• Pages

  • Site Sections

  • Tags

  • Archives

Mr Turner – Mike Leigh Over-rated, over-praised

turner

 

 

 

2star1

Mr Turner – Mike Leigh

Probably the most over-praised, over-rated film of the year. Despite a languidly and tediously long-drawn out 150 minutes, Mike Leigh manages virtually no insights, no illumination of Turner the artist or his Art. A clunking, almost unplayably self-conscious ‘literary’ script serves a misconceived effort to ‘recreate’ with obsessional ‘authenticity’ the language and mores of the period. As a result poor Mr Spall (excellent actor though he is) is trapped into the conceit of ‘inhabiting’ (ie inventing) a Turner who becomes a grunting grotesque with nothing interesting, or convincing to say about himself or, unforgivably, his art.

William Goldman once observed that one should never try to be faithful to a book of which one makes a film: but that one must always be faithful to the spirit of the book. The same is true of the past: we know the facts of the 19th century setting of this film but knows what it was really like tolive it. Leigh’s film is inhabited by exaggerated Dickensian caricatures.

The past is infinitely more alien than another country. Mike Leigh seems to have settled for an obsessional, false, ‘verisimilitude’ at the expense of an artistic vision of the spirit of the man, his painting and his times. Turner’s art,  his iconic and iconoclastic innovative paintings are reduced in Leigh’s film to pretty window-dressing. We learn nothing about the passion that motivated them, the passion they reflected and the mind and sensibility that first conceived, then created them.

<strong>Not since Arnand Tucker’s execrable Hilary and Jackie (about Jacquleine Du Pre)assumed that the most interesting thing about one of the most gifted, mesmeric musicians of her time, was whether she had slept with her brother-in-law, has an artist been so ill-served by a film ostensibly made to celebrate great art. I see no reason to think, and Leigh certainly doesn’t provide one, that a graphic portrayal of a grunting, piggish brute with the sexual sensibility of a dog on heat, has anything at all to do with the creation of several of the most transcendent paintings of not just their time, but any time. And an oddly inappropriate atonal, distancing score doesn’t improve things one jot.

Such a disappointment: and a precious lost opportunity. And the usual unjustified ‘Britfilm’ hype won’t kid anyone for long.

Lord Melvyn Bragg – Q & A at Curzon for Sky Arts South Bank Originals

Bragg

 

5star1

 

Lord Melvyn Bragg – Q & A at Curzon for Sky Arts South Bank Originals

We are used to hearing Melvyn, Lord Bragg, interviewing others. Over the 50 years or more of his presence on our screens and airwaves he has informed, educated, entertained and at times enthralled us by sharing the results of his own passionate curiosity and down-to-earth, no-nonsense love of the Arts in all their forms.

For once a series of excellent questions from the audience freed him to expand on deep felt insights, affectionately telling and funny anecdotes from a lifetime of meeting and sharing ideas with an extraordinary range of supremely talented people: from Dolly Parton to Francis Bacon; Barushnikov to McCartney. His indomitable enthusiasm and searching curiosity renders even the esoteric and perplexing accessible to anyone with a willingly open mind and a desire to understand.

To use a much overused and often undeserved term: the Right Honourable The Lord Melvyn Bragg is a genuine National Treasure who carries his distinction lightly with a sublimely English self-deprecation which marks a genuine humility without a hint of what the Welsh call ‘side’.

Melvyn rocks!

The new series of South Bank Original on Sky Arts, although using 1000s of hours of peviously aired interviews etc is a completely new, re-examination of a particular subject or artist over many years. The two shown here on Dolly Parton and Mikhail  Baryshnikov were insightful, poignant and beautifully observed.

Poem – ‘I’

 

'I'

‘I’

 

‘I’

I am happy – and sad
sometimes good
and yes, sometimes bad

I am who I am
but have a duty
to he who I might be
I am tethered – yet free
I am me

I am loved – and love
know unrest – but am still blessed

I am curious – and perplexed
troubled, and at peace
my madness makes me sane
and my sanity makes me mad

I am father – and son
husband, lover, friend
endless possibilities
and yet all are one

I am blood, tissue, cell
body and brain
but consciousness as well
Somewhere in the hinterland
of synapse, nerve and cause
the person, the self – the ‘I’
thinks and feels, plans and acts – wills
bound but not determined
by careless Nature’s Laws

I am a million inchoate fragments
of feeling, sense and hope
ordered on memory’s fragile thread
contradictions side by side
resigned by Human Nature
to forget destination
and perhaps deserve the ride

I am sacred – and profane
driven by desire and will
terrified by freedom
and the duty to fulfil
to become all I can be
No one can lift the burden or the thrill
of a shared humanity
no prophets, Gods or masters
through obedience reward or fear
excuse my deeds but me
Rebellion not quiescence
dissent not conformity
pave the road the ‘I’ must travel
to reach its destiny

Another Spring – Poem

 

Cherry-Blossoms-6169

 

Another Spring

Age is like
a non-returning Spring
full of passion
that will not be satisfied
full of hope
that will not be fulfilled
full of love
that will not be returned
full of life
that will not be survived

And full of longing
for another Summer, Autumn, Winter
and yes, oh yes
another Spring

The Amazing Spiderman 2 – second rate computer game without the interactivity

 

amazing-spider-man-2-0v

 

2star1

 

The Amazing Spiderman 2 – Marc Webb

 

Dramatic tension, suspense depends on imperilment, uncertainty of outcomes. The flaw in the super-hero genre which this Spiderman suffers from more than most, is that because the impossible can be convincingly depicted, outcomes are either certain, therefore predictable; or unconvincingly plotted to tidy up a poorly conceived, lazily developed and badly written narrative.

The other essential component of suspense is cadence: dramatic sequences must build towards a climax with at least some element of uncertainty, doubt as to successful outcome. The action sequences in Spiderman are breathtaking in their technical expertise and utterly vapid in their contribution to narrative cadence or dramatic tension: one is gobsmacked at the frentic, one-speed (super-fast) pace. But gobsmacked fatigue soon sets in as the law of diminishing returns inexorably unwinds – very quickly.

This Spiderman is nothing more than a second rate video-game without the merit of interactivity. Zero chemistry between Stone and Garfield at least generates the right result.

A waste of time, money and hype.

Thoughts On A Son’s 30th Birthday

 

father-son-silhouette

 

Thoughts On A Son’s 30th Birthday

Our children are the best of us
as theirs one day will be too
their task is to surpass us
ours to love them when they do

Like sparks adrift in a darkling sky
we blaze, and burn, then glow
a flame of life and love eternal
to touch, to feel, to know

The thief of time beguiles us
with then, and now, and soon
shared life and love slip by
’til a finite midnight usurps an endless noon

But we can steal back precious moments
for passion is not bound by measured time
shared fragments of love eternal
a sense of life transcendent and sublime

These priceless, timeless moments of eternity
like the river’s rush, the oceans’ tides
although ever-flowing, ever-changing
are proof undoubting that love abides

Our children are the best of us
our love drives their dreams not ours
with truth and honour, like us, as their guide
their lives will not be measured in mere years, or months, or hours

Pete Seeger: 1919 – 2014 RIP

 

Seeger and Dylan

Seeger and Dylan

 

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger

 

If I had a hammer

Where Have all the flowers gone?

We Shall Overcome

 

Pete Seeger

A fine soul passed today
returning to the earth
he loved and graced
He hammered out freedom
He hammered out justice
no guns just roses
this gentle gentleman
embraced

We are the better
for his life
his melody lives on
champion of simple folk
of music and of song
we know where one flower has gone
as still his truth rings out loud
rings out long

(Pete Seeger: 1919 – 2014. RIP)

Buffy Sainte-Marie – January 2014 of Pete Seeger

“Justice and humanitarian issues, kindness, effectiveness and humility, all wrapped around a banjo. He was a real angel on earth”.

Philomena – Stephen Frears – Touching, moving – but where’s the anger?

Judi Dench/ Philomena Lee

Judi Dench/ Philomena Lee

 

 

3star1

Philomena – Stephen Frears

The real Philomena Lee was in the audience with her family when I saw this at the wonderful Rex Cinema in Berkhamsted. She took part in a question and answer session after the showing. She revealed herself to be intelligent, articulate, perceptive and wise. These qualities perhaps developed by 30 years as a psychiatric nurse.

Given this unusual insight into the real people portrayed in the film the first, overwhelming question is why, in all that’s holy, Stephen Coogan’s script turns this extraordinary lady into a slightly dumb, somewhat submissive woman out of touch with the sophistications of modern life, more than a little patronisingly portrayed as very pre-occupied with taking advantage of anything she can get for free or on the cheap.

It takes Judi Dench, bless her, about half the film to invest Philomena with the authentic, real gravitas and intelligence denied her by Coogan’s well-meaning but deeply patronising script. Not for the first time, it takes Dench some time to rescue not just the movie but the richly layered, life-worn and life-enhancing character that is the real Philomena, from the patronising trivialising of Coogan’s writing. It emerged in the Q&A that Dench had refused to say one line “because it made me (Philomena) look too stupid.” Well good on yer Judi – but why was it even an issue?

That said, to be fair, both Philomena and her daughter professed themselves very satisfied with the movie. That is generous to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, Philomena is touching, very moving and the sheer cumulative weight of Dench’s artistic conviction, as ever, triumphs in investing a character with more depth and weight than a sometimes trite script conveys. As the British Film Industry gears itself up for one of its periodic chauvinistic excesses let’s be clear, not that it is what matters most, that the film has no chance of Oscars etc; though Dench certainly has every chance of picking up some well-deserved accolades.

How could the story of a naïve good Catholic teenager getting pregnant on her first foray into pubescence with a Sean-the-lad at the local carnival be unaffecting? When the overwhelming weight of Catholic, Social opprobrium descends upon her she is ‘forced’ by convention and custom into giving up her son for adoption at the sublimely inappropriate age of 3 years. We learn that this transaction was commonplace in Ireland at the time when Catholic-run institutions, inspired by a God-claimed obsession with sin and sinfulness, were not only piously instrumental in severing all contacts between children and birth-mothers, they also turned it into a nice little ecclesiastical earner by flogging the kids, often to well-heeled North Americans. Philomena’s ‘love-child’ Michael, whose very existence apparently represented the authentication of human sinfulness ended up in Canada and thence to the USA. We can only imagine the cumulative pressure; social, religious and emotional to which Philomena and the thousands of young women like her, were subjected to accede to not only signing away any rights to their own child but also any right to ever make any further future contact.

The inspirational quality of Philomena lies in the sheer human, maternal and filial drives that battled for years to find each other against the deception, institutional corruption and hypocritical piety of all who might have helped them. You will discover the bitter-sweet pathos of this process within the film – and it will make you cry.

But here is the fundamental flaw in the film: the anger is missing. Of course as human beings we should be tolerant: but equally as human beings we should not be tolerant of injustice. The trade in adopted babies like Philomena’s was systematically practiced by a Catholic institution that was at the same time exploiting the slave labour of thousands of ‘fallen’ young women in profitable Irish laundries – a scandal only just beginning to be properly aired. It is also by now a matter of mere empiricism, not prejudice, that notes the thousands of vulnerable young people of both genders systematically sexually abused for years by the very Priests in whom they placed their trust.

The real Philomena revealed that as a result of her experience she stopped for many years attending Mass – returning only in recent years but still eschewing Holy Communion. In the film her namesake is portrayed as restraining the less-than-convincing anger on her behalf expressed by Coogan’s Martin Sixsmith. Coogan plays the ex-BBC journalist advisor to Stephen Byers, Transport Minister in the Blair Government. Sixsmith’s notorious sacking was caused by his advice to Byers not to try to ‘bury’ bad political news on the day of Princess Margaret’s funeral; in view of the earlier debacle of cynically trying to use the US 9/11 bombings to hide other bad political news.

The responses in the film to the deliberated, planned, systematic emotional cruelty exercised by so-called Christians upon vulnerable young women, are far too muted; far too restrained. This was wickedness, pure and simple, enacted by an institution and its officers who above all others, not only should have known better but negated in action the very spirit of the faith they professed in thought and belief.

Truly, when good men and women are silent – evil prospers. If more sincere, good Catholics, lay and ordained, had been angrier and shouted that anger from the rooftops, over decades of systematic, known but concealed abuse, then thousands of lives would have been saved the traumas and destruction to which they were unspeakably subjected.

I’m not sure why Frears has allowed his film to be so fatally flawed by such a polite, submissive, utterly misplaced blandness of moral tone. I hate to say it but clearly, this implicitly ‘conciliatory’ tone will increase the potential market for the film in a way that a more trenchant, critical, outraged spirit might not. But this is popular appeal at the profound expense of artistic integrity. Jim Loach’s Oranges and Sunshine (2011) on an absolutely similar theme but within an Australian context (truly is Catholicism a world religion), was far more rigorous, far more critical, and thus far more impressive than Frears’ quasi-middle-class apologia. But then Oranges and Sunshine did modest box-office and wasn’t mentioned as a possible Oscar-winner.

Philomena was entirely successful in inducing in me a kind of comfortable, Middle-Class wistful sadness at Philomena’s story. Even the subject of the film herself seems to have been lulled into a submissive, resigned regret at how things turned out.

This passivity is subversive and corrosive. It really isn’t good enough. And no amount of Oscars and accolades will change that fundamental fact. These things didn’t ‘happen’ to Philomena Lee and the thousands like her – they were the conscious, planned, organised decisions and actions of individuals and the organisation which both generated, validated and eventually concealed the unspeakable treatment to which she was subjected. This was no act of God.

This quietly, subtly emotionally manipulative film is not enough – by a long, long way. The real Philomena Lee said that she eventually agreed to support the film because she hoped it might help others who suffered the same emotional and yes, spiritual, oppression. Well sheer publicity may grant her wish: but response to evil, reaction to cruelty and wickedness should be rigorous, committed and utterly unapologetic. Otherwise the truth will be distorted, sanitised and finally buried: and secret, shameful abuse will simply slither back to destroy more innocent, vulnerable lives. That is the truth that best reflects the Scriptural attitude of the very founder of the faith so vigorously professed but shamefully denied in action over many years.

All efforts to wring out of the current Irish Government and the Catholic Church full details of this shameful practice have so far failed. Such information should not be meekly requested on the back of a touching little movie and the embarrassment of publicity it may generate: full disclosure must be demanded and if refused, legislated for. Enough is enough. There is an outstanding debt to pay: and public recognition of the truth is its absolutely minimum requirement.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour – Over-hyped, over-long and under-sexed

Emma and Adele

 

Blue Is The Warmest Colour – Abdellatif Kechiche

Filming fictional sex is very much like filming fictional sport. It doesn’t work – because it is a contradiction in spirit. Nothing planned and scripted can ever, by definition, capture the immediacy of the drama of sport in which the unpredictability of outcome is the very essence of our excitement and engagement. Uncertainty is a necessary not contingent element in sport: it is essential that we watch and are caught up in the exquisitely painful, thrilling, disappointing moment when a truly uncertain outcome is finally resolved – as resolved it must be – not in advance by intention, but by the free flow of events that can be influenced but not controlled. We know a fictionalised competition has a pre-determined outcome, a planned and structured result. It cannot, therefore, by definition recreate the true uncertainty upon which the thrill and excitement inherent to the heart of live sport depends.

Fictionalised sex suffers very similar problems. The basic issue is simple: if the sex is simulated, it is by definition not real, not actual. And pretence, simulation, faking if you will, is anathema to truthful intimacy, genuine feeling, honest passion; even as we might say real erotic excitement or plain lust. Fictionalised sex is, and must be, dishonest in a way that destroys the artistic truth the artists are trying to express.

Just like the unpredictability and uncertainty of real sport, real sex as opposed to sex simulated for artistic purposes, has essential qualities of spontaneity, expressiveness that comes directly from feeling, not reason; the sense of immediate intimate reaction and interaction to the unpredictable way partners react during love-making. It is of the very essence of one’s reaction to, response to, such intimate personal behaviour, freed from doubt and founded on trust, that it must be spontaneous, truthful and real.

The filmmaker’s response to this dilemma can only take two forms: first film real, not simulated sex and thus abandon the form and structure of a planned narrative serving a conscious artistic objective; or second, seek to so ‘truthfully’ simulate the sex that the viewer is convinced of the authenticity of the portrayal; recognizes in this simulation the accuracy of artistic truth.

It is not a flippant remark to say that the essential difference, certainly sexually, between men and women, is that women can, whereas men can’t, fake an orgasm. If, wrongly I would argue, one thinks of sexual relationships in terms of relative power and domination we end with a profound paradox that might be argued to lie at the heart of the worst conceptions of human sexual relationships: while men have the power of physical strength; women hold the power of sexual control. It is hard to estimate the sum total of human unhappiness derived from bad resolutions to this paradox.

This inherent difference between men and women’s sexuality makes it almost impossible to know quite what we are watching in Blue. As Meg Ryan memorably once demonstrated, hilariously, in genuine, teasing mockery of mens’ blithe, but false assumptions, only the subject can distinguish between a real and a successfully simulated female orgasm. It may be argued that sexual relations are the natural home of an occasional benign dishonesty; of the considerate, compassionate lie.

It is argued that our culture is sex-obsessed; that we take sex far too seriously; as if it were the be-all and end-all of life. Perversely perhaps I wonder whether we don’t take sex seriously enough. The parallel for many men between sex and say football is quite close: they want to win at all costs; they want to score a goal every time they try; even those who may admire a clever, skilful build-up always want every movement to end in a goal. That isn’t even the truth of football aspiration. It is a disastrously misguided way to think of sexuality: the partner is seen as someone to defeat, to overcome, to beat: someone to take from. Only scoring goals matters and a few almost unopposed penalties, with all the odds in favour of the kicker, are longed for. All satisfaction is seen as personal, subjective, selfish.

In contrast good sex surely should be consensual, co-operative, freely entered into and always conditioned by willing, trusting consent, which may be removed at any point. The conventional wisdom is to feel more comfortable in using the concept of love to mitigate the potentially overwhelming power of sexual passion. This reassuringly domesticates the visceral power of sexual drive by subjecting it to the controlling, limiting power of loving. I am far from claiming especial expertise here but it seems to me that there is something mistaken about the idea of ‘love’ seen as a controlling, limiting force that constrains or domesticates the power of sexual feeling. Rather, should not loving be integrated within, integral to the manner and way in which sexual feelings are expressed? Loving sex seems to me a more desirable ideal than sexual love – whatever that might mean.

Blue is The Warmest Colour, if it is about anything, is about sex. Whether it says anything interesting about love, you will judge for yourselves. I find it a deeply disappointing film redeemed by two quite extraordinary performances. But here again is paradox: Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Lea Seydoux) are utterly convincing and wonderfully expressive – except when naked. These are dangerous and choppy waters for a critic which perhaps explains what for me is some of the absolute tosh written about this film. The youthful Adele has not come to terms with the appropriate, for her, expression of her innately passionate physical nature. When she meets the older, more experienced and established lesbian Artist Emma there is a palpable explosion of sexual, erotic passion between the two: though from the beginning one feels a degree of ‘knowingness’ on the part of Lea that the inexperienced innocence of Adele cannot match. We fear for Adele’s unrestrained vulnerability.

Adele and Emma’s relationship becomes deeply sexual almost immediately with a haste that a heterosexual relationship between two people of such disparity in sexual and life experience and relative ages, would almost certainly arouse doubts if not serious criticism. It is hard not to see Emma as user and Adele as used.

The worst thing about this, and for me the fundmental problem with the film, which mystifyingly, no critics I have read seem to have identified, is that the much-vaunted, yes genuinely explicit sex scenes between these two are painfully false. They are, sadly, disturbingly, almost indistinguishable from standard one-on-one girlie porn. I speak not from a vast experience but one doesn’t need to have seen much of this kind of stuff to recognise its inherent lack of imagination, invention, emotional depth, verbal and physical articulacy etc etc. One cannot help but blame director Kechiche for this. One looked for, hoped for insights into an overwhelming passion between two people who happened to both be women but with a depth of feeling that could only find adequate expression in sexual connection.

Yet what we get is a lazily set up and trivially superficial relationship that begins, develops and ends with nothing but lust. At times Kechiche gives Adele and Emma lines that imply a depth of connection and relationship that he does nothing to establish; nothing to authenticate; nothing that renders it remotely believable. Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with the idea that two people, lesbian or not, may be drawn together by nothing more than a lustful physical attraction. However, it is trite and clichéd that when this initial passion is physically satisfied, the feelings have no depth of connection or relationship within which to take root and develop.

In fact Blue is ruined by Kechiche’s crass, superficial, voyeuristic treatment of Adele and Emma’s sexual relationship: it’s all he bothers to show; and one suspects that is because that is all that interests him; or worse, that is what he knows will put bums on seats.

If, like me you had any hope that you might learn something about the unique quality of love and passion between two women – forget it. There is no tenderness, distinctively female expression of passion to another woman: just a better class of panting than the stereotyped, phoney shouts and squeals of tenth-rate porn actresses who believe that ten squeals are ten times more erotic than one.

If, as one suspects, Kecheche made it a condition of Seydoux’ and Exarchopoulos’ casting that he retained final cut then I can well understand why these two fine actresses feel exploited and manipulated. One has the distinct impression that, given their wonderful range of emotion and articulacy elsewhere in the movie, left to their own devices and natural acting instincts, these now notorious scenes would have probably been more authentic, more moving, and yes more erotic than the embarrassing sub-porn grunt pant and groan show Kechiche has directed. I will be amazed if real lesbian women are not incensed by this macho-centred, titillating farrago of beautiful but shamefully mis-used female flesh.

Be warned: Blue is also a flatulent, lazy, 3 hours long. It is unconscionable that despite this self-indulgent conceit, Kechiche leaves his characters painfully under-developed, with little of interest to say or do other than ‘play’ at being an artist and apparently teach young children.

I cannot imagine what the Cannes Jury were thinking of when they awarded this meretricious over-hyped film the Palme D’or. In contrast, the joint recognition by the jury of Seydoux and Exarchopoulos seems to me well deserved despite my reservations about the 7 minutes of bad acting, if acting it was, without which the film would not have even made the back page of the Little Wallop Gazette.

Remember – Sunday 10/11/13

 

 

Remember

We owe a debt to those
who risk and sometimes
give their lives
to protect us
and we must discharge it

But to celebrate
with equal circumstance
those who simply
kill in our name
corrupts true gallantry

And when we know
as sadly know we do
that corrupting souls
assassins makes
we are dishonoured too

We should celebrate
the offered lives
not how they were lost
there is no glory here
just incommensurate cost

Kill for God
Kill for Fun
Kill for State
Kill for Markets
Kill for all Kill for one

Courage is not honour
Though that’s not what is said
for only life is absolute
killing kills us too
in Death’s dominion – dead is dead

“You’re f***ing browners fella”
(brown bread – dead)

“Anyone want to do First Aid on this idiot?”

“I’ll put on in his head if you want”
“Not in his head, ‘cos that’ll be f***ing obvious”

“Going to switch this f***er off”
“Just strangle him”
“Yeah” (laughs)
“Maybe we should just put one in his head”

(Gunshot)

“There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil”
“It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us”

“This doesn’t go anywhere lads”
“I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention”

“A biometric data module, right”