TOA/V: Volcano Saga

jona3

Thanks to Nicholas Currie (on Facebook, but he linked to his Tumblr site) I was delighted to see “Volcano Saga” yesterday. It’s a performance piece by Joan Jonas, whose fairytale-inspired installation “The Juniper Tree” I wrote about when it was at the Tate Modern. What could be more wonderful than bringing together two things I love: medieval Icelandic sagas and Tilda Swinton (who might be doing a project in Dundee!). In particular the Laxdæla Saga which is one of the best. In particular, Jonas seems to have been most interested in the prophetic dreams of Gudrun (Swinton).

I enjoyed it; the age shows a bit on the rough green screens, and this certainly isn’t any kind of narrative story. There’s lovely footage of Iceland including the Blue Lagoon and Jonas herself even appears in the short movie.

I did a quick search and was delighted to find a bunch of Joan Jonas films online so hurrah!

Check out all the other overlooked A/V at Todd’s blog.

TOA/V: Adèle Blanc-Sec

We watched The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec the other night: I had been looking forward to it coming out but when it did, life was chaotic and so I’ve not seen it until now. I was intrigued when I heard a couple papers on the film at the comics conference in Glasgow. I’m happy to say it was great fun and I enjoyed it immensely. No, it doesn’t quite capture the unsmiling drily funny investigating journalist, but filmmakers can’t seem to accept a woman who is plain and unsmiling — no she must be gorgeous and flashing those pearly whites all the time.

adelebsNonetheless, Luc Besson does a good job with translating Tardi’s iconic heroine to the screen. Louise Bourgoin may be lovely, but she also embodies Adèle with a fearless disregard for other people’s opinions and actions that the original would approve of for certain. The plight of her sister is meant to feminise her, but I *love* the tennis match between them!

The rendering of the characters is terrific. Fans of the BD will instantly recognise them and they manage to be at once cartoonish and yet within the realm of believability. I loved Caponi. The wild flights from Egypt to Paris and on suited the madcap adventure. I hope there are more adventures. We need an irrepressible tough gal in Edwardian flounces. Here’s to adventure in big hats!

See the rest of the overlooked A/V at Todd’s blog.

Tuesday’s Overlooked A/V: Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire, a classic screwball comedy riffing on Runyonesque patois and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: really, you say? Overlooked?

You’d be amazed, but even students in my film classes seem entirely unacquainted with films many would consider classic. I suppose it’s no different from those who’d never read Beowulf or Chaucer, but it’s so easy to remedy the lack. But over and over, I hear that gobsmacking sentence:

I don’t watch black and white films.

Insert image of me blinking in disbelief despite hearing this over and over. Admittedly, it had been ages since I’d seen it and when Anne Billson mentioned it on Twitter as a terrific version of the fairy tale, Of course Stanwyck is outstanding as the tough talking dancer with a well-hidden heart of gold, but I have to admit watching again that I just adore Cooper in this role. I’m not overly fond of him on the whole but he is just so different from the stoically honest humorless character he often plays. There’s such a genuine, joyful openness in Professor Potts.

Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss O’Shea offers her the chance to shine as she does in The Lady Eve. She’s such a noir goddess, folks don’t always give her props for the comedy. She even gets to fight! The seven other linguistics professors are just so cute, too. They’re all Bashful! With spats, too. Kathleen Howard’s Miss Bragg finds just the right balance of ‘battleaxe’ and tenderness; she’s a worthy opponent to Sugarpuss. And Dana Andrews is such a reptile!

You can’t really go wrong with Howard Hawks. The Brackett and Wilder script just sings, full of fun, delight and a great message of getting academics out of the ivory tower and into the streets.

Plus there’s Gene Krupa drumming: aces!

See the round-up of TOA/V recs over at Todd’s.

TOA/V: New Shorts from Alan Moore

This week’s entry for Todd’s round up of overlooked audio/visuals is the first two bits of a new project from Alan Moore. Not content with forays into comics, novels, music, magic and publishing, he’s teamed up with Mitch Jenkins to work on a ‘Northampton Noir’ series. Because of course Moore has discovered that NoHo ‘practically invented noir’ as he claims to the Film Programme (with his tongue firmly in cheek). Complaining that films start out as fodder for computer games, products, and a television programme, so they’ve started at the end and worked back to the film. While the second part has received the lion’s share of the attention from the fan boys and press, the project begins with Act of Faith.

The simple prelude follows Faith (Siobhan Hewlett) as she readies for a big night out — or is it in? She ignores calls from her posh sounding father and puts off a co-worker’s invite, then gets ready for her evening. Hints appear everywhere in the scenes: the exposé of a cult figure she’s written who seems to also be a family acquaintance; the very in-jokey Tunguska Vodka, the saturated colours against a jet black background. The lighting is really terrific. The music by Crook & Flail is quite wonderful throughout. As the camera watches Faith get ready, the discomforting acknowledgement of the scopophilic eye of the camera is unavoidable. The voyeuristic caress became annoying to me because it was so blatant; I started thinking about how gendered the gaze was — and how wrong certain aspects of the ritual were. Not showering or at least washing her hair?! For a dress that swanky, surely she would. I liked how they showed it’s very difficult to attach stockings to the fussy little fasteners. It gradually dawned on me that this wasn’t just the voyeuristic camera: this was indeed ritual. Sure enough, Faith had a particular little ritual and a partner for it — but then something goes awry. It’s awful — and just a bit blackly humorous.

Jimmy’s End picks up not long after. Jimmy (Darrell D’Silva, who looks just a bit like George Clooney mashed up with Giancarlo Giannini [not a bad combination!]) wanders along the wet streets of Northampton, seemingly having lost his way on a night out on the lash. At the invite of a burlesque dancer (or so she looks to be) he steps inside a club — and feels as if he’s stepped back decades. The surrealistic touches begin to shed light on the world he’s entered, from the disconcerting jangle of the telephone that continues off and on to the odd clown painting, even the cigarette smoke and the golden light — all presaging things to come.

There’s a sigil on the wall painted opposite the poster trumpeting the club owners: a pair of magicians (perhaps?) Mettatron & Matchbright, “For One Night Only” although it looks like no one’s ever left this place. No surprise to find that Mettatron (or is that Metatron) is Moore and hmmm, Matchbright — surely suggestive of Lucifer. There’s a puppet beneath the poster, too, that seems to be dressed rather like Jimmy. He stares at the sigil uncomprehendingly but continues on to the lounge where he finds a tearful Faith with Matchbright (Robert Goodman who looks like Pete Townshend’s evil brother [no, not Simon!].

“I didn’t even know this place was here,” Jimmy says gaping at what seems to be a vintage cartoon of a drunk man falling down a stair (perhaps a hint of what’s happened).

“Yes, you did,” the bartender says as she hands him a drink.

Curioser and curioser: things continue to get odder as they go along, the ambiance of menace is palpable. There’s been oodles of attention to the set dressing and costumes. I hope it’s more than just some sort of Faustian hell story (I have a lot of theories, only hinting here). I do like the double-act-who-hate-each-other traditions getting built into the story (ha! the soap!) and the whole film looks and sounds so good. It may be the only time I have ever actually laughed at a clown. Look for Melinda Gebbie!

I’m not sure what I think yet, but I’m looking forward to more.

UPDATE: Behind the scenes of Jimmy’s End.

Tuesday’s Overlooked A/V: The Hitch-Hiker

Ida Lupino’s film noir debut, available free thanks to the Open Culture site. If you don’t know about them — well, there goes your productivity for the day. Books, audio and films galore. The RADA-trained English daughter of a stage comedian became best known for her increasingly dark films, no less than when she turned her own hand to directing. In a genre (still!) typically stereotyped as masculine, Lupino made her own assured way.

The Hitch-Hiker reflects this norm: it’s tightly focused on the three male characters. As the Wikipedia page tells us,

The movie was written by Robert L. Joseph, Lupino, and her husband Collier Young, based on a story by Out of the Past screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who was blacklisted at the time and did not receive screen credit. The film is based on the true story of Billy Cook, a psychopathic murderer.

The plot is simple: two pals Roy Collins and Gilbert Bowen (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) go off on a fishing trip and out of the affable goodness in their hearts, pick up a hitchhiker named Emmett Myers (William Talman), who turns out to be a psychopath who has committed multiple murders, which the audience has seen unfurl at the start of the film. The rest is a taut game of cat and mouse between the two men and the sneering killer.

This is your classic MWW (Movie Without Women). There are a few in the background and in conversation: Bowen has left his wife and children behind, but they provide an anchor to his character. He wistfully lays his hand on a small girl in a shop, obviously worried he won’t be able to see his own again. It shapes the overall tension in a way that many might see as influenced by the choices of the female director (i.e. emotions = girly) but what Lupino brings out is an essential human desire for connection.

It’s a great metaphor for the current political polarity in the States: Myers has nothing but scorn for Collins and Bowen, both their desire not to hurt other people and their friendship for each other, which he sees as a weakness. As far as he’s concerned it’s every man for himself (remind you of Republican rhetoric?). His contempt when Bowen stops to help the injured Collins can hardly be contained. Collins rightly snaps back at him that the only security he has is the gun and when he doesn’t have that, he won’t have anything at all. He’s all alone.

For a film noir, there’s an awful lot of sunlight in this picture. Much of the fugitives’ time is spent on blindingly bright deserts. The visual juxtapositions show Lupino’s fascination with the power of the image frame to frame. Good stuff. Well worth your time.

See the roundup of gems over at Todd’s blog.

RIP, the legendary comedy goddess Phyllis Diller

Tuesday’s Overlooked A/V: London Boulevard

You know I’m a sucker for Ken Bruen, so why has it taken so long to catch up with this 2010 neo-noir film? Not spectacularly successful, I’m not even sure it made it to American shores, my home at the time. I can see why it did not make a splash; people who were impressed with the PKD-lite shenanigans of Inception and the Loadsamoney obsessions of The Social Network would have no truck with this dark slice of crime along the Thames despite its all-star cast and a Bruen novel scripted by director William Monahan.

Short explanation: London Boulevard is neo-noir.

What do we know about noir: people are going to die. Things are not going to turn out cheery for everyone. Triumphing against the odds in a Hollywood finish? Not going to happen.

Colin Farrell’s Mitchel gets out of Pentonville at the start, picked up by his childhood friend Billy (Chaplin), who’s responsible for his being there, naturally. Mitchel turns out to be the sort of rough character with an idiosyncratic sense of honour that Bruen loves so well. When a couple of thugs kill his homeless friend, he pursues them doggedly, slightly distracted by becoming security for the reclusive star played by Knightly and being pursued for recruitment by Ray Winstone’s gangster Gant (channeling Michael Caine). The ham-handed heavy tries to get on Mitchel’s good side by grabbing one of the black gang who beat him up, but he’s so callously racist he doesn’t realise he’s made a mistake and doesn’t care. Add into the mix Mitchel’s increasingly erratic sister who refuses to take her meds (Friel), a kind-hearted doctor (Bhaskar) and David Thewlis’ bizarrely singular actor/addict/producer Jordan who’s too unpredictable to trust.

There’s a wonderful little monologue from Knightly’s character about women in films that’s sharply accurate of the state of mainstream films (even this one: Knightly is little more than a dream of what might be, present or absent when needed by the male lead). Of course there’s the Bruen touches you expect: black humour, Rilke and some obsession with Francis Bacon paintings (not your usual crime fare).

Well worth checking out; be sure to see the round up of overlooked gems at Todd’s.

Tuesday’s Overlooked A/V: Wise Blood

Flannery O’Connor’s masterpiece of Southern gothic, Wise Blood, received an unusually effective film treatment. It probably had a lot to do with the cantankerous John Huston helming it, someone with enough weight to throw around to keep it cleaving to the same dark vision that inspired it. For those who sneer at “literary” it might be good to remind you that the first chapter initially came to life as her master’s thesis and other portions of it drew on stories first published in Mademoiselle, Sewanee Review, and Partisan Review.

That said, I doubt her work would get through a modern writers workshop.

Huston’s 1979 film scores with a fantastic cast: no one could capture the strangeness of Hazel Motes like Brad Dourif. I can’t find the name of the actress who played Leora Watts, but she fearlessly capture the role. Of course Harry Dean Stanton and Amy Wright as the preacher and his Sabbath Lily shine. Ned Beatty and William Hickey — and of course Huston as the fire-and-brimstone grandfather who messes up Hazel in the first place.

I caught this just before leaving Ireland; I hadn’t seen it many years but it was just as good as I remembered and even more chilling. The strangeness of Dan Schor’s Enoch Emory has a wistfulness that my younger self overlooked, a terrible heartbreak and loneliness.

The finale of the film can’t quite catch the uncanniness of the novel, but it does an amazing job with adapting a complex and strange book. “No man with a good car needs to be justified.” Coming from Michigan, that phrase had even more resonance for me. It speaks to the dream of mobility and freedom that the car industry sold in the lush times of consumer dreams in the post-war era — while papering over those atrocities. They came out in strange ways sometimes, as they did for Hazel Motes. Look it up, and enjoy a little trip with “the Church of Christ Without Christ. Where the blind can’t see, the lame don’t walk, and the dead stay that way.”

Check out the round up of worthies over at Todd‘s.