Posted on December 17, 2015 by nicklacey
Apparently the AQA exam board in the UK claimed that their selection of 19th century novels (which students have to study for GCSE) all had good film versions. Teachers know that for many youngsters (and oldsters) 19th century lit teaching needs the extra help provided by visuals that bring to life the often torpid prose. Like the insistence that pupils be assessed on Shakespeare, this is class-based elitism that intends to ensure ‘culture’ remains the provence of the upper middle classes. There’s no reason why youngsters shouldn’t be introduced to the 19th century literature, or Shakespeare, but to insist they are assessed upon for their final grade is farcical. So how does this Dr. Jekyll stack up? Risibly I’m afraid though there is much to like in the film.
The performance style of early 1930s Hollywood; the pronunciation of Jekyll as Je-kill; the slightly ridiculous incarnation of Hyde; the aristocratic milieux so loved by Hollywood at the time… I could go on… are all off-putting. There’s nothing in the film that will help lower ability kids get their heads around Stevenson’s great novella.
However, as a pre-Code movie, starring the excellent Frederic March, with some adventurous camerawork from director Rouben Mamoulian, there’s enough to keep the cinephile interested. The transformation scenes are an absolute triumph; apparently March’s face was heavily made up in blue and then a blue filter was removed as March gurned into the monster. It still looks great. In order to set this up, so the character is looking directly into the camera, the opening shot is an ambitious, and rare, subjective shot including seeng March in a mirror. Technically brilliant at the time and now.
There are virtually no women in Stevenson’s novella (homosexuality repressed?) but Hollywood needs the ‘love interest’ and its provided by the ‘tinsel town’ trope of virgin (Rose Hobart) and whore (Miriam Hopkins). The pre-Code nature is evident when Hopkins’ Ivy tries to seduce Jekyll; she’s clearly naked and it’s so obvious what she’s after even my Year 10 knew. Despite its inauthenticity, this works to enhance Stevenson’s themes as the protagonist’s need for sex, his father-in-law won’t let him marry for eight months, serves as his motivation to become Hyde. Less successful is the moment when Hyde seems to be a black man; typical of the racism of the time (and now in ‘Trump’s America’).
However, as a film it will only confirm to youngsters that black and white movies have nothing for them and it will serve only to further alienate them from the text they are struggling to study. But then that’s the Establishment’s purpose isn’t it.
Filed under: Hollywood | Tagged: horror | Leave a comment »
Posted on April 20, 2015 by nicklacey
Less than the sum of its parts
I recommend going to see this film even though I was ultimately disappointed by it and there’s plenty of spoilers following so beware.
A film about females is a rare event in our Oedipal-riddled world and so The Falling immediately has novelty going for it; it is written and directed by Carol Morley and brilliantly shot by Agnes Godard. It draws upon a true story of fainting girls in a school in the late 1960s; nothing was found to be wrong with them. I experienced similar ‘fits’ in my first year of teaching when up to three lasses would keel over in the middle of my English class. Being male I didn’t attribute this to my teaching.
Morley indirectly diagnoses their complaint to be patriarchy; of course it didn’t need the late ’60s setting for females to be suffering from that disease however things were worse then. It focuses on the friendship between Abbie (newcomer Florence Pugh, on the left above) and Lydia (Maisie Williams familiar from Game of Thrones); the former’s sexual experiences unsettle their relationship. They are at a girls’ school full of repression, exemplified by Greta Scacchi’s Miss Mantel; a great piece of casting as Scacchi was known for libidinous roles earlier in her career. The acting is fabulous throughout the film.
Morley’s first feature was the effective dramadoc Dreams of a Life (UK-Ireland, 2011) which recreated the life of a woman whose body was found years after it had expired in a London flat. The Falling is extremely ambitious and there is so much to like: its obtuse take on nature, the brooding tree and autumnal pond; the inclusion of rapidly edited ‘subliminal’ montages that might be flashbacks; the male voice of the therapist questioning the girls is mixed to feel as though it’s emanating from your own head (emphasising the hegemony of patriarchy); Maxine Peake, who plays Lydia’s mother, barely has a line but conveys pent-up frustration with the quivering fag in her fingers. All this is brilliant but…
For me it didn’t hang together. It could be the film needs a second viewing but I think the incest was pointless and detracted from the representation of repressed females through sensationalism and pathologising the protagonist. I’ve tagged the film as horror though it’s certainly not conventionally horrific; it’s only toward the end the genre makes its presence felt. It might have been better if horror iconography had been introduced earlier. Incidentally, the credit sequence at the end is terrifically designed.
As I said, it is a film that needs seeing because it deals with female experience and too many of western narratives (and those of other cultures) assume the male experience is paramount. Hopefully Morley will get to make another film soon; too many of our great female directors (Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold for example) struggle to get their films made. Maybe in the next one Morley will be able to more successfully integrate form and content. If this sounds critical then I am being unfair as it is far from shameful to ‘fail’ (if that’s what she has done) when aiming so high. I’m very interested in what female viewers make of the film…
Filed under: British Cinema | Tagged: horror, women | Leave a comment »
Posted on July 23, 2014 by nicklacey
The reaper is grimeth
This film reminded me of The Naked Island as it’s set on an isolated ‘backwater’ in East Asia. Whilst the Japanese film focuses on the battles against the inhospitable environment, Bedevilled (a pretty rubbish title – anyone know what the original title is in English?) focuses on the misogyny of the ‘throwback’ inhabitants. Hae-won (Seong-won Ji) returns to her birthplace having spent 15 years in Seoul; it’s evidently not made her a nice person as she abuses a co-worker and refuses a ‘nice old lady’ a loan. In addition, she refuses to testify against three violent men who she’d witnessed beating up a woman. Hoping the escape from her present in her past, with her girlhood friend Bok-nam, Hae-won finds…
I won’t spoil but as the image above attests we find ourself increasingly inhabiting a horror film. I find it’s often the case, in East Asian cinema (sorry wild generalisation ahead), that when the tone of a film changes it’s done ‘full throttle’. There’s no sense at all that ‘good taste’ has anything to do with the use of genre and that’s how it should be. As usual, the direction is immaculate with beautiful compositions the norm, rather than the exception, which is usually the case in Hollywood.
As the film gets, literally, more hysterical, as the abused woman unleashes her fury, the film offers a devastating critique of patriarchy; the older women on the island are all complicit. In one scene, a knife is fellated – see below.
If Tartan Video’s Asia Extreme label was still in operation, it would be marketed under the moniker. As one reviewer stated, the film is ‘Able to make a statement while providing plenty of sex and gore.‘ In other words, ‘titillation and visceral shock included’. It’s an inherently male way of categorising films, I think; the focus on transgressive, and exploitative, images. However, it is quite clear that the reviewer entirely appreciated the film’s condemnation of patriarchy: a case of having and eating cake?
Filed under: East Asian cinema, South Korean Cinema | Tagged: horror | Leave a comment »
Posted on April 29, 2014 by nicklacey
‘Mise en scene’ as lurid as the subject matter
I’m planning to watch both the Universal-Boris Karloff The Mummy as well as the recent remake, directed by Stephen Sommers in 1999, alongside this Hammer classic. I’m interested in how visual style (particularly camera movement and editing) has changed. The most impressive aspect of this British version is the gorgeous sets created for Terence Fisher’s direction; certainly studio bound but hysterically Gothic in a melodramatic sense.
The most striking aspect was Peter Cushing’s performance as the protagonist. Cushing was a fine actor so I’m sure the lack of emotion he displayed was exactly what was required. This absence of feeling is striking because the mummy kills his dad (sorry, ‘father’), uncle and then mortally threatens his wife. After his dad has pegged it uncle opines, ‘You were close to your father weren’t you?’ Despite the affirmative reply not only was not a tear shed but not an iota of grief was displayed! It’s as if it’s all in a day’s work (not that he does any work). After he is almost strangled, he wears a scarf.
The setting, late 19th century upper class England, probably contributed to this overdose of the ‘stiff upper lip’ but the tropes of late 1950s would no doubt also be influential. Did the stoic portrayal of war heroes, so popular in the 1950s, mean that even men in horror films could, also, display no emotion? From the 21st century, Cushing’s performance is undoubtedly distancing; Christopher Lee’s eyes, (it’s all we can see of him as the mummy beneath the bandages) convey more feeling.
Filed under: British Cinema | Tagged: horror | Leave a comment »
Posted on March 23, 2014 by nicklacey
Watch in fright
This is a literally rediscovered film; the editor, Anthony Buckley, tracked down a useable negative which led to this terrific restored digital print. And it was certainly well worth rediscovering. As a teacher, under Education Secretary Gove’s ridiculous rule, I often feel victimised however protagonist John Grant is forced to teach in the outback or pay his $1000 bond back. My predicament pales in comparison. Canadian director, Ted Kotcheff, summarises the Outback with the opening 360-degree pan so we can see he is, literally, in the middle of nowhere. As Sight & Sound put it, such overwhelming spaces entrap more than liberate. On his way to Sydney, for a holiday, Grant gets caught up in a gambling game, in the hope of clearing his debt, which is the prelude to a nightmarish weekend.
Wake in Fright flopped commercially on its original release, probably because the mirror it holds up to the machismo of the ‘loveable’ Aussie ‘larrikin’ is not flattering. As one character says of Bond: ‘Would he rather talk to a woman than drink beer?’ The character, by the way, is played by that stalwart of the Australian film industry, Jack Thompson, in his first film. Directors of the subsequent Australian ‘new wave’, however, hailed the film’s influence. If you’re interested in Australian cinema, check out the new edition of Senses of Cinema. We follow Bond on his journey where he’s confronted by his bourgeois sensibilities, similar to the narrative of Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) but far more harrowing. Central to this is a kangaroo hunt that is shot as it actually happened (independently of the film it has to be said). A note at the film’s end says that the scene was included after consultation with animal welfare groups; kangaroos are now an endangered species.
The brilliant Donald Pleasance lends his malign presences as the Doc, the man who Grant might become. Pleasance’s eyes look demonic without even trying. Another Aussie icon, Chips Rafferty in his final film, plays the local cop who takes Grant under his wing when he first arrives in the ‘city’ (really a town). It’s a classic western scene, a stranger in town entering a bar but the ‘sheriff’ plies our protagonist with beer rather than warning him to behave. It’s such moments that play against expectation, later it’s the sexual tension between Grant and the daughter of another deranged character, that make the film as unsettling as it is.
It’s one of the few films to have played Cannes twice; on its release and, in 2009. If you’re after a nightmare ride or want to catch a missing movie of Australian cinema, here’s your chance.
Filed under: Australasia | Tagged: horror, thriller, western | Leave a comment »
Posted on March 22, 2014 by nicklacey
Although 1998’s The Blair Witch project pioneered the ‘found footage’ movie, it’s only recently that the form has thrived as the ubiquity of mobile phones and CCTV have made it easier to justify the existence of the footage. This Barry Levinson directed eco-horror is probably the best that I’ve seen, including Clovefield and REC. The monster is pollution-caused mutations in Chesapeake Bay, which the internet tells me does have ‘dead zones’. It’s July 4th, the all-American celebration, and a seaside town, similar to that in Jaws, doesn’t know what’s about to hit them.
The horror is helped by the ‘found footage’ form but is mostly generated by the… well, I won’t spoil. The source of the monsters, environmental disaster, reminds us of the creature-features on the 1950s where atomic radiation was the source of, for example, giant ants in Them! (1954). Even though such mutations didn’t come about, the force of the films’, to warn against atomic power, still remained. And so it will with eco-disaster movies, as we continue to fail to react, in a meaningful way, to our impact on the environment. We continue in the ‘age of stupid‘.
Filed under: Independent cinema | Tagged: horror | Leave a comment »
Posted on February 3, 2014 by nicklacey
The patriarch at work
Zombie movies have been resolutely B movies, emphasising the gore and, usually, unusually, failing to offer the ‘happy ever after’ ending. Zombies are getting bigger, The Walking Dead (2010-) TV series is the highest rated cable programme in USA, and this Brad Pitt vehicle grossed around $400m worldwide last year. It was critically mauled but audiences loved and I can see why. Of course, if you’re spending nearly $200m on a film then the small scale pleasures of the B movie are going to be marginalised.
One of the many producers of the film is Pitt’s Plan B and while he’s a fairly conventional action hero there are a couple of interesting variants in his character. First he’s a house-husband, we see him at the start looking at the breakfast dishes left for him; second, he’s brought out of retirement by the United Nations, an institution not regularly feted in America. Small things but progressive at least.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film as Marc Forster, and particularly editors Roger Barton and Matt Chesse (I’m not surprised there were two so frenetic is the film’s pace), produce a thrilling narrative. The first half hour, the descent into chaos, is exceptional and the set piece in Jerusalem is equally exciting. Part of the mauling the film received was to do with the plot holes; maybe I’m more sanguine than most regarding a ropey plot where zombies are concerned. It was apparently a troubled production but that didn’t show up on the screen as far as I could tell. How do you escape when zombies start rampaging on an aircraft that’s in flight? Watch the movie to find out.
Pitt’s a superb leading man. His charisma is ‘old school’ but he’s also one of the stars who are happy to work in more ‘arty’ fare, lending his name to projects to get finance. If I were to criticise the film it’s the ‘old school’ representation of gender, notwithstanding Pitt’s character’s domestic status. The only woman who gets much screen time, apart from his children’s mum, is an Israeli soldier and that’s strictly of the ‘helper’ variety.
Zombies belong in B movies but that’s not to say there’s not plenty of pleasure to be found in the A picture that takes the parochial, conventional zombie narrative, and blows it up (literally) to the world. Great Friday night watching.
Filed under: Hollywood | Tagged: horror, zombie | Leave a comment »