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
My lunchtime’s have been recently consumed by reading Easy Riders Raging Bulls: How the Drugs ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Generation saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind. I’m speeding through it, giving me a really good insight into Hollywood’s silver age, catching up with the New Wave Europe that was racing ahead with new ideas. The old guard (moguls or the corporation’s that bought them out) were not prepared or even ready for the likes of Coppola, Beatty, Lucas, Scorsese, Friedkin, Bogdanovich and Spielberg did for American film. Be that good or bad, that’s up to the individual to decide. Because of the way the book’s written there are times that I feel some directors are not getting a look in until much later on. However there’s a reason, a rational to this, bringing in Scorsese in at the mid-point with Speilberg who we know weren’t doing much in Hollywood, but were there trying to make their personal films a reality.
The book has given me many recommendations (without even telling me) to go away and find these films. Starting with M.A.S.H (1970), there are more I want to get into, I just waiting for them to present themselves. Even a few cheeky revisits which are long over due. I wanted to focus on Steven Spielberg here for this review I wasn’t aware that his first feature film Duel (1971) (not shot on Super 8) was actually for TV. After years of struggling to get anything made and with the curse of Joan Crawford whom he directed in Night Gallery he was stuck in the lesser medium. Once his Movie of the week was aired “Spielberg became a darling of the French Critics”.. (pg 257 – Easy Riders and Raging Bulls). I remember reading an article where a critic suggested that she preferred his earlier work pre-Jaws to that which came after.
I guess she has something there, there is a massive change is tone from the first darker three films that are more adult as much as they are pure escapism you don’t have the schmaltz for which he has come to be known for. Not to say he’s not the worse director for it. He is a master of his medium, yet the title of auteur which is more easily given to Coppola and Scorsese et al. all have very strong styles. What Spielberg has is the ability to deliver big cinematic pieces that can stimulate emotional responses, he’s a master manipulator of emotion I should say. He knows is needed to produce emotion A, by doing B and C in turn to get your attention. It could be argued that he’s never really grown up, that’s what I’m finding from his contemporaries. Which really isn’t a bad thing in terms of his success. He has been able to deal with dark material from the Holocaust to the end of the Civil War, he’s no mouse, however he’s able to tap into the inner child of the audience because he never really let go to that feeling. Looking at his contemporaries work of the 1970’s that is dark, cynical and stylized. Most of them are great pieces of work, the modern classics we have today were made by these men.
Duel is sadly not one of them, for the reason that it’s been overlooked, not celebrated and not properly distributed in the country that produced it. Being shown theatrically in Europe and Japan to great praise, a horror film that relies on that single aspect of driving – Lorries. Admittedly I’m not a fan of those “Kings of the Road”, having to drive on the motorway a lot I have seen what can happen. Previously involved in a road accident that involved one (I’m all in one piece) it really changes your perspective and can change your outlook on how you drive. As much as we need them for the economy to grow I hate them. Spielberg plays on that fear we drivers can have of these vehicles that storm past us, clog up the road and can cause mayhem.
For the director it’s a rare if his only horror film, and not in the traditional sense. It takes place all in a single day, if only a few hours of David Mann’s (Dennis Weaver) life and it’s really enough. What begins just another big-headed road hogging lorry driver. (Sorry for my American readers/followers a Lorry is what we call trucks) is obstructing Mann as he drives to a meeting he is crossing the country for. Getting to the meeting soon fades away as trouble and survival become more important. A chance encounter with an unknown driver of a rusty tanker whose antagonistic and frankly dangerous driving leads to a game of cat and mouse on the open roads of America. This not the same as other road movies of the era, there’s no time for friendship, self exploration or tripping out. Out running the police or even getting the job done, this is survival.
What makes this stand apart from being the run of the mill TV movie of the week is the distinctive cinematography. The opening sequence of the camera being strapped to the bonnet (hood) of the car as it travels through various locations. Telling is we are on the road and have been for sometime. Is this the view of the car or the driver? more than likely the car that holds and carries the driver before we meet the lorry that is to bring hell with him. We have to see the world from the drivers point of view. Not as confined as Locke (2013) which is restricted to the car and the conversations that Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) has over the phone that alter the direction he take in life. This is not as complex as that, more easily compared to Jaws (1975) that plays on your basic fears, that fight or flight. Being able to move is the only option you have, to think on your feet, those quick life or death decisions. Returning to the cinematography briefly we are able to get into Mann’s head as he tries to work out who the driver once he has stopped after the first 3rd of the film. No one really knows who the driver is, given a few pieces of information.
Could I be so bald as the to make the jump and compare this to a stripped back Western, hell yes I will. We have the traveling gunfighter whose making his way to the next town. Met along the way by a group of Native Americans who want him to move on. Not knowing he is on their land, he’s an intruder and has to go. Or is that too simple, as they continually engage him in intimidation that leads ultimately to the gunfighters/white mans victory. Probably a simple translation but a starting point. We have a lorry that is relentless for reasons no one can understand, its crazy yet we watch on, driven by how we can all relate to dangerous drivers, even those who follow us and are completely safe for miles at a time, simply taking the same road as us.
Summing up in what has become a very long review of a much overlooked of Spielberg’s it’s not the landmark film that changed the landscape of the genre like he achieves with his blockbuster a few years later. Instead it’s a solid little horror film that taps into that shared fear we all have. Drivers or not we all at one time or another fear someone is following us, some with good cause for concern. There’s none of the magic that he channels by referencing classic cinema, taking what works and making it his own. Overall I am please to have seen this little film, running in at 85 minutes, just a little sad I missed his reflection in one of those split seconds of a director who is having fun on a limited budget and making it something bigger, grander, more exciting, ultimately cinematic for the small screen when he couldn’t get there at the time.
I was inspired to get out of my collection a film I hadn’t seen in a few years thanks to m friend over at Once Upon a Screen. It was one of the first classics that I devoured when my interest in film was developing, hungry for the more obvious pieces that everyone knows without really having to look to far, readily available to watch you could say. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) is also a turning point in American film, breaking the mold of the decaying studio system to deliver one of the then most violent films. Very much a product of its time, that has stood the test of time, still having the power to shock. It may look dated in places however that’s hardly something to complain about, it’s almost 50 years old, yes 50 years old, a film about two of the most prolific bank-robbers of depression era America, a two-man Jesse James gang that drive around the Deep South, robbing from the rich banks that prevented them having the life they felt they deserved.
I can’t leave the subject of violence that my friend discussed, It wasn’t used for the sake of violence. Like any content it has to be used properly and for a reason, unless the intention is to throw you off-balance, a stylistic choice by the director. Violence has since this film and The Wild Bunch (1969) been attributed to a rise in violence which is nonsense, violence was there before both those films and as we know after the events in France its still happens. No one is blaming film-violence for the acts of terrorism there. It comes from a root cause, a method to scare and control. Violence of the screen acts only as a mirror image of life, if we don’t see violence behind the security of a projected image we don’t truly understand the power of violence. It’s not glorified by Arthur Penn its simply mirrored and exaggerated in order to show us how bloody and horrific it really is. Just what Peckinpah built upon two years later using slow-motion that became a signature in hos work. If we re forced to look at it we’re engrossed by it, which we should be repulsed by. The images on the news is the real violence which we’re warned about before a piece of broadcast. To deny violence on-screen is to deny that it happens, much the same goes for strong language which is used right is a true reflection. Obviously not all audience should be exposed to this, learning the dangers of the world through the comfort of fairy tales that have dark characters and morals that stay with you, allowing you to understand the world around you as you grow up. Violence and strong language if dealt with sensitively can be powerful weapons in their own right.
Enough of the lecture and onto the film that I hadn’t seen since I was at uni so over 3 years ago now. I think that was long enough to forget most of the plot, even the odd clip didn’t really join up all the dots. Allowing me to go into this film very much with a fresh pair of eyes, maybe that’s the power of the images that they stay with you long enough that they you can feel their presence even as they fade into the long-term-memory. The events had long since faded leaving a sense of visceral violence and youthful energy that excites you, even though it’s about bank robberies. We are slowly lulled into a false sense of security, an uncertain time of un-seen poverty in America via old photographs that depict suffering, poverty and struggle to survive against the odds, the banks and ultimately the system that itself is fighting to stand-up. Before we meet a young couple in the oddest of situation, a crime is about to be committed, the start of a strange relationship between Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway). Sparks fly between them but not in the standard sexual sense, getting their kicks on the open road in the small towns of Deep South.
It’s the youthful energy that sets this film alight, we don’t really care about what they do in the beginning, no bloods shed. They are stealing from the rich, whilst respecting the poor. In the beginning it’s just the too of them, riding the open road, enjoying the spoils in the cars that come and go like the clothes on their back. As if they don’t have a care in the world, they have their whole lives ahead of them. Before meeting their getaway driver C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard) who wants to share the spoils, add some excitement to his otherwise boring life. It beats the routine of adult life they are now trapped in. Are they escaping adulthood or just the responsibility of it? They are using their bodies to get what they want, becoming powerful forces in the Southern states, forcing the hand of the already stretched banks. They are unaware of the effect they are having, a danger to society, only interested in the notoriety that is produces, they relish it, they are somebody, the Barrow gang as they come to be known when they join up with older brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons) who is trapped between her upbringing and obligation to her husband.
We have our outsider within the gang acting (Blanche) as the conscience of the film. Scared witless by the acts of violence that escalate, and torn by her love for Buck. Screaming at any given time, out of fear or excitement the line becomes blurred as she comes to accept her position in the gang, neither a prisoner nor a participant in the robberies. We the audience however have the choice to continue watching or turn-away. I stayed. There was too much to not ignore. I noticed that as however modern the content, the violence of the bolemic blood. It’s very classic in terms of production. The interior car scenes are all completed with front and rear projection, this could be due to budget or stylistic choices, to have a classic look, when as early as the mid-fifties car scenes were being taken to the location. We’re reminded we are looking at an artifice not reality, it shows up on-screen, yet we don;t care as we are lost in the energy and conversation of the Barrow gang. We are looking at kids, young people swept up in the moment before reality soon comes back to haunt them.
I could go on about the plot, which we all know, it is also a road trip that charts the life of these two lovers on the run from the law. They start loosing that youthful edge as the presence of the police is not far behind them. Numerous shoot-outs which I had forgotten reference films from the era, loud and messy affairs that are nostalgic for that era of film before the Hays code had been enforced on American film. It’s finally breaking free from those restraints. However as much as they are loosening there lies within a moral, that all these acts of violence will catch-up with you. As we have come to have burned in our minds, as one of modern cinema’s greatest scenes begins to unfold, bringing a close to an era in the South.
The gunning down of Bonnie and Clyde is the only scene I have re-watched away from the film, yet connected to the film is even more powerful, we’ve been taken on a thrill ride through open country, sex, violence and silliness. Reality kicks in, and orders restored in the world, our image of the film’s shattered and reformed. Violence is not a nice thing, as a mentioned earlier, it can kill with ease. The slow-motion image of their death, two dancing corpses being pumped with bullets is hard to swallow yet at the same time parodies the death scene, that moment actors relish, to leave the screen with a dramatic exit. They are also leaving life to something less exciting…death that has no escape. Driving that image home is enough to shock the audience, whilst at the same time wow them with this effect.
Bonnie and Clyde was a turning point in cinema there-after there was no point where you could go back, the fast images of death have been burned into a generation. Wanting more, seeing more on the TV at night with the Vietnam war showing death every night, when it happens everyday on our streets. Cinema had to reflect that not shy away from reality which is far darker than it wanted us to believe. It’s not even just a standard crime thriller as the characters each question their position in society, all equally “rednecks” who are fighting against the stereotype to be something more, it has a voice for the younger generation that was then still fighting to be heard against the establishment.
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967) (lecinemadreams.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Dueling Divas Blogathon: Female Rivalry in Bonnie & Clyde (1967) (thewonderfulworldofcinema.wordpress.com)
- Savage Friday: Bonnie and Clyde (1967) (reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.co.uk)
- Film #65: Bonnie and Clyde (1967) (scottsfilmwatch.blogspot.co.uk)
Don’t mistaken Bugsy (1991) with the all singing all dancing Bugsy Malone (1976) which may have taken the title from the infamous gangster. The is however a rare chance to see the usually not seen Warren Beatty on-screen, known for being very particular in the roles he takes. Working intermittently since making it as part of the American New Wave in the 1960’s. Here we see him take on a role that I first thought would suit a younger actor, yet the more I saw of Ben (Bugsy) Siegel he gets away with it, already in his early fifties this is very much a mature gangster, usually a genre that is the exclusive of the younger man, seeing only the older men who have been playing the right cards in the business.
Taking place during the WWII period of Hollywood, yet never really touches the film industry after the idealistic gangster who is already feared by his enemies visits his friend in the business George Raft (Joe Mantegna) who has made a small success. Not the usual line of work for a member of the mob, wanting to keep a low profile. Still enjoying the lavish lifestyle that goes with being in that part of the world. All this attract Bugsy (don’t call him that or you may end up with more than a bloody nose) who throws money around to get what he wants. Money is no object, practically lined with dollar bills. Even getting the girl, he wants, a film extra Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) whose morals are questionable.
You can see why Beatty chooses his roles carefully, he puts so much effort into his performances, developing little quirks that flesh him out, from the wild temper to the tongue twister he repeats, with n particular reason. He really does his homework to create a flawed individual who as powerful and successful that he was, was also his own down fall. As we follow him from getting his own schemes off the ground. Ideas of killing the Italian leader Mussolini that were just crazy, all his friends knew he was mad, trying to control him the best they could. More so for old friend Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) who still loves the liability that Bugsy has become.
It’s his final idea that is something I knew very little about, having a last impact on American culture, the transformation of the Nevada desert into a 24/7 land where gambling and entertainment become part of the culture. All built on the dirty money that came from the mob. When you think about it’s not so mad. Part of the American dream to have it all at your finger-tips, to win big whenever. Part of the hedonistic culture we have today, began with the Flamingo Hotel that has come along way since its construction which takes up a good half of the film, an idea that seemed mad back then, but today is unthinkable, fuelled by the then newly completed Hoover dam. The men around him who fund this incredible venture see things spiral out of control, even when Bugsy is arrested briefly. The curtains are slowly closing on Bugsy’s life, a decline he was too blind to see.
Bugsy is a slick film that takes you into the darker side of Hollywood’s history, much like Chinatown (1974) and LA Confidential 1997) spending more time with the crime than the glitz and glamour. We still had the madness that goes with that world, the people who lived among it all. A semi-film noir in colour, heavily stylised, making use of the lighting wherever possible in this dirty underworld populated with powerful and very flawed people.
I originally dismissed McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971) on the basis that I could hardly hear the actors talking, the action was slow and the soundtrack was much the same too. Then as I learnt more about the film, the director, the 1970’s and revisionist westerns I had to return and find out what it was really about, instead of being shallow and dismissive. Finding something I have found before with other director such as Arthur Penn and Sam Peckinpah who left their mark on the then dying genre. Breathing new life into it, for however short a time it was. McCabe & Mrs Miller feels as modern as Unforgiven (1992) or Open Range (2003) (which I really should watch again). The tone and look of the film more realistic with Robert Altman in the chair, than most of my favourite westerns. The men and women in turn of the century America talking about modern issues, such as how to trim facial hair or to a buy out of property.
What begins as a lone man (John McCabe/ Warren Beatty) wanting to start out on his own a new brothel in an old mining town. He arrives complete with his own reputation that precedes him, a killer of a politician, someone to be feared or respected. He knows what he wants. He main weapons are really charm, cunning and little business acumen. All that he really needs. The townspeople led by Sheehan (Rene Auberjonois) welcome him and his new venture, a sure winner in a town populated of mainly men. Yet its not overtly adult, there are excited men, at the site of prostitutes in this mountain town, they are a welcome addition. Life just goes on.
Things are going along smoothly for McCabe until he encounters Constance Miller (Julie Christie) a professional Madam who knows a good thing when she see’s it, joining up with McCabe, they form a casual relationship, which on-screen is confused, we never know what they are, they share a bed, the profits, yet its never overtly dealt with, it’s private and confused, like life I guess. She shakes up the business, bringing a different class of prostitutes with her, something the clients will really like and pay good money for.
For a film set in a “whore house” we don’t really see any sex, we know it happens upstairs, it’s just a part of the fabric, so why show it? Things start to fall apart for McCabe with the arrival of two men wanting to buy him out, what could be a profitable venture for him goes ever so wrong, his bravado gets the better of him, and later it gets him.
Only two years into a new century, the ways of the old west, the “whore house” is still a nice venture, yet ways of doing business are changing, to McCabe’s misfortune treating it as a game and little else. He has something pretty good and doesn’t want to part with it. An independent man, who can support himself, proud of his empire, to give it up so easy is not his way. A way that is becoming more cut-throat.
The finale is not what I expected, the atmosphere shifts from a happy mining town, to one greedy for development and change. A quiet gun fight in the snow, are we seeing a legendary gunfighter take up his gun once more, or a man fighting for his life. Whilst Miller, a woman strong on the surface seems to give into addiction, something rarely seen in westerns, simply glossed over, everyone is having problems. The final shootout has more cunning here, unlike the poorly remade fight in The Missouri Breaks (1976) which felt hollow, there was no cunning or wanting to survive, unlike here in the heavy snow that made the stakes even for both men. As the old west was dying, so had the men who wouldn’t change with it.
I’m glad I finally revisited this gem, that pleased me on many levels, the lighting which was far more accurate, as I have worked with myself, reflecting more the time, left very much in the dark. Whilst the sound quality was poor, I soon adjusted and paid even more attention, adding another layer to this modern classic. Which would be far less without Leonard Cohen‘s soundtrack which swept us off to a bygone era when life was simpler yet so much harder. Coming across as bittersweet as Bob Dylan‘s in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), demonstrating a real change in tone in the 70’s for the genre, using contemporary music for the soundtrack.
- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (wondersinthedark.wordpress.com)
- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) (templeofschlock.blogspot.co.uk)
- McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) (cinepinion.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Films of Warren Beatty-“McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971) (mark-markmywords.blogspot.co.uk)
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller (mymoviemusings.wordpress.com)