I, Daniel Blake (UK-France-Belguim, 2016)

21st century penury

21st century penury

I was aroused from my film stupor by Ken Loach’s latest socialist message which is as devastating as Cathy Come Home (UK, 1966). The latter was a TV play which was apparently watched by 12 million people (there were only three channels to choose from) and led to the Britain taking the homelessness seriously. Although I, Daniel Blake is doing good business for a Loach film, in the UK (he’s more popular in France), nowhere near as many people will see this masterpiece.

It has rattled the right wing though. In attempt to discredit the truth of what’s happening to the benefits system influential idiot, Toby Young, has picked (health warning: the following link takes you to the Daily Mailflaws in the film, ably taken down by Mark Steel.

It’s a typical Loachian (and scriptwriter Paul Laverty) melodrama that focuses on individuals rather than the system. But who can watch the film and not realise we are turning the clock back to the Victorian values of penury for the poor? Young and his ilk choose not to believe it is happening. Others are happy for the working class Other to be degraded. We are living in an increasing divided society; we are living in an increasingly divided world.

But You Did Not Come Back, Marceline Loridan-Ivens (Faber & Faber, 2016)

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This brilliant memoir of Auschwitz and after is as much about memory and loss as about the depravity of the Nazi machine. Loridan-Ivens featured in Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été, France, 1961), which was ‘spotlit’ in the recently published 2nd edition of Introduction to Film:

SPOTLIGHT: CHRONICLE OF A SUMMER

Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été, France, 1961)

Argos Films

Director: Edgar Morin, Jean Rouch

Chronicle of a Summer (Chronique d’un été, France, 1961) grew directly out of Free Cinema:

 

Chronicle’s origins can be traced back to 1959, when Morin and Rouch served on

the jury for the documentary-driven Festival dei Popoli in Florence. Impressed by the

sympathetic portraits of complex social worlds in works like Karel Reisz’s We Are the

Lambeth Boys (1958) and John Marshall and Robert Gardner’s The Hunters (1957),

Morin asked his colleague if he’d be interested in collaborating on a film that tried

something similar in Paris. (Di Iorio, 2013)

 

As Michael Chanan puts it: ‘There are very few films that so completely break the rules and

invent new ones’ (2007: 177), making Chronicle of a Summer one of the most significant films

ever made. As co-director Jean Rouch says, in his voice-over at the start of the film:

‘This film was not played by actors, but lived by men and women who have given a

few moments of their lives to a new experiment in cinema truth.’

 

The last two words in their original French, cinéma vérité, became emblematic of the type

of film. Like Direct Cinema, cinéma vérité used advances in lightweight equipment to shoot

events as they happened; however Rouch, with Edgar Morin (an anthropologist), departed

from Direct’s rhetoric that the filmmakers were bystanders merely relaying the action, as they

didn’t try to disguise the fact that they were making a film. Both, for example, appeared on

screen in Chronicle talking to the participants about a range of contemporary issues such as

the Algerian war and racism.

 

The film begins with a conversation with Marceline Loridan about how she felt being

involved in the documentary. Initially her role is as a vox-pop interviewer asking passers-by

if they are happy. These early scenes are shot candidly with poorly composed framing. After

this the film focuses on three students, an African student, an Italian car worker and a union

man. Rouch and Morin were trying to gauge what ‘France’ thought about the world in the

summer of 1960.

 

The film’s ability to capture these spontaneous conversations was no doubt extremely

impressive at the time. From a contemporary perspective the technical brilliance is somewhat

lost; however, the snapshot of the time ensures that the film remains vital viewing. For example

Marceline, it transpires, is a survivor from Auschwitz and in a harrowing monologue she

recounts her time there. This is filmed at she walks through a deserted Place de la Concorde

talking to herself (her lips can be seen clearly moving some of the time) whilst the camera

dollies backwards in front of her. Chanan explains:

 

Marceline is talking into a lapel-mic clipped to her dress (they were still experimenting

with its use), the camera mounted in the back of a Citroën 2CV … (2007: 177)

 

It could be coincidental, but when she talks of being a little girl the camera noticeably recedes

from her, making her look relatively small (see below). This image bridges the moment

with the past when she was separated from her father in the concentration camp; it is emotionally

devastating.

 Marceline recounts her harrowing time at Auschwitz in Chronicle of a Summer

Marceline recounts her harrowing time at Auschwitz in Chronicle of a Summer

Later, when another participant, Mary Lou, is talking about her fears of being alone, the

close-up of her visibly distressed face, though she is trying to smile (put on a ‘brave’ face),

portrays the raw emotion she is feeling. Just as it seems to be becoming exploitative, we are

voyeuristically observing someone’s pain, Morin, who’s talking to her, says we shouldn’t talk

about it and the scene is immediately cut.

 

An African student, Landry, talks about how he’d like Africans to be appreciated for

more than their dancing, and he is portrayed as an African explorer in France: a brilliant

post-colonial characterization.

 

 

The film concludes with reflections on itself, fi rst from the participants and then Morin

and Rouch in conversation. The participants’ views are fascinating as, after they have seen a

rough cut, they appear to disagree on the meaning of what they have seen (I say ‘appear’

because we are obviously seeing what Morin and Rouch decided to include in the fi nal version,

though I don’t doubt the veracity). Although Morin originally felt that these reactions

suggested the film had failed, he concluded that the contradictory reactions it generated were

proof of its strength because it showed how diffi cult it was to truly understand other people.

The views the participants have on Mary Lou’s emotional rawness range from suggesting

she is playing up for the camera to ‘she was wonderful’. The conclusion we can draw is that,

ultimately, truth is dialogical in that, in simple terms (following the work of Bakhtin, 1981),

it can only be arrived at through discussion.

Introduction to Film (2nd edition)

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Movie watching has never been so wide-ranging or so popular (except with me – see previous post). The rise of Internet-based video on demand has transformed the way films are distributed and exhibited, with many previously unobtainable and obscure films becoming available for global audiences to view instantly.

The second edition of this concise yet complete introduction to film responds to these shifts in the medium, while continuing to address all of the main approaches that continue to inform film studies.

This new edition also:

• reflects the increasing importance of production contexts in chapters that focus exclusively on the film business, distribution and exhibition
• represents the significance of transnational cinema, moving away from Western-centric perspectives of film and drawing on a more global, non-Hollywood range of film examples and case studies from Europe, Asia and Latin America
• is now illustrated with a wider variety of film stills, representing world cinema from the classics to the latest in contemporary cinema.

Interweaving historical and current theoretical approaches, the book presents a tightly-focused and coherent overview of a discipline in transition. With its original narrative line and student-oriented philosophy, the second edition continues to enrich students’ appreciation of cinema, while equipping them with the essential skills and vocabulary to succeed in film studies. This is an ideal foundational text for all students and enthusiasts of cinema.

OK; even if I do say so myself. This is out today; you can get a sample chapter here.

The Pearl Button (El botón de nácar , France-Spain-Chile-Switzerland, 2015)

The disappearing

The disappearing

Patricio Guzmán’s poetic documentary returns, partly literally, to the territory of Nostalgia for the Light, his stunning 2010 documentary about Pinochet’s ‘disappeared’. Much of the imagery is beautiful and the tale of the disappearing, through colonial genocide, native Patagonians is interesting, but Guzmán’s attempt to link them to the victims of Pinochet’s murder squads over-stretches the point.

I’m, however, not sure I’m best placed to comment as I have lost my love of film. Since the turn of year the only film I’ve enjoyed is Enemy of the State. I’ve given up on many well-regarded films and seen critically lauded Leviathan and Spotlight, but neither moved me. A temporary malaise or, after 36 years of fairly intense film watching, have I burned myself out? At the end of last year I finally put the second edition of Introduction to Film (out this month) to bed: that was hard work so maybe my ennui was caused by writing the book. Roy Stafford commented, ‘I’ve never heard anything like it’. It’s extremely puzzling because I am enjoying television drama… Anyone come across this; anyone know the cure?

Hence I’ve barely blogged this year; I have nothing to say…

The Bridge – series 3 (Bron/Broen, Sweden-Denmark-Germany, 2015)

Saga's character tells a tale

Saga’s character tells a tale

Unsurprisingly this would have been in my top ten of last year if I’d seen it then; it will be in this year’s. The brilliance of the series is in the protagonists, though the elaborate plotting – this one is built around parenting – is also impressive. Sofia Helen’s autistic Saga is extraordinary in both the former’s performance and the latter’s personality as she strives to empathise but is ‘imprisoned’ by her difference.

After the demise of Martin as her partner, in series two, the producers had to be careful with who became Saga’s foil; he (or she) couldn’t be like Martin. The team’s sure-footedness was apparent by initially having an older woman and then introducing the unsympathetic, at first, Henrik (Thure Lindhardt) who works both as a foil and a man with his own traumatic past.

Apparently the ratings, on BBC4, reached 1.4m showing an appetite, albeit a minority one, for subtitled brilliance. Long may Nordic Noir continue.

Enemy of the State (US, 1998)

They ARE all around us

They ARE all around us

I really enjoyed this film when it came out and have used it in the classroom. I wondered how it stood up given the Edward Snowden revelations about how our online and telephonic presences are surveilled and the answer is ‘very well’. That’s because it’s a superbly scripted (David Marconi), shot (Daniel Mindel), directed (Tony Scott) and performed thriller. The cast is stellar and Will Smith’s malleable charm works well against Gene Hackman’s flinty cynic. I was gripped and it’s telling that the spooks could penetrate our lives fully at the end of the 20th century and appalling to know what they are doing now see Citizenfour.

Review of 2015

Top films

CvtMTWc

  1. Carol
  2. Citizenfour
  3. The Imitation Game
  4. Inside Out
  5. Mad Max: Fury Road
  6. Birdman
  7. Suffragette
  8. The Falling
  9. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  10. A Syrian Love Story

Top TV

1864-afsnit-7

  1. 1864
  2. London Spy
  3. Spiral series 5
  4. The Game
  5. The Fall series 2
  6. River
  7. Homeland series 4
  8. The Eichmann Show
  9. Jonathan Norrel and Mr. Strange
  10. Wolf Hall

Films seen last year

thesearchers

  1. The Searchers
  2. Good Night, and Good Luck
  3. Crash (2004)
  4. The Matrix
  5. Carol
  6. Citizenfour
  7. Babel
  8. The Imitation Game
  9. Play
  10. Blue is the Warmest Colour

Top live

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  1. Kunsthalle Museum, Vienna
  2. The Unthanks, Trades Club – Hebden Bridge
  3. Brodsky Quartet – Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds
  4. The Unthanks – Irish Centre, Leeds
  5. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker – The Live Room, Saltaire
  6. Richard Hawley, Scarborough Spa
  7. A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller – Wyndham’s Theatre
  8. Leopold Museum, Vienna
  9. Jackson Pollock, Blind Spots – Tate, Liverpool
  10. Richter/Part, Whitworth Gallery – Manchester

Top books

132.Richard Flanagan-The Narrow Road To The Deep North cover

 

  1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
  2. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
  3. Guantanamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi
  4. Fallen Land, Patrick Flanery
  5. Buffalo Soldier, Tanya Landman
  6. Nothing is True, Everything is Possible, Peter Pomerantsev
  7. How Music Got Free, Stephen Will
  8. The Whites, Harry Brandt
  9. The Quest for a Moral Compass, Kenan Malik
  10. Digital Media and Society, Andrew White

Top albums

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  1. Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour
  2. The Decembrists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
  3. Jenny Hval, Apocalypse Girl
  4. Samantha Crain, Kid Face
  5. Smetana: String quartets, Pavel Haas Qt
  6. Wire, Wire
  7. Public Image Limited, What the World Needs Now
  8. Sexwitch, Sexwitch
  9. We Are Shining, Kara
  10. Emily Hall, Folie a Deux