The Impotent Protest of Fight Club in a Pre 9/11 World.

Given Fight Club’s overt anti-consumerism and anti-capitalist stance it might be considered remarkable that 20th Century Fox, a studio by a giant conglomerate media company would release a film that clashed so completely and utterly with their own ideology. To make sense of this ostensible contradiction we can consider to what extent Fight Club is successful as a piece of radical film making specifically if it has the ability to inspire an audience with its anti-capitalism thesis towards any actual action that could compromise the prevailing governing system that Fox relies upon and thrives in.

A central theme of Fight Club is the idea of consumerism as an artifice – that the surface world with which we are presented is not true reality and that therefore our identities as consumers is a falsehood that keeps us from realising our true potential and true identity – in the film this is skewed particularly towards masculinity. This concept of artificiality was also present in another two of 1999’s top grossing films The Matrix and American Beauty.

In The Matrix the surface world we know is literally a manufactured projection (a similar concept was preceded by 1998’s Dark City) used to keep us line in order for us to be harvested for energy. Our hero Neo is seen to be working a dull and unfulfilling office job until he is able to overcome the artifice of the world created for him and learn the truth, doing so allows him to escape a drudgery all too familiar to many of us. The metaphor is clear enough.

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In American Beauty we see the concept of suburbia itself to be a smokescreen of artificial perfection that obscures people’s deep rooted psychological torment, dissatisfaction and emotional turmoil. In Lester Burnham we have a protagonist who rejects his assumed adult responsibilities to return to a youthful sensibility and who is seen to reject consumerism and the importance of material possessions:

Lester Burnham also quits a job that makes him miserable in a scene that is similar to one in Fight Club where Tyler Durden threatens to reveal information about the corrupt company he works for:

Finally in American Beauty there is the existence of an afterlife like state that Lester finds himself in and he is only able to see the good from his life and is not angry about losing his earthly life despite being murdered and he promises that we, the audience, will someday join him. The concept of an afterlife serves to reduce the importance of this life – it is not everything and it thereby renders the material world and a capitalistic imperative to succeed and acquire insignificant.

We see these things in Fight Club as Tyler Durden rejects wholesale the concept of possessions and through this he achieves enlightenment, although it is far more problematic than in the other films especially since the character Edward Norton plays is severely mentally ill. Neo is correct to take the red pill, Lester Burnham is far happier when he rejects societies norms and reaches a higher spiritual plane – Tyler Durden is more complex, it is easy to agree with a lot of what he says but the violence and chaos that he instigates and then desperately tries to stop presents the audience with a disturbing moral quandary, especially those convinced by the anti-capitalist sentiment.

Perhaps in part a reaction to the excesses of the 1980’s the thematic similarities in these films released within months of each other is quite astounding and you would have been forgiven for thinking an ideological sea change was coming, unfortunately however these characters and themes remain relatable and current today. Capitalism has marched on unfettered, surreptitiously keeping people within it treading a binary thin line between contentedness and desperation, between disillusionment and aspiration- shrouding the central contradiction that with capitalism enough is never enough, if you buy into the model no matter how much you have you will always want more.

These films share radical ideology, Fight Club takes it to an extreme however that could be read as a call to arms to the audience – a project mayhem recruitment video which takes us back to our original question – why would a studio release a potentially powerful piece of propaganda against its own interests? One answer is simple: Money. A studio will release anything that it considers to be potentially profitable and it will happily appease a prevailing ideology – in other words giving the audience what they want, pandering to collective nihilism. Consider the prevalence of “Unhappy endings” in American 70’s Cinema in a post Vietnam/Watergate era where cynicism was what people wanted to see – their own feelings reflected, their own ideas confirmed. Given that we have three very strong examples of anti-consumerism films it is fair to assume that there was a strong presence of this in the collective consciousness and that therefore a market existed to be exploited. With that in mind, knowing that a commercial exploitation has been made, can we still consider the film radical?

Surely this strategy would still be dangerous for the studios? Especially since Cinema’s power as an ideological influencer has worried the powers that be and been seen as a real threat since the mediums inception, reaching fever pitch during the McCarthy witch hunts. The answer may well be that it was correctly assumed that the possibility of the film inspiring any Project Mayhem like activities were remote, or else marginal and disorganised and that it was more likely that Men who has missed the point would set up real Fight Club’s that would be quickly shut down or else they would tire of it once they realised how often they would break their hands bare knuckle fighting, which by in large seems to be the case:

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Given that among Generation X the sentiments in the film were already acutely felt, there may be a “preaching to the choir” lack of effect whereby not enough new converts could be convinced or if they were certainly not enough to take action to make change to their political and economic systems. As Thomas Jefferson said ” All experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

While relative apathy is surely a comfort to those in power, another aspect that the makes the film ultimately harmless to the establishment is the potentially self-congratulatory nature of revelation, that seeing through the artifice of capitalism makes you one of the enlightened ones, able to view society askance and therefore in your interior life you are able to somewhat rise above it. If you are someone who already has anti-consumerist and anti-capitalist leanings then you will no doubt find catharsis with Fight Club, instead of it recruiting you however, this catharsis could in actual fact placate you. You know the truth, you have seen through, you are one of the enlightened ones now go buy the special edition blu-ray while wearing your Tyler Durden jacket.

When I think of Tyler Durden and his estrangement from normalcy I am reminded of this quote from Charles Bukowski:

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Star Wars: Building upon a mythology with a rotting foundation.

I recently saw an interview with Quentin Tarantino that got me thinking about George Lucas and Star Wars and the challenges faced by filmmakers trying to build on this mythology which is probably the most significant in pop culture. The following is a quote from that interview:

“In the case of Kill Bill, it’s the first time I’m creating, for lack of a better word, a comic book mythology – creating my version of the marvel universe. I was watching a movie once and the director had done a good job and he was talented, having said that, he was trying to kind of create his own world, but I realised he didn’t know it that well – he hadn’t thought about everything. He hadn’t painted in every picture of that universe, so I knew I wasn’t in good hands. He dealt with what he needed to deal with, but I know there were a lot of questions he didn’t ask. I knew that when you create a mythology – stuff that’s never going to make it into the movie – you need to know everything. I need to know how Bill was born, how Bill got to be Bill [Interviewer: You’re talking about actor’s subtext?] Yeah, like I said if you’re creating a mythology you gotta know all the rules of that, it doesn’t matter what the audience knows – they have to know that you know. You can explain to the actors something as simple as one of the rules of a Hanzo sword is once you unsheathe it, it has to drink blood before it ever goes back in the sheath, even it means you just gotta put your thumb to it – you know it’s thirsty. Now Daryl Hannah doesn’t do that, and she’s like “Hey, this is a pretty good sword” and Michael Madsen isn’t going to say anything to her and then she goes in to the fight with a demerit against her – with that bad karma and the audience doesn’t need to know that but it’s important that the actors know that and it’s important that I know that.”

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So the obvious question when considering Tarantino’s argument about cinematic mythological world building is were we in safe hands with George Lucas? And are we in safe hands now? The answer for George Lucas to me is an easy one – no we were not. It does not take long looking into the development and making of the original Star Wars film and the subsequent sequels to see that there was absolutely no grand vision, no planned narrative arc and no deep thinking into the mythology that was being created and that to put it frankly the man was making it up as he went along. This is further evidenced by his constant post-release tinkering.

The precedents and influences of Star Wars are well known – 50’s sci-fi and adventure serials, samurai films (particularly those of Akira Kurosawa), Westerns and the model of storytelling described in Joseph Campbell’s book on mythology ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces.’

It was from this cultural stew Lucas began work on Star Wars. There are many examples to me that show that Lucas had not thought the mythology of this universe all the way through, in fact it is quite clear all elements of plot had not been thought all the way through, let alone subtext and the un-seen mechanics and logic of world building. There’s little things like Han Solo originally being a big green alien (budget constraints nixed this), but bigger things emerge when you look into just how much of the Star Wars universe’s creation should be credited to concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, who for one thing introduced the helmet to Darth Vader.

Probably the most egregious evidence of the flimsy, incomplete grasp Lucas had over the mythology comes from the fact that it was not originally intended that Darth Vader be Luke’s father. One of the reasons the twist is so shocking is because there was absolutely no build for it, this idea only came when the sequel was being developed – how can Lucas possibly claim (as he retroactively does) that he had all of this planned out when the single most important element of the plot and thematic concern of the original trilogy was done on the fly?

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In fact it seems quite clear when watching the original Star Wars that it is self contained, it never needed a sequel and it doesn’t set up a sequel but for popular demand – the story is finished and Lucas has in Tarantino’s words dealt with what he needs to deal with, he had thought about the mythology enough to get him through, the trouble comes with expanding that story and the inevitable contradictions that occur when you have not planned long form storytelling from the beginning  (and we haven’t even got to the prequels yet)

The other big reveal – Luke and Leia being twin siblings? This idea was introduced simply to add tension to Luke and Vader’s fight at the end of The Empire Strikes Back as Yoda says there is another, Lucas has stated he wanted the audience to believe that Luke could be killed if there was a possibility of another Jedi. This is in contradiction to showing Luke infatuated with Leia and to try to make sense of it you have to come up with your own justifications but the fact is from a storytelling point of view it does not make sense to show Luke and Leia having a possible romance, only to reveal they are siblings and it doesn’t make sense because it wasn’t planned from the beginning.

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Coming up with your own justifications and filling in the plot holes is quite the past time for a Star Wars fan. I can forgive plot holes, I don’t watch films for plot, what hurts is that these plot holes are indicative that we are not in safe hands, this mythology with which we were enraptured in childhood has not been fully fleshed out.

There are three main elements of the Star Wars mythology that are established in the first film. The most interesting and most important is the force and the Jedi as the wise warriors who wield it in a similar mould to samurai’s or western protagonists with a quasi-religious inclination. The concept of the force is a brilliant idea, it is loaded with eastern spirituality but could also be semi-accepted as an expression of quantum mechanics.

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The Jedi, as evidenced by the enduring appeal, are also an excellent creation and the most important thing NOT to mess up. The second is the geography of the galaxy, defined by the technology of space craft that allows for the traveling of vast distances and giving a grand sense of scale and possibilities for many creatures and landscapes, for many worlds that nevertheless are closely connected.

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The third is the empire – quite clearly Nazi stand ins in the original film and quite cartoonish in their evil without an ideology, it seems to be another example of not being thought through – does the empire believe the galaxy is better off with them in charge? Do they believe they are the goodies? Since for the purpose of the first film they simply need to serve as antagonists, Lucas doesn’t need to think of these things, but the further you expand, the more these details become glaring.

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As Tarantino says you have to have the audiences trust that you know the rules – you don’t have to establish, over explain and explore everything as long as that trust it there – when it is not is when you get the focus on swiss cheese plot holes which are subsequently compounded by prequel inconsistencies and the investing of emotion and logic into it just starts to feel dumb, how anyone could have this trust in Lucas is beyond me.

Expanding on a mythology can often ruin it, the character arc of Jack Sparrow was perfectly completed in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, the sequels turned his tics and mannerisms into caricature. The worst example in recent memory to me though is the Matrix sequels, when thinking of the scene where Neo speaks to ‘the architect’ I quickly wish the original had been left well enough alone.

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So George Lucas had a tall task when trying to build upon the Star Wars mythology with prequels – he wanted us to believe this had always been planned, but we know that is not true and that he was building an extension on a house with a rotting foundation of insufficient detail and possibly without proper planning permission.

I could spend thousands of words griping with the prequels – I would instead direct you to definitive review of the films from Mr Plinkett:

But I will point out the major thing I think specifically damage the mythology established in the original trilogy. Not the boring ‘trade talks’ and trying to show the process of democracy – perhaps retroactively trying to cover the half baked ill conceived concept of a governing evil for evil sake empire leading to plot holes such as this famously discussed in Clerks:

No it is the crux of the prequels – the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, it was what we were all wondering! Except it wasn’t. It is quite clearly explained that he was a good man who was seduced by the dark side and his humanity was both figuratively and physically gone, at no point was I dissatisfied with this explanation or felt the need for further exploration. The redemption that Anakin Skywalker finds at the end of Return of the Jedi by killing the emperor to save his son – proving Luke correct that there was still good in him, strongly suggested to me that Anakin was a good man who strayed from his natural path and he finds his true self again in that finale.

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Lucas though, retroactively with the prequels thought he needed to come up with reasons why Anakin had turned to the dark side that were definitely not anything to do with how the character is presented in the original trilogy. This is where things get repugnant. Firstly he turns Anakin into Jesus, of a virgin birth and ‘prophesised’ to bring balance to the force. The force which was this beautifully conceived, ambiguous yet defined in the viewers mind, but it needs to be balanced by a person? That’s like saying someone was born to bring balance to gravity. Even if we are take it as some kind of metaphor, it’s still a ridiculous idea that elevates a character from Jedi gone bad to a demigod like figure.

He turns Anakin into a victim and in fact near enough every single event is something that leads to him turning to the dark side, it was as if it was destiny – but the whole idea of Anakin turning was that it was not what he was supposed to do. He was supposed to be a Jedi knight and on the side of good like Obi-Wan. The prequels operate from a place where we know this character becomes Darth Vader and then spends three films coming up with reasons why he did, the idea of the Darth Vader turn set up in the original seemed to suggest that nobody could have seen the turn coming as Anakin was ‘a good friend’ as Obi-Wan describes and has fathered two children and that he was cleverly manipulated by the emperor and the dark side.

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How could anyone not see the turn coming in the prequels? They constantly refer to him as reckless and hateful and angry, he is shown to carry out murderous revenge – every step he takes is a step towards Darth Vader. The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is that he wasn’t supposed to be Darth Vader, the prequels essentially show him to have no choice, that he is so strongly drawn towards becoming Darth Vader and this is being orchestrated so completely that never had a chance of not turning to the dark side. This to me is a complete contradiction of the original trilogy and can only happen when a hack is rewriting a character’s history thirty years later.

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In Revenge of the Sith it is even revealed that the emperor has somehow manipulated the dark side to create the virgin birth of Anakin – so he is some dark side Frankenstein’s monster from the beginning? That is some horse manure convoluting to rival the architect in The Matrix Reloaded.

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While this was the biggest problem that the prequels had in spoiling the mythology, there were others – the addition of ‘midichlorians’ which served as a quantifiable way of determining how strong someone was with the force. How could Lucas possibly have thought it was a good idea to demystify his best idea in this manner and to turn it into top trumps or computer game attributes?

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He made the Jedi’s a boring left wing think tank – I was expecting them to argue the merits of Trotskyism vs Stalinism, how was it possible to make the Jedi so un-cool? You would expect a boring, charisma vacuum performance by the monotonous Liam Neeson – but he even managed to force Samuel L. Jackson into one. If the Disney sequels never mention midichlorians it will be too soon.

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He made Yoda fight and flip around, this seems cool at first until you realise it betrays the character and the concept of the force in an irredeemable way for the sake of cheap spectacle. The addition of ‘Sith’ and the rules randomly made up for them is not as awful, but really should have established from the start, IF YOU WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT THROUGH YOU BILLIONAIRE SON OF A GUN (I don’t much like the prequels.)

Also, why can’t Jedi’s love? Had not enough been taken from Christianity with the virgin birth, now the Jedi have to be randomly celibate? Luke seemed pretty horny in the original, in fact I thought it quite clearly implied that getting away from the farm and having his own adventure no doubt included and was maybe even primarily motivated by getting laid – he was pretty excited to see that hologram of Leia. Part of Anakin turning to the dark side was that he wanted to save Padme from dying in childbirth – but not everyone dies in childbirth, seems like a weird blanket rule and besides Nils Lofgren’s wife died in childbirth and he carried on as he had little girl to raise and then he wrote a nice song about it:

Is the implication that feeling love leaves the Jedi vulnerable to loss and therefore to the dark side so the alternative is being numb, sexless dullards who take a lot of cold showers? Yeah, no thanks you can take your lightsabre back now. It was establishing fake conflict, screenwriting 101, absolute nonsense.

With the prequels, Lucas trashed the mythology of Star Wars and proved he was not to be trusted. The questions the audience might come up with, we know he had not thought of. This is a sad realisation as the mythology of these films were important to me as a child, but up to scrutiny they do not stand.

Which brings us to the Disney sequels who have the challenge now of building upon and within the mythology of Star Wars the foundation of which is rotting due to a complete lack of a binding agent, a damp-proof membrane and a backfill of hardcore (these are foundation metaphors.) It seems the sequels at this point may be content to rely on nostalgia:

Or as with Rogue One content to rely on iconography to the point that it feels like a 100 million dollar fan film covering up plot holes:

Part of the challenge Disney faces is that they cannot repeat any idea for the sequels that were in the countless novels, comic books, video games, or even well known fan fiction and that takes up a lot of the good and logical ideas. They have been left with a broken mythology that leaves film geeks who worship ‘detail’ like characters names that are never named to speculate on the holes that are left by Lucas’ lazy writing:

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The Force Awakens had every right to be a lot worse than it was because of all the things it had to achieve, particularly cleansing the palette after the prequels – they really had both arms tied behind their back with it. I am somewhat hopeful as to where new writers might be able to take it, but I think the challenge is insurmountable and the so called studio-eschewing maverick auteur George Lucas didn’t do the world building necessary – how will this be done more effectively by the corporate committee at Disney? How can we trust that these new writers (who have grown up as fans) can present a coherent mythology when the original creator couldn’t? We cannot give them the authority of our trust, which means all the sequels are destined to feel like elaborate fan fiction.

I think they could possibly do some interesting things with force-wielding characters that are predicated more on the notion of duality rather than black and white delineations between the dark side and the Jedi, but unfortunately these films will be successful no matter what and it is likely that the chances of a cohesive mythology being maintained with impenetrable internal logic is something we are now far, far away from and maybe we should have given up a long, long time ago.

The Life of an Artist: Paterson & Inside Llewyn Davis

“At times I’m an artist, at most other times, I’m nothing – Charles Bukowski

“You don’t necessarily have to write to be a poet. Some people work in gas stations and they’re poets.” – Bob Dylan

Two of my favourite modern films both deal with a week in the life of a creative person who is not shown to be a success in terms of acclaim or financial success but who are nonetheless living the life of an artist. Both films show this life in an unusual way, most often a film about an artist or creative person is biopic of a famous person or a fictional version thereof. This means films about artists see them striving for recognition and monetary gain more often than not. In Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson we have someone content with their ‘ordinary’ life and whose art is shown as a very important part of that life but not some all consuming obsession and in the Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis we have a character on the cusp of success who unlike Paterson is trying to make his living with his art and for various reasons to be discussed cannot attain it.

There is often a lacking in cinematic distinction in portraying the act of creativity – the end product is what is exciting not watching someone write or paint at a desk. It was easier for the Coen’s to present the creativity of Llewyn since his art was performance based, faced with a harder challenge Jarmusch presents in Paterson the best depiction of the creative process of writing that I have seen on film.

The film shows that for Paterson when it comes to writing his poems it is not the few minutes it takes – the actual action of writing (which is what most films try to dramatise) but the preoccupation that led to the writing, the hours, days, weeks spent thinking about it or feeling a certain way before the writing has started and then continuing the thought process once you have started the poem/song/whatever until when it comes to sitting down to writing the words can’t help but pour out of you in a way that seems magical but is more likely the invisible whirring of the subconscious.

I found Paterson incredibly moving because I recognised the characters relationship with his own creativity to be similar to my own. He gains such a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from the process of writing that the end product – while not irrelevant is certainly not as important as the journey of creative action that takes place internally. Perhaps for an outsider the end product is the most important thing, that recognition or a personal standard of quality is necessary for the act to be worth the time and effort. For Paterson and I though, we are happy to take part in creative endeavours and build a simple and pleasant life around it rather than trying to be completely defined by it or driven by some kind of end goal when the act in of itself is already its own reward.

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Creativity is inherently seen as a grandiose act and describing yourself as a Poet or writer or musician a bold statement that can be taken as a signifier or pretentiousness, ego, delusion or vanity but it needn’t be. Perhaps Paterson is reluctant to call himself a poet because of these potential negative connotations, I think the film also makes clear that being a bus driver and a poet are not mutually exclusive concepts and that no-one is completely defined by one thing they do. With the famous artists we admire it is natural we only think of them as artists since we do not know them personally, because of this we have come to think of the creative process as an absolute and that little else matters to the artist – Paterson with its focus on the routine of the character’s daily routine shows that regular life is just as important and beautiful.

Paterson’s girlfriend is eager for him to attempt to get his work published but his reluctance to even make copies of his hand written poems to me backs up what I have suggested. Being unable to monetize or to share his work could easily be seen as failure or as a sign of wasted potential but to the creative person, the work and process is exempt from these kind of judgements. This is not the case with Inside Llewyn Davis as the character clearly announces himself as a professional artist and his lack of commercial success and recognition leads him to hate what he does.

Inside Llewyn Davis is very unusual in that it is not about someone who is considered remarkable, most films about musicians present talent as an ethereal and God given and therefore the rise to fame is presented as destiny written in the stars. Davis is ostensibly a failure and at times not even a likeable one, this led many to be turned off by the film – by the coldness of this, but Llewyn Davis is a far more interesting character for not achieving success and in fact his inability to do so is fundamentally in character.

The Coen’s had trouble casting the part of Llewyn. They needed a great actor and an equally great musician to convincingly play the part. The actors they tried did not have the musical capability (listen to Casey Affleck’s hilarious story of trying to bluff his way to the part) https://youtu.be/ZGzTSnlVI68?t=1468)  so they tried musicians but Conor Oberst, Jack White, Scott Avett all failed to impress with their acting. They finally found the remarkably talented Oscar Isaac, now Llewyn was handsome and had a lovely singing voice but he is not destined for fame and fortune. The casting problems show to me that the Coen’s intended it to be clear that it was not his talent that holds Llewyn back and if my top played tracks from last year are anything to go by it is very pleasing to hear Llewyn’s music.

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The film was partially inspired by the life of Dave Van Ronk who was widely respected in the cafes and clubs of Greenwich village and in fact considered to be among the best if not the best guitar players, performers and arrangers, but despite this he never achieved crossover success and it was Bob Dylan who emerged from this scene to international fame and glory although if you had listened to Dylan and Van Ronk on the same night in the winter of 1961 you may have been baffled that the assured, seasoned and boomingly powerful voice and guitar of Van Ronk would be usurped by the green Robert Zimmerman.

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The Coen’s find reasons for that failure through the fictional Llewyn. Other than his often abrasive attitude, I find there are two main reasons for his lack of success – his inability to make his art/performance truly personal and the strive for authenticity within the realm of folk music. What set the young Bob Dylan apart (whose silhouette at the end of the film is loaded with significance) was writing his own songs – this was not necessarily welcomed by the serious folk musician, changing a line or adding a verse was ok but to abandon the cause of preserving the tradition of this ‘passed down’ and sacred music was unacceptable. Folk musicians at the time could certainly be accused of taking themselves very seriously, as we see with nearly all musical genres they had a preoccupation with defining what was real folk music and what wasn’t – how adding extra instruments to this song or singing that song that way either was or wasn’t ‘real folk music.’

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The fact was thought that most of these musicians were middle class and white and they had not learned the songs in the way songs had been learned decades before passed down the generations through osmosis and tradition but in books and on records – both means of recording meaning they would live forever so to speak whereas before they only existed if they were performed. Their playing and singing of this music was not simply entertainment – they were guards of cultural heritage doing important work. Of course most people want entertainment, this is why when Llewyn plays for manager Bud Grossman he chooses an earnest English ballad – The Death Of Queen Jane and while he plays it beautifully as Grossman says “I don’t see any money here.” We also saw him mock the song he plays guitar on ‘Please, Mr Kennedy” and give up what would become vast royalties for a paltry sum no doubt due to his lack of respect for this original composition.

Grossman then offers Llewyn a spot in what would become Peter, Paul & Mary a manufactured group that would turn folk music into pop hits and would launch Bob Dylan when they covered his ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (this is taken from the life of Van Ronk) but Llewyn does not consider this to be authentic and does not accept (he has earlier chastised Carey Mulligan’s character for being careerist despite clearly wanting success.)

This scene is also key for me in that he chooses a song that does not have personal relevance to him. Despite the title and despite Grossman’s request for him to play something from “Inside Llewyn Davis” we really do not get to see inside, his performances are polished and practiced but they do not reveal vulnerability or his internal life. We get close to this when at the end he once again sings ‘Dink’s Song’ but without his dead partner, but perhaps Llewyn would need to write his own songs as Bob Dylan did – instead he is stuck in purgatory which the time bending cyclical narrative seems to suggest. In contrast Paterson’s week is a mini-utopia, Davis does not gain the satisfaction from his creativity that Paterson does, in the two films we see a beautiful depiction of art for art’s sake and the happiness and contentment this can bring and we see the potential hollowness in trying to monetize one’s art and the existential despair this brings.

2016: My Year of Film

It is a sign of a good year when the top ten list is difficult to put together, there are lots of films that could easily be included that I loved this year.

Top Ten Films 2016

  1. The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)
  2. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
  3. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)
  4. Where To Invade Next (Michael Moore)
  5. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson)
  6. Hunt For The Wilderpeople (Taiki Waititi)
  7. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
  8. Rams (Grímur Hákonarson)
  9. The Witch (Robert Eggers)
  10. The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson)

Among the honourable mentions:

Mustang, Güeros, The Nice Guys, The Neon Demon, The Conjuring 2, Nocturnal Animals, Under The Shadow, Maggie’s Plan, Green Room, The Big Short, Blue Jay, Disorder and The Brand New Testament.

In spite of the usual summer drought I would count this as a very good year for film going. Of course I avoid films I know I won’t like so a worst of list would be redundant – my big disappointment of the year was the Coen’s Hail, Ceaser!

I have kept track of all the films I have seen this year in my physical film journal and here they are in chronological order.

Films seen at the Cinema will be red.

When it is a First Viewing of a film it will be bold & italicised for necessary emphasis.

  1. Short Term 12 (USA, 2013)
  2. White God (Hungary, 2014) 
  3. Uncle Buck (USA, 1989)
  4. The Double Life of Veronique (France/Poland, 1991)
  5. Groundhog Day (USA, 1993)
  6. When Harry Met Sally (USA, 1989)
  7. Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (USA, 1971)
  8. Lars and the Real Girl (USA/Canda, 2007)
  9. The Hateful Eight (USA, 2015)
  10. Raiders of the Lost Ark (USA, 1981)
  11. Volver (Spain, 2006)
  12. Trainwreck (USA, 2015)
  13. Support Your Local Sheriff (USA, 1969)
  14. The Big Short (USA, 2015)
  15. The Hateful Eight (USA, 2015)
  16. The Big Lebowski (USA, 1998)
  17. The Truman Show (USA, 1998)
  18. Juno (USA, 2007)
  19. Starry Eyes (USA, 2014) 
  20. Trumbo (USA, 2015)
  21. Sleeping Beauty (USA, 1959)
  22. Key Largo (USA, 1948)
  23. The Revenant (USA, 2015)
  24. Don’t Look Back (USA, 1967)
  25. Spotlight (USA/Canada, 2015)
  26. Death Proof (USA, 2007)
  27. The Conformist (Italy, 1970)
  28. Güeros (Mexico, 2014)
  29. Grease (USA, 1978)
  30. Murder By Numbers (USA, 2002)
  31. A Few Good Men (USA, 1992)
  32. The Waterboy (USA, 1998)
  33. Blood Simple (USA, 1984)
  34. Miller’s Crossing (USA, 1990)
  35. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (USA, 2015)
  36. Bone Tomahawk (USA/UK, 2015)
  37. Barton Fink (USA, 1991)
  38. Fargo (USA, 1996)
  39. O Brother Where Art Thou? (USA, 2000)
  40. The Assassin (China, 2015)
  41. Life (USA, 2015)
  42. Canadian Bacon (USA, 1995)
  43. The Man Who Wasn’t There (USA, 2001)
  44. Casablanca (USA, 1942)
  45. Intolerable Cruelty (USA, 2003)
  46. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (USA, 2015)
  47. The Ladykillers (USA, 2004)
  48. Manhattan (USA, 1979)
  49. Disorder (France, 2015)
  50. The Forbidden Room (Canada, 2015)
  51. A Serious Man (USA, 2009)
  52. Inside Llewyn Davis (USA, 2013)
  53. The Witch (USA/UK, 2015)
  54. Do the Right Thing (USA, 1989)
  55. REC 2 (Spain, 2009)
  56. Once Upon a Time In America (USA, 1984)
  57. Rams (Iceland, 2015)
  58. 12 Angry Men (USA, 1957)
  59. Fight Club (USA, 1999)
  60. Anomalisa (USA, 2015)
  61. Force Majeure (Sweden, 2014)
  62. Hail, Caesar! (USA, 2016)
  63. Steve Jobs (USA, 2015)
  64. Creed (USA, 2015)
  65. Demolition (USA, 2015)
  66. Burden Of Dreams (USA, 1982)
  67. Strangers On A Train (USA, 1951)
  68. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (USA, 2007)
  69. My Best Fiend (Germany, 1999)
  70. It Follows (USA, 2014)
  71. What We Do In the Shadows (New Zealand, 2014)
  72. The Voices (USA, 2014)
  73. The Brand New Testament (Belgium/France, 2015)
  74. King Jack (USA, 2015)
  75. Monsieur Verdoux (USA, 1947)
  76. My Winnipeg (Canada, 2007)
  77. Green Room (USA, 2015)
  78. Safety Last! (USA, 1923)
  79. Never Sleep Again:The Elm Street Legacy (USA, 2010)
  80. The Petrified Forest (USA, 1936)
  81. The Reckless Moment (USA, 1949)
  82. Bull Durham (USA, 1988)
  83. 99 Homes (USA, 2014)
  84. The Amityville Horror (USA, 2005)
  85. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (Canada/USA, 2010)
  86. 21 Jump Street (USA, 2012)
  87. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (USA, 1978)
  88. Atlantic City (Canada/France, 1980)
  89. Pandora’s Box (Germany, 1929)
  90. Ran (Japan/France, 1985)
  91. Written on the Wind (USA, 1956)
  92. Hud (USA, 1963)
  93. Rumble Fish (USA, 1983)
  94. Grease (USA, 1978)
  95. The Straight Story (USA, 1999)
  96. Creep (USA, 2014)
  97. Team Foxcatcher (USA, 2016)
  98. Mustang (France/Turkey, 2015)
  99. The Nice Guys (USA, 2016)
  100. Where To Invade Next (USA, 2015)
  101. Starlet (USA, 2012)
  102. His Girl Friday (USA, 1940)
  103. Some Like It Hot (USA, 1959)
  104. Jurassic Park (USA, 1993)
  105. The Grand Budapest Hotel (USA, 2014)
  106. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (Italy/Spain, 1966)
  107. It Happened One Night (USA, 1934)
  108. These Amazing Shadows (USA, 2011)
  109. The Conjuring 2 (USA, 2016)
  110. Mississippi Grind (USA, 2015)
  111. Just Jim (UK, 2015)
  112. Girlhood (France, 2014)
  113. Big Trouble In Little China (USA, 1986)
  114. Teen Wolf (USA, 1985)
  115. Andrei Rublev (Russia, 1966)
  116. Gremlins (USA, 1984)
  117. Embrace of the Serpent (Columbia/Argentina, 2015)
  118. The Gold Rush (USA, 1925)
  119. Steamboat Bill Jr. (USA, 1928)
  120. The Neon Demon (USA/Denmark/France, 2016)
  121. Solaris (Russia, 1972)
  122. Ghostbusters (USA, 2016)
  123. Maggie’s Plan (USA, 2015)
  124. Notes on Blindness (UK, 2016)
  125. Mirror (Russia, 1975)
  126. Grandma (USA, 2015)
  127. The Invitation (USA, 2015)
  128. The Wrecking Crew (USA, 2008)
  129. My Friend Rockefeller (Germany/USA, 2015)
  130. Cobain: Montage of Heck (USA, 2015)
  131. The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (USA, 2015)
  132. Barfly (USA, 1987)
  133. Husbands and Wives (USA, 1992)
  134. Lights Out (USA, 2016)
  135. Godzilla (Japan, 1954)
  136. From Here To Eternity (USA, 1953)
  137. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (USA, 1958 )
  138. High Noon (USA, 1952)
  139. Cafe Society (USA, 2016)
  140. Spy (USA, 2015)
  141. Touch Of Evil (USA, 1958)
  142. Captain Fantastic (USA, 2016)
  143. Blair Witch (USA/Canada, 2016)
  144. Annie Hall (USA, 1977)
  145. Hell or High Water (USA, 2016)
  146. The Sweet Smell Of Success (USA, 1957)
  147. Hunt For the Wilderpeople (New Zealand, 2016)
  148. Unfaithfully Yours (USA, 1948)
  149. The Fog (USA, 1980)
  150. Mildred Pierce (USA, 1945)
  151. El Sur (France/Spain, 1983)
  152. Don’t Breathe (USA, 2016)
  153. Under the Shadow (Iran/UK, 2016)
  154. All About Eve (USA, 1950)
  155. Sunset Boulevard (USA, 1950)
  156. Queen of Katwe (USA, 2016)
  157. Carrie (USA, 1976)
  158. Insidious (USA, 2010)
  159. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (USA, 1976)
  160. Paranormal Activity (USA, 2007)
  161. The Blair Witch Project (USA, 1999)
  162. The Invisible Man (USA, 1933)
  163. Insidious: Chapter 2 (USA, 2013)
  164. The Thing (USA, 1982)
  165. Silence Of the Lambs (USA, 1991)
  166. Nocturnal Animals (USA, 2016)
  167. Mermaids (USA, 1990)
  168. Midnight Special (USA/Greece, 2016)
  169. 10 Cloverfield Lane (USA, 2016)
  170. Ouija: Origins Of Evil (USA, 2016)
  171. Citizen Kane (USA, 1941)
  172. The Color Of Money (USA, 1986)
  173. The End Of the Tour (USA, 2015)
  174. Take This Waltz (Canada, 2011)
  175. The Boy (USA, 2016)
  176. Welcome To Me (USA, 2014)
  177. Arrival (USA, 2016)
  178. A Monster Calls (UK/USA/Spain, 2016)
  179. Peeping Tom (UK, 1960)
  180. Blue Jay (USA, 2016)
  181. Paterson (USA, 2016)
  182. Amanda Knox (USA, 2016)
  183. Sorry, Wrong Number (USA, 1948)
  184. The Grinch (USA, 2000)
  185. Bad Santa (USA, 2003)
  186. The Overnighters (USA, 2014)
  187. It’s a Wonderful Life (USA, 1946)
  188. No Man Of Her Own (USA, 1950)
  189. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (USA, 2016)
  190. Charlie Wilson’s War (USA, 2007)
  191. Maggie’s Plan (USA, 2015)
  192. The Witch (USA/UK, 2015)

Made using TurboCollage from www.TurboCollage.com

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Compared to 2015

At 192, I watched 4 more films than in 2015. I watched 120 films for the first time and 72 were repeat viewings. Last year I watched 109 for the first time – 79 were revisits, so a slight increase in first time viewings. As Guillermo Del Toro says the first viewing of a film is simply a first date.

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In 2015 I went to the cinema 42 times, 8 times to watch re-releases and 6 were foreign language films.

This year I went to the cinema 51 times, 8 times to watch re-releases and 13 were foreign language films. I am pleased with the significant increase from last year and although there was quite a few films I missed at nearly once a week I am doing pretty well. The BFI’s Tarkovsky season gave me the chance to see his films for the first time on the big screen and I continued my annual tradition of seeing It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen, my favourite re-release was Akira Kurosawa’s Ran

I watched 23 foreign language films which is the same total as last year, I would like to increase that number in 2017.

Loneliness and Cinephilia

“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence”. – Thomas Wolfe  

“Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” – Taxi Driver

What is it that drives some people to become cinephiles? For most people movies are a means of simple escapism and mainly for entertainment purposes. Some go beyond this with a more sophisticated appreciation as film as art but they do not necessarily have an abundance of knowledge and lack the time and or inclination to engage with the medium enough that it could be considered a major defining aspect of their identity.

The most obvious reason one may become an obsessed cinephile (or a film geek – that is a preoccupation with mainstream cinema) is the aesthetic value, the cultural significance, the emotional resonance and the sheer power that great cinema can have. It is like no other medium, a markedly different experience from TV, theatre and books – there is so much that only film can achieve. Visceral, ethereal, beautiful, brutal, shocking, glorious, consciousness expanding cinema. Why then is it only certain people who are drawn in so completely by film that they want to spend such a great deal of time watching, reading and writing about film? I believe the great common denominator between cinephiles is loneliness.

The foundations of my love of cinema were laid early in childhood with my mother taking me to the cinema to see Disney classics which left an indelible mark on me and are among my first memories, not just the films themselves but the feeling of being in that dark auditorium, the carpet in the lobby, the smell of popcorn. I would only call my interest in films slightly above average in my early teens however, it wasn’t until a bit later that I truly dived in head first coming up for air less and less.

I had left education after high school where I did not enjoy myself and was working at a laser tag centre and I was trying to come to terms with my shifting sense of self, the heartbreak of unrequited love and a deep sense of alienation. It was at this point with disposable income and a very strong desire for escapism that I began to develop my interest in seeing the canon of great films – the scope of which would grow and grow the more I watched. I was spending most of my time not at work alone and most of that time I dedicated to watching films and when you are starting out you have so many amazing films to discover – watching Scorsese, the Coen’s, David Lynch, the Godfather, Annie Hall, 2001: A Space Odyssey and so many more all the first time was constantly mind blowing and only opened up further avenues to explore. Film was becoming art to me, evaluated on a higher plane than simply whether or not it entertained me. After a year or so of this indoctrination as a cinephile I decided to go back to do A-Levels so I could study Film at University.

I felt separate from the world. Watching films was a means of seeking connection, I could get a sense of different places and different ways of life – things I was missing out on in my isolation/alienation and things that were completely different from my experience and perspective. This idea of seeking connection through film can also be explored through the prism of the Jungian collective unconscious whereby we inherently share certain aspects of psychological makeup – film artists attempt to reconcile these memories, dreams and feelings and put them on screen. This deep human desire for connection can be partly fulfilled by watching many films and is also convenient for the social outcast whether that distinction is by choice or dictate.

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Also pertinent to my feelings of alienation, separateness and therefore loneliness was the idea of voyeurism. Not being part of the world, literally on the outside looking in – Cinema can be the great refuge of the disenfranchised and it can nourish and encourage this voyeuristic tendency. Watching other people live their lives, watching their love and struggle – even finding kindred spirits in the nebbish cinephile characters of Woody Allen or God’s lonely man Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. I remember driving around at night similarly to Travis just observing the night life, my fascination only outweighed by repulsion – I felt like a ghost in the world, an observer, not a participant.

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Another aspect that I feel comes along with loneliness is low self-esteem. Becoming a cinephile and gaining that sense of superiority through the cultural capital of advanced taste and knowledge gives the illusion of and can replace actual achievement in someone’s life. If thinking negatively cinephilia could be considered a passive, misguided and even pathetic attempt to gain self-worth through obsessive film watching.

My love of cinema continued even as I felt less lonely and more connected to the world and while I do still feel quite a deep sense of alienation it is not as acute or defining as it was when I was younger. It was certainly loneliness that fuelled and developed my cinephilia, but now that fire is burning and it is hard to put out, just when the flames seem to be petering out the passion comes back with gasoline. I believe that this loneliness that I felt is a major driving force of any film obsessive’s origin story.

Once we have been sucked in by the initial incendiary of loneliness and our status as cinephile is full-fledged, even if those negative feelings eventually dissipate, it is too late – we have gone too far down into the rabbit hole. Further and further we go, the amount of time it takes to watch all the films we are interested in is socially  prohibitive. New, classic, cult, esoteric, re-watching favourites, the obscure, the popular – the more we watch the more the list, rather than shrinking, grows exponentially. Just watched Andrei Rublev? Now I have to see all of Tarkovsky, just watched Teen Wolf? Now I need to have a high school movies season. Add to that the time taken by reading, writing and talking about film and cinephilia certainly comes at the cost of a full social life. Perhaps that suits the lonely and alienated down to the ground – whether it is preventative or is a replacement of a pre-existing lack. In the style of Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder are we lonely because we are cinephiles or cinephiles because we are lonely?

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How Technology is Eroding the Specialness of Film

Something you don’t understand when you’re young is how the world you grew up in will gradually vanish and be incrementally replaced until you finally no longer recognise it.

That is what technology has done to the specialness of Film in my lifetime.

Technology in general tends to advance without anyone asking what the impact will be and whether we in fact want or need the thing it is replacing to be replaced. The pertinent question when it comes to Film is accessibility which has been greatly improved by the advancing technology of streaming, proliferation of cable channels and VOD services. Accessibility is ostensibly a good thing and for some people the convenience of this technology means that they don’t miss out on films that they would otherwise be too time poor to be able to see -the sacrifice and the effort it used to take to seek out a film not possible.

The convenience factor is also good for people who are not that into film, which is most people. For the average majority the erosion of the specialness of films and the loss of ritual surrounding the acquisition and watching of them is a non-issue. They are happy to be passive receivers of content rather than actively engaged and for many a film is simply something on in the background, to kill time, something they are only invested in to be lightly entertained briefly and then forget about. These people see no difference in quality or aesthetic value between a film and a binge watched TV series and therefore do not hold Film in any kind of esteem. Those people probably aren’t reading this blog.

The three main ways of watching films when I was growing up were in the cinema, from the video shop(Until the mid 90’s tapes were prohibitively expensive to own) or on television.

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There was a sense of urgency to see a film you were excited about at the cinema not only for the immeasurably better immersive big screen experience but because the VHS release  could often be up to a year later, rather than the few months that we have to wait now, that essentially turns the cinema run into a marketing campaign for the DVD/blu-ray release. This short wait has hit cinemas hard and has made it difficult to convince people to spend the equivalent price that they could pay to own the film only a few months later. This has meant fewer and fewer examples of big event cinema and the saturation of franchises and existing intellectual property which now dominate the dwindling overall box office. Constant underwhelming box office performance of films with original ideas lead me to question – would a high concept original film like The Matrix be made under today’s conditions? Highly unlikely.

I am of the belief that cinema will become a niche attraction as the multiplex business model simply won’t survive as streaming gains more and more steam, the only cinemas left will be small and independent aimed at the aficionado and not the masses and that this will happen within 10-15 years if not sooner. Technology makes it ever more tempting for people to avoid the long queues and the exponentially extortionate ticket prices.

U.S. Anticipates Return Of "The Man Of Steel"

Sean Parker who fundamentally changed the music industry with Napster has recently announced a new project allowing people to stream first-run films in correspondence with the cinema release (small releases are already routinely available on the same day on VOD) that could prove fatal to cinemas.

While watching Raider’s of the Lost Ark my girlfriend told me a story about how any time Indiana Jones was on TV there would be a shout from one of her siblings and they would all rush down to watch it. This was pre-cable television with dozens of films to choose from at any given time and it made the film appointment viewing. She told me how she and sister used to go through the Radio Times to find films to watch (being particularly drawn to 5 star reviews.)

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Before VHS came along this was the only way you could revisit films after their initial theatrical run unless they were re-released, you might even cancel plans to watch them. Now you would simply record them on your DVR and let it sit there unwatched for a couple of years.

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That rush of excitement my girlfriend and her siblings felt when finding out an Indiana Jones film would be on is gone forever, now it is much easier for kids to see their favourite films but is that really better? Especially considering they likely take this ease of access for granted. Can anyone truly feel excited for a film now given the fact you can basically watch any film, anytime, anywhere and I’ve not even mentioned illegal downloads!

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I have already written about the ritual of going to the video shop in my blog about the downfall of blockbuster, needless to reiterate it was a very important part of my life and is something I sorely miss. Renting a film and having a finite amount of time to watch it, while inconvenient, gave the act an imperative much like TV scheduling. It was also more of an event – to go out and choose something and come back home to immediately watch it rather than adding it to a queue or buying a DVD to sit on the shelf.

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With Netflix and other streaming sites the platform has become more important than the content and if anything binge-watchable series are more valuable then feature films. I find scrolling through Netflix to be often tedious and the constant availability means that I have no incentive to watch films that I am interested in on any given night because I could watch them any time I end up not watching them at all, letting them linger in ‘My List’ until they eventually expire without me noticing. I find the sometimes overwhelming choice actually ends up narrowing the selection and I often end up turning it off haven given up on the idea of watching a film.

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Technology has made watching films easier than ever, a click of a button away,  but the cost of this is that now the films themselves are nothing special, nothing to be excited for, the agonising anticipation I felt waiting for Jurassic Park to come out on video lost forever. Now distribution is easier than ever but getting people to watch and care about the content is harder in a way that will be ultimately detrimental to the film industry and to us the audience.

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Why is it exciting to hear the chimes of an ice cream van? Because it is non-permanent, finite, fleeting. Ice cream is always available at the supermarket but it won’t ever taste as good as after you’ve ran out to the van.

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That’s how I feel about film. TV is now arguably more culturally important than Film and that is a very bad sign for film. With technology eroding its specialness – will it be able to survive as anything other than a niche medium in years to come?

 

A Wrestling Picture – With That Barton Fink Feeling

I watched Barton Fink again a few months ago it is a film I love and as I have before I found myself infuriated with Barton as he refuses to listen to John Goodman’s character who could give him real insight into his assignment of writing a wrestling picture. The question of whether Barton is a talent who is selling his soul to Hollywood or whether he is simply a self important hack is ambiguous in the film but judging by the reaction of the Capitol Studios boss to his script he failed to write a good wrestling picture.

So I thought to myself – could I write a wrestling picture? One with that Barton Fink feeling? My attempts at scriptwriting have never gone well, the only one I ever completed was based on Bruce Springsteen’s song “Highway Patrolman,” the day I finished it I watched “The Indian Runner” directed by Sean Penn only to see in the opening credits “Inspired by Highway Patrolman by Bruce Springsteen” :/

So here is my loose treatment, I think i lack the discipline to write a full script, it’s a wrestling picture what do ya want a road map?

Treatment

A film about a wrestler and his journey to a world title fight.

In the world of the film wrestling is real – the theatrics are present but there is no question that it is real. The actual wrestling scenes would be “strong style”[1] [i]harkening back to the  simulation of combat and competition rather than co-operative performance – although occasional spectacular “High Spots”[2] could work.

CABE MACKSON  wrestled in high school but in the county championships he chokes and loses, his untimely failure was in front of College scouts and he misses out on a scholarship, ending  up working a dead end job with his glory and potential left in his youth.

(To rise this above cliché the despondency and misery of this ordinary life must be palpable – like with Raging Bull the pain he feels in the ring must be secondary to this pain of failure and a life of mediocrity and wasted potential. It would give a reason as to why he is willing to put his body through the training and the beatings in the ring.)

The emphasis would be that this is real competition. Therefore the reality of wrestling as a sport would mean it would blend with amateur wrestling and the route to college and then the pros as with other sports. The difference between amateur and professional wrestling would be highlighted –  a point being made that not everyone is cut out to be a professional as it is much more of a fight – a blend of technique and toughness, whereas amateur wrestling is much more structured and less dangerous. Essentially this is the real world equivalent to amateur wrestlers moving into MMA which doesn’t exist in the world of the film.

When CABE MACKSON first gets back into trying to wrestle, it is purely monetary – the equivalent of a journeyman boxer, the fact he did not go to college assuring the promoters he will lose – building the star power of their feature stars. He will take severe beatings and lose badly.  We will see the toll that losing takes physically and on his soul. One of the men he loses to is someone he defeated with ease in high school, this is too much for him and he quits his day job at great financial risk (kid, dame?) in order to train full time – after being spotted in his last losing effort by the manager of the man who defeated him in the county championships, he is told he must face him as he is being lined up for a world title shot but must first get a couple more wins, CABE is seen as easy pickings and the manager and PROMOTER want an easy squash match[3] – CABE knows this and it is spurring on his training and determination.

The PROMOTER  obviously does not want this nobody to win the match, spoiling the momentum of his upcoming title match. When CABE is victorious  the PROMOTER is furious and vows to drive him out of the sport by making his life hell. CABE has  to face stacked decks (classic babyface booking ensues[4]) all the while the crowd get more and more behind him  as they see his passion, determination and improvement with every match. The crowd’s reaction to CABE forces the promoters hand into eventually relenting and he gives CABE the opportunity to win a title shot. He does win this Number  1 contenders match – but now he faces his biggest challenge, the national champion heel[5] who is an undefeated hulking monster[6] in the main event at the biggest event of the year.

CABE MACKSON is physically exhausted after having to run the promoters gauntlet, while the champion lives the high life. He is fearful that he will choke again as with the county championship, that after all he has achieved he will back at square one with familiar failure – the whiff of glory but not the taste.

The match is epic and he comes incredibly close to winning several times, he takes a massive amount of punishment and keeps coming back. He hits the monster with everything he has and it is nearly enough but not quite. The monster hits his finishing move[7], CABE kicks out, the monster hits a second time, kick out, a third time – everything goes dark.

The arena has emptied, we see the bloodied/bruised/ champion getting into a limo with the promoter and his championship belt on his shoulder.

Our hero CABE MACKSON is in the locker room, he appears despondent, head in his hands, blood dripping softly. We assume the worst about his mental state. But he is smiling. He mutters to himself “I didn’t choke, I didn’t choke” –  We flash back to a promo[8] he cut before the match about choking being so much more painful than losing, knowing you could have performed so much better, beating yourself rather than being beaten and the frustration of this mental weakness no matter how physically strong you get.

Therefore we know that CABE performed the best he could and even though he was beaten he has conquered his demons. We flashback to him emerging from unconsciousness with the fans in the arena on their feet cheering him wildly “MACK-SON, MACK-SON, MACK-SON” – in defeat CABE has achieved his life’s biggest victory.

In his Limo the exhausted and angry monster champion demands a promise from the promoter that there will be no rematch – cut to earlier,  the promoter is  watching the crowd’s ovation – implying CABE MACKSON will get another shot at the title.

The film ends with our hero training hard in the gym, he looks contented.

 

Footnotes

[1] A Japanese-inspired professional wrestling style that is worked, yet aims to deliver realistic performances, through strong martial arts strikes and worked shoots.

[2] Any planned action or series of actions in a match. A “high spot” is a particularly exciting move.

[3] An extremely one-sided, usually short match.

[4] Babyface: A wrestler positioned as a hero, who the crowd are typically cheering for in a match. Often simply known as a “face” Book: To determine and schedule the events of a wrestling card. The person in charge of setting up matches and writing angles is a “booker” It is the wrestling equivalent of a screenwriter.

[5] A wrestler who is villainous, who is booked to be booed by fans.

[6] An extremely powerful, seemingly unbeatable wrestler, either face or heel, who often wins matches in a quick, one-sided manner.(Andre the Giant, Brock Lesnar)

[7] A wrestler’s signature move that usually leads to the pinfall or submission.

[8] An in-character interview or monologue.