Talking Movies

July 20, 2018

At least we still have… : Part IV

The fourth entry in an occasional series in which I try to cheer myself up by remembering what still exists in the world and cannot ever be taken capriciously away.

As I wrote in my Top 10 Films of 2012 here when praising Damsels in Distress, the desire of Greta Gerwig’s daffy character to improve the global psyche with her creation of future international dance craze the Sambola seemed rather less daft after PSY’s eccentric ‘Gangnam Style’ stormed the world after the film’s release. Featured prominently at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang some months ago, this still led to an irresistible grin whenever played; despite the fact nobody has ever known what the lyrics are about, other than the vague impression that this is the Seoul version of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly.

And if I think of the 2012 election duel between Obama and Romney I will immediately think of this parody. Sure, not all of College Humour’s video works as well as you’d want, but when it hits the heights of this particular verse it’s irrepressible:

I got distinguished hair

And a private jet that flies me way up in the air

Buy and sell your company with so much savoir faire

I bought a mansion for each one of my two dozen heirs

Romney’s wrong-footing of Obama in the first minute of the first debate is almost worthy of a mention here in its own right. Obama had clearly prepped to face off against the accustomed robotic Romney. Little did he suspect that Romney’s operating software had been given a Reagan upgrade – and when his handler keyed in the command for ‘execute joke’ he did it perfectly, leaving Obama stunned; he was not prepared for this level of charisma. Obama staggered thru that debate looking punch-drunk before recovering his poise for the next two, but to think that Romney was pilloried in 2012 for his ‘binders full of women’, and everyone was glad that the RNC intimated that he should stop seeking to run again in 2016. Oh, what people wouldn’t give now to have had Romney as the GOP candidate in 2016 rather than Trump and his ‘binders full of payoffs to women’ (sic).

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July 4, 2018

Fanfare for the Common Man

For the day that’s in it here’s Brooklyn composer Aaron Copland’s stirring fanfare written at the frenzied height of WWII.

And here are some excerpts from the speech by VP Henry Wallace that so inspired Copland in the composition process.

The march of freedom of the past 150 years has been a long-drawn-out people’s revolution. In this Great Revolution of the people, there were the American Revolution of 1775, the French Revolution of 1792, the Latin-American Revolutions of the Bolivarian era, the German Revolution of 1848, and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Each spoke for the common man in terms of blood on the battlefield. Some went to excess. But the significant thing is that the people groped their way to the light. More of them learned to think and work together. The people’s revolution aims at peace and not at violence, but if the rights of the common man are attacked, it unleashes the ferocity of the she-bear who has lost a cub. … … The people, in their millennial and revolutionary march toward manifesting here on earth the dignity that is in every human soul, hold as their credo the Four Freedoms enunciated by President Roosevelt. These four freedoms are the very core of the revolution for which the United Nations have taken their stand. We who live in the United States may think there is nothing very revolutionary about freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom from fear — freedom from the secret police. But when we begin to think about the significance of freedom from want for the average man, then we know that the revolution of the past 150 years has not been completed, either here in the United States or any place else in the world. We know that this revolution cannot stop until freedom from want has actually been attained.

Some have spoken of the “American Century”. I say that the century on which we are entering — the century which will come into being after this war — can be and must be the century of the common man.

Perhaps it will be America’s opportunity to support the Freedoms and Duties by which the common man must live. Everywhere, the common man must learn to build his own industries with his own hands in practical fashion. … … No nation will have the God-given right to exploit other nations. Older nations will have the privilege to help younger nations get started on the path to industrialization, but there must be neither military nor economic imperialism. Yes, and when the time of peace comes, the citizen will again have a duty; the consumer will have a duty — the supreme duty of sacrificing the lesser interest for the greater interest of the general welfare. Those who write the peace must think of the whole world. There can be no privileged peoples. We ourselves in the United States are no more a master race than the Nazis. And we cannot perpetuate economic warfare without planting the seeds of military warfare. We must use our power at the peace table to build an economic peace that is charitable and enduring.

June 15, 2018

By the time the screams for help were heard, they were no longer funny

After belatedly catching up with Jurassic World 2, which features the nastiest moment in all 5 movies, I felt compelled to finally flesh out some thoughts I’d been pushing around.

It’s rapidly approaching 15 years since the release of Kill Bill: Volume 1. I’ve been listening to Tomoyasu Hotei’s barnstorming instrumental ‘Battle without Honour or Humanity’, which successfully took on a life of its own unconnected to the movie; soundtracking everything on television sports for a while. I’m happy it did because I felt queasy in the Savoy all those years ago watching the ‘Showdown at the House of Blue Leaves’, and revisiting that sequence hasn’t made me like it any more now. 2003 in retrospect seems to have been huge anticipation repeatedly followed by huge disappointment – The Matrix Reloaded, Kill Bill: Volume 1, The Matrix Revolutions. Reloaded and Volume 1 both had epic fight scenes straining a muscle striving to be iconic. Reloaded’s Neo v Smiths didn’t work because of the overuse of farcically obvious CGI, and Volume 1’s Crazy 88 massacre didn’t work because of its incredibly excessive gore which wasn’t funny because of the screams of agony.

Like Reloaded there is a long build-up to the actual fight, with dialogue that wants to be quoted forevermore. Indeed the showy camerawork when the 88 arrive by motorcycle to surround the Bride is great. Unfortunately, like Reloaded, then the fight ensues. Shifting into black and white to placate the MPAA, and hide an embarrassing shortage of fake blood colouring, the choreography of the actual blade strokes is generally pretty obscured. What Tarantino wants you to focus on is the great fountains of blood every time the Bride lops off a limb. Tarantino clearly thinks these blood sprays are hilarious. Also he clearly thinks that people screaming in agony because they’ve just lost a limb and will be crippled for the rest of their life is hilarious. I don’t. And the moment where Sophie; who, mind, didn’t do anything to the Bride, she’s just friends with someone who did; has her arm cut off repelled me in the cinema and continues to repel me. It’s the sadism. She’s made to stand with her arm out for a long time, just waiting for the Bride to cut it off. And Tarantino lingers for a long time on her agony, because he finds it hilarious. Could it be funny like he thinks?

Edwyn Collins and Tarantino when given stick both brandished the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to justify the intrinsic comedy of amputation. But if you cite that for Kill Bill Volume 1 you are deliberately overlooking the most salient point. The amputation is comic only because of the Black Knight’s complete indifference to it. There is no gushing fountain of blood, there is no rolling around on the ground grimacing and screaming in agony for a long time. The Black Knight barely seems aware he’s lost a limb, or four. It’s the nonchalance, the insouciance that makes it funny. The comedy is the total disjunct between reality and perception. This is not Anakin at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Volume 1 is meant to be funny because of the total disjunct between the reality of how much blood comes out when a limb is amputated and Tarantino’s perception of that. Hence the Studio 60 gag about how a great fountain of blood from the Thanksgiving turkey sells the Tarantino reference and is funny, but a realistic trickle of blood does not make the reference and is instead incredibly disturbing. I hold that the comedy Tarantino thought he was making was lost because of the lack of disjunct between the reality of the characters losing a limb and their perception of that traumatic life-altering reality.

And then you have JJ Abrams, who must have thought this was a good idea until some sensible person talked him out of it before this horrific little scene had made it all the way thru post-production. No doubt Abrams thought it was fan service for Chewbecca to rip Unkar Plutt’s arm out of its socket and throw it across a room because he dissed him. Not realising apparently that there’s a large difference between the comedy value of a scare story used on a droid, “Let the Wookie win!”, and the grisly horror of it being done for real against a not terrifically villainous alien who feels pain, screams in pain, and won’t be able to get that arm put back on like a droid would. Dear God Abrams… But even that qualifier, not terrifically villainous, troubles; and not just because of this sketch

 

Tarantino doubled down on his punishment of Sophie for someone else’s crime. In a horrific addendum to the Japanese version, that mercifully didn’t make it to the Irish version and which I consequently only came across a few weeks ago for the first time, the Bride cuts off Sophie’s other arm.

Jurassic World took a lot of flak, and deservedly so, for Katie McGrath’s horrific death sequence. Prolonged, agonising, and random; because her character hadn’t done anything to deserve this punishment. And yet in Jurassic World 2 we have another prolonged and agonising death, but this time the writers have gone out of their way to justify it by giving the victim Trump sentiments.

June 8, 2018

At least we still have… : Part II

The second entry in an occasional series in which I try to cheer myself up by remembering what still exists in the world and cannot ever be taken capriciously away.

Why, there’s Dom and Nic’s trippy video for the Chemical Brothers’ ‘Setting Sun’, prominently featuring the vocals of Noel Gallagher. The autumn of 1996 in a bottle. I still don’t really do dance music, but this was the first single I ever bought (and on tape!). It had the power to move me to cross the dug-in trenches of genre. It seems odd I never knew they were directing so many key videos; ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’, ‘Ava Adore’, ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’, ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’, ‘D’You Know What I Mean’; but it seems odd now that MTV played them!

And then there’s the immortal Snoopy Dance. Some weeks ago a younger co-worker did an end of shift dance which I thought was like the Snoopy Dance. She was highly offended by this, which was puzzling. When she did it again later I used her term, the end of shift dance, only for her to call it the ‘Stupid Dance’. Ah! Sorting out this mishearing involved grabbing a co-worker closer to my age who knew what the Snoopy Dance was and instantly pulled up on his big-screen laptop the above clip to showcase the glory of Charles Schulz’ creation. On seeing it there was a pause, and then an admission that that was kind of like her dance alright… On reflection the end of shift dance is probably closer to Jenny Lindberg’s dance in Warpaint’s ‘Disco//Very’ but that’s another post.

May 25, 2018

At least we still have…

The first in an occasional new series in which I try to cheer myself up by remembering what still exists in the world and cannot ever be taken capriciously away.

For starters, there is this delivery of one single word by Gary Oldman in Leon, which still floors me with laughter no matter how many times I see it. The deliberate OTT take, that Oldman warned the sound recordist he was about to do, which of course Luc Besson ended up using in the final cut, launched a thousand GIFs.

And then there is the ‘Ode to Joy’ finale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which I am going to experience in person for the first time in the National Concert Hall tonight. I think I can make a good case that this piece of music which permits of no encore, was written by a composer who had completely lost his hearing, requires considerable resources to perform, and triumphantly promotes a spirit of universal brotherhood, is the very pinnacle of Western Civilisation.

April 30, 2018

Why Fund the Arts?

A little over two years ago a post here bemoaned the impact of austerity on the arts. Now I’d like to re-examine the topic with a considerably more critical eye.

The clash between Minister Hacker and Sir Humphrey still carries much weight. Art subsidies can easily be presented as a middle-class rip-off.  Take the funding of cinema, distribution rather than production that is. Cinema is not in any trouble. Well, historically it is, but let’s not open that can of worms here. Cinema is not in any trouble. (Hear, hear) There are cinemas everywhere, and people go to them ever Saturday night.  Advertisements for cinema roar at you from buses and phones, radios and televisions, billboards and newspapers. You would have to be in a coma not to have some subliminal awareness of what blockbuster is playing right now. Cinema is not in peril. What is in peril are unpopular films. Now, I like unpopular films. I routinely end up in screen 3 of the IFI, watching the films that are the most unpopular in the home of unpopular films. When the IFI writes to the Government they are obliged to camouflage their simple request for subsidies that they may show films nobody wants to see. That is brutal, but it’s the truth. I personally benefit enormously from this; I saw Alex Ross Perry’s masterful Queen of Earth during its six day run in the IFI. I am an appreciable percentage of its entire Irish audience. But should everybody else have to pay so that I can indulge my obscure tastes? Is that right and proper that Sean Citizen stump up so that I can watch a film flickering on the big screen as intended by ARP rather than get with the programme and just watch it on Amazon video?

A key argument against cutting arts funding in the last decade’s ceaseless austerity was that art develops empathy, and is therefore very useful for society. But the current obsession here, in England, and in America with *representation* completely vitiates that contention. I have identified completely with Seth Cohen, Rory Gilmore, Louis de Pointe du Lac, Esther Greenwood, and multiple characters in Brideshead Revisited and Michael Chabon novels. But the American Jewish experience is alien to me, as is the small town New England female adolescence. I know nothing of vampiric existential angst, or of 1950s female depression. I am neither a gay English aristocrat, nor a depressed creative writing student. I can look at all these characters that not like me, in nationality or gender or class or era or humanity or life experience, and empathise… But *representation* can be summed up by Mark Waid celebrating the much loathed character of Rose Tico purely because young Asian-American girls can look at an Asian-American woman onscreen and empathise – with themselves. That is not empathy. There is a GK Chesterton quote that hits this at an angle: “They say they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe as weak as themselves”. Representation is the opposite of empathy because it demands that art be a mirror held up to the person consuming the art. No work of empathy is to be done in imagining themselves in someone else’s life, and looking in this solipsistic mirror they expect that art will be representing them with positive feedback only, please; this is a safe space, you know.

January 31, 2018

He Got Melody or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Just Love John Williams Again

Filed under: Talking Movies,Talking Music — Fergal Casey @ 5:20 pm

It was while I was watching this John Williams BBC Prom at the end of last summer that I realised I had done him wrong.

Williams gets stick in serious musical circles for his tendency to write theme after theme with the same rhythm. Well, so what. Danny Elfman writes interesting, energetic rhythms and has barely written one melody in his career. You can’t hum a rhythm without a melody, but everybody can hum a number of different Williams melodies.

January 15, 2016

July 11, 2015

St Vincent at Iveagh Gardens

St Vincent arrived in the Iveagh Gardens on the back of the deluxe reissue of fourth album St Vincent, and played nearly all of it.

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Striding out onstage with slicked-back raven hair she was as alien a presence as David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, and began with ‘Birth in Reverse’ with choreographed dance movements (courtesy of Annie-B Parson) with her bassist Toko Yasuda, that only added to the otherworldly aura if you were far enough from the stage to not be able see her feet as she and Yasuda moved forward and back as if standing on treadmills. Climbing the large three step podium to deliver a triptych of songs before falling down into an inverse crucifixion pose there was also something of Gozer the Destroyer about the stage-craft, something that might please an artist who referenced Edward Scissorhands as an inspiration for the codpiece-flaunting black outfit with touches of grey, often bathed in red or green lights as it was for ‘Cruel’.

After the opening salvo of ‘Birth in Reverse’, ‘Regret’, ‘Marrow’ and a vocally soaring rendition of ‘Cruel’ it was time for the first trademark rambling monologue, dismissing James Joyce as long-winded. And before she could be accused of the same crime she launched into her biggest hit ‘Digital Witness’, followed by ‘Year of the Tiger’, and then three songs delivered in a haze of dry ice from atop the podium – ‘Severed Crossed Fingers’, ‘Cheerleader’, and ‘Prince Johnny’. Standing near the speakers on the right of the stage it was noticeable from the off just how crisp and crunchy the sound was, rendering St Vincent’s material more electro-clash than you’d think. This was perhaps a pity for some of the quieter songs, but it rendered the opening of ‘Rattlesnake’, repeated over again while St Vincent danced, an unexpectedly juddering dance riff.

After ‘Every Tear Disappears’ and ‘Chloe in the Afternoon’ St Vincent delivered another monologue, with a huge pause after talking about how much she shared with Dubliners, like her favourite Yeats quote, before deadpanning ‘There’s … so many, too many to pick just one…’ and launching into ‘Actor Out of Work’. ‘Teenage Talk’, ‘Bring Me Your Loves’, and a rousing ‘Huey Newton’ closed the set. Returning for an encore laid out like a body in repose she delivered ‘The Party’ lying down, before utilising the full depth of the stage and the front row for ‘Your Lips Are Red’ which turned into a full-on Led Zeppelin ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ solo-tastic improv-jamming freak-out. St Vincent played 9 songs from her newest album, all effective, and the two most reflective and subdued of them, played atop the podium, were highlights.

St Vincent might have been better served venue-wise by a brace of Olympia dates, but she’s an artist at the height of performing confidence promoting an equally strong record.

4/5

 

 

 

 

*Nothing to do with the gig proper, but this was the worst crowd I’ve suffered through a concert with; not for setting fire to tents, but for talking. Talking, and talking, and talking… When St Vincent and her bassist stripped ‘Your Lips Are Red’ down to just vocals I could barely hear them above the hubbub of six different group conversations. Throughout the gig when she played louder, people shouted louder, to continue their *deep and meaningful* dialogues. I saw one woman’s face almost as much as St Vincent’s throughout the show because no matter how much I moved she always ended up in my line of sight as her group moved, and she was always facing me because she was nearly always turning her back on St Vincent to talk to her friends instead. People, just go to Starbucks…

June 23, 2015

Orson Welles: Posing as Polymath, Playing the Fool

Orson Welles is being feted anew for the centenary of his birth, and he even projected his personality from beyond the grave with the 2013 publication of My Lunches with Orson. Peter Biskind edited long-neglected tapes of Welles’ weekly LA lunches with fellow director Henry Jaglom to produce a book of rip-roaring table talk. But having Welles captured on tape gives rise to an unsettling thought about his late career… Here’s a teaser for my HeadStuff piece on Welles.

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Some academics are now stressing the performative aspect of interviews. When writers give interviews, what they say in them can’t be neatly filed with what they write in letters or diaries, because an interview is a public dialogue not a private monologue, and two self-conscious performances are colliding for the sake of publicity. Indeed Welles requested that Jaglom tape their conversations for posterity, so there is undoubtedly an added dimension of self-conscious showing off on his part. There is also the further understanding that a good raconteur is not hobbled unnecessarily by facts or consistency. So Humphrey Bogart is a coward who only starts fights in places where he knows the waiters will intervene in one story, and a man of true courage and admirable integrity in another story – for the sake of the story.

Click here to read the full article on how Welles’ areas of expertise multiply, how he indisputably talks nonsense about Verdi, and how this need to be feted as a renaissance man may have scuppered his chances of a HBO show.

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