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If

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Few films have blown my mind quite as completely as this one did.

Poster for If by Lindsay AndersonI was a member of the film society at high school. There was much excitement that this film was being shown. I had to get signed permission from my mum to see it. Immediately, that meant there was going to be something unusual or dangerous or grown up about it. It had all three, but I could still never have guessed what this film was going to be like. I’d never seen anything remotely like it before.

This film’s about anarchy breaking out at a public school. It’s a very English film. It’s Englishness and public school-ness didn’t prevent a strong connection in me with the characters and events of the film (in the way that I detested, say, Dead Poet’s Society, on similair grounds). Lindsay Anderson pushed situations as far as he could with incredible (or, is that uncredible) results. Malcolm Mcdowell became and has remained one of my very favourite actors.

The film switches into black and white halfway through. Not to make some kind of statement about conditions pre and post anarchy, but because they ran out of money to buy colour film.

Mcdowell and Anderson teamed up again for Brittania Hospital which may have been the second film in a whole new genre originated by If. Brittania Hospital just wasn’t as brilliant so the genre never really got off the ground and If stands alone. No other film like it.

Categories: film

Ping Pong

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I could be wrong, but this film is one of the most engaging and tense films of all time.

Still from the film; Ping PongThe director has condensed every noble element of traditional Japanese culture and will into a film about a guy training to be a ping pong champion. There is discipline, striving, self-control, endurance and honour. The main character is good, but to be a champion he has to rise to another level, so he undergoes training that is almost beyond his endurance – a mortal striving for immortality; for a place among the Gods. Training completed… well I won’t spoil the ending.

I know, the plot is fairly straightforward. The characters are not the most endearing or charismatic I’ve seen, but the film is utterly compelling.

The reason I pre-empted possible misjudgement at the start of this article is that I watched this film very late at night when I should really have been sleeping. My wife had fallen asleep on the sofa beside me and I didn’t want to move. Ping Pong had just started. I watched, mesmerised, unable and unwilling to look away, as if it were a dream.

Categories: film

The Incredible Shrinking Man

June 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I doubt if this was the first film I ever saw but, because of the impact it had on me, it’s the first film I remember seeing. It’s about a guy who starts shrinking and keeps shrinking. He gets so small that, for a while he stays in a dolls house. As he continues to shrink, the everyday world gets more dangerous and frightening. Anyone who’s seen this film will remember the cat finding him in his dolls house. The scene with the spider set my young heart racing with anxiety.

The Incredible Shrinking ManThis film impressed upon me, even at a very young age, a notion of relative scale. The scenery and special effects must look very clunky by today’s standards, but I guess imagination was more eager to fill in the gaps. As well as scenes with over sized objects in them, I remember lots of point of view shots. I would be used to seeing TV content where the POV was that of an adult. It must have been refreshing when the POV shots started to show scenes from someone my own size.

At the end of the film he’s on his own; lost and abandoned. Distances and obstacles being insurmountable to one of his now-minute scale. I remember him trapped behind a wire mesh or a grate that led to the outside world. He continued shrinking and before long was able to get through the grate. He was dressed in rags. He seemed glad and had a new found determinism as he contemplated the outside world, now that he had become a part of it. He was set free from human society because his scale was now so far removed from that around which human society was based.

But he was still human.

As he walked off stridently into whatever the world now held for him, he was still of a size that we could comprehend – that of a small insect.  But we know he will continue to shrink beyond that which is comprehensible to the eye. The true horror of this film is that he remains alive and purposeful and whatever universes of scale he passes into now he will do so as a fully functioning and feeling human.

Categories: film

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

May 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Steve Zissou travels the world aboard  his boat, the Belafonte, making films about the wildlife of the seas. He’s had his heyday but is still driven to carry on in the face of dwindling audiences, poor reviews and patchy funding. The world has moved on and he hasn’t really noticed. On his previous trip, his partner had been killed by an as-yet-undiscovered species of shark. The film is about his journey to catch the shark that killed is partner.

Bill Murray as Steve ZIssouHe is accompanied by his faithful crew, a journalist and a guy who it would seem is his long-lost son. Steve Zissou is having problems with his wife and his agent and a rival filmaker. In some way or other everyone in the film seems to depend on Zissou for something, but they all depend on the successful, mythical Zissou of yore. Despite the responsibilities piled on him by the needs of others Zissou carries on regardless, fighting off pirates and pulling off his goal. He’s fairly mercenary with his feelings except for those stirred up by the appearance of the guy claiming to be his son, for whom his judgement clouds.

This is a very stylish film and it is a hilarious film. It confirmed for me the greatness of Bill Murray. Mainly, I found it to be a very touching film. Especially the scene where he’s in his submersible with everyone else in the film and they all lean forward to lay their hands on his shoulders. I like to think there are a number of people in my life who’d do the same for me when things get tough.

Categories: film

The wrestler

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

The WrestlerI saw this on DVD a few weeks ago. I couldn’t get it out of my head for many days after. If you’ve seen it you’ll know that there are many reasons for this film to stick in your head: Mickey Rourke’s performance is fantastic; you’re unlikely to forget the staple gun or the meat slicer scene in a hurry. One of my favourite scenes was when Randy persuaded Cassidy to have a beer with him and they’re enthusing about the eighties. There are many scenes that sparkle with great performances, spot on dialogue and Aronofsky’s supreme direction.

Randy has a heart attack and must consider retiring from wrestling but chooses to go ahead with his showdown with the Ayatollah.  He knows what the outcome’s going to be.

After he retired, my dad would spend half the year in Brazil and half the year in Scotland. When he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer he chose to return to Brazil for another half year. I think he knew what the outcome of that trip would be.

Categories: film

La Strada

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

A film by Fellini, it’s the story of a circus strongman, played by Anthony Quinn, and a clown, played by Fellini’s wife. Life on the road with a travelling circus is the perfect setting for this tale of disjointed lives and unlikely friendships. This film might well have spawned the whole genre of the ‘road movie’.

Watching it was a hugely engaging and emotional journey.

I was also impressed with how well the mighty Anthony Quinn spoke Italian.

La Strada

Four years ago I visited Italy with my family. We flew out very early in the morning, after a long drive to the airport. When we landed in Pisa we hired a car and set off on the drive to our accomodation. Two hours later, lost on a narrow road that wound up the side of a mountain, nerves and tempers were becoming frayed. It was clear that the road we were on was not going to get us where we wanted to go. The matter of whether we should turn back or continue was the source of some great disagreement, so we pulled over where the road swelled out for a passing place.

An old man came wandering down the road towards us. I spoke no Italian whatsoever but went across to him with our guidebook in hand, hoping that he spoke some English. It quickly became clear that he spoke none. He motioned me to the edge of the road where it ended and the slope of the mountain spilled down from us into a valley.

He babbled away in Italian and I followed his finger as he pointed across at the other side of the gorgeous green valley with little clusters of terracotta roofs nestling among the cypresses. He moved his arm from left to right, describing the way we were to go, maintaining his constant babble of rough-spoken Italian. I found his voice soothing and reassuring, although I didn’t understand a word and was now virtually transfixed on the panorama before me.

From his stream of words, I discerned ‘la strada’ and Fellini’s film came instantly to mind.

I smiled at the old man and said ‘Gratzee’. He nodded and smiled back before going on his way. I was no clearer about how we were going to go ahead to our destination, but I was reminded that the journey we took, and everything that happened along the way, was to be savoured and remembered.

I took a further couple of minutes to myself, gazing out on the Tuscan hills, before taking a quick snap and returning to the car to re-engage with la strada.

Tuscany

Categories: film, me, photos

Leaving Las Vegas

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Nicholas Cage in Leaving Las VegasHas to be one of my favourite films. Nichols Cage gives one of the best performances in cinema history as a chronic alcoholic, disillusioned with work, life and his failure as a writer, who gives everything up and goes to Las Vegas with the express intention of drinking himself to death. We’re obliged to go along with him and witness his self destruction as he deteriorates from ‘loveable drunk’, through a series of increasingly tragic and pathetic vignettes, to pitiful wretch. Along the way he meets a hooker/guardian angel who takes him under her wing and tries to ease his passage out of this world.

You never stop liking the guy and this makes his decline even more painful to watch.

I say ‘one of the best performances in cinema history’. Of course this may seem like a ridiculously ambitious claim but I’m prepared to stand by it. Nicholas Cage is a fine actor and this is him at his absolute best. It’s a shame he’s drifted into kids movies and Disney these days. I guess that must be about the only sector of the film industry that’s making money.

Leaving Las Vegas is an 18 certificate. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable letting anyone who hadn’t yet reached that age watch it. Maybe even best to leave it a few years beyond that.

Categories: film