Inland Empire (France, Poland, US, 2006)

Rabbiting on about...?

Rabbiting on about...?

I love Lynch because he, as a true surrealist, eschews bourgeois representations of the world and, hence, the audience often doesn’t a clue about what’s going on. There’s a terrific synopsis on Wikipedia but it doesn’t necessarily explain what the film’s about. I like Danny Leigh’s ideas because he accepts that futility of actually trying to pin down meaning that bourgeois epistemology insists upon.

Clearly the film is a companion piece to Mulholland Drive (2001) in that it deals with the Hollywood Dream Factory (the leads, Naomi Watts and Laura Henning,  appear briefly). However, the shifting play of realities between ‘life’ and ‘film’ is clearer (well, relatively). I’m not sure what the Polish element is about (did the Polish funding necessitate shooting there?) and suggests Eastern Europe as Other but…

There’s the usual Lynch elements: flickering lights that give off very little light; the red curtains; grimy underworld places. There’s the postmodern merging of realities (most obvious in Lost Highway, 1997, which is referenced by the woman in the blonde wig during the end credits) and the unstable postmodern self.

Laura Dern puts in a bravura performance and there’s many stunning images and moments of horror. It may not be as engaging as other Lynch movies (too much retreading over old territory?) but is a healthy antidote to normalcy.

Ghosts (UK, 2006)

Globalised exploitation

Globalised exploitation

This is a very difficult film to watch not only because you know it ends in tragedy – the film starts with the desperate events of 5 February 2004 – but because of its documentary-style immediacy. It’s not difficult to feel you are seeing those people (as if as ghosts) before they died. Writer-director Nick Broomfield’s documentaries are normally infused with postmodern cynicism; here he tells the story directly. The performers are non-professionals and Broomfield is  adept at using their gaucheness as a signifier of authenticity. The film’s bookended by the events at Morecambe Bay with the middle section following one character’s journey from her home in China to cockling in Morecambe.

This is cinema at its powerful best. Truth-telling 24 frames a second (as Godard defined it). The ‘background’ noise of exploitation engendered by globalisation is ‘turned up’ into our face (if only for 90 minutes).

This is England (UK, 2006)

Skins together

Skins together

I’ve never warmed to Shane Meadows, he always seems over-earnest to me. However, there’s no denying the heart and power of this film. It does the difficult trick of rewriting the ‘skin’ stereotype and also explaining the racism possible within the sub-cultural group.

I think Shaun (aged 12) is a little on the young side (particularly in his relationship with Smell) however Turgoose’s performance is terrific. The film is marked by marvellous acting: Stephen Graham’s troubled, loathsome, pathetic and frightening Combo; Joe Gilgun’s wonderful Woody and Vicky McLure’s lovely Lol.

The economic recession that characterised Thatcher’s early years, and the gung-ho patriotism of the Falklands war, forms the backdrop to the film. We’re in recession again and the ‘war on terror’ has increased xenophobia so Meadow’s portrait of the pathetic and dangerous hatred engendered by racism is timely.

A Walk in the Sun (US, 1945)

Exterior and interior battles

Exterior and interior battles

This is an extremely wordy war film which concentrates as much on the psychological battles as it does on the capture of a farmhouse six miles inland from the Italian coast. Dialogue and interior monologues are privileged over action as the platoon fights it way through one morning. Doesn’t sound very Hollywood and, although it has numerous Hollywood stalwarts in the cast, it’s a relatively early example of an independent production: Lewis Milestone productions. Milestone also directed the classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

The representation of the psychic stresses of war is gripping but the action is also thrillingly shot (tracking shots of an attack on a tank; the final assault on the farmhouse). It is rare to see a film, from the ‘classic’ era of Hollywood, that doesn’t simply eulogise heroes. I’d be very surprised if Terrence Malick wasn’t influenced by it when making The Thin Red Line (1999).

Of the ‘stalwarts’ Dana Andrews is his usual terrific, laconic self. He commands attention, on the screen, with minimal gestures. It’s also good to see Richard Conte in a ‘good guy’ role before he got typed as a villain.

Millennium Actress (Sennen joyû, Japan, 2001)

The past mingled with movies

The past mingled with movies

This movie flirts with postmodern frivolity but transcends it with a thoughtful, bitter-sweet meditation of memory, life and the impossibility of perfect love. Movies offer the illusion of the latter and the eponymous lead  spends her life seeking her Mr Right who she bumped into twice when a youth. By the end she realises that all she is in love with is the chase.

The conceit of having the interviewers of the actress, at the end of her life, appearing in her ‘flashback’ memories is brilliantly conceived and executed. And we get a smattering of the history of post-war Japanese cinema on the way. The wonderful mixture of wit and visual beauty seems to be characteristic of writer-director Satoshi Kon; I’m looking forward to Paprika (2006).

Wall-E (US, 2008)

The trash aesthetic

The trash aesthetic

As you can see above, Wall-E looks terrific. It’s not just the landscape, the character’s worry about being conveyed across the solar system is indicated subtlely by his eyes and the film works so well, primarily, because of the characterisation. Much of the first half of the film is a ‘silent’ movie where we learn about the apocalyptic landscape of Earth in the future and this is rendered in stunning, and funny, detail.

Humans are represented as infantile and infantalisation is something that capitalism encourages by trying to create consumerist desires: we know we want something and we want it now. We are infantalised, also, in our understanding of the world. Currently Israel is kicking shit out of the Palestinians again but it’s a fair bet that less than 10% of the (western?) population understand the context of this war. The news headlines simply say ‘Israeli airstrikes… Hamas rocket attacks’ as if there’s some equality of violence. And most people won’t care.

As Wall-E suggests it is time to ‘wake up’ and take an interest in the world beyond the next consumer item we intend to buy or which celeb is cheating on who. Ignorance is not bliss it is stupid.

Happy New Year!

Films of the year 2008

Films released this year

1. Waltz with Bashir
2. In the Valley of Elah
3. The Dark Knight
4. Man on Wire
5. Couscous
6. The Orphanage
7. Hunger
8. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
9. The Silence of Lorna
10. Be Kind Rewind

Films new to me this year

1. The Butterfly’s Tongue
2. Into the Wild
3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
4. I’m Not There
5. Blade Runner – The Final Cut
6. Letters from Iwo Jima
7. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
8. The Counterfeiters
9. Control
10. Tell No One

Best films seen this year

1. Partie de campagne
2. Snow Falling on Cedars
3. 21 Grams
4. West Side Story
5. Into the Wild
6. The Butterfly’s Tongue
7. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
8. Blade Runner – The Final Cut
9. Waltz with Bashir
10. I’m Not There

Books of the Year

1 The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein
2 Live Working or Die Fighting, Paul Mason
3 My Revolutions, Hari Kunzru
4 The Shadow of the Sun, Ryszard Kapuscinki
5 Wall and Piece, Banksy
6 I Had a Black Dog, Michael Johnstone
7 Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Scott McCloud
8 Small Island, Andrea Levy
9 Television Drama, Sue Thornham and Tony Purvis
10 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Simon Armitage

Music of the Year

Beethoven Symphonies, BPO – Abbado
Beethoven Piano sonatas 30 & 31, Paul Lewis
Toumani Diabate, Mande Variations
Bob Dylan, Bootleg series volume 8
The Garifuna Women’s Project, Umalali
Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
Portishead, Third
The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely
Rokia Traore, Tchmantche
Tricky, Knowle Boy West