Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Film: Some Thoughts on Mirrors & Movies

I love the horror genre and when I see a film that’s succeeded in frightening me - since it so rarely happens these days - I do a little celebratory dance.

Ok, I don't really do a dance but I do feel like I've found a little bit of treasure and feel the need to celebrate, as I did recently after watching Mirrors (2008). Not that I didn't see that coming because, as with haunted houses, evil children, bodily mutations and clowns, mirrors freak the hell out me out.

But, I wondered, why do mirrors freak me out?

I suppose it stems from being taught about a mirror’s cursed other worldliness from an early age; what other everyday household object can bring bad luck?

Aside from this pervasive superstition art, myths, literature and film also contribute to imbuing mirrors with a sinister side.

From Perseus’ mirrored shield fatally casting Medusa’s reflection back on herself, to the magical mirror in the Brothers Grimm's Little Snow-White (1812) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass (1871) where the mirror acts a portal into another world (the imagination); mirrors transcend being just reflective to something altogether more powerful, holding infinite possibilities.

For some reason I’ve always found the convex mirror which lies in the background between the married couple in Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (1434) eerie. Even though it reflects the two people in front of the couple (possibly the artist, or witnesses), when it's viewed from a normal distance the reflected people could be perceived to be the viewer, bringing the painting creepily to life.

Surrealist painters M. C Escher and Salvador Dali have both painted themselves caught in a mirror’s reflection. And Escher painted a self-portrait in which he’s framed in a mirror, as if he’s standing behind the mirror, peering out at the viewer.

In films, mirrors are widely used to the point of becoming a cliché: how many times have you seen a protagonist looking into a shattered mirror to symbolise split personality; or the reflections of two people caught in two separate mirrors to symbolise distance in a relationship.

But it’s specifically in the horror genre that mirrors come into the fore, and where better to start than on another mirror cliché: the bathroom mirror shock-cut. You've probably seen it many times before but it still can work, playing on a knowing anticipation.

Mirrors can sometimes lead to other worlds, as in Carroll’s Alice. Jean Cocteau played with mirrors and in Blood of a Poet (1932) and Orphee (1950) they lead to a different dimension where simple camera trickery (reverse photography and slow motion) help . And with Evil Dead I & II (1981/87) Sam Rami followed suit with mirrors that have watery surfaces and get up to malevolent tricks - at one point nearly causing the lead protagonist to strangle himself.

Malevolent mirrors are not unusual, capitalising on the power they have to lie and corrupt those that stand in front as in the portmanteau films Dead of Night (1945) and From Beyond the Grave (1973) where the mirrors cause their owners to, respectively, attempt suicide or commit murder in order to feed the mirror.

It’s scary when mirrors don't do their job and choose instead to lie like in Dolores Claiborne (1995) where a character looks at herself in a mirror only to confronted by her back; a conceit which may have been lifted from Rene Magritte’s Portrait of Edward James (1937).

Mirrors are also used as fetishistic objects as the Tooth Fairy killer in Manhunter (1986) does, putting shards of mirror in his victim’s eyes, or in Peeping Tom (1960) whose psychopath records his victims watching their own death distorting reflected in a mirror.

For me, the most audacious mirror scene in a horror film has to be in Deep Red (1975) where the killer can be spotted in a mirror 90 minutes before identity of the murderer is unveiled.

And finally, on a lighter note, my favourite mirror scene is the reflection dupe in Duck Soup (1933) where Groucho and Harpo battle it out, mimicking their increasingly bizarre routines to maintain the illusion of passing a mirror to great, classic, comedy effect.

On Writing: To Be Feared or Revered? Who's Occam and what's the Deal with the Razor?

In a previous blog (9/03/10) I used an Esther Freud quote to suggest that good writing is achieved through good editing, and it's with this lancing of unnecessary words that Occam’s Razor comes in.

In a literary sense, the rule of Occam's Razor is essentially: prune all inessential words. There are many variants but I’ve often wondered: who's Occam? And what’s this razor? Was Occam Sweeney Todd’s predecessor? Was he a murderer or a philosopher?

A dichotomy like this is important to resolve, so I decided to put a face to the name.

It turns out that the name Occam refers to British born William of Ockham (1288-1348), an intelligent, multi faceted Franciscan Friar who was a logician and theologian, and is known as the pioneer of nominolism as well as the father of epistemology and one of the major figures of scholasticism; all that despite never completing his Masters at Oxford University and being charged with accounts of heresy. Not bad for a University drop-out and possible heretic!

At least the image I now have of Occam/Ockham is less malevolent than before.

Monday, 19 April 2010

A Random Story (in less than 500 words)

The Hound of Consequence

The phone rang. Al dropped the potato he was peeling and rushed to the hall.
“If that’s Brenda and Gary, we’re not visiting them,” Sara said catching the potato as it rolled off the work surface.
“What! Why?”
“I can’t explain it. I’ve just got a bad feeling about tonight, so say no, ok?”
Al answered the call. “Hello. Yes I know it’s you Brenda. Well, I’m afraid we can’t make it, we have ummm…”
Sara opened up a newspaper and thrust the cinema listings at Al.
“We’re going to the cinema tonight to seeeeee,” Al followed Sara’s finger. “Final Destination… Is it? Well, we’ll be the judge of that. I’ll pass that on, bye.”
Al hung up.
“You angel,” Sara said and kissed Al on the cheek.

Later, Al and Sara were driving to the cinema.
“What are we going to see?” Al said.
“We could see The Final Destination.”
“Seen it.”
“You haven’t. This is The Final Destination. You’ve seen Final Destination - the first one - and its two sequels. This is the new one.”
“Final Destination 4?”
“Yes, but it’s called The Final Destination because it is, at the moment, the final Final Destination. The ‘the’ is very important.”
“The ‘the’ is very confusing.”

At Brenda and Gary’s house Brenda was in the kitchen arranging her guests’ drinks on a floral tray. She lifted the tray, felt its weight and considered asking Gary for help, then shrugged the idea off, approached the kitchen door - which was only open a smidgen - and expertly opened it with her knee. She was about to alert her guests when the edge of the rug nearest her right foot inexplicably lifted, causing her to fall forward, releasing the tray. A deluge of glass, liquid and Brenda fell onto the rug. Gary ran to her aid.

The next morning, after wondering around the house, mug of coffee in hand, following Sara’s fragrant trail from the bathroom, down the stairs, to the front door, Al was preparing for another job-hunting day. He sat in the conservatory, placed the mug on a table and looked out into the garden. A bullfinch sat on the fence; its chirps were the only sound breaking absolute peace.
Al turned his laptop on and supped his coffee. He looked back into the garden, the bullfinch had gone – absolute peace.
Until the nearest window’s handle moved down by itself. The window slowly opened. A howling wind squeezed through the gap and snaked around Al who was buffeted by the roaring force.
The howling stopped.
Silence returned.
Al caught his breath then gasped: his mug inched forward then balanced on its side before completely tipping over, spilling his coffee.
The howling wind returned, snaked Al and exiting through the window.
Al's crotch grew warm from the coffee spilling off the table. Stunned, he looked into the garden; a bullfinch sat on the fence.
Then the phone rang. It was Sara.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Film: The Cove & Activist Documentaries

Last month the Academy Award for Best Documentary went to The Cove (2009), and deservedly so. It’s a powerful, disturbing and unflinching look at what's been going on in Taiji, Japan where an estimated 23,000 dolphins are butchered every year. It’s also the story of Ric O'Barry who deems himself responsible for the growth of the inhumane dolphin industry.

O’Barry was the dolphin trainer on Flipper (1964-67). From living closely with dolphins he came to acknowledge their intelligence and how unsuitable they were for captivity. He also came to realise that the dolphin’s smile is 'one of God’s great deceptions’. And with that, O'Barry's mission in life took a u-turn, as he says: 'I spent 10 years of my life building up the dolphin-in-captivity industry and spent the last 35 trying to tear it down.'

Archive footage shows O'Barry releasing dolphins and getting arrested for his actions. And we see the ingenious lengths both he and his crew go to to capture what goes on in the concealed cove. Despite being frequently followed and questioned by the secret police, intimidated by security and risking banishment from Japan, O'Barry and his crew boldly continue their mission undeterred.

The Cove reminded me of two other recent documentaries: The Devil Came on Horseback (2006) and Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country (2008). At the forefront of each of these documentaries are activists who risk (and lose, in the case of BVJRFACC) their lives bravely capturing images of injustice.

In TDCOH Brian Steidle, former marine turned campaigner, photographs the genocide of non-Arab villagers at the hands of the government backed Janjaweed in Sudan. Witnessing the aftermaths of massacres he photographs innocents who have been butchered in their tents or chained to the ground and torched. His photographs were printed in the New York Times.

In BVJRFACC a group called Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) record the Burmese military junta's violent oppression during the 2007 anti-government protests. The DVB record video footage of Buddhist monks being beaten and found murdered, and a Japanese journalist (Kenji Nagai) fatally wounded at point blank range. The footage is sent to contacts in Norway where it's broadcast across the world.

During the final moments of The Cove cameras finally infiltrate the heavily guarded concealed area and record an act of horrific slaughter that turns the sea red and stomach upside down.

These documentaries hold the camera's unblinking eye at atrocities and ask us to watch, learn and, most importantly, do something. But these reports wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the activists, these exceptional people, our modern day heroes, who brandish one of the most powerful and important weapons on the planet - the camera.

* This is a link to O'Barry's blog, Save Japan Dolphins, which charts the effect The Cove has had, and some posts regarding the recent fatal incident in Orlando's Seaworld where a killer whale drowned a trainer.

* This is a link to Democratic Voice of Burma's website.

* Daniel Steidle's website is down at the moment (I think he's in Haiti at the moment) so here's a link to The Devil Came On Horseback's website.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Film: Films with Twists


This is a disclaimer to prevent being hypercritical.

This post is about films with twists and the importance of not knowing the existence of the twist. If you don’t won’t the twists of a handful of films spoilt, you are advised to ignore the post after paragraph 4.

Thank you.

I just wanted to make that clear, so-

Narrative twists and shock endings, when pulled off with finesse, are precious tools: they can make-or-break a film; they can make you want to re-watch a film; or deliver a satisfying feeling as the carpet is suddenly pulled from beneath you.

But should a film contain a twist or a shock ending, no matter how great it is and no matter how excited one is about sharing it, it must be kept a secret.

Knowledge of the twist must be treated like a good hand in a game of poker: keep it tight to your chest, bluff and keep schtum.

If the viewer knows there's a twist or a shock ending they'll try and figure it out and they might figure it out. Even if they don’t figure it out the film won't really take them by surprise because the ‘surprise twist’ has become an expected occurrence; more of a damp squib, especially if they've concocted half a dozen better endings which, after all, they've had the time to do.
Critics often set a bad example by using the phrase 'its got a killer twist', which is a good selling point and provides the potential viewer with a challenge, though much to the detriment of the twist's impetus.

Shockingly, in Mark Kermode’s Sight and Sound review of Ringu (1998) he revealed the film's denouement - one of cinema’s most frightening scenes - which was surprising considering how highly he thought of the film; so why give away such a pivotal moment in a review, Mr Kermode? (I was glad I read his review once I had seen the film.)

In terms of concealing a film's shock ending, I'd argue that the poster campaign for Neil La Bute’s The Wicker Man (2006) was far more effective than the 1973 original (though the same can’t be said for the film) by omitting the eponymous 'wicker man', therefore leaving what the title refers to to the viewer’s imagination, until the final reel.

The shock of the original The Wicker Man’s final moments remain effective but surely the final reel would have had its shock factor raised a few notches if the poster didn't give away what the eponymous wicker man was.

For me the best way to watch a film is to know as little about it as possible. The less I know about its plot, set-pieces, dialogue, even the milieu the better; I want the first viewing to be as fresh as possible.

This means avoiding previews. I find it best to stick to teaser trailers (if possible). Previews show too much, flaunting the film's best moments - although to be fair, previews are better than they used to be in that they run at such a break neck speed much of the action is subliminal, unlike earlier previews.
A good example of a teaser trailer that offers only the slightest flavour - but enough of a flavour for you to take the bait - is Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010), see it here.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Film: Dream Logic & My Winnipeg

This might sound weird but bare with me - I was wondering whether the second you wake up, when you’re in the realm between dream and reality, do you often find two or more concepts harmoniously coalesce, but a second later the harmony is gone completely and now the two or more concepts could not be more disjointed? Which leaves you left wondering: how could something that was making perfect sense suddenly become a full-on surreal oddity?

Does that make sense to you? I hope so.

Anyway, I’m disclosing this to you because I watched a film recently that, for me, perfectly captured this strange state of (morning) mind; the film is Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007).

Described by the director as an autobiographical ‘docu-fantasia’, the film is about a Winnipegger attempting to escape the region by filming his way out. It's heavily narrated by a man who's possibly the same man frequently seen drifting in and out of sleep on a train riding through the night.

Maddin’s shtick of recreating the look of silent era film is done brilliantly here, seamlessly splicing recreations with real archival footage. At once the film is personal autobiography, then historical documentary, then wayward fantasy, then a heady mix of all three. And it blends all three of these so effortlessly that it begins to capture the state of (morning) mind I attempted to explain above, albeit in reverse.

For example, Maddin melds together sequences about the history of Winnipeg's buildings using real archival footage then surreptitiously slips into bravura fantasia sequences about, among other outlandish occurrences, a gay bison stampede, and bizarrely, they blend harmoniously together. This skipping from factual to fantastic, with no warning, creates a strange delirium: is the narrator awake or dreaming?

For me, the most memorable sequence in the film, and one which perfectly demonstrates this dreamy switch from fact to fantasy, concerns a yesteryear winter when a lake freezes over and people begin skating on the ice (cue archival footage), but this weather tied in with a band of loose horses that got caught up in the lake as it froze, only becoming visible above their necks they looked ‘like 11 Knights on a great white frozen chessboard’ (cue mock footage + see pic below); conveniently, people used them as seats, apparently.

There is so much more to the film and I can’t wait to revisit it. If you haven’t visited it yet, I urge you to do so, just make sure you’re alert when you watch it or else it will catch you out and you'll wonder whether you've dreamt it!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Photograph

I thought it would be appropriate, at some point, to elaborate on the photograph I've used for my blog.

I think now is as good a time as any.

I took the photograph in May 2009 on top of the steep Capstone Hill, Ilfracombe. From its top you can see the beach to the west and the harbour to the east, straight ahead you can see the Welsh coastline spread along the horizon.

The statue is of a young Moscow born girl, Ekaterine Frolov, who was studying English in the town. On a foggy day in 2000 she fell to her death off the top of Capstone Hill. She was only 13 years old.

Ekaterine's family had the statue commissioned.

On the statue it reads: Kate 13/12/86 - 19/07/00, You are always with us.

So why did I use the photograph?

Well, for purely aesthetic reasons to begin with; it's well framed and the subjects (sea, cliffs and statue) are visually pleasing.

It's also a great statue, capturing the dancer unfurling a move - or is she leaning against the brisk sea wind (or about to fall)?

But the statue is not there as an attraction, it's there to commemorate; it holds a tragic story. And because the story is tragic the dourness of the weather, which gave the environment (as well as the statue) a muggy greyness- in contrast to the colourfulness usually appropriated for seaside images - compliments the subject.

So the photograph is not connected to film or writing, but I've used it because it symbolises two important things to me:

... Don't ever be too quick to judge...

... because...

... There is often more to things than first meets the eye...

On Writing: Following the Pro's Rules

How are your writing habits? Could you be more organised? Do they yield constantly good quality work? Or do you often get writer’s block or feel the work is sloppy and needs shaping up?

Maybe you need some helpful tips to get you on your way?

If so, follow this link to the Guardian’s website where a collection of writers, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s forthcoming 10 Rules of Writing, have shared their top 10 rules for writers. I followed it and was prompted to compile my top 10; not my own top 10 though, the top 10 as chosen from the website – they’re professionals after all.

Here’s my Top 10 Rules of Writing
From the Pro's Top 10 Rules for Writers
(which is now printed on A4 paper and attached to the wall in front of me)

1) If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. (Elmore Leonard)

2) Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentence are OK (prose rhythms are too complex to be thought out…). (Diana Athill)

3) Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones… (Roddy Doyle) *

4a) Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my life is that I never kept a journal or a diary… 4b)Beware of clichés… There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation. (Geoff Dyer) **

5) You see more sitting still than chasing after. (Jonathan Franzen)

6) Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life. (Esther Freud) ***

7) Read as much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes. (Al Kennedy) ****

8) When I’m deep inside a story, living it as I write, I honestly don’t know what will happen. I try not to dictate it, not to play God. (Michael Morpurgo) *****

9) Don’t overwrite. Avoid redundant phrases, the distracting adjectives, the unnecessary adverbs. Beginners, especially, seem to think that writing fiction needs a special kind of flowery prose, completely unlike any sort of language one might encounter in day-to-day life. This is a misapprehension about how the effects of fiction are produced, and can be dispelled by obeying Rule 1. To read some work by Colm Tolbin or Cormac McCarthy, for example, is to discover how a deliberately limited vocabulary can produce an astonishing emotional punch. (Sarah Waters) ******

10) Work on a computer that is disconnected from the Internet. (Zadie Smith) *******

* This reminded me of the late Alan Coren’s rule: Whatever the first thing is that comes into your head, don’t write that because that’s what everyone will write. When the second idea comes into your head, don’t write that either because that’s what the bright kids will write. Wait for the third idea, because that’s the one that only you will do.

** I similarly regret not keeping a diary throughout my childhood. I tried once when I was about 7 but only managed about 5 months. I regretted this more significantly after taking note of Francois Truffaut’s like minded quote about a film director’s total work is a diary kept throughout their lifetime.

*** This is the rule known as Occam’s Razor which I’ll be writing about in a post shortly.

**** He’s right about ‘good things will make you remember them’, one quote that has stuck with me recently was David Blunket’s summary of the Question Time/Nick Griffin debacle: They made a victim out of the perpetrator. 8 words that perfectly summed up the 10000’s of words used surrounding the event.

***** This style of writing illustrates the organic and majestic nature of the idea: spontaneous, unexpected, unpredictable, magical, natural, primal.

****** Overwriting is an easy trap to fall into. Unnecessary flourishes in language can be destructive.

******* It’s inevitable: how can you fully concentrate on a piece of writing when the world is at your fingertips. Sometimes it takes me two hours of surfing the web before I realise I’m not doing what I intended and have to click-off!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Film: New BBFC Guidlines

While I was rifling through a newspaper I came across the film poster for Father of My Children and was amazed by the content description in the film's certificate box.

With in the film's certificate box is 12A and the following content description: Contains moderate violence and scenes of smoking.

There's nothing unusual about 'moderate violence' or the use of more specific pointers such as 'suicide' and 'one use of strong language', but this was the first time I'd come across a film poster that warns potential views of 'scenes of smoking'.

I wonder how many people will be deterred by this detail. I also wonder how commonplace this is (I'll be observing all film certificates on posters more closely from now on, especially reissues of films from the pre-60's and the forthcoming re-imagining of the A-Team - and for that matter, the Mad Men DVDs too). And I wonder whether the BBFC would be persuaded to highlight 'scenes of alcohol consumption' in future releases.

Follow this link to the BBFC website.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

On Writing: The Writer's Workplace

I used to enjoy turning straight to page 5 of Saturday's Guardian Review supplement to see the photograph of an established writer's boudoir. It was always a fascinating and voyeuristic experience, peering through the keyhole while the writer was not at home. Some were idyllic with perfect views, serene spaces, modernist furniture; others were like busied libraries, active offices with old furniture slung between organised chaos.

Unfortunately, the newspaper stopped doing this at some point last year. However, in honour of its absence I will carry the torch and do my own.

I have had to take two photographs to make up for the lack of an all encapsulating wide-angle lens view.

So, welcome to the space where I do most of my scribblings.

On a solid Ikea desk my partner's old (in laptop years) overheating laptop and school paraphernalia dominate the surface (and the sides) with pens, binders and NUT letters. To the right of the laptop is a new printer - I got rid of the old one because I couldn't work out how to drain the ink absorber - and a cylinder of discs containing music to fit all moods, but silence is best (or at least just the sound of the manic laptop fan). To the left of the desk is a DAB radio which is usually tuned into BBC Radio 2 or 6 (I hope the station stays!), sadly the radio suffered a fall due to the binders tipping over and has never been the same since, hence the replacement CD player to the far left. Top left is a photo collage of nights out circa 02-06, I always spot something new when I stare at it, at my younger self. Sometimes, if I'm suffering from writer's block, I swivel the chair 90 degrees to the right, push back, prop my feet on top of the radiator and look up at the sky, sometimes there is a jet stream chasing itself, gulls flying over, or sometimes the clouds are moving giving the illusion that the entire house is moving. Then the writer's block is cured, as if the view was a form of visual roughage.

To my right is the window in the house that holds the most glorious view; I ignore the houses opposite and the flats further down, partly to avoid meeting eyes with neighbours, and partly because what lies in the distance is far more interesting. The first two fields belong to a local farmer, beyond that are the fields of Cornwall. Kitt hill, the bump on the landscape on the top right, is a great look-out point. To the left of it is a mast which lights up when night falls. Somewhere in between is St Mellion, home to a famous golf club where Ronnie Corbet, Bruce Forsyth and Alice Cooper have teed off, whether they have done together, we can only hope. Also mist frequently rises from the river Tamar, and if the wind is blowing the an easterly direction, it rolls along the hills towards the house. Because this view is westerly there are dazzling sunsets to behold.

So that's it, not a bad space for writing really...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Film: A Film Epiphany & The Freeze-Frame

A book has been released that set my mind wondering.

Screen Epiphanies by Geoffrey Macnab has 32 directors discussing 'the films which inspired them to pursue a career in the movie business, influenced their own film-making practice or stayed with them...' This got me thinking about my own 'screen epiphany'.

I remember the first film that had a significant impact on me. It was the first film I experienced that transcended mere joyous casual entertainment into something that made me realise how film could directly affect my emotions, and therefore reasserted film as a potentially powerful medium that demanded respect and caution. That film was Run Wild, Run Free (1969).

I don't think Run Wild, Run Free is well-known - it's not on DVD yet. I've only seen the film once - sometime during the mid-80's - so my memory of it is vague. I don't remember its plot but I do remember the emotional impact and physical response its ending had on me.

(Spoiler Alert!) The film ends with the main character, a young mute boy who works on a farm, being dragged out of a quagmire. At the moment he's released he makes a sound for the first time - a heartfelt wail if I remember right - then the the film freezes on his mud-splattered and distraught face. As soon as the freeze-frame happened I burst into tears. I remember how that reaction startled my young self.

I think the reason the film imbued this power over me was:

1) I identified with the main character, not only because he was played by Mark Lester who I'd already seen (and envied) in Oliver!(1968), he was also about my age (and we looked quite similar).

2) The film ended with no resolution. I suppose until then I had only seen conventional films with conventional family-friendly happy endings, so this was a shock.

3) That freeze-frame! The sheer power of its abruptness, arriving in the middle of action. The unexpected jolt of a sudden end was new to me; I wasn't ready for the final upsetting image nor the possibility of a freeze-frame.

... Seeing sadness frozen in time...

This recollection made me think about the use of freeze-frame endings in other films. Films such as Les Quatre Cent Coups (1959) (freeze then zoom into frozen image), Thelma and Louise (1991) and Gallipoli (1981) sprung to mind. In these films each freeze-frame occurs in the middle of action: capturing a fatal bullet wound (Gallipoli); the film's heroines(?) falling off the Grand Canyon, preserved in time moments before death (Thelma and Louise); and the hero coming to the end of a journey, finding freedom at the shore and looking directly at the audience (Les Quatre Cent Coups).

Each instance has an undeniably haunting and unforgettable quality, one which usually leaves the audience with an uncomfortable silence, partly due to momentary confusion (is the image stuck?), partly due to the emotional clout, like a journeying car's unannounced collision with a wall, a violent stop.

... A Sudden End.

This is a link to a Youtube clip which at 3.38 mark has an image of the freeze-frame from Run Wild Run Free .

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Film: Some Irresistible Film Lists

Lists: some people hate them but I can’t get enough them, especially film lists.

I’ve been making film lists for years but it’s been ages since I compiled my favourite 100 films. I remember 8 ½ , 2001: A Space Odyssey, Wages of Fear, Badlands, Taxi Driver, Vertigo and Viranda made it into the top 10 circa 1997; I don’t know where they would be now and I don't know when I'll have the time to find out. Anyway, without further ado, let the listing - in no particular order - commence.

Best Films of 09

The Unloved (Samantha Morton)
This semi-autobiographical film about a child filtering from abusive father to the care system was my most heartbreaking experience of the year. It was first shown on CH4 but now has a well-deserved cinema release.
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
The rarest of things: an original and successful horror film that's so much more!
Moon (Duncan Jones)
The best debut of the year that cements Sam Rockwell's reputation as one of the greatest yet underrated actors of his generation.
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)
It's already a cliche to say this was the movie Mickey Rourke was born to be in, but it's so right. It's also great to see Aronofsky resuscitated after the disastrous The Fountain.
The Children (Tom Shankland)
A film on par with Rosemary's Baby and The Omen as a horror to prevent another baby boom.
Drag Me To Hell (Sam Rami)
Great to see Rami is back to doing what he does best: horror Evil Dead stylee!
Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Jean-Francois Richet)
Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1 (Jean-Francois Richet)
Vincent Cassel excels as Mesrine raising hell in France and Canada.
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
Tension of the most unbearable kind has never been done so well so recently.
Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)
Story telling at its most exuberant.

Best Films I Saw In 09

Raise Ravens (Carlos Saura, 1976)
The Silent Partner (Daryl Duke, 1976)
4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days(Cristian Mugiu, 2007)
My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)
You, the Living (Roy Andersson, 2007)
Edge of Heaven (Faith Akin, 2007)
The Mist (Frank Darabont, 2007)
I’ve Loved You So Long (Philippe Cludel, 2008)
Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)
Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)

Films Of 09 I Can’t Wait To See

35 Shots of Rum
An Education
Fish Tank
A Serious Man
The Hide
Henri-Georges Cluzot’s Inferno
Inglurious Basterds
(funny how the adverts had to call it Inglurious but Stephen Fry's smooth talking Bar-Steward in the 90's Heineken Export adverts were green lit)
Johnny Mad Dog
Katalin Varga
Red Cliff
Tony Manero
The White Ribbon

Top 10 Films of the last decade (2000’s/Noughties)

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007)
You, the Living (Roy Andersson, 2007)
Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
Once (John Carney, 2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005)
Head-On (Faith Akin, 2004)
Morven Caller (Lynne Ramsey, 2002)
City of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2002)
Jesus’ Son (Alison Maclean, 1999 – but released in 2000)

The Film Of 09 Which Most Felt Like A Shovel To The Head
(aka Bad Idea For A Date Movie

Previous winners of The Film Which Most Felt Like A Shovel To The Head were Funny Games (Haneke!), The Piano Teacher (Hanekeeeeee!), Wolf Creek, Flex and, for different reasons, a short film aptly named Dick.

Although Martyrs wasn't far behind, Antichrist wins this year. Lars Von Trier's film left me both exhilarated and numbed as it skated so closely to portentousness and preposterousness (eg, the slow motion showering of acorns over Dafoe - funny/weird) yet managed moments of sublime beauty and sheer horror; it's endlessly provocative and intriguing. For me it didn't match the emotional intensity of Breaking the Waves or the uncanny madness of The Kingdom but it did stay with me for weeks, much to my dismay. And thanks to Antichrist (and Insides is guilty of this, too) scissors will never be the same again.

Biggest Disappointment Of 2009

Previous winners have been Eyes Wide Shut and the films of Dario Argento 98 onwards (that's 5 films and counting).

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button wins hands down. After David Fincher's great run of films (particularly Fight Club and Zodiac) TCCOBB was such a let down. Overlong, not half as thought provoking as it thought it was and dull. If it had any redeemable features it was the special effects, in fact the whole movie is an excuse for the special effects. It is worth watching Brad Pitt as an old wrinkly baby, after which it's time to switch it off and put your copy on ebay.

Please don't do that to me again, Fincher...

On Writing #6: Article in Public Domain

An article I wrote - which I mentioned in the On Writing #3 7/12/09 blog - is being published in February’s edition of Fibromyalgia Focus. Having been sent a pdf copy of the magazine for proofing I've had a sneak preview. My article lies near the centre of the magazine and covers two pages and includes one photograph. I'm excited and nervous.

All I can do now is hope that it resonates with the readers - and that the stabs at humour work.

I’m going to read through the magazine’s 24 pages and hope that my article fits snugly between the other articles.

It’s quite nerve racking anticipating what the general response will be, if any. Also, I'm not too keen on reading the article again: it’s been several weeks since I last read it and I’m sure I’ll see something in it that I will want to change, but then again it's been through a few edits so there shouldn't be anything too drastically in need of change.

Off the top of my head, there is one aspect of the article I would like to change: the photograph of my mother and I. The photograph is two years old. Ideally I would have liked to have issued a more up to date photo but sadly that wasn’t possible at the time due us being 300 miils apart.