My Thoughts On…The Stuart Hall Project

A beautiful documentary. There’s not a lot else to say really. 

If you don’t know the work of Stuart Hall then you should. A cultural theorist of great intellect, reason and understanding whose life journey both echoes and stands apart from a culture and generation of people who came to Britain in the 1950s from the Caribbean. 

This film is light on his academic work and nuances of his biography but heavy on the emotional impact of his life and work on specific areas of post war British society. Beautifully constructed from his own voice and archive, alongside national archives both still and moving the film is a dialogue between Hall and himself at various stages of his life and understanding, between Hall and his Jamaican past and British present and the complexities of identity. The film works because it creates the space for dialogue by using Hall’s love of modern jazz, particularly an obsession with Miles Davis whose musical trajectory echoes the developments in Hall’s thinking in abstract, emotional and intriguing ways. There is a gap between the date of the image and the date of the audio at points that leaves a space, like the space between notes and movements, for the viewer to engage and hear the real melody, the real music. Underscored by Davis the film has musical and biographical suites.

It’s defiantly a love letter to Hall’s ideas and his place in intellectual Britain for those black artists and thinkers who have emerged in his wake. Lovingly constructed and almost romantic in its narrative it seems to focus on areas of common interest and hardship for the filmmakers and a wider Black British populace, as well as those who love knowledge and the constant challenge of trying to understand this strange Island and its relationship to the world in the scheme of things. 

My Thoughts On…Sleepwalker

I don’t know why I got this out of the library. Maybe because it was a BFI Flipside release, or that it was just 50 minutes.

But I am glad I did.

A wonderfully strange, pointed bourgeois satire that is also a gory and creepy horror. Really freaky, gorgeously lurid and with a stunning score/soundtrack.

Professional Doctorate (9)

So. Today.

Went to the British Library. Left my reader card at home. Cost me a fiver to replace it. Went to reading room counter to collect my reserved title. Turns out the reservation didn’t go through (probably my fault). Headed to BFI, did some work, realised most of the information I needed was probably online anyway. Got hungry. Realised I left my packed lunch in my car back at the car park at Luton station.

So I bought lunch and came home. Settled down with a coffee, found what I needed online. Checked my emails because I wondered when the last possible deadline for thesis hand in was, so I don’t roll over to another year of fees and it looks increasingly like the earliest I can hand it in is 28th October 2013, which is the end of my minimum registration period. 

And there’s me killing myself to finish my current job, start the new one, move to Cornwall and finish this damn thing all before the end of April.

I think today, I might be the biggest idiot on the planet. 

My Thoughts On…It Always Rains On Sunday

@StudioCanalUK

Blu Ray / DVD Release Date: Monday November 12th 2012

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It’s been playing in cinemas for a few weeks and now this beautifully restored (thanks to the BFI) Ealing Noir is available to own, and well worth it, it is too. It’s sumptuously shot in a stunning blend of Noir and kitchen sink realism and manages to blend the two genres really well.

It’s a dark, sad beast. An escaped con holes up in the house of an ex flame while he waits to make an escape to South Africa. As he waits, the net around him tightens, and emotionally, the cracks in his old love’s life start to widen. The unhappiness across this East End Jewish community simmers to boiling point as the struggles of life, and the inherent unhappiness in post War England for the poor and the downtrodden cannot be ignored.

Some really great performances, sparkling dialogue and great intensity make the film a real treasure. Directed by the great Ealing director Robert Hamer (who also contributed to the screenplay) it’s a scathing yet evocative depiction of post war London and thanks to some real heart and craft it still holds up today as drama, even if some the fight scenes are a tad, er, soft.

Googie Withers as Rose, the ex lover, is sensational. Complex, beautiful, melancholy, strong. A fine performance among fine performances in a fine film. And the Blu Ray transfer really captures the beautiful cinematography.

My Thoughts On…The Shining

#neilandromas2012halloweenathon

It’s amazing how time and what you do changes your relationship with a film. I used to like The Shining, but it wasn’t near the top of my favourite Kubrick films (the top 3 of Paths of Glory, Dr Strangelove and The Killing are still unaffected). However, it’s a great film to teach, as it’s not as old as most texts and teenagers know it, and most have an opinion on it.

Increased exposure to it in fragments over the last couple of years has given me a new and updated appreciation for it. So finally seeing it on the big screen, digitally restored, looking resplendent, was a wonderful experience. It was wonderful to share it with good friends, and a full, (mostly) respectful Luton audience. 

Up there, it’s a different beast. Astonishingly beautiful, haunting and deliberate. For me, its discomfort is rooted in how slow everything plays out. The conversations take an age, both in terms of screen time, but also physical delivery. It’s all arduous, it really ratchets up that feeling of ‘get on with it’. It’s excruciating. In a good way. It’s a brilliant horror movie, it really is, and its plays on convention have been covered extensively elsewhere, by better people than me.

For me, the film has always been ‘about’ domestic abuse, not the wild conspiracies that the wonderful Room 237 espouses. There’s so much darkness in Jack’s relationship with Danny and Wendy and it feels like the film channels the excuses that men (mainly) give for their despicable actions, rebounding the blame elsewhere, ignoring the truth of their disgrace until it destroys them. Throughout the film, Jack is plain nasty to Wendy, and the shadow of a previous incident hangs over the family. The only moment of tenderness between Jack and Wendy is when he places his arm around her after Danny and Hallorann first meet, but seeing it this week that actually felt akin to the theory that Jack can Shine, and like Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now, rejects the gift and it, again, destroys him. I like this reading too. Both feed in to ideas about rigid, egotistical masculinity and the film indeed sidelines the characters of Danny and Wendy, in favour of focusing on their experiences at the hands of Jack and his decisions and unfaltering singlemindedness.

All of this is there, this domestic drama, under the surface of a supremely creepy chiller, and with each year its power grows for me. Although, the ‘new bits’ seemed superfluous. Expositional and unnecessary, such is Kubrick’s ability as a visual storyteller, which is peerless in my opinion.

A wonderful film, and a wonderful experience.

Decades

Every ten years me and a friend discuss and rage about the Sight & Sound top ten of all time. Or at least we have for the last two. This one, and the last one. I didn’t know him in 92, and I didn’t buy the magazine then.

Anyway, today’s discussion started when I got his email with his ten. I walked Bailey, thinking of mine, replied, and we’ve been discussing via text since Vertigo was announced at number one. I wish he still lived closer.

Here’s his list:

Performance - roeg san

Touch of Evil - orson san

Branded to Kill - suzuki san

Stalker - tarkovskii san

The Passenger - anotonioni san

Werkmeister Harmonies - tarr san

Los Olivdados - bunuel san

The Wild Bunch - Sam san

Blue Velvet - David san

Uzak - nuri san

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So I walked, and thought of the ten I would write today. Not necessarily my favourite films of all time, though several would occupy that list too, but the best, the time capsule films, the alien welcome pack, the ones I’d save from the end of days bonfire for whatever comes next.

Touch of Evil - Welles san

Peeping Tom - Powell san

Ran - Kurosawa san

The Conformist - Bertolucci san

There Will Be Blood - Anderson san

The Exterminating Angel - Bunuel san

The Apartment - billy san

Days of Heaven - Malick san

Dr Strangelove - Stanley san

Le Cercle Rouge - Melville san

- Mine aren’t in order, I doubt his are either. Close today, but not quite making it were Point Blank, Network, The Misfits, Nil By Mouth, Night of the Hunter and Paris, Texas. On another day they may have sneaked in.

I know it’s just adding noise out there, but we like consecrating these moments in time. So we do.

Hospice (8)

AKira 3 was a riot. It got a bit confusing in the middle, as it went back and forth, and could have done without much of the flip flopping but it redeemed itself with a phenomenal ending. As Akira awakened and destroyed neo-Tokyo in a blaze of light I forgot to exhale. 

What made the moment special was after putting the book down and turning off the bedside light, a beautiful storm stirred up outside. Bassy rumbles of thunder, epic lightning. Made the reading fully resonant and real. Wondrous.

Got in today and David had this little gem waiting for me, a gift because he had it twice, which was a lovely tonic. And it looks brilliant, it’s one of David’s favourites.

I want to start the pile he has given, but I need to know how Akira ends, I’m hooked. Also fortuitously the new BFI guide for June arrived and they have an Anime season on, including Akira. All roads point to this work.

Professional Doctorate (3)

Nearing the end of a significant piece of research. Two days at the BFI and today have yielded the higher education backgrounds of 251 film directors. I have 30 more to go. This is a big deal, as this data forms a major focus within my thesis.

I am looking at the correlation between filmmakers and films taught in film studies and film school as examples of good practice and the educational background of those responsible for them. Whilst I’m aware that the director isn’t solely responsible it’s a good gateway to a lot of data and also leads to discussions around the prevalence of auteurcentric study and directing craft specialism.

So I am researching 276 directors. My research pool is as follows:

  • Directors of Cannes Palm D’or winners
  • Directors of Oscar best picture winners
  • Directors of BAFTA best film winners
  • Directors considered Auteurs by Cahiers du Cinema magazine
  • Directors considered Auteurs by Movie magazine
  • Andrew Sarris’ Pantheon directors
  • Directors of Sight and Sound magazine top 10 films ever made (judged every decade, each decade included)
  • Director of top film at the US Box Office every year 1930 to 2000
  • Director of top UK film at UK Box Office every year 1936 to 2000
  • Directors of top 20 US Box Office films of all time (up to 2000)
  • Directors of top 20 UK films at Box Office of all time (up to 2000)

It’s a broad spectrum. Yes it’s US/UK centric but I’m looking at UK film education so it needs to have a strong focus in this area. After double ups are taken into account, the result is 276 filmmakers, from a diverse range of commercial and critical pools. 

I’m proud that I’ve only got 30 left to find. I hope to have this done by my next supervisory meeting on Friday. The remainder are early US Box Office and Oscar winning directors of whom very little is written, even on Wikipedia (not really citing that as a source). Some early British directors and some early Palm D’or winners also in that list. If I can get it to 10-15 unfound, I’ll be royally pleased.

My Thoughts On…Steamboat Bill Jr.

Like Keaton I feel out of step sometimes with the world around me. Not quite fitting in to the way the world is. Never more so than when watching a silent film, live scored, introduced by Jim Broadbent and being overcome with joy and escapism that I rarely get from modern cinema. Maybe I have to reclaim my mode of viewing, create opportunities and environments for sheer immersion. Maybe I don’t.

All I know is that I have never seen this full film, and last night experienced pure joy at the power and wonder of cinema, feeling blessed that Keaton existed, and exists forever on celluloid. This Romeo & Juliet tale is full of pathos, love, cheek and some of the most incredible physical action sequences ever.

Not just remarkable for 1928, but simply remarkable. No one has done anything like it since. Proof that CGI can never make up for the imagination of humanity, coupled with human application. Houses and buildings fall balletically, trees fly with a man attached, a man stands parallel to the ground in a hurricane. He slips, and bends in shapes computers would struggle to make look real.

We laugh, we gasp, we smile. We constantly smile.

A true work of genius.

My Thoughts On…Meet Me In St. Louis

My favourite musical, one of my favourite directors, watching the remastered version at the BFI with my favourite person, who was watching it for the first time. Perfecto.

It’s a glorious, ravishing spectacle full of wonderful design and camerawork, great performances, wonderful songs, passion and of course, that Minnelli colour palette.

Judy Garland is mercurial, you can tell Minnelli was falling in love with her, such is the lighting and framing of her character. What I love about this musical is how organic the songs feel to the narrative. Nothing is forced, it’s all so effortless and the songs are great.

Roma said she found the ending strange, and it really is. It feels tacked on somewhat to ensure we see some of the World’s Fair the film talks so much about, and so we have all four seasons represented but it allows an ending which is happy, but also feels somewhat cynical. I don’t know if it is cynical because of my eyes watching it 75 years plus after release, but the notion of not seeking adventure in New York and staying in St. Louis, seeing it as an equal, especially as the family lives in the suburbs and we never see St. Louis city comes across as naive and laughable. It might also be down to my relationship with my own hometown.

But that is one of the things that fascinates me about that film. As much as it is archetypal in its depiction of family and a woman’s search for a husband it also lacks any character who dreams of moving to a big city, of following another dream. This is rarefied in Hollywood, and means the film retains a uniqueness and a social commentary that beguiles in its difference.

All in all a fascinating film with one of the most sublime celluloid sequences for me; when Lon tells the family they are moving to New York and they disperse, upset, only to be drawn back, organically, into the family unit when Mother plays piano and Father sings. It’s a beautiful moment that captures the heart of this family, and of what family really is. Togetherness. Always.