Full Metal Jacket Q&A with Producer Jan Harlan

Personal Shopper Q&A with Director Olivier Assayas

‘THIS is a ghost story. It deals with the invisible.’

So says Olivier Assayas, director of Personal Shopper, a film which boldly confronts perceptions of the supernatural.

Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is a young American woman in Paris who makes a living selecting clothes for a rich celebrity. The work is thankless and unfulfilling but Maureen is willing to bear it while she waits for her deceased twin brother to make contact from the afterlife.

As Maureen’s frustrations grow, a series of anonymous text messages spark a personal turmoil that begins to bleed into her professional life.

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Speaking to esteemed film writer – and host for the night – Ian Haydn Smith in front of a captivated audience at the Curzon Soho, Assayas cited John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing), David Cronenberg (The Fly, Videodrome) and Wes Craven (Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street) as the inspirations behind his venture into supernatural themes.

He said: ‘They [the directors] deal with issues that are very profound and ultimately they are more disturbing and more profound than what is considered serious filmmaking –  especially when dealing with issues of visual and invisible, and life and death.’

He continued:  ‘When I am dealing with abstract, metaphysic ideas we don’t feel that it should be associated with genre filmmaking, but I think the opposite.

‘I think genre filmmaking is our best key to getting there because genre filmmaking connects physically with the audience.’

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Yet it is Assayas’ European approach that brings a refreshing twist to the genre and allows for a cerebral examination of an individual’s relationship with the invisible.

At times, Personal Shopper feels like a psychological study not too far from Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010). It is riveting, but also leads the audience down a path of self-reflection that opens up a more nuanced discussion about our own interpretations of the supernatural.

The director stated: ‘I wanted to make a film that deals with the supernatural but not in the way that American genre movies relate to the supernatural.

‘In the sense that American culture is so defined by mechanism – by good and bad. Visible is good and what is happening outside of visible is evil. I don’t think that way. I think there is something fascinating in the invisible.’

He explained: ‘We all have a completely different relationship with the invisible because ultimately we live in societies where religion has faded, so very few people have a solid religious vision of the world and of the afterlife.

‘It’s nonetheless a question that we all have, even if it is pushed under the rug. It is there for every single one of us. We all build our own convictions.’

As Assayas pointed out in his introduction to the screening, the supernatural elements of the film are made credible by an extraordinary lead performance from Kristen Stewart.

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The two worked together on Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014, a wonderfully acted film observing artistic expression and filmmaking. It proved to be a ‘watershed moment’ (Ian Haydn Smith’s words) in Stewart’s career.

Of course, the director has taken much of the praise for breathing fresh life into her career following the commercially successful – but critically panned – Twilight franchise.

Assayas said: ‘I think I was the right person at the right moment. I didn’t invent her. Everything she does is her own hard work. I am just the person who happened to give her the space to express it because it’s all a matter of control.

‘When you are working in a Hollywood framework, it is all about control and there is very little room for actors. It’s all about supervision.

‘In independent European filmmaking tradition it is the opposite. Actors have a lot more space. I did with Kristen what I have done with all the actors I have worked with – give her space. But for her it was completely new.’

Assayas gave insight into this fluid approach to the storytelling process, including his laissez-faire approach to scenes – allowing actors to work on instinct rather than meticulous notes. Also, his willingness to let actors adapt the dialogue to fit their own voice. It is a platform that allowed Stewart to flourish.

The highly engaging 62-year-old went on to say: ‘I was also the one person who told her: ‘It’s ok to be yourself’. It is extremely basic but I think it was useful for her.

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‘All of a sudden it gave her confidence. I was the one who helped her with that but it is also to the credit of Juliette Binoche.

‘When we made Sils Maria together, part of the story was that Kristen wanted to work with Juliette because she admired her. She admired her freedom, the way she has been able to move between independent filmmaking and more mainstream filmmaking, protecting her freedom.

‘That was something Kristen was interested in, and the way Juliette improvises and constantly reinvents her scenes is something that Kristen used as a model.’

After a follow up film to Clouds of Sils Maria fell through the day before shooting – an exasperating blow for Assayas and a sad loss for audiences – the director returned to Paris and began conceptualising Personal Shopper.

When writing the film, Assayas came to the conclusion that the lead character would have to be a foreigner in Paris, his main reference point being Stewart. It soon became apparent that the role was not only inspired by Stewart but written for her. Unsurprisingly, the actress took the role immediately after receiving the script.

We can only hope that there is more to come from this partnership although Assayas noted that Stewart will be making her own films in the future (she made short film Come Swim this year).

The director’s admiration for Stewart was clear to see, and one remark from Haydn Smith about her incredible use of body movements sparked a fascinating anecdote about the level of detail that goes into the actress’s performances.

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Assayas revealed: ‘When we started making Sils Maria, I had seen her in movies, I had loved her, I had met her a few times. I liked the person and thought she had very big potential but I didn’t realise how unique she was.

‘What made me realise how unique she was is how she uses her body on screen. The preciseness of the consciousness she has of the space where she is acting and where the camera is. What lense it is and what she can do to position herself.

‘It is very silly but in one scene in Sils Maria all she had to do was open a curtain but the way she opened the curtain I could not believe my eyes.’

There are plenty of ‘curtain opening’ moments for Stewart in Personal Shopper.

Make sure you do not miss them.  Personal Shopper will stun, grip and probe your inner self, even if you consider yourself the most obdurate of supernatural cynics.

PERSONAL SHOPPER IS OUT IN CINEMAS ON FRIDAY THE 17TH OF MARCH

Visit Curzon cinemas 

Kong Skull Island & Ellie Review

Kong: Skull Island and Elle (Film Review)

BEAUTY and the Beast does not arrive in cinemas until this Friday (March 17) but I was treated to my own cinematic beauty and beast – of sorts – on my recent trip to the Curzon in London (a sublime Victoria and closure-threatened Soho).

Kong: Skull Island is the second ‘MonsterVerse’ film from Legendary Entertainment following on from 2014’s Godzilla. It takes place at the close of the Vietnam War in 1973.

Government official Bill Randa (John Goodman) pushes for approval to survey a mysterious and uncharted South Pacific island. His expedition is sanctioned on the basis that the US will be securing a potential gold mine of resources ahead of the Russians. But Randa is more concerned with proving the existence of deadly monsters that he believes inhabit the island.

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Randa is assigned a military troop, fresh from ‘Nam. It is led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) and accompanies his team of scientists, along with tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

As their helicopters make a violent and disruptive arrival on Skull Island, they are greeted by the mammoth figure of King Kong who proceeds to tear them down in rage. This encounter turns the expedition into a fight for survival, which leaves the remaining members of the team just three days to navigate across the perils of Skull Island and reach the safety of their rallying point.

As Conrad and Weaver begin to realise that Kong is not the monster to be feared on this island,  Packer remains hell-bent on exacting revenge on the colossal primate for killing many of his soldiers, resolutely stating: ‘’this is a war we can’t lose.’

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Of course, if you are looking for any semblance of nuance or depth beneath ‘copter crushing and Samuel L Jackson cursing, you have definitely chosen the wrong film. Skull Island’s brittle script is littered with an array of undeveloped characters that feels all too reminiscent of recent ‘blockbuster’ disappointments such as Jurassic World, Ghostbusters and Suicide Squad

Randa’s statement at the start of the film that ‘they’ll never be a more screwed up time in Washington’ is a jolting precursor to the film’s dense approach to storytelling.

In fact, Randa’s character arc seems to end once he has given everyone a reason to be on the island. It is a disappointing waste of Goodman’s abundant talent and sadly none of the monsters in this film are half as threatening, imposing or sinister as the one he so expertly played in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

The film’a scatter-gun approach is reflected in its careless use of music, albeit nowhere near as unbearable as Suicide Squad’s overhanded pop tracks.

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Yes, Jefferson Starship and Credence Clearwater Revival are reminders that we are in the 1970’s. But their sound is almost as distracting as the appearance of Hank Marlow (John C Reilly) midway through the film.

Marlow, a former World War II pilot who has been living on the island since his plane crash-landed, gives the impression that he has just walked off the set of Step Brothers – certainly not of a man who has just spent close to 30 years battling for survival on a terror-filled island.

It is all irritating, bewildering and outright skull-numbing stuff that no amount of explosions and spectacle can cover up.

 LUCKILY my second film of the day, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, provided just the right dose of medicine to sooth this cinephile’s gorilla-induced headache.

Successful video game chief executive Michele Leblanc (a glorious Isabelle Huppert) is confronted by a monster of different sorts when a masked man breaks into her home and rapes her.

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Rather than calling the police – her father’s scandalous past makes her wary of the authorities – Michele’s response is shockingly composed and reserved. She cleans up the mess, takes a bloodied bath and then orders some sushi.

As a series of lewd text messages from Michele’s attacker spark a tense game of cat and mouse, she changes the locks, shops for weapons and learns how to fire a gun, ready to fight back if necessary.

The masked man rapes again and on one occasion leaves a message for her on a computer resting on her bed, accompanied by a healthy dose of his semen.

Michele’s desire to resist victimhood and maintain control of her life also gives her fresh impetus to confront other lingering personal issues which largely involve emasculated men.

Michele’s ex-husband Richard (Charles Berling), whom she regrets having separated from, is in a relationship with a young student (and yoga teacher) who is only interested in him for his modest literary fame.

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Their son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) is still asking Michele for financial support and is subservient to his bossy and disagreeable pregnant girlfriend Josie (Alice Isaaz). A child we discover whose father is patently not Robert but a work colleague (the smile on the latter’s face in the maternity room after a difficult birth says it all).

Robert (Christian Berkel) – the husband of Michele’s best friend and business partner Anna (Anne Consigny) – is having an affair with Michele. Not surprisingly, Robert is desperate to keep their wilting romance alive but Michele’s disinterest is clear to see.

That is not all. Michele’s mother (a marvellous Judith Magre) is threatening to marry a young toy boy, much to her daughter’s disgust – while the latest video that the company is working on is corrupted by an employee, showing Michele in a less than flattering light. An extraordinary scene follows when one of the employees is asked to drop his pants to prove to Michele that he is not the rapist.

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Most of these simmering relationships and situations provide an amusing backdrop to Michele’s darker issues, especially when some of these people are gathered together for a dysfunctional Christmas dinner party.

As you can tell from all this, Elle is certainly not your conventional revenge story.

Instead, it subverts the genre in ways that are outrageously dark and devastatingly enthralling. Huppert’s brave and unyielding performance – in some truly disturbing scenes – is sublime.

I thought she was good in last year’s Things to Come. But Elle sees Huppert reach new heights.

Reason enough to visit your local cinema and be terrified, appalled but thoroughly entertained by yet another challenging and provocative Verhoeven classic.

CHECK OUT:

MOONLIGHT AND FENCES REVIEW

20TH CENTURY WOMEN REVIEW

“THE HACIENDA WAS EVERYTHING”

VICEROY’S HOUSE Q&A

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Q&A

Kong Skull Island – 2/5

Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Scr: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson, John C Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann

DOP: Larry Fong

Music: Henry Jackman

Year: 2017

Runtime: 2 hrs

Elle – 4/5 

Dir: Paul Verhoeven

Scr: David Birke, Philippe Djian (novel)

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre, Christian Berkel, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Vimala Pons

DOP: Stephane Fontaine

Music: Anne Dudley

Year: 2016

Runtime: 2hr 10

Wrestling With Reality – The Wrestler (2008)

5 STARS

‘The real world is faker than professional wrestling.’

These are the playful words of Mick Foley, or, as you may know him better, Mankind. A mask-wearing, sock-wielding masochist who was once infamously thrown off a 16-foot cell by The Undertaker.

Yes, it is time to talk about the zany world of wrestling, but not as many of us know it. That is because director Darren Aronofsky, in 2008, decided to point his lens at a shadowy part of this multi-billion dollar industry.

Far from the bright lights and corporate atmosphere of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a litany of performers, from young up-and-comers to grizzled veterans, toil away on the independent wrestling scene.

Previously spotlighted in Barry Blaustein’s fascinating documentary Beyond the Mat (1999), this grittier realm is largely marked by small audiences, unreliable pay-cheques and dingy locker rooms.

That is exactly where we find broken-down star of the 80’s Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke).

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In one telling early scene, Randy hobbles and wheezes his way out of a venue, as Aronofsky’s camera pulls back to reveal his underwhelming surroundings. He is long separated from the big leagues of his chosen profession.

The Wrestler follows Randy as a heart attack forces him to reassess his reckless life – inside, outside and after the ring.

Aronofsky utilises a documentarian style with handheld cameras and natural light adding an unwavering sense of realism to the story.

He is also not afraid to lift the curtain on some of wrestling’s trade secrets. This includes Randy piecing together the details of his match backstage and preparing a ‘blade’ to draw his own blood in the ring.

For most of the film, Aronofsky’s camera trails behind Randy, as though the wrestler is constantly performing his ring walk-out. It is part of a losing battle to move away from his wrestling persona and transition him back into the ordinary world.

This struggle is brilliantly epitomised by one sequence in which Randy makes his way to work at a supermarket deli counter.

The sound of a cheering wresting crowd builds, but just as ‘The Ram’ goes through the curtain – in this instance through the PVC strips – silence prevails. Reality hits home. His days of performing for huge crowds are over.

There are also notable parallels drawn between Randy and his favourite stripper Cassidy (played by the magnificent Marisa Tomei), who is also questioning her future.

Their ageing bodies have left them on the scrap heap of their superficial professions. Where do they go next? Where indeed.

One way Randy looks to reconnect with the real world is with his estranged daughter (Westworld’s excellent Evan Rachel Wood). It is in these moments that Aronofsky finally shows an intimate close-up of Randy’s face.

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Perhaps there is life beyond his ridiculous tights and brutal headlocks.

The Wrestler is an undoubted triumph for Aronofsky. This is no better demonstrated than the rehabilitating effect the film had on Rourke. Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is a role made for a jaded star who brings his own turbulent history to the character.

Wrestling fan or not, The Wrestler is a film worth grappling with.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: James recommends: Chronicle (2012)

Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

The Shepherd (Film Review)

James recommends: Chronicle (2012)

5 STARS

HOW do three high schoolers react when they are gifted the heady responsibility of superhero powers?

That is the question director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis concisely pose in this engaging and bold movie.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a greasy haired, weary eyed introvert chronicling his life through a camera (yes, this is another found footage flick).

At home, his mother is bed-ridden and racking up unaffordable medical bills. His father (House of Cards’ Michael Kelly) is a retired fireman who has hit the booze and, when he has had enough of that, hits Andrew.

Unsurprisingly, the camera-wielding outcast finds no refuge at High School. The glum Seattle skies paired with the graininess of his student camera only reinforce Andrews cheerless situation.

That is until one evening when Andrew is led down a mysterious hole in the woods, along with cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular high schooler, Steve (Michael B Jordan).

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They emerge with newfound powers and soon begin testing them out in the trivial ways you might expect from teenage boys. Levitating legos and supermarket mischief ensues.

But, as established by an earlier reference to the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, this comedic tinge does not last long.

Trank and Landis throw an abrupt – and dark – curve in the road, which builds towards an ambitious finale.

It is all well-designed and compelling enough to see through the lean 89 minute runtime.

Trank also wisely manoeuvres around some of the found footage trappings that have made the subgenre tiresome to many. Different perspectives, including a love-interest vlogger (Ashely Hinshaw) and CCTV cameras, prevent visual stagnation from setting in.

Likewise, the casting and performances deserve recognition. In particular, Jordan, who demonstrates the likability and swagger he will knock us out with in Creed three years later.

Unfortunately for Trank, his recent chance at a big-money superhero franchise, Fantastic Four (2015), brought him back down to earth with a thud. Meanwhile, Landis’ best work since has been his brilliant YouTube short Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.

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With hindsight, Chronicle works as an allegory for gun control in America (the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred ten months after the movie’s release).

It demonstrates the danger of allowing potentially lethal powers to fall into the hands of those who do not necessarily have the maturity, support or mental stability to handle them.

Discussion-provoking stuff. Not bad for an unashamedly low-budget pursuit (it overachieved massively at the box-office).

Chronicle is a movie well worth visiting – or revisiting – in these difficult and dangerous times.

Thanks for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

The Shepherd (Film Review)

Falling in Love with La La Land

Chronicle – 4/5

Dire: Josh Trank

Scre: Josh Trank and Max Landis

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hindsaw

 

 

Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

Spoiler warning. Our In-Focus series takes a look at Manchester By The Sea. 

OVER the past year American cinema has given us some beautifully tender and moving moments. The kiss in Moonlight, the planetarium dance in La La Land and the closing revelation in Arrival.

But none more heart-rending than the ‘stroller scene’ in Kenneth Lonergan’s magnificent Manchester By The Sea.

A moment which brings together former husband Lee (Oscar winning Casey Affleck) and wife Randi (Michelle Williams, another Oscar winner). Two broken hearts that are stranded at different stages of an unbearable grieving process – the loss of their three children in a house fire caused by Lee’s negligence.

It is a difficult, uncomfortable and emotionally compelling scene. Three minutes of cinema that will remain ingrained in my brain forever.

Speaking at a Curzon Q&A earlier this year, Lonergan explained the thought process behind the scene. He said: ‘I said to Casey: you cannot bare to speak to her, but you also don’t want to hurt her feelings for asking. To make her feel bad for trying to speak to you. But you also have to try and get out of the conversation.

‘I said the same to Michelle: you have to reach out to him and pull him out of the hole he’s in, but you don’t want to hurt him by doing it.’

The scene arrives with Lee, still at the bottom of his irreconcilable pit of anguish, and Randi, now re-married and ready for some form of reconciliation. All the while the stroller, a signifier of Randi’s progress and her willingness to continue with life by creating another human being, sits as a silent barrier between them.

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Moving away from the stroller scene, Lonergan reinforces Lee’s self-imposed isolation with his framing.

Lee is often shunted to the side of the screen or captured slightly out of our reach. When Lonergan’s camera does get close, Lee’s eyes drift to one side or, even more evasively, to the floor.

Likewise, Lee’s posture is rigid and guarded. His shoulders are hunched in defeat and his arms rarely move from his side – unless he is ready to throw a few fists. Indeed, Lee seems willing to make any excuse to get in a fight and, better still, get beaten up.

The brawling, partially a result of his Bostonian machismo, also acts as an outlet for self-harm – in many ways a less definitive punishment than his attempted suicide in the police station.

The life Lee has set out for himself is akin to a prison life-sentence.

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His desolate mourning is only underlined by the people around him. The film opens with janitor Lee (a jack of all trades) attending to customers who have issues going on in their lives. One moment, we view a grandmother making plans to attend a Bar Mitzvah. The next, we see a flirtatious woman on the phone to her friend seemingly infatuated with Lee.

Lee, for the most part, remains emotionless or is provoked into losing his temper, triggering a rebuke from his boss. He returns to the solitude of his barren room to fall asleep while watching hockey with a beer in his hand.

But is it his relationship with nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) which make his grieving most apparent.

When the two return home from visiting Joe’s body (his brother and Patrick’s father), Patrick immediately asks if he can invite his friends over. Patrick’s friends lift his spirits with aimless chat about Star Trek, while Lee retreats, once again, to spend the evening alone in his room.

This was not always the case for Lee. Manchester By The Sea is told in a non-linear fashion, adding a sense of mystery and dread to his story.

The most tragic flashback occurs as Lee finds out he has been chosen as Patrick’s guardian. Lonergan cleverly pairs together the haunting moments which have prompted Lee’s isolation with a moment, at least intended by his brother, to help pull him out of this state. To give him responsibility and purpose – something or someone to live for.

These flashbacks also offer a window into the kind of character Lee was before the tragic incident. A warm family man with many friends. A love for fishing, booze, weed and sex with his wife.

But in the present he has stripped himself of the right to a personal life. Even when Sandy’s mum (Sandy being one of Patrick’s girlfriends) invites him in for a friendly chat, Lee cannot bring himself to muster up thirty minutes of small talk with Jill (Heather Burns). Upstairs, Patrick is trying in vain to get into Sandy’s briefs (Sandy is flirtatiously played by Anna Baryshnikov).

Patrick’s grief, more manageable because of the inevitability of his father’s passing (Joe had a long standing heart condition), does not prevent him from continuing his life. As he points out to Lee, he has a band, many friends and at least two girlfriends.

Lee, on the other hand, has become a janitor, undeserving of anything else.

The closing moments of Manchester By The Sea show Lee and Patrick fishing on the family boat. This appears to be the only place Lee truly feels at ease.

The sea offers him respite and evokes memories of a better time. It allows him to be detached from the town where his children perished and out of reach from the locals who still gossip and judge him.

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Indeed, in an earlier scene, he had even cracked a smile on board before bumping into Randi back on land – a meeting marked by the thumping halt to the upbeat and promising sounds of Ella Fitzgerald’s I’m Beginning to See the Light.

Manchester by the Sea is a magical film which has deserved all the awards that has come its way. But that stroller scene will linger long in my mind. It deserves an award in its own right.

Thanks for reading. Please like, comment and share!

Also read: “I just burst into tears” – Q&A with Manchester By The Sea director Kenneth Lonergan

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

Falling in Love with La La Land

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

 

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

DO you remember a time when MTV was the edgiest – if not the coolest – channel on television?

Well those days are long gone now. Turn on MTV and you will likely be watching re-runs of Catfish or some show about teenage pregnancy.

No longer at the cutting-edge of youth culture, the channel seems content churning out relatively safe and formulaic reality shows.

But there was a time when MTV, as blogger Amanda Marcotte put it, had the power to open up ‘a whole new world of possibilities’ – particularly for those living in secluded areas where conservative values are fiercely guarded.

MTV could expose small town religious folk to cosmopolitan, inner-city progressive thinking in a fresh, youthful and vibrant manner. It pitted old against young. Teachers against television. Bible against Britney.

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This, of course, was every strict conservative parent’s worst nightmare and many fought back to censor such vulgarities.

Harmony Korine’s film, Spring Breakers, envisages a realm where these parental guidance fears and insecurities have been actualised in the most outrageous fashion. A culture of young people raised on the morals of Britney Spears, educated by the laws of Grand Theft Auto and pacified by MTV music videos.

Spring Break is all about kids in bathing suits’ – Bob Kusbit, MTV Senior Vice President of Production (1999)

The overt sexualisation of celebrities, especially in music videos, continues to be a fiercely debated subject.

Figures such Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj have come under fire for setting poor examples to their younger audiences. In Spring Breakers, Korine parades former Disney stars in bikinis as they tote guns, toke bongs and lustfully lick phallic objects.

Korine sets this tone from the opening sequence, confronting the viewer with a barrage of naked and out-of-control bodies to the equally abrasive sound of Skrillex. This sexualised imagery immediately becomes part of the aesthetic, which includes black and white camcorder shots that evoke thoughts of MTV Spring Break specials and Girls Gone Wild.

Our bikini-clad protagonists (played by Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine) are clearly influenced by the music videos they grew up with.

Early on in the film, they sing Nelly’s It’s Getting Hot in Here as they mess around in their underwear. The focus of Korine’s camera switches between voyeuristically distant shots and, momentary, hyper-sexual close-ups.

This connection with the music they grew up with also seeps through in more subtle ways, such as the repetitive voiceovers which keep returning, hypnotically, like the hook of a pop song. Moreover, Korine uses iconography that we might expect to see in music videos, like the lifting garage, the mopeds through the streets or the silhouetted girls standing in the pouring rain.

My loneliness is killing me (and I) I must confess, I still believe (still believe)
When I’m not with you I lose my mind
Give me a sign
Hit me, baby, one more time – Britney Spears, 1998

Later on, music from the young women’s youth is more closely linked to their moral decay. They sing Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time and dance around a parking lot, at one point trying to mimic the dance moves from the music video.

Their fun peters out and they begin to recreate the earlier robbery scene. This time they make Faith (Gomez) – who was not there and represents the must innocent figure in the film – the victim.

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Korine interjects with images from the robbery, this time showing perspectives from inside the diner. The effect second time around is strikingly different and deeply unsettling. The women show an intense raw aggression – and perverse enjoyment – which clearly upsets Faith.

This detachment from their violent actions is established as the girls hype themselves up for the robbery by saying: ‘just pretend like it’s a video game.’ Certainly, the ease of at which they commit violence acts, especially in the closing scene, mirrors video games such a Grand Theft Auto.

As highlighted by the gun sound transitions Korine uses, this violence lingers unapologetically around every corner of Spring Breakers.

This one’s by a little known pop singer by the name of miss Britney Spears. One of the greatest singers of all-time, and an angel if there ever was one on this earth.” – Alien, Spring Breakers

It is no surprise that the most memorable scene of the film provides the most direct and disturbing link between their popular culture upbringings and their corrupted behaviour.

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The young women (minus Faith, who has returned home in terror) sit around a piano to hear Alien sing a cover of Britney Spears´ hit Everytime. More unnervingly, they are clutching guns and donning fluorescent balaclavas reminiscent of punk feminist protest group Pussy Riot.

Once again, Korine interjects, this time with a montage of violent robberies. It as though they are sitting around the church organ, worshipping their perverse and chilling hedonism to the sounds of their ‘angel’ Britney.

Yet when all is said and done, they return home largely unscathed and ready to sink back into the routine and conformity of their lives. The violence and the partying have all just been part of the fun – an escape from boredom so as to indulge in a culture of taboo and chaos.

Korine simply observes, sometimes too close for comfort. He does it in a way that is provocative and layered, mindless and pleasure-filled, repulsive and exploitative. It all depends on the viewer’s disposition.

Regardless, this is one hallucinogenic, stylish, neon-lit thrill-ride I recommend that you take a chance on.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read:

The Shepherd (Film Review)

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

More In-Focus:

Falling in Love with La La Land

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

Subversive casting: Introducing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

The Shepherd (Film Review)

5 STARS

In our world dominated by comfort and convenience, a captivating Western, set in the modern day, seems hard to imagine. But last year’s Hell or High Water, set in the wastelands of Texas, showed there is still a place for such machismo-driven narratives.

Now, up-and-coming filmmaker, Jonathan Cenzual Burley, takes us to the patchy dead grasses of rural Spain for a similarly well-measured and atmospheric, part neo-Western. A tale of underhanded greed versus principled resilience.

Burley’s story sees our cowboy, in this case a grizzly and ageing shepherd named Anselmo (played by Miguel Martin), fight against the encroaching forces of corporatism – and the tensions it produces.

Anselmo, a simple man, is content living a stripped back existence in the company of his loyal dog Pillo. This includes a secluded one room home, no car and no electric heating. As the local barman points out, the shepherd still lives in the Stone Age. Certainly, the low hum of the air conditioning underpins the notion that Anselmo, who still warms himself by wood burner on freezing nights, can live without these luxuries.

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Early on in the film, Burley pieces together a stirring sequence which grounds Anselmo’s profession, one of the oldest known to man, in a sense of mythology. Burley, director and cinematographer, gets creative with his camera placing it among – and then above – the huddled multitude of sheep before resting in a ditch as a parade of hoofs hurry through.

We eventually pull back to wide shots of the silhouetted shepherd striding across the horizon, evoking images of classic American Westerns.  The imagination of Burley’s camera demonstrates that, despite the simplicity of Anselmo’s lifestyle, there is still great beauty and honour in his work. A sentiment Tim Laulik-Walters’ rousing score reinforces quite magnificently.

Yet the stones Anselmo skips across the water at one point in this sequence will later be thrown through his window. This is part of a simmering tension which begins when two men in business suits turn up looking to acquire his property for the development of a residential complex.

Understandably, Anselmo, who was born and raised on this land, is not amused by the thought of his home being turned into a squash court – even for a substantial price. He rejects their offer without a second thought.

But this stance soon comes under pressure from a few locals whose own hefty financial rewards rest on Anselmo’s decision to sell. At the forefront of this opposition are Julian (Alfonso Mendiguchia), a slaughter house owner, and Paco (Juan Luis Sara), a father and husband – both in desperate need of the money.

Burley’s provoking film is littered with subtle touches which quietly – and intelligently – probe the ways money, materialism and avarice can corrupt the human spirit. Luckily, in times like these, Burley gives us a anti-hero, played convincingly by Martin, to fight back against such forces.

The result is a rewarding slow burn narrative which builds to a sizzling climax. Burley, currently working on an English speaking feature, is undoubtedly one to watch. But for the time being, we should all flock down to our locals cinemas to experience The Shepherd.

The Shepherd is out in cinemas on Friday 2nd June 

Thanks for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also Read: Falling in Love with La La Land 

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

The Shepherd – 4/5

Dire, Writ & DOP: Jonathan Cenzual Burley

Starring: Miguel Martin, Alfonso Mediguchia, Juan Luis Sara, Maribel Igelsias, Pablo Malaga

Sound: Jorge Rojas

Music: Tim Laulik-Walters

Falling in Love with La La Land

SPOILER WARNING: Prestridge²’s In-Focus series goes to La La Land

I fell in love with La La Land at 11.12am on January 8, 2017.

Sitting in seat A8 at the wonderful Curzon Victoria, Damien Chazelle’s musical masterpiece swept me away with its vibrant vision. One so finely tuned, entrancing and delightful that I kept coming back for more.

Now available on DVD, we can begin to appreciate the finer details of Chazelle’s work. If you are anything like me, you’ll fall even deeper in love with La La Land after an In-Focus look.

Just Waiting to be Found

Set to the backdrop of urban Los Angeles, La La Land tells the love story of Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).

Seb is a jaded jazz pianist. As part of his throwback personality, he dresses in formal clothes and drives a classic brown 1982 Buick Riviera. Seb clings onto the past with boxes of jazz memorabilia which are stacked up in his grey and bare apartment.

In keeping with his sister’s assessment that he is a ‘hermit’, Seb spends his time sitting across the street from his tarnished jazz mecca, the Van Beek, which, to his disgust, is now branded ‘Tapas and Tunes’. As he puts it: ‘pick one, do one right’ – a line which forebodes the breakdown of his future relationship with Mia.

Despite living life on the ropes, he still dreams of one day restoring the Van Beek – and jazz – to its past glories.

Mia, on the other hand, has dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress. She is one of many hopefuls auditioning for roles as teachers, policewomen and doctors. Unfortunately, she has to deliver corny lines to disinterested casting agents before leaving, dejected, in a cramped elevator.

To supplement her acting, Mia works as a barista in a studio-lot coffee shop. She deals with complaints about gluten-free pastries and watches open-mouthed as a movie star walks to collect their coffee.

Mia does appear more optimistic than Seb. Where his plain apartment walls suggest he is worn down, Mia, still a dreamer, has a giant Ingrid Bergmann poster on her colourful bedroom wall.

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Certainly, the stunning dresses Mia wears to lavish Hollywood pool parties – reminiscent of Judy Garland and Bergman – make her stand out from the crowd like a Hollywood star. As one of the songs suggests, Mia is ‘just waiting to be found.’

A Star is Born

Indeed, Chazelle expertly utilises costume, camera movement and lighting, not only to give the film a dazzling and energetic aesthetic, but as a fascinating undercurrent to the storytelling.

Bright primary colours take focus, like the ones found in Jacques Remy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1963), radiating sheer joy off the screen. Mia’s outfits often reflect – and intensify – the moods of scenes. This includes playful yellows, passionate reds and starry blues. In the magical planetarium scene, she wears a classy green that evokes Garland in A Star is Born (1954).

Similarly, the blues and reds feature prominently in the lighting. Mia is cast in a red glow before she enters the restaurant to first cross paths with Seb. The same red appears in the final scene to anticipate Mia unknowingly entering the jazz club to lock eyes with Seb – perhaps for the final time.

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The camera matches this colourful enthusiasm with a dancing fluidity. At the first party, it has a mind of its own – plunging into the pool and spinning around. On other occasions, it glidingly pans up to the sky and back down.

Drained

However, the colour and movement begin fade as the romance between Mia and Seb falters. When she attends The Messengers concert and is visibly disappointing to see her boyfriend has ‘sold-out’, Chazelle casts Mia in a cold blue – as if her romantic dreams of Seb have been drained.

We next see Mia at the tense break-up dinner. She wears a reserved dark jumper, as though she is prepared ready to mourn the loss of their relationship. When their argument is over , the jolting sounds of the fire alarm ring out as Chazelle’s camera follows Mia out of the apartment in a shaky documentary style. Reality has finally hit their Hollywood love.

The colour has completely drained when Mia performs her play to an almost empty audience.  Seb, missing Mia’s play for his band’s photoshoot, is also in black and white, although he looks comical compared to his normal formal wear. Perhaps this is because he realises he is no longer the serious artist he wanted to be – a notion that is drilled home by the leering and over-the-top British photographer.

These bleak colours had appeared earlier in the film. Mia’s original boyfriend (played by a Yuppie looking Finn Wittrock) wears a grey business suit to dinner along with his brother. In this mundane setting, Mia can’t help but hear the faint jazz music calling her to Seb and the bright red seats of the Rialto cinema.

Likewise, Seb performs in the dimly lit restaurant in the stages of the film. The dull Christmas lights are the only hint of colour – a far cry from the intense blues which light up his jazz club in the final scene.

Whiplash

Speaking of the restaurant, Chazelle recalls his last film – the gripping and visceral Whiplash (2014) – with casting and camera movement. JK Simmons, who played Andrew’s (Miles Teller) ruthless jazz instructor in Whiplash, is Seb’s stern restaurant boss in La La Land.

In a funny turn from Whiplash, this JK Simmons character has no time for free jazz. Instead, he tells Seb to stick to the set list of Christmas carols. After Seb inevitably strays, Chazelle’s camera mimics the quick zooms found in Whiplash to show a disapproving Simmons.

On top of this, the scenes with classic jazz feature on-beat cuts, like in Whiplash, to emphasis what Seb calls the music’s ‘conflict and comprise’.

Past and Present

La La Land is a force of cinema, borrowing from the past to create a timeless spectacle.

The film is littered with well-documented odes to classic cinema, particularly in the musical sequences, imitating everything from Singin’ in the Rain (1952) to West Side Story (1961) to Rebel Without A Cause (1955). Even the four seasons structure, mirroring the stages of Mia and Seb’s relationship, is taken from Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

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These allusions also make their way onto the LA backdrop as Mia walks past a mural featuring Hollywood greats Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, James Dean and many others.  Circularly, Seb later walks by a mural, which he can’t bare to look up at, painted in the image of Hollywood’s next great star – Mia.

Casablanca

For all the praise La La Land received, there have in turn been very vocal critics. David Cox of The Guardian described the film as the ‘tale of two narcissists who sacrifice love for self-interest’

I didn’t quite see it that way.

One particularly revealing scene occurs when Seb surprises Mia at the coffee shop and they walk around the studio-lot. In these moments Chazelle anticipates the rest of the film – and its sentiments.

Mia and Seb are dressed in white tops, as though they are blank canvases ready to be inspired. The two lay out their ambitions and, after telling Mia to pursue her playwriting aspirations, Seb jokes that his ‘work here is done’. Of course, it is only just beginning.

The couple are destined, with love and intense passion, to fuel each other’s dreams. Mia and Seb even peer into a movie-set that they will later dance through in the majestic epilogue – a cheeky Chazelle nod to the fate of their romance.

Yet it is the two mentions of Casablanca (1943) which speak the loudest in this scene – a classic film that showed sacrifice can also be a powerful form of romance.

The final shot of La La Land shows Mia, drenched in a dreamy jazz blue, glancing at Seb across the crowded club.  The gentle smile they share says it all. Gratitude, sadness and pride.

They wouldn’t have realised their dreams without each other, but it is time to move on.

There is no shame in that, just love.

Thank you reading. Please like, share and comment!

IN-FOCUS: Subversive casting: Introducing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

5 STARS

THE floods that wreaked devastation on the Somerset Levels in late 2013 and early 2014 are the backdrop to The Levelling, a debut film from Hope Dickson Leach.

It is a quite brilliant debut as well, although no one should come expecting to laugh. Far from it. The Levelling is as depressing a story as will be told on celluloid this year. But the acting – and some of the cinematography featuring hares and cows either swimming or treading through flood water – is sublime.

The story starts with fuzzy out-of-focus – dream-like – pictures of a night-time party that seems to have got out of control with punches traded amidst the dancing and lit torches.

What we soon learn is that in amongst the partying a young farmer, Harry Catto, took his own life by blowing his brains out with a shot-gun – the blood-stained walls and floor of the farm house toilet are testament to the gruesome and tragic event that has occurred.

His sister, Clover, a veterinary student and a vegetarian, returns to the ramshackle farm where the party took place (evidence of the celebrations are everywhere). She then goes in search of explanations as to why Harry cut his life short.

It is a harrowing tale. The dairy farm is dilapidated as a result of the floods and the insurer’s refusal to pay up. Clover’s father Aubrey, ex-Army, is living in squalor in a mobile home adjacent to the farm and has turned to drink to drown his sorrows. The family dog, Milo, has been locked away and left to starve, much to Clover’s disgust who discovers it in a room surrounded by piles of its own faeces.

The relationship between Clover and Aubrey is fraught, a result of Clover’s earlier decision to leave the farm and carve out a career for herself, much against her father’s wishes. The more she searches for answers, the more fraught it becomes.

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Why did Harry take his life when in fact the party was organised to celebrate his taking over of the farm from his father?

Why is Aubrey selling half of the dairy herd? Why does the buyer not then turn up as expected?

Why are there full petrol cans in the kitchen? What really happened that fateful night? Is James, Harry’s best friend, hiding something? A question that provokes Clover into using a lit torch in order to get an honest answer from James. Light and water are constant themes.

The discovery of buried (shot) badgers on the farm provide a clue as to why Harry took his own life.

It really is bleak viewing – and highlights the tough lives farmers live most of the time. When one of the herd gives birth to a healthy calf, Aubrey tells Clover to shoot it because it is a boy, not a girl. With the same gun that Harry killed himself with. Clover then proceeds to cremate it in a wheelbarrow with fuel from one of the cans in the farm kitchen.

All rather harrowing, especially for a vegetarian like Clover, but part and parcel of every day farming life. As is the mud, the cold, the mundanity of much farm work and the susceptibility of farming to the force of mother nature.

But the film ensnares you from start to finish. When Aubrey disappears just prior to Harry’s funeral and Clover discovers he has taken a shot-gun from the cupboard, we wait for the sound of the inevitable gun shot. It comes. Has he also committed suicide? At times, The Levelling resembles a horror movie and sets your pulse racing.

The acting is quite brilliant with Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed, Game of Thrones) outstanding as Clover. A family member who has become an outsider, an outcast. Intelligent and not frightened to challenge anyone – her father especially and  James (Jack Holden).

An individual who is stronger than her brother was (she survived boarding school, he didn’t). Hewn out of the same stone as her deceased mother who was the family matriarch and whose death seems to have triggered the start of the farm’s decline. Indeed, Clover is the person best equipped to run the farm, a fact Aubrey acknowledges.

David Troughton as Aubrey is also excellent although for fans of the Archers, it will be difficult to listen to – and watch – him without drawing comparisons with Tony, the character he plays in the Radio 4 series.

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Aubrey is a more broken man than Tony although it is a close run thing (Tony was seriously injured in a farming incident, has had major family issues to deal with and problems with his livestock). Troughton makes the transition from radio to film seem effortless. A vulnerable man crumbling from within.

One of the only rays of sunshine (and I am clutching at straws) is provided by family friend Helen (Angela Curran). She provides the Catto’s with home-made shepherd’s pie (Clover can only pick out the potato) and with the only colour in the entire film – the beautiful flowers she has assembled for Harry’s funeral.

Another uplifting moment is the ending which is more healing – despite all the killing – than fractious. Come hell, fire, water and death, love’s sinews are resilient.

The Levelling is sparse cinema but gripping nonetheless. Cinematographer Nanu Segal deserves a special mention for drawing the links between nature and the Catto’s. The magnificent hare running across the field and the drawing of one that hangs on Harry’s bedroom wall. The constant threat left by the floods, a danger which nearly costs both Clover and Milo dearly. The music is also haunting.

Gritty and grimy but gripping nonetheless. A must see film from a British director with a great future ahead of her.

http://hopedicksonleach.com

Clover Catto Ellie Kendrick
James Jack Holden
Harry Catto Joe Blakemore
Reverend Trusler Clare Burt
Helen Angela Curran
Aubrey Catto David Troughton
Ian Jones Stephen Chapman
Officer Hembry Joe Attewell

Please like, share and comment!

Also Read: Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

James recommends: The Shallows (Film Review)

Weekend watching – Whiplash (Film Review)

Kristen Stewart: Back from the Twilight

‘ALL OUR CHILDREN’ – CHILDREN. OUR WONDERFUL CHILDREN (THEATRE REVIEW)

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Spoiler warning: Our In Focus series continues with Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2015)

IT can be a daunting prospect to sit down and watch a Charlie Kaufman film.

They are difficult to grasp – even after repeat viewing – unapologetically demanding and disobedient to mainstream expectation. At times, this means his films are more accessible to academic dissection than mainstream consumption.

Understandably, being plunged into a labyrinth of philosophical thought is not everyone’s idea of entertainment. That certainly showed in the financial reception of Synecdoche, New York (2008). Although critics raved about the film, Kaufman’s complexities had clearly reached too far for the casual viewer.

To make matters worse, the economy and movie industry continued to shift further out of his reach. Suddenly, Kaufman was unfashionable, unprofitable and unable to get a project off the ground.

In 2012, the writer-director turned to his fans. With the help of crowd-funding website Kickstarter and animator Duke Johnson, Kaufman used puppets to bring his project, Anomalisa, to life.

Originally a stage play performed in 2005, Anomalisa tells the story of Michael Stone, an author from England who travels to Cincinnati, Ohio to give a talk on his field of expertise – customer service.

Michael spends a night in a hotel, The Fregoli, where relationships – past, present and impending – begin to haunt his lonely and self-destructive mind. Despite having a family at home, Michael becomes engrossed by a shy female admirer called Lisa, who he nicknames Anomalisa.

Small Talk

At the film’s core is the notion of alienation. We live in a growingly detached world where people are more invested in computers than humans and genuine conversation is a dying art.

Michael, middle-aged and likely suffering from a mental health issue, is a victim of his own inability to connect with others for more than one fleeting evening. Shortly after arriving in Cincinnati, he is visibly irritated when the friendly cab driver tries to engage him with talk about the weather, chilli and the local zoo.

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Michael then grits his teeth through a similarly bland interaction with the hotel’s bell boy before finally reaching his room where the magazine Cincinnati sitting on his table reads: ‘Try The Chilli’.

For Michael, every interaction appears to be mundane, repetitive and frustrating. The film’s setting, a hotel, only reinforces these feelings of sameness and distance.

Later on it is the small talk mention of the Cincinnati zoo which awakens Michael to Lisa’s perceived normalcy.

The Fregoli Delusion

The use of stop-motion animation gives an effective – but contained – range to Kaufman’s creativity. If Synecdoche, New York was his grand, and at times overwhelming, masterpiece, then Anomalisa is his tidy and accessible puppet show.

It allows Kaufman to play with voices and faces, both of which he keeps the same for every character apart from Michael and Lisa. This uniformity has an unnerving and disorientating affect, particularly in the image-obsessed culture we now live in.

As referenced by the name of the hotel, Kaufman was inspired by Fregoli delusion – ‘in which person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person who changes appearance or is in disguise’.

Although Michael does not suffer from this condition, he certainly feels trapped by something similar. As he desperately tells his scorned lover Bella:  ‘I think I might have psychological problems’.

ANOMALISA

Michael is unable to escape his outlook on the world and, worryingly, himself. Yet, the existential moments where his face glitches and later drops off entirely suggest he is a victim. Michael might be at the mercy of the mechanics of his own body, a chemical imbalance that leads him into this damaging cycle.

Or, like the literal puppet that he is, Michael is at the mercy of the society which has created him. He can do little to repair his own condition because it is already decided. Either way, the bleak aesthetic of Kaufman’s film mirrors Michael’s feeling of unresolvable hopelessness.

Love and Sex Toys

Michael’s momentary glimmer of hope – and of love – comes when he meets Lisa. After appearing infatuated by her, perhaps drawn to her vulnerabilities and insecurities, Michael wakes up in the morning to realise it was nothing more than a regrettable fling.

A clue to Michael’s relationship with Lisa lies in the Japanese sex doll which he buys from Dino’s Toys – a wink to producer Dino Stamatopoulps.

On an aesthetic level, Lisa and the doll have similarities. They have scars on the right-hand side of their faces, they both sing to Michael and are voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

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But their most meaningful similarity is that they are relatively disposable vehicles to satisfy a male’s sexual desire. Sadly for Lisa, the final shot of the film indicates she is oblivious to this cruel reality.

The events of Anomalisa suggest Michael is incapable of prolonged romantic love. He returns to his home and immediately starts bickering with his wife – back to the reality of a loveless marriage.

Contrast this to earlier in the film when the classic 1936 movie My Man Godfrey (originally Casablanca in the script) plays in the hotel room. Kaufman is harkening back to a time of idealised romance – of courtship and restraint. This seems all too distant in Michael’s one-night-stand reality.

Complex Kaufman

Distinctive, stimulating and inventive.

Anomalisa is a reminder that Kaufman is an American filmmaking anomaly. One that we should all cherish, even if we don’t always understand.

Join us next week as we take an In Focus look at La La Land

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

In Focus series: Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

Subversive Casting: Introducing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers

Also Read: The Shallows (Film Review)

Arrival (Film Review)

Kristen Stewart: Back From The Twilight

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

Spoiler Warning: As part of our In Focus series, we delve deep into Paterson (2016)

AS a litany of superhero movies, Disney remakes and furious cars reign supreme, it is easy to get swept away by the triviality of modern American cinema.

Then a film like Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson comes along.

Far from the loud bustling of Hollywood, this small-scale masterpiece won audience’s hearts with its gentle, endearing and quietly brilliant approach to storytelling.

Inspired by the work of William Carlos Williams, whose epic poem Paterson (1946-58) lingers in the film’s background, Jarmusch captures the poet’s appreciation for the intricacies of American life.

The film follows a young bus driver and poet, named Paterson (played by the superb Adam Driver). He lives in the New Jersey city of (you guessed it) Paterson, spending his days observing those around him and working on his poetry – inspired by hometown hero Williams.

Paterson lives an ordinary life with girlfriend Laura (played by the delightful Golshifteh Farahani), a charmingly enthusiastic jack of all trades. Completing the household is dumpy dog Marvin.

Like Williams’ poetry, Jarmusch’s film can be enjoyed far beyond its surface of tender humour and charming characters. Each carefully constructed scene has hidden meaning ready to be discovered and appreciated.

 

 “A man is indeed a city, and for the poet there are no ideas but in things.”  

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

In some ways, Jarmusch’s Paterson is a celluloid continuation of Williams’ Paterson. From the outset, the director conjures the poem’s metaphor, of the man as the city, by naming Driver’s character Paterson.

Indeed, Paterson is connected in a way many of us who live in urban areas are not. From the elevated position in his bus driver’s seat, Paterson spends his days noticing the unnoticed. Just like Williams, he finds beauty where others do not have time to look.

Jarmusch reinforces this closeness with the city by fading images together. At one point, the Passaic Falls, Paterson and the Ohio Blue Tip matches all populate the frame. It gives the impression they are all connected, at least floating around in Paterson’s mind, fuelling his poetic vision of the city – and life.

 

 “The past above, the future below

and the present pouring down: the roar,

the roar of the present, a speech–

is, of necessity, my sole concern.”

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

To mirror the passages of prose in Williams’ Paterson, Jarmusch playfully builds a history of the city with overheard bus conversations.

This begins with two young boys discussing infamous boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, who, in 1966, was wrongfully arrested and convicted for a triple-homicide in a Paterson bar. Later, two students talk about late 19th Century Italian anarchist Gaetano Bresci, who ran a newspaper in Paterson before assassinating King Umberto I in July of 1900.

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By casting Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the students, Jarmusch gives a subtle nod to fellow America auteur Wes Anderson. Perhaps this is because both filmmakers are stylistic anarchists in an all-too formulaic US film industry.

Doc, the owner of the bar Paterson frequents most nights, shows his value for the City’s history by keeping a ‘Paterson Wall of Fame’. With permission from Paterson, Doc adds a newspaper clipping about Iggy Pop being voted the sexiest man in the world by a Girls Club in Paterson.

The Iggy reference, which is a real piece of history, is a fun nod to Jarmusch’s project Gimme Danger (2016), which focused on the turbulent years of punk band The Stooges.

 

 “I would say poetry is language charged with emotion. It’s words, rhythmically organized . . . A poem is a complete little universe. It exists separately. Any poem that has any worth expresses the whole life of the poet. It gives a view of what the poet is.”

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

As part of the poetic mythology that runs through Jarmusch’s film, Paterson keeps noticing identical twins – as if the internal rhyme of his poetry has filtered into his life.

One twin he meets is a friendly young girl who, just like Paterson, writes poetry in her secret notebook. When she reads her poem ‘Water Falls’ (written by Jarmusch) – the split compound noun reminiscent of Williams’ work – Paterson seems moved.

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Soon after, while sharing the encounter with Laura over a cheddar cheese and Brussel sprouts pie, they agree that the young girl’s poem is similar to something Paterson would write. There is also a suggestion the girl is one of the twins Laura dreamt about at the start of the film.

This feeds into the film’s theme of linage – a connection between contemporary artists, past artists and future artists.

 

“We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our checks and shades our eyes”

– Paul Lawrence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask

 

There are mentions of Frank O’Hara (who was inspired by Williams’ work), Allen Ginsberg (who lived in Paterson), Dante (a postcard sits alongside O’Hara’s poems in Paterson’s lunchbox) and Emily Dickinson (who, like Paterson, mainly kept her poetry to herself).

We also get a glimpse of how poetry, language and art can evolve.

While walking Marvin, Paterson stumbles upon a rapper (Method Man) working on his lyrics in the laundry mat. The rapper, whose lyrics meld the racial anguish of Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s ‘We Wear the Mask’ with quotes from Williams’ Paterson, displays the broad horizons of poetry, hip-hop included.

 

 “The duality of man. The Jungian thing, sir.”

– Private Joker, Full Metal Jacket

 

Beyond the presence of twins, duality takes many other forms in Paterson.

The young girl’s smiley surprise that Paterson is a bus driver who likes Dickinson reflects many people’s tendency to pigeonhole others. Jarmusch’s film points out that people can be more than just one thing.  Paterson is a bus driver and a poet, just as Williams was a doctor and a poet.

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In the bar, the helplessly love-struck Everett is a figure of amusement but still comes up with the deftly romantic line: ‘Without love, what reason is there for anything?’

Tellingly, Doc compares Everett and Marie’s relationship to the romantic figures of Romeo and Juliet, as well as the comedic duo Abbott and Costello.

As humans we are full of surprises and contradictions. They are to be embraced.

 

 “My little pumpkin,

I like to think about other girls sometimes,

but the truth is

if you ever left me

I’d tear my heart out

and never put it back”

– Paterson, Pumpkin

 

Laura is an anomaly in Paterson’s life. Her spontaneity contrasts with his working-class routine.

Paterson seems content with life. He drives his bus, has a beer at the bar in the evening and keeps his poetry to himself. Laura, on the other hand, has a new pursuit each day – getting rich from selling cupcakes or trying to become a famous country music star like Tammy Wynette.

She tries to impart these big dreams onto Paterson by encouraging him to photocopy his secret notebook and share it with the world.

He does not oblige and – in Ernest Hemmingway fashion – loses his work in cruel fashion.

One popular theory, shared by reddit user justdrinkmorewater, posits that Paterson is ‘crushed’ by their relationship. While this is interesting, Jarmusch leaves a subtle clue suggesting Laura’s purpose in the film is a more jovial one.

As part of her country singer dreams, Laura purchases a black and white guitar with DVD lessons from the internet. After performing her rendition of ‘I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad’ for Paterson, he sits down with the guitar – which Laura has named ‘Harlequin’ – and grins.

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This image is a reference to Juan Gris’ painting Harlequin with Guitar (1918). Gris, who was Williams’ favourite cubist artist and the inspiration behind his poem The Rose (1923), frequently used the Harlequin figure in his work.

As explained on the Art Story, the Harlequin is ‘a stock character in the commedia dell’arte and a trickster figure with a tendency to act on whim and passion’ – a fitting description of the loveable Laura.

There is also her obsession with black and white which jokingly hints at the aforementioned differences between Laura and Paterson. Embracing their differences, the two are completely accepting of each other – and clearly deep in love.

 

“Shaken by your beauty

Shaken.”

– William Carlos Williams, Paterson

 

The film ends on a circular note of contentment. Paterson wakes up, checks his watch, gives Laura a kiss and sets off for work. He is ready to experience the world and put pen to fresh paper.

As the Japanese gentleman, whose two broken fingers (duality) contrast the healing effect he has on Paterson, wisely says: ‘sometimes empty page presents more opportunities.’

What a film. Small in action and drama but big in heart and meaning. Complex and clever. You will discover something new each time you watch it. What a treat.

 

Join us next week for an In Focus look at Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa (2016)

 

Also read: The Shallows (Film Review)

Kristen Stewart: Back from the Twilight

Whiplash (Film Review)

Warren Beatty Q&A

 

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What did you discover in Paterson?

 

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