Archives for category: Film

Veronica_Lake

‘I’ve reached a point in my life where it’s the little things that matter… I was always a rebel and probably could have got much farther had I changed my attitude. But when you think about it, I got pretty far without changing attitudes. I’m happier with that.’

– Veronica Lake

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If you’ve had one of those days when a shrug of the shoulders and a long drawn out sigh is not enough, then you need to hit the Star Wars Instant ‘Noooooooo’ Button.

Try it here.

Now, doesn’t that feel better?

With thanks to Maria Guimil

Videocracy

In Italy, for thirty odd years, the image has been controlled by one man. TV-magnate and Presidente Silvio Berlusconi has influenced the content of commercial television in a way never before done in Italy. His TV-channels, with their young skimpy-clad girls, are seen by many to mirror his own taste and personality.

In Videocracy, Italian-born director Erik Gandini portrays the consequences of a TV-experiment that Italians have been subjected to for 30 years. Gaining unique access to the most powerful media spheres, he unveils a remarkable story, born out of the scary reality of ”TV-Republic” Italy.

 

 
With thanks to Jai Bia


 
Montgomery Clift was one of the leading actors of his generation, and was described as “the most beautiful man in movies.” This fascinating short documentary by Nicola Black, examines how the various illnesses, ailments, addictions and the after-effects of a near fatal car-crash shaped Clift’s life and career. With interviews from Kenneth Anger, Barney Hoskyns, Patricia Bosworth and Kevin McCarthy.

View Post Mortem – Beautiful Loser here.
 

Gaspar Noé was high on magic mushrooms when he came up with the style for his latest film ‘Enter the Void’.  He was watching Robert Montgomery‘s ‘Lady in the Lake‘, based on Raymond Chandler‘s brilliant novel.  In the film, Montgomery, who also starred as Philip Marlowe, used the camera as a first person Point Of View, to tell the story, something which had been seen briefly before, in the opening sequence of Rouben Mamoulian‘s ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde‘.  The tripped-out Noé saw in Montgomery’s vision a way to make the ultimate filmic sensory experience.  The result is ‘Enter the Void‘.

Noé’s tale may have been inspired by Montgomery’s clever approach to film-making, but it is more reminiscent of Jonas Åkerlund‘s banned, ground-breaking promo ‘Smack My Bitch Up‘ made in 1997 for The Prodigy, where a night of drink, drugs, sex and violence is seen from the POV of the central character.  Indeed there is some similarity between Åkerlund’s genius originality and Noe’s breath-taking style in his latest film.

Enter the Void‘ is a psychedelic head trip that follows the life and death of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a American small time drug dealer adrift in Tokyo, who is fatally shot in a police raid.  The camera then becomes Oscar’s POV as his spirit/memory/soul, recalling key events in his life and death, as he comforts his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta).

The film is a visual feast, akin to Kenneth Anger‘s ‘Inauguration of the Pleasuredom‘, Stanley Kubrick‘s ‘2001‘ and promos directed by Åkerlund and Jonathan Glazer. However, its mix of beauty and horror (a car crash and an abortion feature prominently), has divided critics.  This is unlikely to trouble Noé, whose last film, the shockingly brutal ‘Irrevérsible‘, was described as “one of the most disturbing and controversial films of 2002”, that took “an adolescent pride in its own ugliness”, with its depiction of rape and murder.

Noé is an exceptional film-maker, and ‘Enter the Void‘ will further establish his reputation as a director who can infect the mind and imagination with his disturbing, and shockingly original vision.

On his Facebook page, the writer Steve Duffy “isn’t quite sure what’s scarier: that this Tumblr thread exists in the first place, or that over a thousand people are fans of it.”

Hold that thought, for there are 1,000 fans (and counting) of Pinup RDJ, which is run by Lisa aka Saxifragious Personette, who writes:

“Vintage pinups are the pinnacle of art. Robert Downey jnr. is the pinnacle of sexy. It’s not rocket science.”

You know, she may have something here.  This is one we’re going to have to ponder.  Answers please, on a postcard.  In the meantime, enjoy Lisa’s incredible handiwork.

With thanks to Steve Duffy

Norman Mailer claimed he was “imprisoned with a vision” which would “settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.”  Unfortunately for Mailer, he was far too good a writer to ever do that.

The writers who have achieved  such a “revolution” have always produced poorly written and unrelentingly dull books.  Marx and Hitler may have changed history, but ‘Das Kapital’ and ‘Mein Kampf’ will never be page turners, let alone literature.

As for Mailer, he wrote over 40 books, a dozen of which are important works of literature.  No small feat when considering how often Mailer was reckless with his talents. Now Joseph Mantegna has directed a documentary film, called ‘Norman Mailer: The American‘, which examines the life of the great novelist, journalist, film director, and actor and promises to reveal the man behind these multiple lives, with unseen footage, and interviews from his wives, his children, his lovers, his enemies.

When Martin Amis unflatteringly compared Mailer and his legacy to the ruins of Ozymandias‘ two vast and trunkless legs of stone, languishing in the desert, Amis failed to appreciate how Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s poem had made the great King immortal.  Mailer’s life and books don’t need a Shelley, but it’s certainly about time someone assessed the great man’s life and work, and thankfully it looks like Joseph Mantegna has stepped up to the plate.

What hasn’t been said about Laurel & Hardy?  Not much, for they were the greatest comedy double act ever, and still hold sway over millions of fans.  Here is rare peek at the men behind that superb comedy act from a 1954 edition of the TV series ‘This Is Your Life’.  look out too for a young Benard Delfont, the legendary British theatre impresario.

And here from 1943, is Laurel & Hardy’s only appearance on colour film – a one reeler made for the promotion of wood products.

In 2001, Channel 4 television, in the UK, broadcast a 20-part sci-fi short animation series called ‘Workgroup Alpha’.  It starred Ed Bishop and dealt with a team of inter-dimensional consultants, lost on an intergalactic space mission. Bishop, with his association as Commander Straker from Gerry Anderson’s cult TV hit ‘UFO’, was ideally cast as Aquarius, the Enterprise Class Visionary, who with his fellow travellers explored “a whole new dimension in universal solutions”.

Though there is the passing hint of Frederick Pohl’s satirical sci-fi classic ‘The Space Merchants’, which imagined a world run by ad agencies, ‘Workgroup Alpha’ offered an intelligent and witty critique of the growing cultural obsession with corporate speak, focus groups, PR consultants, and all those other anemic constructs that have depersonalized our world.

The end credit to the series was attributed to the Butler Brothers, the name by which John and Paul Butler operate.  Paul is the co-producer, writer and conceptual consultant.  John is writer, designer, animator, composer, co-producer, and director.

I first heard about the Butler Brothers through friends, though it was always John Butler who attracted the most attention.  His name was mentioned with that hushed reverential tone and nodding head of respect that said we had touched on some sacred matter.  It made Butler seem almost mythical – a great creative artist who lived somewhere (no one seemed quite sure where, or if they did, didn’t say), a garret most likely, where he created, with help from his brother, these incredible digital animations, of such intelligence and imagination.

I thought at the time, this is how the locals of Montmartre and Montparnasse must have behaved, when they whispered to each other about the artists creating works of art in their Parisian, attic studios, at the turn of the last century.

When I speak with John, the analogy chimes closely, as he states his ambition is  “To paint a picture of the world.”  And then adds his fear is, “Running out of paint.”

It’s a statement that best sums Butler up – he’s artistic, ambitious, intense, honest, imaginative, genuine, creative and witty.  He’s a real talent, which in these cloned days is a rare and precious thing – something John is aware.

“As an artist, I suppose my philosophy is composed of what interests me.   I’m interested in what happens in the world and why.   I’m not really interested in making art from or about art.

“I’m interested in human utility in the drone age.  Human redundancy in the unmanned economy.  I’m interested in the war between Finance and Humans.

“I’m interested in the Universal Transaction Space we all now inhabit.”

Hearing these clipped, bold, statements, it comes as no surprise that John’s favoured tomes are J. K. Galbraith’s ‘New Industrial State’ and Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle – that brutal novel of life in the meat packing industry.

John also has a penchant for French Literature and Michael Hudson, the economic historian, who he regards as: “one of the best guides to the way things are” while from the French, he claims, Balzac “tells you how much it costs.”

The Butler Brothers’ work is speculative science fiction that deals with the here and now.  It is like a video of the horrors of Guantanamo Bay filmed in a shopping mall.

“Speculative fiction is important because the future seems to be behind us, and nothing lies ahead. We’re just waiting for the next upgrade.

“That is the essence of contemporary culture.  It’s designed to disable the imagination.”

He describes himself as an “electronic artist” – someone who makes sound and vision using computers.  Butler is like the John Carpenter of the Digital Animation World – writing, producing, directing, designing, animating, and composing the music for all of the Brothers’ computer graphic videos.

“I do these things all at once, as I tend to feel my way through a project. This is a typical writer / painter mode of working.  I only figure out where it’s going half way through. This approach is not much use if you are commanding resources and directing people, so I prefer to do it myself.

“The advantage is that doing the wrong thing leads to discovery.”

“I make computer graphic videos rather than animations.  They are narrative but are more like Power Point writ large than CGI films.  I’m trying to make something like the Chamber of Commerce propaganda cartoons John Sutherland made in the fifties. It’s about pushing CGI sideways rather than forward.”

John originally studied drawing and painting at Art College, but he always wanted to move into something that could include music and, later on, narrative. It seemed inevitable that he would move towards animation.

The subject of his college thesis was Edgard Varèse, the pioneering composer who used a tape recorder as a compositional tool. He also made what was probably the first multimedia installation, the ‘Poem Electronique’ in 1958, the seminal collaboration with Le Corbusier and Philips Electric (they supplied the 225 loudspeakers).

This idea of synthesis between form and medium is key to Butler’s work, something he was introduced to in childhood.  His father was an industrial cameraman and film-maker for Ferranti, the electrical engineering and avionics firm that had factories in Edinburgh and Manchester.

Through his father, John had access to magazines such as ‘Aviation Week’, ‘Space Technology’ and ‘American Cinematographer’, which has given him a language that has seeped into his work.  It is akin to J. G. Ballard’s “invisible literature” – those scientific and medical journals that informed Ballard’s writing, or the way Thomas Pynchon wrote manuals for the BOMARC anti-aircraft missile that later shaped ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’.

More recently, Butler has used the language of commerce and economics, in particular ‘Forbes Magazine’.  He cites a recent example:

“Delcath’s chief executive, Eamonn Hobbs, and chief medical officer, Krishna Kandarpa, said in an interview that the study was designed around a written agreement with the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of New Drugs, and that the lack of a survival benefit occurred because patients who failed in the control group got Delcath’s therapy.”

He pauses.

“I like the term ‘lack of a survival benefit’. It means they died.”

Then adds.

“Can you really believe there’s a company called Delcath? It’s pure Philip K. Dick.

“It’s those euphemisms that create the secret language of business, which I like so much. That’s why my dialogue is so stylised, I’m not trying to show how people really talk, I’m trying to channel the argot of commerce through them.

“I think that in about twenty years, we will all talk presentational English.”

His other childhood influences include Don Lawrence’s illustrations for Mike Butterworth’s ‘Trigan Empire’, which he read when it was first serialized in Look and Learn’ – the weekly educational magazine for kids.  And understandably, for someone growing up in the sixties, the early Dr. Who, Star Trek and all of Gerry Anderson’s work, from ‘Stingray’ via ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Captain Scarlet’ through to ‘UFO’.  It was as much the originality of these programmes as their subject matter that appealed, “There was no such thing as remakes or postmodernism. It was all brand new.”

Splice in a little Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard, and Frederick Pohl, John Carpenter, ‘This Island Earth’ and Nigel Kneale’s ‘Quatermass’, and you’ll start to see the genetic material of John’s DNA.

However, it was a more recent work of science fiction that had an epihanic effect on Butler, namely Ed Neumeier’s work with Paul Verhoeven on the films ‘Robocop’ and the ‘Starship Troopers’.

“‘Robocop’ showed me that art could include everything. Politics, humour, experiment, excitement, beauty.  That’s where the Butler Brothers brand comes from, they were a games company in that film.”

John works with seven computers on two desks in the spare room of his West End flat.

“It’s more of a render allotment than render farm,” he says.

“I always thought that was the point of having personal computer systems and home studios. You can create your own work independently rather than seek authorization to command resources. You can also improvise and explore freely.

“The disadvantage is that you’ll never achieve the production values that are so important today, but I’m happy to do without.

“I’ve never really been one to draw up a detailed plan / storyboard and then execute it exactly, though I do script things like motion capture and voice recording sessions.

“I don’t use live video at all, which I would compare to sampling. I prefer 3D, which I think of as synthesis.”

The Butler Brothers’ most recent work is a sequel to their excellent, yet disturbing, ‘Darkness Seed’. Called ‘Children of the Null’ it limns uncanny parallels between our current obsessions with technology and social networks, and their hidden costs on individual freedom.  In the Butler Brothers’ world our modern technology has a more sinister purpose, it is used to “reaggregate” children as food for an alien parasite.

John describes the outcome as “quite horrific”, but though his view may be dystopian, he thinks it a fair assessment of our world.

“I was thinking of the way that, after 30 years of desocialisation, social media is reaggregating us into a more useful form via Facebook and its ilk.  I’m convinced social media has been designed to kill off the peer to peer movement.”

For John the need to critically examine the world we live in is a given, and it is one way to tell the truth of what is really going on.

It was the same for those artists of Montmartre and Montparnasse, for once they had shown the world ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, it would never be the same.  Similarly, once you have watched a Butler Brothers film, you will never view the world in the same way again.

Images copyright © Butler Brothers 2010, used with kind permission


James Kennaway was a brilliant, talented writer, whose career spanned best-selling novels, block-busting screenplays and Oscar-winning movies.   More than forty-odd years after his death, he remains one of Scotland’s most enigmatic and unacknowledged literary heroes.

Born in Aucherarder, Perth, in 1928, Kennaway first came to prominence with his 1956 novel ‘Tunes of Glory‘.  An instant critical and popular success, it was made into a powerful film with Alec Guinness and John Mills in 1960.

In 1962, Kennaway adapted another of his novels for the superior psychological thriller ‘The Mindbenders‘, starring Dirk Bogarde (who was just at that cross-over point in his career, from “cheesecake” to serious actor), Mary Ure, and Wendy Craig.  Later in the decade, another of Kennaway’s novel, ‘Household Ghosts’ about an incestuous relationship between brother and sister, received the big screen treatment starring Peter O’Toole and Susannah York in 1969.

Kennaway’s other books include ‘The Cost of Living Like This’, ‘Some Gorgeous Accident’ (the last published during his lifetime), and the filmic and beautiful novella, ‘Silence’.

Kennaway was an Oscar nominated screenwriter (‘Tunes of Glory‘) who also wrote the screenplays for ‘Violent Playground‘ starring Peter Cushing, David McCallum and Stanley Baker, as well as a successful adaptation of Morris West’s ‘The Shoes of the Fisherman’ and Len Deighton’s ‘The Battle of Britain‘, starring Michael Caine and Robert Shaw.

His short story ‘The Dollar Bottom’ was made into an Oscar-winning short film in 1981 with Rikki Fulton and Robert Urquhart.

Tragically, Kennaway was killed in a car crash in 1968, at the very moment he seemed destined for greater success.

A theatrical production of ‘Some Gorgeous Accident’ will be premiered at the Edinburgh Festival, this year.