The Best Thing About ‘The Shape Of Water’ Will Lead To An Inevitable Backlash

 

“We live in times in which we fear emotion; we shy away from speaking these principles – we don’t want to risk sounding silly (one sounds far more sophisticated if expounding cynicism) and naive.”

– Guillermo Del Toro

“Irony and cynicism were just what the U.S. hypocrisy of the fifties and sixties called for. That’s what made the early postmodernists great artists. The great thing about irony is that it splits things apart, gets up above them so we can see the flaws and hypocrisies and duplicates. Sarcasm, parody, absurdism and irony are great ways to strip off stuff’s mask and show the unpleasant reality behind it. The problem is that once the rules of art are debunked, and once the unpleasant realities the irony diagnoses are revealed and diagnosed, “then” what do we do? Irony’s useful for debunking illusions, but most of the illusion-debunking in the U.S. has now been done and redone. Postmodern irony and cynicism’s become an end in itself, a measure of hip sophistication and literary savvy. Few artists dare to try to talk about ways of working toward redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naive to all the weary ironists. Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.”

– David Foster Wallace.

The quality I most admire in Guillermo Del Toro’s new film The Shape Of Water is its sincerity. This is something that is sadly lacking in our culture where we celebrate cynicism, post-modernism and irony so much so that sincerity has lost all of its value – it is actively avoided and heavily criticised, pejoratively dismissed as naivety. Sentimentality too is considered as an inherently poor quality or as cheap – today I find the tendency towards cynicism to be just as pandering as focus on emotion is condemned as being.

As The Shape Of Water was nominated for 13 Oscars I was both pleased to see it recognised and bracing myself for the grindingly predictable cynical responses that come when a film like this is introduced to a wider audience, into the superficial Internet meme culture and into a culture where people enjoy their own sense of superiority over art (now more than when David Foster Wallace wrote about the culture-ruining power of irony in the 90’s) and especially over art they can dismiss as sentimental – again as if the act of labelling something means its inherent value is fixed.

Today sincerity and a genuine focus on the emotional is so much harder to do and so much braver an artistic gambit than post-modernism, irony and cynicism, yet it is not only valued below those, it is routinely derided and completely rejected.

The Shape Of Water is particularly vulnerable to our cynical culture with its need to quickly label, dismiss and mock, due to the ridiculous when de-contextualised one sentence synopsis of the film.

In post Oscar nomination discussions I have already heard the film dismissed predictably as “The Fish Sex Movie.” And while I try not to let other people spoil things that are precious to me, it does give me pangs of sadness to think of this beautiful film reduced in this way. So as a form of self-care here is a quick rundown on why The Shape Of Water is not “The Fish Sex Movie.”

Fish

Firstly to say nothing of the amazing technical feat that the creature design is from modelling, to VFX to Doug Jones’s performance, if you come away from watching the film and think of the creature who is spoken of as an ancient and as a God – if your takeaway from the romance with Sally Hawkins’ Eliza is that the creature is a “Fish,” if you look at it this superficial, two-dimensional, dull, philistine way – then I have no recourse but to list that under your shortcomings rather than the films.

Sex

Given the films incredibly rare positive depiction/representation of female sexuality that is beautifully executed early on, it is a shame that sex is being highlighted in a sensationalist, sarcastic, mocking way – as if the perversity of it is the main point of the film.

Crucially the sex that takes place between Eliza and the creature is not shown as perverse – it is not a bestiality fantasy or a macabre shock value spectacle, it is not the climax the film builds towards, it is not what the film is about despite the lazy and derisive perspective of the cynical. As shown in the film it is a natural extension and expression of love – the genuine and sincere love story that Del Toro is telling.

The sex between the main characters is deliberately contrasted with the sex the villainoius character has, which is heterosexual and missionary but couldn’t be more perverse and ugly. Of course there will be those who just can’t get their heads round what is being depicted, but even then to summarily dismiss the film and define it by this one element is unfair.

Movie

To focus on just the sex is to rob the film of not only its technical achievements in visual storytelling, but to ignore what the film is doing thematically beyond its wonderful central romance. It is truly a genre synthesis – not a genre hybrid, but something completely new made of older elements. There really is no true originality left in art – being able to take things from classic film, from fairy tale, from art and from those inspirations present something that is not derivative and cannot be directly and succinctly compared to any other text is no easy task.

By setting the film in 1962 – roughly the time which is thought of when “Make America Great Again” is espoused and showing the social problems of that time, Del Toro is clearly commenting on Trump’s America. In their non-sanitised original versions fairy tales are born of dark times, dealing with unspeakable miseries, with this modern fairy tale Del Toro unapologetically and sincerely offers love as the only truth and the only solution. Batten down the hatches.

“Our dialogue with film mostly is now about the drama – plot, script and character and I so appreciate when someone pushes that…I get drunk in film and I wanted to do a movie that was a love letter to film.”

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2017: My Year Of Film

Here are all the films I watched in 2017.

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.

Film Title Year Star Rating Watched Date
Appropriate Behavior 2014 3 01-01-17
The Docks of New York 1928 4 02-01-17
The Kid Brother 1927 4.5 04-01-17
Circle 2015 3.5 07-01-17
Listen Up Philip 2014 4 07-01-17
Moana 2016 3.5 08-01-17
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 2016 3.5 08-01-17
Girls About Town 1931 3.5 09-01-17
Kickboxer 1989 3.5 13-01-17
Manchester by the Sea 2016 4.5 15-01-17
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948 3.5 16-01-17
13th 2016 4 17-01-17
Silence 2016 3.5 19-01-17
I Know Where I’m Going! 1945 3.5 21-01-17
La La Land 2016 4.5 21-01-17
42nd Street 1933 3.5 22-01-17
Jackie 2016 3.5 23-01-17
Harold and Maude 1971 4 28-01-17
Casablanca 1942 4.5 28-01-17
Adore 2013 2.5 29-01-17
The Overnight 2015 3 30-01-17
Kramer vs. Kramer 1979 4 30-01-17
Weiner 2016 3.5 03-02-17
The War Room 1993 3.5 04-02-17
Man vs. Snake 2015 3.5 05-02-17
Fences 2016 4 05-02-17
The Iceman 2012 3.5 10-02-17
Tickled 2016 3 10-02-17
The Aviator 2004 4 11-02-17
Audrie & Daisy 2016 3.5 11-02-17
Adaptation. 2002 4 12-02-17
Forgetting Sarah Marshall 2008 3.5 12-02-17
Brick 2005 4.5 13-02-17
The Fear of 13 2015 3.5 17-02-17
The Apartment 1960 4.5 19-02-17
The Glass Key 1942 3.5 22-02-17
Blue Chips 1994 3 24-02-17
Rumble in the Bronx 1995 3 24-02-17
Baby Boom 1987 3 25-02-17
The Book of Life 2014 3.5 25-02-17
G-Men 1935 3 26-02-17
Brooklyn 2015 4 27-02-17
Magic Town 1947 2.5 27-02-17
O.J.: Made in America 2016 4.5 28-02-17
Warrior 2011 4 28-02-17
Blue Valentine 2010 4 04-03-17
The Help 2011 4 04-03-17
12 Angry Men 1957 5 04-03-17
Look Who’s Back 2015 4 06-03-17
The Past 2013 4.5 07-03-17
20th Century Women 2016 3.5 08-03-17
Why We Fight 2005 3.5 11-03-17
Cleo from 5 to 7 1962 4 11-03-17
The Hunt 2012 3.5 12-03-17
Moonlight 2016 4 12-03-17
The Love Witch 2016 4 14-03-17
Kong: Skull Island 2017 3.5 15-03-17
There Will Be Blood 2007 5 19-03-17
Hunt for the Wilderpeople 2016 4.5 21-03-17
Chevalier 2015 2.5 22-03-17
Whisky Galore! 1949 3.5 24-03-17
The Salesman 2016 4 26-03-17
Personal Shopper 2016 3.5 27-03-17
Certain Women 2016 4 28-03-17
The Shawshank Redemption 1994 4.5 29-03-17
The Hidden Fortress 1958 4.5 31-03-17
Get Out 2017 3.5 31-03-17
Free Fire 2016 3 01-04-17
Tower 2016 4 01-04-17
Blue Is the Warmest Color 2013 4 02-04-17
The Discovery 2017 2.5 04-04-17
The People Under the Stairs 1991 3.5 06-04-17
Casino 1995 5 09-04-17
Neruda 2016 3 10-04-17
Inside Out 2015 4.5 15-04-17
Top Gun 1986 2 17-04-17
Vicky Cristina Barcelona 2008 3.5 25-04-17
They Live 1988 3.5 25-04-17
The Freshman 1925 3.5 26-04-17
The Social Network 2010 4.5 27-04-17
The Myth of the American Sleepover 2010 3 28-04-17
The Act of Killing 2012 4 29-04-17
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 1975 5 30-04-17
Mad Max: Fury Road (Black & Chrome)  2015 4 30-04-17
Killing Them Softly 2012 4 01-05-17
Inglourious Basterds 2009 5 05-05-17
The Exorcist III 1990 3.5 06-05-17
Camp X-Ray 2014 3.5 11-05-17
Tab Hunter Confidential 2015 3 12-05-17
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin 1978 4 13-05-17
Sicario 2015 3.5 14-05-17
Lost River 2014 4.5 14-05-17
Mulholland Drive 2001 4.5 19-05-17
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg 1964 4 21-05-17
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints 2013 2.5 21-05-17
The Handmaiden 2016 4 23-05-17
True Grit 2010 5 24-05-17
Grizzly Man 2005 4 24-05-17
The Hateful Eight 2015 5 24-05-17
Legally Blonde 2001 3.5 25-05-17
Sixteen Candles 1984 3 26-05-17
Grease 1978 4.5 26-05-17
This Is the End 2013 4 28-05-17
The Lion King 1994 4.5 28-05-17
The Watermelon Woman 1996 4 29-05-17
Napoleon Dynamite 2004 4 29-05-17
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse 1991 3.5 04-06-17
My Life as a Courgette  2016 4 06-06-17
Wilson 2017 2.5 13-06-17
You’ve Got Mail 1998 3.5 13-06-17
What We Do in the Shadows 2014 4 16-06-17
Queen of Earth 2015 4 17-06-17
The Saddest Music in the World 2003 4 17-06-17
Too Late 2015 3.5 17-06-17
The Warriors 1979 3.5 24-06-17
The French Connection 1971 4 24-06-17
The Parallax View 1974 4 25-06-17
A New Leaf 1971 2.5 26-06-17
Taxi Driver 1976 5 27-06-17
Assault on Precinct 13 1976 3 28-06-17
Being There 1979 3.5 01-07-17
All the President’s Men 1976 4 01-07-17
It Comes at Night 2017 3.5 07-07-17
My Cousin Rachel 2017 2.5 08-07-17
O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000 4.5 13-07-17
Troll 2 1990 1.5 14-07-17
The Manchurian Candidate 1962 4 15-07-17
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore 2017 3 15-07-17
The Beguiled 2017 4 17-07-17
War for the Planet of the Apes 2017 4.5 19-07-17
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 2003 4.5 21-07-17
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 2004 5 21-07-17
David Lynch: The Art Life 2016 3.5 24-07-17
Shoeshine 1946 4 27-07-17
The Wolfpack 2015 3.5 28-07-17
The Big Sick 2017 4 30-07-17
24×36 2016 3.5 30-07-17
Carnival of Souls 1962 4 01-08-17
My Darling Clementine 1946 4 06-08-17
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief 2015 4 08-08-17
…And Justice for All 1979 2.5 10-08-17
Reservoir Dogs 1992 4.5 11-08-17
Annabelle: Creation 2017 3.5 11-08-17
Edward Scissorhands 1990 4.5 12-08-17
Dead Man’s Shoes 2004 4.5 12-08-17
Shin Godzilla 2016 4 12-08-17
Sleepy Hollow 1999 4 12-08-17
The Jungle Book 2016 4 13-08-17
La La Land 2016 4.5 17-08-17
Creep 2014 4 18-08-17
Double Indemnity 1944 4.5 19-08-17
American Beauty 1999 4 19-08-17
Zootopia 2016 4 20-08-17
Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America 2016 3 20-08-17
Get Me Roger Stone 2017 3 21-08-17
The Edge of Seventeen 2016 4 22-08-17
Split 2016 4 22-08-17
War Machine 2017 3 23-08-17
A Ghost Story 2017 4.5 24-08-17
Elvis & Nixon 2016 3 24-08-17
Raw 2016 3 24-08-17
Persona 1966 4.5 24-08-17
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai 1999 4 25-08-17
The Fury 1978 3 25-08-17
Logan Lucky 2017 4 26-08-17
Equals 2015 3 26-08-17
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse 1938 3.5 27-08-17
Paterson 2016 5 27-08-17
Panic Room 2002 2.5 27-08-17
What’s Up, Doc? 1972 4 28-08-17
Rough Night 2017 2.5 06-09-17
Ocean’s Eleven 2001 3 09-09-17
Carrie Pilby 2016 3 10-09-17
It 2017 3 12-09-17
Mistress America 2015 4 14-09-17
The Slumber Party Massacre 1982 3.5 15-09-17
Greenberg 2010 3.5 16-09-17
The Awful Truth 1937 4 17-09-17
My Favorite Wife 1940 3.5 18-09-17
Vivacious Lady 1938 3 19-09-17
Funny Face 1957 3.5 21-09-17
Magnificent Obsession 1954 3.5 24-09-17
The Blackcoat’s Daughter 2015 4 25-09-17
Pride 2014 3 30-09-17
The Royal Tenenbaums 2001 4 01-10-17
Leon: The Professional 1994 4 01-10-17
Arsenic and Old Lace 1944 4 02-10-17
On Body and Soul 2017 3.5 03-10-17
mother! 2017 3.5 04-10-17
Lola Versus 2012 2 05-10-17
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio 2005 3.5 07-10-17
The Bat Whispers 1930 4 08-10-17
Beware the Slenderman 2016 3 08-10-17
All Things Must Pass 2015 2.5 08-10-17
The Death of Stalin 2017 2 09-10-17
Don’t Bother to Knock 1952 3 14-10-17
Our Souls at Night 2017 3 15-10-17
Blade Runner 2049 2017 3.5 19-10-17
Halloween 1978 4 22-10-17
April Fool’s Day 1986 2.5 23-10-17
A Ghost Story 2017 4.5 24-10-17
The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993 4 28-10-17
Frankenweenie 2012 4 28-10-17
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House 2016 3 29-10-17
1922 2017 3.5 31-10-17
House 1977 4 31-10-17
Crimson Peak 2015 4 04-11-17
The Florida Project 2017 4 05-11-17
Far from Heaven 2002 4.5 05-11-17
Bronson 2008 3.5 11-11-17
Batman Begins 2005 3.5 12-11-17
Butterfly Kisses 2017 2.5 18-11-17
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton 2017 3.5 22-11-17
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) 2017 3.5 25-11-17
Possession 1981 3.5 25-11-17
Wolves 2016 3.5 28-11-17
The Hateful Eight 2015 5 08-12-17
Gone with the Wind 1939 4.5 09-12-17
Little Women 1994 3.5 09-12-17
Bad Company 1972 3 10-12-17
Better Watch Out 2016 2.5 10-12-17
The Keeping Room 2014 4 11-12-17
The Beguiled 1971 3.5 11-12-17
The Outlaw Josey Wales 1976 4 13-12-17
Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017 4 14-12-17
Fargo 1996 4.5 15-12-17
Star Wars 1977 4.5 17-12-17
Voyeur 2017 3 19-12-17
The Empire Strikes Back 1980 5 20-12-17
The Dark Knight 2008 5 21-12-17
Return of the Jedi 1983 4 24-12-17
It’s a Wonderful Life 1946 5 24-12-17
The Night Before 2015 3 24-12-17
Shaun the Sheep Movie 2015 4 27-12-17
The Lego Batman Movie 2017 4 27-12-17
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 2016 2.5 27-12-17
Strictly Ballroom 1992 3.5 28-12-17
The Dark Knight Rises 2012 3.5 29-12-17

Made using TurboCollage from www.TurboCollage.com

Made using TurboCollage from www.TurboCollage.com

Made using TurboCollage from www.TurboCollage.com

That is a total of 238 films which is 43 more than I watched last year. 65.5 % of which were for the first time. In an average week I watched 4.6 films. I went to to the cinema 49 times. Only 15 of the films were foreign language 😦  You can find other statistics here: https://letterboxd.com/mrabernethy/year/2017/ 

 

I have decided not to do a top ten for the year as the UK release dates mean many of the best films don’t come out until the following year. Instead here are a few films of note from 2017.

Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt) 

screen_certainwomen_ifcfilms

I very much liked the pacing and vibe of this film with three slightly overlapping stories and the setting of Montana in common, with an implicit feminist commentary that is far from heavy-handed.

All of the four actresses were excellent, giving natural feeling performances that gave a sense of the inner-life of the characters without the need for grandness or emotional tautness.

I particularly enjoyed the third story depicting an unrequited love story that showed the loneliness of being a Lesbian in an isolated place – the stalker-ish behaviour of the besotted is common place to see with a lonely man and usually gives the viewer an uneasy feeling that danger may await, but with women in these roles the feeling is completely different. (Women taking on traditional masculine roles being a through-line of all the stories)

Assured and accomplished film making that I loved spending time with.

A Ghost Story (David Lowery) 

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I found this meditation on love, loss, life, time and the nature of existence to be highly moving and a wonderfully creative approach to narrative (or lack thereof.) The much talked about pie-eating scene is devestating, the ‘paranormal activity’ scene was great fun, the pontificating man’s speech did well to verbalise the themes of the film that is largely without dialogue. I found it such a special and beautiful piece of work that I strongly considered buying another ticket for the next showing.

I instead waited a couple of months to see it for the 2nd time and again found the film not just emotionally impactful but thought provoking on an existential/philosophical level.

My Life As a Courgette (Claude Barras)

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A very sweet film with an aesthetic that would not suggest the level of emotional resonance it achieves or its uncompromising look at the kinds of things orphaned children have experienced.

The sensibility of this feels very French, not least in its progressiveness, seen for example with the discussion of sex – the openness of which would never be in a British or American film.

With a running time of just over an hour it achieves a lot and keeping the narrative simple and low on ‘Kid Film obstacle drama’ allowed a focus on character and emotion while also having funny moments and a lovely animation style.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (Chris Smith) 

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Interesting documentary – the way it chooses to only interview Carrey, mixed with the backstage footage and archive/film clips provides only his perspective, while he seems somewhat self aware about how others may have been feeling, the film leaves space for the viewer to make up their own minds about Carrey’s behaviour, as well as having the opportunity to strongly empathise with him. The footage of him being basically abusive on set speaks for itself and in many ways he does not come off well, the method seems absurdly unnecessary and narcissistic ,  (also something a female actor could never get away with) an extended therapeutic role play to escape his depression which has seemingly led him to his current “there is no self” ramblings.

It is clear to me Carrey had no self worth at the time and his entire model for value was based on an external locus of evaluation leading to an internal incongruence to the point that the very concept of identity has become elusive and illusory to him, watching the documentary I am not at all convinced this is something he has resolved.

mother! (Darren Aronofsky) 

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I was on the fence. This seems to me an overwhelmed man making an overwhelming film. I do not mean overwhelming in a positive awe-inspiring sense, but in the sense that it lacks coherency in form and content. Allegory in of itself does not automatically equate to value, the biblical retelling in order to espouse that humans abuse the earth is clear – but is that theme really explored or simply stated? Is this the film equivalent of a frustrated environmentalist’s angry twitter rant – a scream into the void?

This would be the categorisation I would favour, since I think the film is too oblique to be a powerful piece of environmental advocacy – since the experience for the audience can be confounding, mixing familiar genre elements with arthouse non-narrative metaphor and the framework of genesis/revelations is likely to lead most people to come away with the feeling that the film was a weird experience with some horrible moments.

This is indeed a film that is not made for its opening weekend – it does not fulfil the remit as a piece of entertainment, but shares much with what a film simply out to entertain does. It is this, in fact, from which the ‘surface’ level of the allegory is built. Most allegories tell a story with a meaning that is not literal to events, but the film strays from this and the metaphor becomes literal, any semblance of the ‘surface’ reality is gone, especially in the final 30 minutes in a way that feels very muddled.

I was left thinking that it didn’t quite work for me, that more time was probably needed to work on the script, to develop a coherency of ideas rather than giving in to a slightly self-righteous and self-indulgent rage on behalf of the filmmaker. I also felt in the final third less could have been more, the assault on the senses to me didn’t deliver the ideas any better and just served to make the experience for the audience unpleasant. By the time of the babies death I had seen so many over the top images of death that could only be understood as metaphor that I felt I was almost watching a cartoon, such was the divorce from reality and so the impact was only on a Hostel ‘this is horrible’ level, rather than an emotional one.

I felt the beating of mother in this section was mishandled, the allegory of a woman being berated with misogynistic slurs and the abuse of mother nature does not work for me and could only work in an abstract way, which makes what we are literally seeing – a woman being savagely beaten, too jarring in of itself to serve a larger idea.

Aronofsky’s environmental proclivity is clear, I reacted to the film as a breakdown of a relationship much more strongly and I think this element could have been nailed down and a better film could have been made from exploring it – hard not to see the God character as a cypher for the director himself and perhaps something from his own personal relationships and creativity/fame made its way into the script. I was more focused on these elements when watching the film than the biblical ones which occurred to me afterwards.

It is a film that seems designed to be re-watched in order to fully glean the metaphor and biblical references ( I didn’t put together the adam’s rib creating Eve for instance) but it is in many ways quite a horrible and confusing watch that many i’m sure will not feel compelled to revisit, especially if you already agree with Aronofsky’s viewpoint on the environment then you are a vegan watching slaughterhouse footage.

And yet I do admire the attempt and the film is anything but bland, it just feels decidedly half-baked to me, perhaps there were some budgetary restrictions to a longer pre-production or maybe the director was happy with his “written in 5 days” script? I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the hand-held/shaky cam cinematography and the over reliance on close up – something I didn’t like in Black Swan also and I’m not sure if this is due to the small budget. The only reason the film was able to be made and released is due to Jennifer Lawrence and I see the problems of this film to be mostly due to the director’s autonomy, only possible because of the small budget.

Too straightforward for an art-house audience and too oblique for a mainstream audience, I think the film is destined to be a mildly interesting obscurity.

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:

http://uk.complex.com/pop-culture/2009/07/a-history-of-real-life-fight-club-copycats

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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