became easier with the arrival of the first cutting machine in 1919, which had foot pedals to run the film and a spy-hole to view it through. It looked similar to a sewing machine, and perhaps because of that (and because it was a low level job), there were many women working as film cutters.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 34-5

Booth went onto become one of the most respected editors in the industry.

Moving forward into the sound era we have fewer women of note working behind the camera. One of those is actress/director Ida Lupino who along with her husband set up a production company, they only made a few films, the first being Not Wanted (1949), which she initially chose not to direct. Everything changed when the hired director had a heart attack

“Ida stepped up to take over, and she was a natural. A reporter who had been on set observing her work wrote that he was impressed with her speed and efficiency giving order. Ida hoped that “Not Wanted” would “show the public the heartbreak of the unwed mother;” but when the film was released, reviews were mixed, though the Hollywood Reporter said the story was “done with taste, dignity and compassion.” Ida Lupino had arrived as a director.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 102

Lupino is most remembered for making The Hitch Hiker (1953) in less than a month. Coming in at 71 minutes unlike Elaine May’s directorial debut New Leaf (1972), which came in at 180, which proved too long for Paramount who edited out 80 minutes.

“Elaine was so upset at the studio tinkering with her movie and took them to court. She lost the case and publicly disowned her movie, saying this was not the cut she wanted audiences to see. But despite that conflict, Elaine continued to work with the studio, and her follow up was a big success, 1972’s “The Heatrbreak Kid”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1

Staying with the studio executives, there have been a few females in the boardroom, but not without cost. Sherry Langsing arrived after her enthusiasm for story editing at MGM. Sadly having to put up with her share of sexism from directors such as Don Siegel. 

“…who was furious at being a script notes by a woman. “I dealt with sexism by denying it,” Sherry said in her biography; “Did I hold grudges? Absolutely. But I felt that I had two choices, Either I was going to quit my job, stand on a picket line, and burn my bra, or I was going to have to find a way to navigate the system until I reached a position where my opinions would be heard.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 120-1

Sexism wasn’t overcome once at the top as Paramount’s Dawn Steel found out especially when she fought for Flashdance (1983).

“There was a lot of pain and humiliation in those years,” Dawn wrote in her memoir. “I would walk into my office and I would close the door and I would say, ‘I won’t cry, I won’t cry, I won’t cry.’ At least, I wasn’t going to let them see me cry.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 139-40

Moving forward to the present day a study at MDSC (Media, Diversity and Social Change) that looked at the 1000 grossing films between 2007 and 16 and the directors on the.

“For each of those ten years the average percentage of male directors was 96%. This means only 4% were female directors, a ratio of 24 men to every one woman. That reflects a huge percentage of female directors not being able to work. These figures don’t have anything to do with the lack of women who actually want the job, but are due to a lack of women being considered for these jobs and a perceived lack of experienced female directors.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 158

That sadly doesn’t take into account one of the most successful superhero films –Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins whose last feature film was Monster (2003) since relegated to TV work. Thanks to the box office success Wonder Woman she’s hopefully guaranteed the work she deserves.

As Dr Stacy Smith from MDSC found and Wonder Woman proves.

“When you have a female director, you have more female leads, you have more female speaking characters, you have more characters that are from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, more characters 40 years of age or older. You also have more women working in other key production roles.”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 159

Staying with blockbuster franchises – director of Star War: The Force Awakens JJ.Abrams and his company: Bad Robot ensure there’s equal diversity. Which he explains this interview.

I’ll end by briefly turning to on-screen depictions, with Ghostbusters remake director Paul Feig whose known for his more female focused films when he directed the female version of The HangoverBridesmaids. Proving that audience respond equally to women in comic roles as men.

“I just jumped in and did it,” says Paul; “It was just so much fun. First of all, knowing I had all these roles to cast funny women in. And then once it ended up doing well, it showed me that this excuse of ‘people won’t see these moves’ was pretty much killed”

Backwards & in Heels, The Past, Present and Future of Women working in Film – Alicia Malone Pg 170

Change is slowly happening in film to make a shift towards more diversity not just for women but people of different origins both on and off-screen. With actresses of all generations, especially Jennifer Lawrence speaking out about rates of pay compared to her male counterparts.

Young Guns (1988)


Another western that I thought I’d never really watch or review. I do remember hearing some enthusiasm for the film at art-school, but thought little of it, wanting to explore the classics of the genre more at the time, which to a large extent I have since achieved, now I’ve got a few to revisit. I have since considered catching Young Guns (1988) not really knowing much about the film beyond it looking like a chance to refresh the genre, which was beginning to happen during this period such as Silverado (1985) and Pale Rider (1985) at least Clint Eastwood could be relied upon to deliver. I also saw this as a spin on The Magnificent Seven (1960) formula, bring together a group of gunfighters and send them out to save the day, which isn’t far off what happened, just without the pathos or myth-making magic which it achieved.

What’s achieved is my curiosity being pricked up, which is all you need sometimes to engage with a film. First I was drawn to the late 1980’s music video aesthetic, it was clearly aimed at a young audience who had no real interest in the genre, something for older generations who grew up during its hey-day. During this period there are glimmers of something special coming through. Another point was having the other Martin Sheen son as the lead, as Emilio Estevez was already established in film, compared to the more prominent Charlie Sheen whose actually written out of the film at around the half-way point, which also shows as how much hated being on a horse, staying long enough to get a starring credit and a paycheck.

Looking further a stronger historical connection that I found, helping when I realised that it depicted both Billy the Kid – William H. Boney and L.G.Murphy, who both appeared in Chisum (1970), skewed more for John Wayne‘s lead character during the Lincoln County War (1877-8) one of the many cattle wars of the period. The same events basically unfold but from a more relatable point of view – the young men who knew John Tunstall whose killing, that originally started the war. Instead of Chisum who was rightly worried about Murphy’s increasing ownership in Lincoln County. He’s nowhere to be seen or heard in Young Guns which is either a poor choice historically, or consciously written out to focus on those directly effected by the shooting. Having too many characters to focus on would make it a broader less engaging film. 

With such a young cast who had yet to really make a mark in film it allows these six actors (ignoring Estevez) into careers of some longevity, which did happen for Keifer Sutherland, son of Donald Sutherland, which probably helped during casting. The rest of the cast I can’t say I have really seen before this film. A 50% success rate is still good going though. Placing them in this MTV-esque Western which works in some places and not in others. The music video feel of the film really has dated, the soundtrack really doesn’t work today, it attempt to set the tone but feels out-of-place, it’s neither nostalgic or dramatic, with time it’s just been lost. The casting of Terrance Stamp as John Tunstall just doesn’t work for me. Playing the “Englishman” which is over emphasised at times is really unnecessary for the audience. It’s trying to pit Englishman against Irishmen which really is just circumstance to me, just drop the point and move on. Also Stamp looks very out of place, just delivering his lines without looking awkward on-screen. I think he’s glad he was killed off after 20 minutes. He obviously leave a mark on the men – The Regulators, who start off to war.

Turning to The Regulators as characters themselves who are fully fleshed people who you can engage with. With the emphasis on Billy the Kid the assumed leader post Tunstall’s death, the historical figure that most in the audience would have heard of compared to the cattlemen who are known to those interested in history. For me it comes from reading beyond the films. As a character himself he owns the film and Estevez owns the role, really having fun, making his mark on the role whose being done justice. Looking to Charlie Sheen’s Richard ‘Dick’ Brewer who probably seen as the winger of the group who pushes everyone further before he’s killed off. Two of the Gun’s Josiah Gordon ‘Doc’ Scurlock and Charles ‘Charley’ Bowdre (Kiefer Sutherland and Casey Siemaszko) are given the love interests which don’t take over from the main plot, if anything they make them richer characters, they have more to lose as they reach the finale. I must also touch on the Navajo character ‘Jose’ Chavez y Chavez (Lou Diamond Phillips) whose half Mexican, whose allowed screen-time to discuss the American Holocaust, specifically the massacre at Sand Creek Reservation (1864), despite the fact that he would never have been there, as he wasn’t Cheyenne or Arapaho. Showing how Native American past can be recycled and jumbled to suit a script.

Young Guns reminded me of other super groups in the genre which brought together the best of the best in their fields, or even misfits such as The Professionals (1966), The Wild Bunch (1969) up to Silverado. Guns joins that long line of super groups toting guns. Long before the Avengers and DC universe films that bring together superheroes. Except everyone gets on and they have already met, cutting out a lot of exposition allowing for us to get on with the plot and see this group of young men just get on with it.

Historically I was vaguely aware of Billy the Kid’s involvement in the Johnson County War, afterwards I feel a little more informed and refreshed, there’s more to it then the side we see. It’s small event of a much bigger, dirty, violent history, also adding the myth of the West that has been reshaped by cinema. There are a few nods to the fabric of the genre, Patrick Wayneson of The Duke takes on the role of Pat Garrett, to Jack Palance as Murphy which you can see he’s enjoying far more than Stamp was. It’s not the strongest of films for a number of reasons which I’ve discussed, however it is fun, engaging with filled with action, you’re supporting the young men as they fight for what is right which makes up what is lacking at times. A product of its time which you can forgive its many flaws leaving me wanting to catch the sequel now.