Posts Tagged ‘film’

The assassination of Rodrigo Rosenberg

January 7th, 2012

You know those magazine features in which the very first paragraph reverberates throughout their lengths? The ones that you realise have seeded clues from their outsets that flower into revelation after revelation by their ends? The ones that tell stories about places and people you’ve never heard about before, and wonder how you never did until now? The ones that sweep from the personal to the national so naturally that one feels as consequential as the other?

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Link roundup – mega edition

December 19th, 2010

Sorry for this screed, but it appears I haven’t had my Delicious links properly linked up lately. It’s worth it, I swear, if only for the casu marzu.

  • The Suits of James Bond – Well, just that, really. Good fetishism.
  • Clive Thompson: Will the word processor destroy our ability to think? – Looking at the impact of cut and paste on writing, and asking the question: has it changed the way we think? I can’t really imagine writing anything fully structured in one pass, but I must have done so when I was at school and early university. It’s strange to realise how alien the concept is now.
  • Designing Media: Interviews – Hyper interesting – a series of fantastic four-minute interviews with leading editors, designers and writers about the changing form of media, all to publicise Bill Moggridge’s new Designing Media book. Includes Neil Stevenson on making PopBitch, Chris Anderson on Wired’s relationship with its website, Ira Glass on telling narratives and Mark Zuckerberg on sharing and social connections.
  • The Twitter Hulks – From Feminist Hulk to Cross-dressing Hulk, Lit-crit Hulk to Film-crit Hulk.
  • Paleo-Future Blog: Dawn of the Wireless Phone – Professor William Edward Ayrton wondered in 1901 what it would mean to have portable, wireless telephones: “Think of what this would mean, of the calling which goes on every day from room to room of a house, and then think of that calling extending from pole to pole, not a noisy babble, but a call audible to him who wants to hear, and absolutely silent to all others. It would be almost like dreamland and ghostland, not the ghostland cultivated by a heated imagination, but a real communication from a distance based on true physical laws.”
  • Chris Burden’s Metropolis II – “It includes 1,200 custom-designed cars and 18 lanes; 13 toy trains and tracks; and, dotting the landscape, buildings made of wood block, tiles, Legos and Lincoln Logs. The crew is still at work on the installation. In “Metropolis II,” by his calculation, “every hour 100,000 cars circulate through the city,” Mr. Burden said. “It has an audio quality to it. When you have 1,200 cars circulating it mimics a real freeway. It’s quite intense.””
  • Batman symbols – Must be most, if not all of the Batman symbols. A remarkable range of shapes, but all maintain its distinctive identity.
  • NYT: The Attention-Span Myth – “At some point, we stopped calling Tom Sawyer-style distractibility either animal spirits or a discipline problem. We started to call it sick…” What exactly is an attention span? And is it really good to have one? Great piece of assumption busting.
  • Nine Eyes of Google Street View – Jon Rafman’s cuts of Street View, showing beauty and ugliness, humour and horror in momentary, sliced, sections of the world. Makes you realise that, though public, streets tend to go often unobserved. And it’s a project that seems rooted in a kind of compulsive madness of panning and zooming. Deckard surely has nothing on Rafman.
  • The Atlantic: The 12 Timeless Rules for Making a Good Publication – The Atlantic’s mid-20th century exceedingly elegant and thoughtful editorial guidelines. My favourite: “Always remember that the fastidious element in the Atlantic audience is its permanent and valuable core.”
  • Clay Shirky: The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics – Guess what! Shirky doesn’t think it’s been an enormous success. Expanding on that, the venture “suggests that paywalls don’t and can’t rescue current organizational forms”.
  • On Set: Empire Strikes Back – Vanity Fair – Pictures from the set of Empire Strikes Back show the wonderful mundanity of making fantasy. Mattresses scattered beneath the platform during the climatic scene between Vader and Skywalker, model makers towering above AT-ATs. Also, check the way they created the yellow scrolling text at the start – they actually filmed it.
  • Human landscapes in SW Florida – Patterns amid natural forms in new housing estates in Florida.
  • Cheese I’m afraid of #43: casu marzu – Maggot-riddled casu marzu from Sardinia doesn’t sound like my thing. It’s eaten with thousands of maggots still in it, maggots which are not only able to jump six inches but also have mouthhooks which they can use to tear up your insides.

Link roundup

August 15th, 2010
  • Thirty Five Images of Space Helmet Reflections – A compendium of faces peering from within bulbous glass at the great beyond (via Berg).
  • The New Science of Morality – “Nearly all of us doing this work are secular Liberals. And that means that we're at very high risk of misunderstanding those moralities that are not our own.” Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s talk on how western liberal culture, the one that has essentially built the foundations for the study of human psychology, has a restricted moral spectrum compared to other cultures around the world, and why confirmation bias means it’s much to easy for these psychologists to profoundly misunderstand other cultures.
  • Granta: Cinema's Invisible Art – An essay on the scriptwriter's talent of spare but vivid description, from the Coen brothers to Shane Black's awesome script for Lethal Weapon. No, really.

Link roundup

August 5th, 2010
  • Charles Holland on Inception – A sober but enthusiastic view of Inception, noting its ludicrousness while loving its film-within-a-film complexities. Like a very, very good episode of Doctor Who on an unlimited budget, he says, rather explaining my misgivings: I don’t much like Doctor Who’s delight in story mechanics over, well, just telling a good story, which is why Inception didn’t quite enthral me.
  • Wired: Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown – Nice piece on the commercial realities of AT&T’s experiences with its exclusive iPhone deal. Turns out that scaling up its data network to meet iPhone’s (plus Blackberry and other smart phones’, surely) demands has already cost the company $37 billion, with another $14 billion this year.
  • FT’s CEO on why paywalls are commercially and morally necessary – “The paper’s digital subscribers reached 149,047 at the end of June, up 27% year on year and 17,000 up from January.” Kinda think you need the specialisation, market type and scale of the FT to have this sort of success.

Last House On The Left

December 27th, 2009

We saw the original Last House On The Left last night, a Lovefilm delivery which we’ve been putting off for a while, what with all the warnings of it being horrible.

And it was. For those unaware, it’s a horror film, the directorial debut of Nightmare On Elm Street/Scream creator Wes Craven, about the abduction, rape and murder of two girls by a cadre of sadistic criminals and the subsequent revenge taken out on them by the parents of one of the girls. It was famously banned from general cinema release in the UK and Australia in 1974, and when it was mooted for DVD release in 2002, UK censors wanted to make 16 seconds of cuts. The distributor appealed the decision, calling film critic Mark Kermode forth to present an argument for the film being left unsullied, but the case failed – in fact, the appeal committee doubled the cuts to 31 seconds. Oops.

Frankly, it’s a total mess – the acting is mostly abysmal, the script is wobbly and the editing is all over the place. The narrative jumps ahead several times with no attempt to explain what happened in between, and some juxtapositions of scenes are eye-watering, swerving directly from rape to excruciating attempts at comedy with a bungling pair of cops. It was, after all, the first film most of the production team and actors had made.

And yet it’s also brutally effective. Over all these failings, and after all this time, Last House On The Left remains nail-biting, its depictions of violence and cruelty unblinking. Craven’s intention was to show violence and its repercussions without shying away – a reaction to the bloodless violence of such films as A Fistful Of Dollars, in which audiences would witness the deaths of many characters but not see the true horror of each act – torn flesh and bloody retribution.

His attempt to explore the horror of savagery, from its immediate effects to how it inspires equally barbaric revenge by the the ‘civilised’ middle class parents, isn’t quite so effective, though, struggling to make itself distinct from the mess. Let’s just say that Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring probably did it better – it did, after all, inspire LHOTL, with its story (which actually originates from a 13th century ballad) all but identical.

I think its visceral potency is down to Craven’s essential talent as a director. There are many great touches, including a lingering shot of the rapists awkwardly brushing grass off their hands after the act and some powerful jump shocks, in particular when one of the fleeing girls suddenly meets with the machete of one of her pursuers. And for all the fact that the team originally planned the film to be pornographic, and for all the weird lasciviousness of the opening section, it ultimately does not sexually objectify the girls. The scene in which they are forced to strip is about showing their total vulnerability rather than providing salacious thrills.

Lovefilm encourages users to grade films using five stars. But I found it pretty much impossible to rate Last House On The Left. It’d be easy to dwell on all its many failings, but it has a raw energy which makes it impossible to ignore. Despite its own tagline, ‘It’s only a movie,’ I rather think it’s both more and less than that.

Rope

July 24th, 2009

rope

You can smell films that are based on plays a mile off. It must be difficult to take a story made for the stage and perform it in front of a camera without theatre’s static nature and wordiness making itself obvious. It’s certainly a clear part of Rope, Hitchcock’s 1948 flick about Nietzschean Ivy League gays attempting to commit the perfect murder. The film is great fun, mixing high tension with a sharp sense of humour, and as such comes highly recommended.

Rope was heavily adapted from its original, a play by Patrick Hamilton based on the Leopold and Loeb murder, in order to transplant the story from its roots in the British upper classes to the flatter class system of the US. But despite all the work, Hitchcock decided to film it in single takes of around 10 minutes, with the cast navigating a set that had to be at least as cleverly designed as any for the stage and the camera sporting an unflinching gaze like that of a theatre audience.

It’s ironic that the film that’s been called Hitchcock’s most experimental has the air of something as ancient as theatre. But Hitchcock brings in one or two little tricks that only film can achieve. In a couple of places, he has conversation go on as the camera remains fixed on a certain element for dramatic effect – for instance, the box in which the victim’s body lies, which is being fussed around by the housekeeper even as the dinner party guests discuss where the victim could be.

As with many Hitchcock films, Rope wears its cinematic technique heavily, with takes spliced awkwardly into each other by zooming into a character’s back, fading to black and then brightening out again into the next, but, heck, we’re talking about 1948. And its staginess feels quite exotic now, a relief from today’s unrelenting action and movement.

Theatre’s need to concentrate on character, dialogue and plot can remind film of some of basic tenets that many recent releases seem to have forgotten. Yes, films should always be built using technique and artistry specific to film, but Rope reminds that other narrative arts, such as theatre, still have a lot to teach them, too.

Aging Watchmen

July 6th, 2009

watchmen

All sorts doesn’t quite feel right about the Watchmen film. It’s certainly respectful – deferential, even – to its source, and probably to a fault. But the niggling feeling I had while watching it was that at least some of the film’s problems are probably directly due to issues with the original comic.

Whatever the case is in a broader sense, the comic is a compelling document of the time in which it was written. With its inking style and thin, cheap paper, the comic remains an artefact whether you bought it yesterday or in 1987, lending it context and significance that distracts from its problems as a piece of storytelling.

One of the troubles with the film could be, then, that it’s exposing them. It does a good job of setting the action in the comic’s version of that mid-80s period, with window-sized glasses and long haircuts, dingy streets and round-cornered TVs. But the style-conscious film-making itself, with its fixation with slowing time at dramatic moments, long camera fly-throughs of huge CGI sets and the glossy suits of its costumed heroes, feels distinctly modern.

Taking a story that was built so specifically to be told through the medium of the comic was always going to be hard to translate to film. But the effect of time on Watchmen has had its own insidious effect on the project’s success.

The Man Without A Past

June 28th, 2009

The Man Without A Past

I don’t know much about Finnish humour, but if The Man Without A Past is anything to go by, it’s about as grimly ironic as one might expect. Aki Kaurismäki’s 2002 film presents a story about Helsinki’s underclass that’s wracked with bleak suicide and rapacious extortion, sour bureaucracy and brutal robbery, but one also marked by disarmingly black comedy.

A flavour: the main character, who has been beaten by muggers so viciously that he has lost his memory, has found a dockland security guard willing to rent out to him a shipping container in which to live. Having no money, the man promises payment the next day, to which the guard threatens that he’ll have his dog tear his nose off if he doesn’t come through – and then remarks, “It’s no more smoking in the shower for you”. Because without a nose the water would stream directly on to the fag?

Our man lets the comment slide without even a shrug. Indeed, every performance is taciturn in the extreme – almost to the extent of being wooden. Hardly a character betrays emotion, their stoicism sharpening the humour and producing a sense of otherworldliness that the soundtrack of rock ‘n’ roll, blues and traditional Finnish songs binds with the film’s more realist visions of desperate poverty.

The Man Without A Past is also a love story. Our hero visits a Salvation Army food hall and falls for one of the staff, who falls for him in turn. The life he constructs over the Finnish summer – a woman, a job, growing eight potatoes in the mean plot outside his container, a jukebox, managership of a rock band – leads to hope for his future, even with the threat of winter ahead.

Naturally, that future will only be decided by resolving his past. And there the film surprises, too – it’d be a shame to blow the ending, but suffice it to say that losing his past wasn’t necessarily such a bad thing. It’s the humour that does it, though; lighting a cigarette even as the oxygen runs out in sealed bank vault, a shipping container luckily free in which to live – but only because its previous occupant froze to death the previous winter. Poverty is grim, but it has some good jokes.