The Post – Steven Spielberg ****
The Post is good; occasionally very good and well worth seeing. That it does not live up to the hyperbole of its promotion is due to many factors; not least Steven Spielberg himself.
Spielberg is unsurpassed as a storyteller especially of adventure and action narratives. He is not a Director of ideas: his characters seldom have ‘inner lives’ of much substance or interest – to be is to do. These instincts therefore enhance his quality as a filmmaker; for what film does best is show us what happens and at best enable us to feel and share, to participate in the danger, suspense and excitement of fast moving events. Film, like Spielberg, is not inherently a medium of ideas: unlike say the novel which gives us unique access to the inner thoughts and lives of the characters within it. It is rare to find Hollywood Directors capable of exploring ideas within characters of complex and interesting inner lives. The best current example is Aaron Sorkin in Molly’s Game.
Richard Linklater is another Director with this rare gift as Waking Life showed long ago. For European Directors, especially French and Swedish, ideas excite them and ‘innerness’ lies at the centre of their art: Bergman and Godard come to mind. Kubric was perhaps the most obvious exception to this general Hollywood pattern. It follows from this difference in emphasis that the richer the characters’ inner lives the more satisfying and compelling can be the relationships that can be convincingly portrayed.
With The Post Spielberg had another, but related problem: the story of the publication by the Washington Post in 1971 of the classified Pentagon Papers has little inherent dramatic pace. The climax to the film is when someone makes a decision: a difficult, high risk, challenging decision to be true – but a decision none-the less. Spielberg and especially Meryl Streep as Kay Graham proprietor of the Post whose decision it was, make the best of this but it inevitably lacks dramatic punch and real suspense is hard to generate.
Spielberg’s straight, chronological, historical docu-drama approach to the story doesn’t help him either: lawyers, newsmen and politicians arguing about national interest and threatened legal action are harder to inject pace and tension into than say the obvious comparison to this film – Alan Pakula’s masterpiece, All The President’s Men. The Pentagon Papers were known to be authentic and of known provenance. The dramatic hooks of uncertainty were therefore confined to; who leaked them (soon resolved); and the moral, legal status of the leak and the leaker. The Post is more about lawyers and politics and Newspaper ownership than journalism per se.
By contrast ATPM had a rollercoaster ride of a criminal act; investigation, multiple characters, some known some not; constant edge of the seat uncertainties; and demonstration of critical journalistic values like evidence, confirmation and verification: plus at times real danger and genuine threat. While ATPM showed you investigative journalism at its best within the broader legal/political context; the actual story The Post portrays is almost entirely context – should classified documents be published in the Public interest under the constitutionally validated right of free speech? Starting with this massive disadvantage Spielberg’s straightforward historical docu-drama approach gave him absolutely no room to explore and develop the seriousness of this issue and its implications, especially contemporary.
The Pentagon Papers were a report commissioned by Secretary of Defence Robert Macnamara from Daniel Ellsberg a Military Analyst for the quasi-independent RAND (Research and Development) Corporation. President’s from Truman to Kennedy had been worried about Chinese communist ‘domino’ expansion through Vietnam. Kennedy had approved a build-up of US Troop ‘Advisors’ whose non-combat mission gradually ‘crept’ but it was essentially Lyndon Johnson, always a hawkish anti-communist, who began a wholesale escalation of US involvement leading to the lethal quagmire that dominated US social and political life in the 70s.
Ellsberg’s report, discussed with Macnamara and known to Johnson and the military, concluded that the chances of victory in Vietnam were highly unlikely and Ellesberg was troubled that information broadcast to the people, claiming good progress in the war was false. He leaked his report to the New York Times who published extracts. After 3 days the Nixon Administration obtained a court injunction to prevent further publication. Enter the Post: Chief Editor Ben Bradlee vastly experienced, long-time journalist and his staff had been pursuing the contradictions between White House claims and the reality on the ground in Vietnam. With the existence of the Pentagon Papers in the public domain and their continued release now blocked, Bradlee sets his own staff on obtaining copies. Copies from the NYT would have been subject to the NYT injunction so he seeks and gets copies from Ellsberg direct.
Kay Graham had become Proprietor of the Post by default after her husband’s suicide. An apparently reserved private personality she and her husband were close to the Kennedy’s and many of the Democratic political establishment including Macnamara, a personal friend. Kay’s board were running scared about the commercial and legal consequences of the Post upstaging the NYT by publishing and risk being damned. Publication would also harm long-standing friends in the establishment. It is Graham’s dilemma in trying to balance these conflicts with Bradlee’s passionate commitment to publish that forms the dramatic arc of The Post. Streep’s performance here is key and as one might expect, is beautifully judged. The dramatic scene in which this dilemma is finally resolved is the high-point of the movie and its power and effectiveness owes everything to Streep’s beautifully nuanced, graduated build up to it.
Hanks’ is a dependable, transparent Ben Bradlee without matching the subtlety and hard-edged charisma of Jason Robards in the same role in ATPM. The group playing of the other characters by a well-established cast of character actors that includes Sarah Paulson and Bradley Whitford (West Wing’s Josh Lyman) is sound but has little to work with given a pedestrian, surprisingly clunky screenplay by Josh Singer and Liz Hannah. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski creates some wonderfully evocative scenes of Newspaper production from emphatic hot metal linotyping to the thrilling lines of print copies in falling curving cascades towards the packers, loaders and delivery trucks that rushed out into the night to deliver the news to every street, shop and private residence. You can almost smell the excitement and nostalgic romance of this iconic industry.
Spielberg always disavows sentimentality in his movies; and yet unfailingly demonstrates it every time. It is a fatal flaw here which undermines the much hyped claim to contemporary relevance of The Post. None of the vital topical issues of the 4th Estate in the world of Donald Trump is even hinted at: the contrast in latter day treatment of whistle-blowers Chelsea Manning and Andrew Snowden and Ellesberg; the financially terminal decline of the traditional business model the Post represented in the imminent age of the internet and social media. Of course it is true historic distance would have required a more imaginative dramatic structure to at least pose or intimate any of these subsequently emergent threats to Spielberg’s nostalgic hymn to the past. However his treatment of the one central theme of The Post of critical importance today – the conflict between commerce and news value; journalistic standards and revenue optimisation; popularity and truth – is shallow and sketchy.
Nostalgia for the golden age of Journalism and the great independent Newspapers of the past is fine but Spielberg’s approach sadly conflates this with the profoundly important contemporary constitutional issues his story raises. Spielberg treatment gives the impression that his wistful nostalgia for what he implies was the golden age of journalism extends to the constitutional issues the Pentagon Papers raised. The scene where the Supreme Court’s judgement on the Post’s publication comes through is teeth-grindingly embarrassing, poorly conceived and badly written.
The Post is entertaining but a big disappointment: it might have been the movie that is being hyped – passionate, important and angry at political and Executive abuses: still going on today. Never have the American people needed more a rigorous, effective defence of the rights of free speech and the duty of the US Media including great Newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times. Spielberg’s historical docu-drama locks his in the past fatally diminished by a sense if wistful regret that holding Politicians and Executive to account belonged to the good old days of journalism.
If you want to see these important issues seriously addressed get the 3 seasons of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant The Newsroom; revisit All The Presidents Men; check out Good Night and Good Luck; and Andrew Rossi’s superb documentary Page One – inside the New York Times.
The failure of The US Media, especially major broadcast outlets to resolve the conflict of interest between ratings and news; shameful pusillanimity in reporting first Iraq and then Afghanistan; and a demonstrable lack of journalistic rigour and principle created the professional vacuum that Trump has triumphantly filled. As with everything he grotesquely exaggerates for cynical personal reasons: the US media, especially the great Newspapers are not purveying ‘Fake News’ but they gave him enough ammunition to give the claim some credence. It is much easier to lose trust that it is to get it back.
Yes The Post is well acted entertaining fun: but we and the American people needed more: but Spielberg was never the Director to provide it.
Molly’s Game – Aaron Sorkin *****
Aaron Sorkin doesn’t so much write dialogue, as compose it. He hears music in the rhythms and patterns of our speech and with it fashions scenes, dialogue and the occasional ‘solo’ monologue with all the care of a composer with a clear sense of not just narrative intent but truthful emotional expression. He is the ultimate actor’s writer, for while the words of his screenplay are the ‘notes’, he leaves aesthetic space for the art and skill of the actor to interpret and add nuance and tone to the plain words on the page. Taken together this explains why his work plays in every sense of the word. Every scene has a unity of rhythm, pace and tone that serves its dramatic purpose in the overall narrative. While some brief interchanges echo the spontaneity of a jazz riff on an underlying theme, others quietly ebb and flow to build towards the dramatic denouement in the final movement, last Act of the narrative. Many, especially Hollywood films start fast and loud and just get faster and louder: often favouring sheer pace at the expense of a more satisfying sense of cadence. As with a powerful concerto or symphony, Sorkin introduces his players, lays out his themes, and then harmonises them gradually building up to the crescendo of the final dramatic outcome. This creative process is meticulous and cumulative; but pays off handsomely as the depth of our emotional engagement at the end has been assiduously built up through character, dialogue and circumstance.
More than any other writer I know of today, especially in movies, Sorkin creates rounded characters we believe in even when they make difficult moral judgements our often cynical culture chooses to doubt. When I heard the story of Molly’s Game I was puzzled at what the serious- minded Sorkin might find interesting in the story of an Olympic skier running exclusive, barely legal poker games for invited celebrities from movies, sport, business and latterly organised crime. His film builds satisfyingly to a critical dramatic moment which dispelled these doubts. Molly is in, but not of, the dubious culture she works within. Drawn reluctantly into illegality and then invited to sacrifice others to save herself; despite the disreputable context and immoral characters that inhabit it; her dilemma echoes a famous similarly stark individual moral choice in one of the great Plays of last century written by one of its greatest playwrights – Arthur Miller. Sorkin cleverly embeds this reference in his narrative and enhances its impact with a twist of ironic humour. This reference highlights the parallels between Miller and Sorkin: both concerned with how hard it is in the chance contingencies of life and relationships, to be true to one’s self and to the moral values upon which such a sense of honour and self-respect is based. In one of the best scenes in Molly’s Game, beautifully played by Chastain and Elba, the moral epicentre of Molly and therefore the film emerges. Her stance both exasperates and impresses her reluctant Lawyer Charlie Jaffrey.
Molly’s Game is so satisfying because for the first time, as Director, Sorkin was able to contribute directly to the performances; the ‘playing’, of his work. Despite the palpable individual talent of his leads in Molly’s Game; one feels that the superb performances of Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, and indeed the frequently maligned and often under-estimated Kevin Costner, have benefitted greatly by having the direct influence of the composer as conductor. His sure hand here as first time Director reflects his extensive experience of the film-making process garnered from years of contributing to the presentation of his prodigious output as a writer from The West Wing to The Newsroom; A Few Good Men to Social Network. All setting standards of excellence for others to attempt to emulate.
Sorkin is an artistic paradox: having a deep instinctive feeling for music but a love of and deep affinity for words, especially in spoken dialogue. As I have said the almost unique power of his writing is to integrate these seamlessly and with great style and panache. His aesthetic distinctiveness doesn’t stop there, as his confident Direction here shows with excellent use, as we saw in The Social Network, of flashback and time-fractured narrative, he has a great feel for creating characters and telling their story through film. However, unlike many directors especially those with a purist’s obsession with image, Sorkin never allows anything to detract from his absolute priorities: character, action and story. It is for this absolutely valid artistic reason and not arbitrary flashiness, that he superbly utilises one of the most neglected technical devices of 20th Century Cinema – the subjective narrator. One great advantage of the novel as a medium over film, is that the novel form gives us constant and comprehensive insights into the ‘inner’ life, thoughts and emotions of a character. Here the interaction between Molly as unseen narrator and Molly as character on screen is superbly handled so that each enhances the other.
To build characters we can recognize and understand, believe in, is the great challenge of the standard 2-3 hour one-off movie. This is probably one of the key reasons why many A-list Directors and actors are migrating in part at least to Television where the time and space to develop plot and character can stretch to anything from 6-24 hours playing time. Intricate, complex plots like say Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which made a great 6 hour television series but a flimsy, merely atmospheric 2 hour film – perfectly illustrate this problem. It is probably the reason for the oft-repeated truism that short stories make far more impressive films than long, complex novels.
Here, Sorkin realises that to engage with Molly; understand her; accept her failures but in the end believe in her choices; we have to know her; and the insights her first person narrative provides are effective in impact and economical in time. Of course this effectiveness depends upon the quality of the writing for the narrator being as good as the main visual playing of the film and crucially be fully integrated with it and not an unconvincing parallel strand in the movie. When done well the narrator technique is superbly effective and satisfying as great films like Citizen Kane, The Third Man and a whole genre of 40s B-movie films noir have demonstrated.
Molly’s Game is based on the real Molly Bloom’s book of the same name. There appears to be general agreement that her book pretty accurately reported the events of her life as described and that Sorkin’s film is truthful to the book.
In a brief Prologue we are introduced to Molly: feisty, intelligent and fiercely independent she is outshone in a high-achievement family by her two brothers. Driven by her Psychology Professor father/coach (Costner) her adolescent Mogul skiing achievements are halted by a genetic spinal anomaly. After major surgery, against all expectation and advice, she recovers and a few years later is on the verge of qualifying for the US Olympic team. A freak accident on her final run causes a devastating accident that finally ends her skiing aspirations.
An abrasive relationship with her father is worsened when she decides to put off Law School and embark on a voyage of self-discovery that finds her in LA, forced for financial reasons to help run a series of high stakes exclusive Poker games for wealthy celebrities from Hollywood, business, sport and the city run by boss-from-hell Dean (Jeremy Strong). Initially ignorant of the subtleties of poker she educates herself in its language and fascination to the gambling mentality. Innate intelligence, confident determination and natural organisational ability leads to her running every aspect of the games and becoming known and respected by the high-rolling clients. Thus when Dean, threatened by her competence, fires her, she simply steals the games from him offering better services and facilities than he had ever provided: especially privacy, confidentiality and absolute discretion. She provides a completely straight game with no dubious or criminal ‘services’ on the side. Her income is strictly confined to a fee for participation in the game, rigorously excluding any share or rake-off from the stakes within the game. Observance of this critical financial principle keeps her role just on the on the right side of the law.
As the personal and financial interactions between the various players become entangled and predictably their addiction to gambling produces unsustainable losses and vain double-or-quits bets to recover them, Molly’s efforts to keep the game straight and clean comes under increasing threat. With wealthy Russian players from the criminal underworld attracted to the games, Molly’s role in them comes to the attention of the FBI. Now herself addicted to drugs and alcohol to keep up the pace and handle the stress, Molly is eventually forced into taking a share of the playing stakes in order to cover her exposure as essentially the ‘Bank’ to games with single ‘pots’ in seven figures. Her role now technically illegal, when she further discovers that a key player, Player X (Michael Cera), has been secretly funding another player in the game, she demands this highly dubious practice, hopelessly exposed to the charge or even practice of cheating, be stopped. In response X steals the game from her in much the same way as she did from Dean.
Recruiting her own players Molly builds her own highly successful games. When the Italian Mafia offer ‘protection’ for a cut, Molly says no and is then severely beaten for her pains.
For her, the ‘Game’ is now literally up. Molly quits, puts herself into re-hab and for over two years has been ‘clean’ and run no further games by the time the film opens. The flash-back narrative structure establishes this context through the early scenes of the film where the FBI raids her apartment and begins proceedings against her, based upon activities over 2 years old. To defend herself she engages Lawyer Charlie Jaffrey (Elba) who after initial doubts, decides to take her case, when he becomes convinced of her honesty and is impressed by her determination to protect the privacy of her former clients and prevent their exploitation by the media which would do serious damage to their lives, families etc.
Jaffrey is gradually impressed by her determination to maintain personal control of the methods she will permit him to use in defending her by adamantly refusing to protect herself at the expense of others. The usual blithe acceptance of the plea-bargain deal endemic to the US legal system is here subjected to moral appraisal and challenge. Again Sorkin offers no neat, moral or cynically pragmatic resolution of these issues. We accept the authenticity of Molly’s principles because of the insights the film has given us of the values she embraces and adheres to. These lie at the heart of her own conception of herself, who she is and is determined not to lose sight of. The dilemmas and difficulties of choice threading their way through the narrative, are always credible, if at times surprising. Molly’s ‘journey’ is absorbing, engaging and at times satisfyingly tense with a genuinely unexpected late-on surprise.
There is nothing grand or grandiose in the moral dilemmas examined in Molly’s Game: but they are convincingly real and faced by a remarkable young woman who is in, but not of, a world of greed and selfish egotism dominated by men: a woman for whom her name and integrity are non-negotiable; and with courage decisively rejects the oldest corrupting temptation of them all: to allow ends to justify means. Through her, Sorkin makes us believe in the possibility of integrity and moral behaviour not by appeal to arguments or principles but by showing us a credible character simply doing the ‘right thing’ despite all the usual blandishments and incentives to persuade her that she has no choice but to reduce everything to self-interest and act accordingly.
As portrayed with apparent historic accuracy; Molly Bloom struggles to know what to do with her life; but has no doubts about who she is and will never betray: and she admits unqualified responsibility for both. She accepts that she always has a choice – makes it and stands by it, whatever the cost.
I expect Sorkin is a good bet for the Adapted Screenplay Oscar her already won for Social Network. But this subtly conceived, superbly structured and brilliantly written and played film displays a multi-layered richness of aesthetic achievement that, properly understood and recognized, would favour it against many of the more obvious, flashy, films this year in both Direction and performance. It is one of the best films of the year.
Battle of The Sexes **** – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
In my lifetime the presumed sexual hegemony of heterosexual relationships has first been questioned, then doubted, undermined and finally fragmented to the point where gradually we are beginning to embrace the idea that individual, personal human relationships should be valued by the honesty, sincerity and commitment of the emotions and feelings manifested within them; not by the sexual orientation or preferences of the individual partners. This is a social journey; a growth of humanity and tolerance still under way and by no means complete. Little by little we may be finally learning to countenance the once anathema idea; the wisdom and insight; that sexuality in all its infinite variety of forms, is in itself morally neutral. Physical intimacy is perhaps the most deeply rooted instinct between human beings and the sexual expression of that intimacy perhaps the most precious. For these reasons we can never say sex is irrelevant to the goodness, the rightness, the wrongness of the way we treat each other in our deepest relationships; but our best qualities of humanity now refuse to define morality in terms of sex and sexuality; but rather the other way round: to value sex more highly precisely to the extent that it manifests the best of our moral human qualities including respect, love, tenderness, kindness, generosity, selflessness etc etc.
Only organised religions deny these truths and systematically, with varying degrees of hostility, prejudice, intolerance and imposed behavioural norms; fight against the civilising effects of the move from total illegality in my youth to an increasing secular social tolerance and acceptance of diversity today.
When the challenge tennis match between ex-tennis champion Bobby Riggs and then world number 1 women’s champion Billie Jean King took place in 1973 only 4 US States had decriminalised same sex relationships and this legal change in the UK was only about 5 years old and still highly controversial.
The most impressive quality of this excellent film is that while sexuality and especially lesbian relationships undeniably provide a subtext and context for it; it is more about the equality of respect and fair treatment of supreme athletes and entertainers who happen to be women; rather than a post hoc exercise in socio-political proselytizing on behalf of the broad non-heterosexual community. That Billie Jean-King was gay and perhaps bi-sexual by definition through her marriage to attorney Larry King, are the least important facts about her. Of far more significance; she was a supremely successful and competitive tennis player winning 39 Grand Slam titles including 20 at Wimbledon. In her successful leadership of the demand for equal respect and prize money for women tennis players she struck a major blow for the equal treatment of women both in sport and more widely. She remains an indomitable champion of women’s rights and other social issues.
This quite extraordinary woman is well served by Dayton and Faris’ film. It is well written and with a superlative central performance as King by Emma Stone ably backed up by Steve Carell as the flamboyant self-publicising Bobby Riggs and a strong supporting cast. BOTS is set at a critical point in King’s life: she was world number one women’s tennis player and heavily involved in the protest movement within the women’s game for equality of treatment and reward for women players against a male-dominated structure at the head of the game both at official and commercial levels in the early 70’s. At the same time despite her successful marriage to Larry King, her latent lesbian sexuality was emerging and creating a major conflict for her as lucrative sponsorship deals both for her and the game in general would not under the prevailing climate of public opinion, survive the open acknowledgement of lesbian relationships involving major sports stars. At this time inveterate gambler and former world number 1 tennis champion Bobby Riggs then in his early 50’s, challenged the claim to equality for women players on the grounds that they were neither as good nor commercially valuable as men players and to prove it said he could beat the best of them. King refused his challenge for a winner-take-all match but he eventually managed to persuade Margaret Court, vying with King as world number 1, to accept the challenge. Riggs beat a seriously under-performing Court 6-2, 6-1 in 1973. When he repeated his challenge to King in the same year she felt obliged to accept to resist the conclusion from Court’s capitulation that all the male sexist stereotypical assumptions about women were validated; including crucially the claim for equal prize money.
In the film King meets and becomes overwhelmed by a passionate relationship with Marilyn, here a hairdresser, in real life her secretary. The film explores most effectively, the complex conflicts of personal relationships and public pressure sporting and commercial. She took on the then commercial supremo of world professional tennis Jack Kramer, head of American Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) who had himself fought long and hard to admit professional players to the largely amateur game and the major Grand Slam tournaments: a battle won when Wimbledon finally admitted pros in 1967. This made the financial stakes of the confrontation with King and the women professionals extremely high. King’s easy victory in three straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 was watched by the largest ever audience for a tennis match in the US of 50 million (90 million worldwide).
The Billie Jean King that emerges in BOTS is of a fiercely competitive athlete with a dedication to social issues, especially concerning women’s rights as represented by the symbolic disparity in men’s and women’s prize money. However self-interested this issue was for King herself, both the dignity and articulacy of her position one remembers in real life are faithfully captured here not least in Stone’s portrayal which accomplishes the difficult feat of showing King as strong yet vulnerable: a consummate professional both on and off the court, and one of the most popular of Wimbledon champions; still respected and affectionately remembered today. King dealt with a great deal of vindictive and vile abuse with a certain grace, refusing to respond in kind, preferring to remain totally focussed on her prime objectives in furthering women’s rights.
This is an engaging and absorbing film, with very strong performances, that touches on important issues of social and personal morality without, of necessity perhaps going too deeply into them. But for my money, it is all the more persuasive in presenting arguments for more tolerance and liberal attitudes to sexual diversity and equal respect for women, than a more didactic, proselytizing treatment would have achieved. The film has a certain quiet, steely integrity that seems entirely in keeping with the real life demeanour of its chief protagonist.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi: Rian Johnston **
George Lucas is the Michael Palin of movie producers. No matter how many times we poke and prod the Star Wars franchise and beat it mercilessly on a hard critical surface producing not a glimmer of life; nothing will persuade him, like Palin’s Pet Shop owner, that this is a dead ‘parrot’: done for, defunct, checked out: it has crossed the Jordan, bitten the dust, cashed in its chips. It is brown bread.
But again and again, just like the notoriously insouciant Palin pet seller, our George just keeps nailing the next episode to its hyper-hyped perch and flogging it repeatedly to a strangely oblivious public and even more mysteriously supportive body of critics.
The first thing that strikes one on viewing the Last Jedi is how old-fashioned it is: forty years on from the first film, nothing has changed: in a period when military and communications technology has advanced at a frightening rate George’s protagonists pound away with hopelessly vulnerable, cumbersome chunks of leggy metal equipped with archaic weaponry without a Cruise missile in sight; let alone laser-guided artillery. The usual long drawn out battles between massed armies, resembles more the way of war of 1914-18 than some supposed future time. So help me at one point the rebel forces appear to be defending their ‘line’ from trenches! Now I’m no aficionado of offensive hardware or military tactics but just watching our dreadful real proxy conflicts on TV; George’s protagonists would be blown away in seconds. A gun is still just a gun, even if you encase it in 3 feet of totally redundant plastic. The biggest weapons on show here are cannons and blow me down if they wouldn’t look visually at home poking through the side of Nelson’s flagship Victory.
The sense of déjà vu during the interminable pyrotechnics is overwhelming and tedious. It is hard not to believe that they spent so much money on these set piece battle scenes that they just recycle old footage to extend them; the only virtue of which is that they at least offer a brief respite from Lucas’s notoriously leaden dialogue. At least Director Rian Johnston shares the blame on this occasion for the usual farcical mix of quasi-religious mumbo jumbo and fatuous New Age mystification.
Even the plot is essentially recycled: plucky rebels opposing the tyranny of the First Order’s ambitions of Galactic hegemony. The possible permutations of who is ‘unexpectedly’ the unlikely father of whom have now been pretty much exhausted and even the arch villain with supposedly irresistible powers succumbs to a ‘look-out-behind-you’ ruse that would raise sceptical eyebrows in a provincial pantomime – from the children.
The first 2, perhaps 3, Star Wars films, though always clunkily literal visually, with latex substituting for imagination, were great fun! It was wickedly diverting to wonder whether Carrie Fisher or Harrison Ford would be the first to burst out laughing at the risible dialogue or the ‘colour-by-numbers’ plot. Daisy Ridley, pretty good in her first outing in the role of Rey (Doh) in the Force Awakens demonstrates the natural law of Star Wars dialogue: to make it convincing once is worthy of an acting Oscar in itself; but the reprise is condemned to an overwhelming burden of solecistic solemnity. As Harrison Ford pointed out at the outset, George’s dialogue just won’t fly: it’s the curse of the ‘dead parrot’ striking again. Even the dialogue is nailed to the perch of a tortuous virtually incomprehensible plot.
Mark Hamill as the original Luke Skywalker had a boyish, good-looking charm that enabled him to skate lightly over the Lucas dialogue. His virtual disappearance from mainstream movies into TV after the phenomenal success of the early Star Wars films reinforces one’s sense of a professional but modest acting talent. It is indicative therefore that after all this time he is perhaps the best thing The Last Jedi. True the plot turns on him and Luke’s reluctant return to the rebellion despite disillusionment with the Force and its power for good. But the same gor blimey moral dilemma is presented – to accept the ultimate power promised by going over to the Dark Side of the Force; or use the light side of the Force to combat the Dark. That this less than Kantian moral perplexity is now felt one generation on from Obi Wan, Darth Vader et al doesn’t give any added tension or suspense: this movie, indeed the whole series resonates with the conviction that in the end taking the Dark Side is a dumb move, destined for inevitable failure.
The same fundamental problem confronts all ‘super-power-being’ dramas: how do you generate tension when as described, the super-being is invincible? The oldest and perhaps best solution to this dilemma is perhaps Superman’s Kryptonite which has the added benefit that the vulnerability generated by the loss of powers is temporary. Lucas has never convincingly resolved this problem and it shows here in the resolution of the conflict between Kylo and Snoke. Ostensibly the deal is Faustian-light: come over to the Dark Side and you will be invincible: yet of course as Vader and Snoke demonstrate – the Dark Side never delivers. And an overwhelming sense of the inevitability of this permeates the complete series of Star Wars movies. Lucas never once manages to make us seriously doubt, even for a second, the defeat of the Dark Side. Even in Superman we occasionally ask – how the hell is he gonna get out of this one?
I get why many Americans go for this conception: overwhelming, tyrannical, fascistic forces are first subverted, then undermined and finally defeated by a plucky little band of idealistic ‘rebels’ using only good intentions and more skilful personal mastery of guns and firepower. Our plucky chums are true heirs to the philosophy of Margaret Mead.* One doesn’t have to be anti-American, and I am not, to wryly observe that in actual real world conflicts, the implacable demand for overwhelming numerical manpower, technological supremacy and sheer military firepower fits quite precisely the way The First Order are portrayed in the Last Jedi and all the forces of tyranny in the series as a whole. Cast America in any of the Star Wars films therefore, and it would be the First Order; and the plucky rebels would in every case have to be America’s opponents in their ‘wars’ since 1945.
Now of course this would be an insane travesty as an account of the real world political complexity of the conflicts the US has engaged in for the last 70 years. But that only serves to emphasise that the Star Wars ethos generates an alarming mythology; itself a travesty of anything approaching real world experience. On the whole I‘d rather the American people, and by extension their allies, notably Britain, would be drawn to movies that don’t reduce the resolution of conflicts to overwhelming firepower and the good intentions and judicious use of them by the ‘good guys’.
“Guns don’t kill – people do”. The hell they don’t.
”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – Martin McDonagh ***
Some movies wear their pitch on their sleeves. This movie is technically first class: writing, direction, cinematography, even the occasional evocative country music insert – all work well to create a sharp, black, ironic and at times scabrously funny film.
However, McDonah, unlike his previous films in this style: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, sets this in an ostensibly ordinary small town in Missouri where Mildred (Frances McDormand at her dead-pan, wry-eyed best) decides to take on the much-admired local Sheriff Billoughby (Harrelson doing Harrelson) for failing to find the rapist murderer of her daughter killed 7 months before. Like a homespun Avenging Angel Mildred rents 3 defunct billboards on a disused road on the outskirts of town to accuse Willoughby of incompetence and shame him into action. This sets off a Cohen-brothers-like trail of inexorably logical violent mayhem driven by Mildred’s implacable pursuit of vengeance and the law of unexpected consequences.
The trouble is this works if you set your story in an explicitly criminal context; that is. an inherently morally ambivalent world where none of the everyday limits to behaviour are recognised or observed; and violence and death go with the territory. This allows us to put on hold our natural reservations about uncivilised, even brutally violent behaviour: frees us if you will, to laugh, even relish, the well-deserved come-uppance and predictably violent fate of the morally flawed, or just plain bad protagonists.
But here there is no recognizable moral context; no real small town ethos, within which Mcdonagh’s characterisations can remotely develop into anything approaching real characters. Mildred, Willoughby et al aren’t real people rooted in small town America, deeply or otherwise; they are simply characterisations with no life or existence outside Hollywood and the demands of a storyline written, yes to entertain, but essentially to create a successful product that will make a profit. Tarantino country.
The cleverly constructed plot drives this movie: its emotional force, dramatic arc if you will, of grief and revenge, rationalises how all the characters behave. The writing is good enough to create many scenes where we are tempted, seduced, into taking the emotions and motivations seriously. But then the demands of plot and aesthetic style destroys the illusion in favour of what must come next: not because of the credible emotional motivations of ‘real’ characters; but to sustain a cool moral ambivalence and exploitation of violence and aggression that makes us laugh until we think for just a moment about why.
This is very much Cohen-brothers-like territory: and generates much the same response: schadenfreude-based laughter that one wishes one hadn’t responded to so instinctively. Of course it’s just a movie and we’re there to be entertained: and laughing even despite ourselves, can’t be that bad – can it?
Critics generally love this stuff: as will those for whom The Goodfellahs is their favourite movie that they like to re-watch every now and then. There is a kind of clever, sophisticated, amoral ‘knowingness’ that over-praises and over-values this kind of carefully crafted, Hollywood commodity product which commands the confidence of investors because it appeals to our baser instincts (always a safe bet) and makes us feel participants in a kind of ‘cool’ aesthetic that makes those who do not share it seem backward and dull.
Violent racism? – wickedly funny. Dwarfism? Have a laugh masquerading as pathos. Wilfully ignorant, unjustified, misplaced retribution? Oops. Police deputy as a ‘retard’? So stupid he can’t help but be funny; but maybe he’s a good guy underneath – just thick.
“Come on man – it’s just a movie. Don’t take it so seriously.” Ok as long as you remember that a large number of people spent tens of £millions, utilising some of the most talented actors in movies, to produce this subtly conceived, slickly fashioned product to look, sound, and pretend to be about real people, feeling real emotions albeit in extreme circumstances.
The assiduously contrived moral ambivalence this movie exploits to make a buck is perfectly illustrated by the final scene in the film. Ubercool irony: but soulless.
Film stars Don’t Die In Liverpool – Paul McGuigan ****
There is a brief scene late on in this film that lifts it above what had thus far been a simple touching and poignant if unlikely, age-gap romance between Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and young scouse actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell). With a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh based on Turner’s book of the same name, their brief love affair found Grahame, starved of film work in Hollywood surviving on the Liverpool stage in a ‘star-vehicle’ version of Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie.
Grahame 56 in 1979 when they meet, rekindles passion along with career in a brief but tender cross-generation love affair with the likeable if emotionally naive Turner, then 27. With the very able restrained support of Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Turner’s parents, strong performances from the always reliable Bening and the increasingly assured Bell, negotiate as well as Greenhalgh’s screenplay will permit, the usual ‘edge-of-queasiness’ pitfalls of love scenes between protagonists with 30 years between them.
Although discreetly shot and played with a becoming modesty, the love scenes do reflect the simplistic clichés of cinematic treatment of age-gap sex. Grahame’s emotional history – 4 children from 4 different Hollywood husbands – probably justifies this resort to the prevailing popular assumption that any relationship between an older woman and younger man must inevitably be defined by sex and represent a woman’s doomed attempt to recover her youth by rekindling her sexual passion with a younger man who is of course in turn defined by the stamina and power of his sexual desire. What the later more nuanced conception in the film shows denies this frankly patronising stereotypical trope. Before that it is as if the only credible reason an older woman might be attracted to a younger man is because of his sexual prowess defined by performance. Thus we see Bening’s Gloria angered and undermined when Turner frankly refers to her age. How is this ‘hurt’ redeemed? Why of course by Turner grabbing her roughly under the sway of irresistible sexual desire. And to complete the cliché Grahame is both reassured and her quasi-youthful irresistible sexuality is re-validated. As I say this may be ‘true’ to Grahame; but then it sits ill with Bening, whose inherent class and maturity (as opposed to ‘age’) effortlessly suggests a more emotionally and sexually complex woman for whom a deeply satisfying sexual congress might just be the expression of a deeper, more nuanced, emotional relationship with a young man of unusual sensitivity and emotional character.
Must every woman who enters a relationship with a younger man be a cougar of popular vulgarity? Yes according to Hollywood. And a culture which uses sex to sell everything from lug-wrenches to kitchen rolls; and where young men are apparently using Viagra as a recreational drug to enhance performance – all making someone a hefty profit, suggests this might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cinematically it has long been the case that French directors make the best, nuanced, insightful, grown-up films about sex and sexuality: perhaps because they understand that sex is far too serious to be taken too seriously.
But finally, after these disappointingly clichéd early scenes, either Turner’s insight or simply Bening’s class, rescues us and the film. In an impressive coalescence of scene, actors and script; a superbly moving sequence transcends age to show us sensitivity, tenderness and the mutual generosity of deep feeling that finally transforms a romantic dalliance turned routine sexual affair, into a real mature love between grown-ups. Here the playing, especially by Bening, excels anything that went before and sets us up to feel genuinely moved by the subsequent tragic conclusion of the film and Grahame’s volatile emotional life, thereby fulfilling the ending presaged in the film’s title.
It is a profound irony that it is illness and mortality that eventually generates this emotional depth and total intimacy between Grahame and Turner. All we need now is a Director with the wisdom and insight to show us such courageous trust and intimacy as part of living our lives; not solely as solace and compassion to face ending them. Sex and sexuality shouts at us from every advert, web-site, book, TV. But genuine intimacy is as rare as hen’s teeth: never more so than in the cinematic portrayal of sexual relationships – where arguably it is most precious.
LAST TANGO – GERMAN KRAL
Love doesn’t make the world go round: desire does. Love is a state of being; desire a life force that sustains it. Transcending both is passion: love and desire conjoined to create a power that can both enhance and even threaten life itself.
The extraordinary Maria Nieves Rego is passion incarnate; the heart and soul at the core of this powerful, affecting film. Self taught, this complex wilful woman, driven by a life-long, single-minded passion, still burning brightly at 83, became perhaps the greatest Tango-dancer there has ever been. Her undying passion for this dance has sustained her in love and through much loss and heartache beyond.
The Argentine Tango – part ritual, part theatre, through the art of dance represents all the passionate possibilities and contradictions of the relation of men and women; each separated by a fierce gender independence yet drawn to one another by the irresistible magnetic attraction of opposites in their sexuality. If perhaps the more sinuous Rumba is the dance of love, the Tango, especially the Argentine Tango has no rival as the dance of passion: as much a representation of conflict and confrontation as of a hard won union from a battle fought to an exhausted but honourable and fragile peace.
Nothing so banal as a mere dance could fire and sustain a Maria Nieves. Her partnership with Juan Carlos Copes raised their artistic union to a level of expression beyond each as an individual. Partner, lover, spouse and serially betrayed wife, even Maria’s sense of loss in a childless life was transcended by her ferocious independence and passion for her dance.
The tempestuous volatile relationship between Maria and Juan Carlos Copes perfectly emulated the dramatic arc of the dance that brought them fame and world-wide artistic eminence. Love and hate; conflict and union, trust and betrayal, honour and shame: Maria’s eloquent testimony to camera reveals it all: leaving one with an overwhelming sense that such talent and passionate dedication is as much curse as blessing.
Using archive footage of breathtaking performances in their prime and recreating their life in dance through current youthful dancers, director German Kral creates a powerful sense of engagement in an extraordinary life.
Without personal regret but advising today’s women dancers not to delay motherhood lest it eludes them: this challenging, passionate, wilful, feisty woman relishes her sense of hard-won independence and embraces without complaint the solitariness, perhaps loneliness this entails, as she disappears into the Buenos Aires night, a lone poignant figure in the back of a taxi. Whatever else, this moving film leaves us with a sense of a life lived to the full and which in artistic terms at least, transcended even the powerful passionate woman who lived it.
The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu
Verisimilitude is not Art. The universal critical acclaim The Revenant is attracting, reflected by its 12 Oscar nominations is surpassed in absurdity only by the bewildering 10 nominations for Mad Max – Fury Road. That is beyond parody.
The Revenant, if successful on the night will be a first: a ‘Best’ picture no one ever sees twice: not because of its relentless brutality, though it is relentless and brutal; but because of its unrelieved one-dimensional tedium.
Director Iñárritu’s film is the latest and by far the most comprehensive example of confusing empirical truth with artistic truth. It takes to almost life-threatening lengths (to the actors) the belief that conveying a sense of the hardship and brutal challenges of the 1820’s South Dakota wilderness is entirely predicated upon a forensically literal attempt to recreate in every detail, the life, time and circumstance of the period. This is to substitute research and analysis for imagination and insight: mechanics for Art.
This is just an extreme example of Hollywood’s current Philistine obsession with literalism of word and image: unless we see the lumps we can’t imagine what vomit is like; to appreciate the profound complexity of a woman having a pee, we must of course accompany her into the toilet and be close enough to hear the trickle. I’m not sure any of the hundreds of great films of the past ever lacked any sense of realism or authenticity just because it was taken for granted that people puke and women pee. The sublime paradox is of course that this obsessive search for authenticity is itself a lie: as the vomit is as phoney as the mistaken effort to make us believe otherwise.
The Revenant elevates such trivial cases to a point of principle: absolutely nothing is left to the imagination: a flesh-ripping bear attack; being buried alive; and everything imaginable in between is shown with pathological attention to detail. There are many issues raised by this ‘colouring-book’ conception of Art which must ‘fill-in’ every square inch of narrative dramatic space as the viewer cannot be credited with the imagination or intelligence to respond with their own creative understanding. The actual narrative of The Revenant is almost totally without resonance. Cries of horror from the universally smitten Critical community: but I stand by the claim; with this proviso; that the only genuine ‘resonance’ the film has is in the cinematography, which veers wildly from occasional moments of a genuine bleak depth, to ‘arty’ devices like swaying tree-tops seen from below: a visual cliché that Terence Malik has long ago sucked all the metaphorical juice from. One of the worst consequences of this literalist directorial style is that everything takes an infernally long time to communicate: talk about not seeing the wood for the trees! Although there are of course moments of drama and tension in the film; it only rarely has any genuine sense of pace and virtually no dramatic, narrative cadence. This isn’t surprising as virtually all the action of the film takes place outdoors in an implacably hostile freezing climate requiring everyone to be reduced to anonymous multi-layered bundles of skins and furs which more than once leaves us confused as to who the hell we are watching do what. In such an environment, never venturing indoors or even very often to the relative peace and quiet of a camp fire; if screenwriters Iñárritu and Mark L Smith had wanted to give the characters anything interesting to say – we wouldn’t have heard a word of it over the cruelly hostile weather they are constantly battling.
Revenge is the perfect emotional dramatic drive for a movie: think of two perfect examples; John Ford’s clearly parallel but infinitely better The Searchers (1956); or John Boorman’s equally superior Point Blank (1967). But even revenge needs characters as well as circumstances, actions and events. There isn’t for me a single developed character in The Revenant: Leonardo Di Caprio’s Glass is an anonymous bundle of fur and matted hair grunting and groaning his way from one physical disaster to the next. Tom Hardy does actually get a chance to at least sketch in his treacherous nature but ‘sketch’ it is and so sketchy it remains. It is very hard to give a damn about anyone in The Revenant because Iñárritu is content to leave them as virtually anonymous elemental forces of nature, completely subsumed within an unforgiving, utterly indifferent natural environment.
Perhaps this is the conception the Critics have bought into: Man and Nature, elemental, primal, morally determined by physical necessity. But even that seems to me to fall into the same ‘literalist’ trap. The person I saw the film with when I expressed some reservations, immediately remarked – “well that was what it was like!” I very much doubt she had any actual historical evidence for this categorical remark but it demonstrates our overwhelming tendency to want to believe the most extreme interpretations of historical events and especially people and communities of the past.
Philosophically it seems to me to be a grandiose intellectual conceit to believe that we can actually, from within our present culture, truly understand “what it was like” to live in such unimaginably (sic) different circumstances. This fallacy of what we might call factual infallibility troubles me with many films of which the recent Turner was a good example. It is what you do with the facts you choose to represent that offers the artistic dimension; not an obsession with the ‘accuracy’ with which you represent them.
Di Caprio speaks as if their intention was to make an Art-house docu-drama. But this is a slippery genre that precisely raises serious questions about the distinction between artistic and empirical truth. These are related, but fundamentally different values at root. In the context, setting of the The Revenant: however remote, however hostile, the Natural world, the miracle was that communities were formed; people lived everyday, albeit physically arduous demanding lives. They married, had children, formed tribes and groups with rules of behaviour and conduct within a culture. There are other profound truths ignored by Hollywood History: the tenuous survival of early white settlers in the hostile environment Iñárritu is so taken with, was firstly in part due to the assistance and help they were given on how to live under such conditions, by the indigenous, Native American peoples who had been doing so successfully for thousands of years before them. Also: for many if not most, testosterone-soaked Hunter/Warrior Men it is pretty clear that there were many wives and sisters and other women without whom it would have been impossible for communities to have even been formed, let alone sustained once established. The kind of withstanding courage over time required to survive under such adverse conditions seems to me much more feminine than male in character.
There are virtually no women in The Revenant: Glass’s Native American wife whose killing, by we know not who; and who gave him the son whose killing drives the movie; is little more than an ethereal plot device – we know absolutely nothing about her except that her loss left him bereft. In this irreducibly macho-centric world the occasional hand-me-down shag is the kind of woman implied. Even the daughter of the Native American chief who he believes has been captured and abused by White Men: is simply a clichéd victim stereotype whose rape by an (infernal) French Trapper is interrupted by Glass’s need to steal French horses to escape.
How in the name of sanity can Leonardo di Caprio be even nominated for an acting Oscar for this film? By what acting criteria can he be judged? His body is virtually invisible beneath the endless layers of fur and skins; his face is rarely genuinely visible and when it is he must have been so bloody cold it is virtually expressionless. As discussed above, he has virtually nothing to say, and spends most of the film dragging himself from one physical hardship to another, his gait and bodily movement impaired by the results of the Grizzly attack suffered early in the film. We might as well say in a film of Richard the Third that the Oscar should be awarded to the hump.
I am a great admirer of Iñárritu – Babel was in my view a masterpiece: and Di Caprio has made some excellent films; for which he is long overdue for recognition of his acting talent. But it will be an offence against reason and anything remotely approaching sound judgement, to reward him here for a role where acting is reduced to a cross between a brutal version of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here: Olympic gymnastics; and Bear Grylls lost in the Jungle without a camera team.
To reduce acting to this macho, testosterone-driven, self-flagellating exercise in pointless self-imposed privation is perverse when there are other candidates in what is admittedly a pretty lean year artistically, who deserve proper consideration for genuinely nuanced, subtle acting performances.
As for Mad Max: frankly I think the Academicians are simply taking the piss.
45 Years – Andrew Haig * (Beware – semi-spoiler alert)
“I think it needs a new ballcock”. If there is a film that can survive giving space to this deathless line – 45 Years isn’t it. In one if their periodic moments of collective lunacy, UK critics have unanimously awarded 5 stars to this insufferably patronising, depressing study in tedium which exploits every stereotypical view of older people in the book.
The saving grace of Charlotte Rampling’s Herculean failure to make something of the ill-conceived and badly written part of Kate, is its triumph of instinct over technique. Rampling’s natural authority, intelligence and strength of personality refuses to be buried by the intentionally pathetic, wimpy, wishy washy woman that writer/Director Andrew Haig has conceived and written. This is Alan Bennett country: devoid of his insight or wit. Witless pretty much captures the essence of this twaddle.
Courtney struggles manfully, but he can’t breathe any life into the wet, emotionally stunted twerp that is Geoff; obsessing throughout 45 years of marriage to a real, intelligent, passionate woman; over a youthful lover he hardly knew whose eternal appeal rests on having fallen to her death up a very big Swiss mountain and down a very deep hole, watched by an inept but hunky Swiss guide of whom gormless Geoff was, and remains, passively jealous. Oops. Strewth.
Oh Charlotte; Oh Tom; didn’t you read this meretricious pap? Both of you are as competent and assured in your art as you have ever been; still vital and powerfully expressive: whatever possessed you to try to breathe life into two such cardboard characters? It’s not that Geoff and Kate are horrible: it is that they are so insufferably nice: sans passion, sans willpower, sans balls! And is it really beyond the artistic creativity and invention of excellent actors and a serious Director to portray the sexual expression of love between a couple who have been together for 45 years and know each other’s bodies and needs literally intimately, with more positive conviction than the excruciatingly embarrassing, apologetic sequence we have to endure, squirming in our seats, in this film?
Geoff and Kate have ‘enjured’ – neither wholly enjoyed nor fully endured – a childless 45 year liaison; (one hesitates to say marriage as they talk to each other like they’re a scratch partnership at Bridge); aided of course by the de rigeur doggie surrogate. Surrounded by a group of teeth-grindingly Middle Class friends you wouldn’t wish on your own worst enemy, they parse out their personal and social lives in a Norfolk rural idyll to die in, not for.
With all the spontaneous enthusiasm of lambs strolling down to the abattoir; Geoff and Kate meekly bow to the inexorable pressure of bourgeois convention by marking, hardly celebrating, their long-service marriage medals with a party neither wants; highlighted by a speech from Geoff of such stupefying crassness that one prays for divine (feminine) retribution. And this moment, dear reader is the whole rationale for this manipulative confection: the closing shot of Kate, long-suffering and redolent with pathos. Critics seem to have bought into this without question. Sorry folks but I’m far more inclined to kick Ms Rampling, as Kate, up her still very sexy bum and say “C’mon Katie get a grip and a life – you’re not dead yet.’
The philosophical subtext of Haig’s film is that both Geoff and Kate are victims, because of their age; and Kate doubly so, because she is a woman. Give me strength: how does the critical community swallow this bullsh*t so wholeheartedly?
Why am I so hostile? Our culture has long ‘buried’ death in euphemisms to avoid dealing with the one great certainty of existence. But at least the dead are beyond harm. What Mr Haig and Co are doing is to try to entomb the Chronologically Gifted before they’re even dead. The generation who fought and won a World War against naked evil and many brutal conflicts since; have confronted more personal, social revolutionary change than any human beings in history; have created and disseminated a renaissance in music and drama, in film-making and Art; are now portrayed as Bingo-fodder, beings to pity, patronize and ‘pathosogize’. It is a miracle that Mr Haig eschewed the stock character of almost every modern narrative about people of honourable age – the Alzheimer sufferer. Of course human beings are more prone to illness and ill-health the older they get: but disease and sickness are a tragedies of the human condition as such; not of age.
I am reminded of the appalling film Hilary and Jackie (1998) which spent most of its dreadful 2 hours ignoring the breath-taking, inspirational artistry of a sublime musician (Jacqueline Du Pre) to obsess about whether she did or didn’t sleep with her brother-in-law.
Our culture, across the Arts: Drama, Film, Television etc; de facto promotes an ethos obsessed with the idea that either the only, or the most important aspects of the lives of those with a few decades of living, of experience, of achievement, behind them; are their ailments, disappointments and loss of will, potency and relevance.
The prevailing zeitgeist of ‘age’ dominating our contemporary artistic culture is as victimhood: physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual. It is tempting to believe that an unconscious fear drives this widespread conviction – that of today’s young of becoming old. The hard-earned life-wisdom of an older generation commonly denied, dismissed and frequently mocked; has no authoritative artistic ‘voice’. This systematic, prejudiced, distortion of the truth surpasses even the justifiable complaints of feminists of similar injustice in the treatment of women. Women in effect suffer a double whammy – for they are half of the patronized older citizens as well.
Age is a number: ‘Old’ is an attitude. Youth isn’t a quality or an achievement: it is a ‘gift’. We deserve no credit for our gifts: only what we make of them. In that sense Age is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of all and likewise therefore – judge those with most of their journey behind them not on where they’ve been with the gift of youth; but where they’re going with the gift of Age.
I’ll leave the last word with a great Italian Film Director (Antonioni I believe) who, when in his 80’s was asked how old he was, replied (in wonderfully expressive Italian of course):
“I have my heart, my mind and my balls – who cares how old I am?”
It is time, in all conscience
Not to pray. In God’s name deny
Next world promises
Man-made lethal lies
Of a Man-imagined paradise
Heaven’s rivers in spate with hate
run red with human blood
Murderous metaphysics multiply
Without a scrap of food
And blood for wine
Sustain Man’s brute addiction
To religious power, might, and death
Not in our names
Despairing, weeping Gods decry
Only in the form of absence
May we love unbound
For us the only absolute
Is life: this life, not some future lie
This wondrous, sacred gift of now
Fragile finite transient
Our sole duty to preserve
This end all means must serve
The gods are in despair today
jesus weeps: mohammad mourns
yahweh Job recalls
Their creation, Man, now loves hate
His hate of love ascends
women, givers of life He rapes unheard
What a piece of work is Man
Death His dominion now.