Children Of God – A Road To Heaven

Thoughts On: Children Of God (2009)

A film from Kareem Mortimer, this is the World Cinema Series’ Bahamian movie.

Children Of God

Children Of God is a pretty good movie with many strengths, but a few damaging weaknesses. It explores the personal inner journey of a gay Bahamian painter as he travels from Nassau (the country’s capital and his home town) to Eleuthera (a small Bahamian island) that runs parallel to an anti-homosexual Christian conservative movement headed by a closeted bisexual pastor and his somewhat reluctant wife. On this journey, our protagonist, Johnny, comes across another closeted homosexual whose family do not, or refuse to, acknowledge who he truly is, leaving this film a dramatic romance.

Just by knowing the premise, it’s clear that this is a film that means to pack an emotional punch whilst providing commentary on a society – an approach/agenda that all too often leads to some grating melodrama. But, for the most part, Children Of God avoids entirely cheesy melodrama – though often boarders such a tone. This comes down to the nature of the script and the quality of acting. Starting with the latter, the acting fluctuates between rather good and pretty bad – but is never truly awful. This has a push-pull relationship with the script as it is structured very well with some complex and articulate ideas within. However, these ideas are often expressed through some on-the-nose exposition, transparent plotting and quite a bit of clunky dialogue. So, as a whole, this is an imperfect movie that, whilst it has some issues, does overcome them to produce a compelling piece of cinema and social commentary.

A quick side-note before we continue, this film has a few formal and narrative links to Moonlight – the use of the ocean for example. The films are quite distinct from one another, but the links wherein are quite obvious. Nonetheless…

As implied, this film is focused on the gay community of The Bahamas, and so aims to depict the struggles that homosexuals endure and the challenges they face. Whilst homosexuality is legal in The Bahamas and has been since 1991, homosexuals have very few rights. In such, gay marriage is illegal – there are cases where private marriages are arranged, but this can be very expensive and may even land pastors in jail. During the mid-2000s, there was a push by the LGTB community to raise awareness of issues such as this as well as the lack of civil rights members have. For example, there are no anti-discrimination laws in place to protect homosexuals in regard to employment or the provision of goods and services. Moreover, as well as not being able to marry, same-sex couples legally cannot adopt children, nor are they allowed to form a family through IVF (in vitro fertilisation) or surrogacy. In raising awareness on such issues, the Bahamian LGTB community only received denial from their government and sparked anti-homosexual rallies, for example, a movement led by a pastor who aimed to oppose civil union through the collection of petitions – a story that has clearly inspired elements of this film.

What is also featured in this narrative that has links to real life in The Bahamas is the violence that homosexuals may be subjected to. In the last 10 years there have been 7 instances where a gay man was murdered in Nassau (possible hate crimes). None of these cases where ever solved by the police – in one instance a murderer turned himself in. The most infamous of these cases involved Troyniko McNeil who, in 2007, murdered Harl Taylor, a handbag designer, was captured, taken to court, but then acquitted. **SPOILERS**. This has clear links to the end of the film where our protagonist is stabbed, adding a tragic implication that his murderer will never be found, or worse, will be let free. At best, it can only be hoped that the killer will hand himself in and be imprisoned. **SPOILERS OVER**.

A film released in 2009, 3 years after Brokeback Mountain, which was banned in The Bahamas, Children Of God was one of the first Bahamian movies to depict homosexuality and explore the issues that homosexuals face. However, despite this feat and the fact that this went on to win 17 awards, this movie didn’t have much of an impact on Bahamian culture as there still seems to be no major governmental change put in place to better support and protect the LGTB community.

The only respite that this narrative then offers is an affirmation that all people are equal – even in the eyes of God. Moreover, Children Of God imbues the concept of an inner journey with purpose – that being an implication that memories and experience can, in themselves, become a form of eternal bliss; a heaven of sorts. And it’s this profound idea that solidifies this narrative as an intricate and compelling commentary on society.

To end, I turn to you. Have you seen this film? What are your thoughts on all that we’ve covered?

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Nabat – Preservation

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Nabat – Preservation

Quick Thoughts: Nabat (2014)

Directed by Elchin Musaoglu, this is our Azerbaijani film of the series.

Nabat_AFF_Final.indd

Nabat is cinema at its highest quality. With astounding camera work and a minimalist aesthetic that is wholly imbued with awe-inspiring beauty by the mountainous locale, this narrative is utterly immersive, leaving you lost in the sombre and melancholic atmosphere as a realist story of struggle slowly unfolds itself. The formal approach is in fact very reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s poetic realism in films such as Mirror. Whilst the structure and design of this narrative is entirely different to that of Mirror, the concentrated cinematic language textures this film with a tone that is strikingly Tarkovsky-esque thanks to the use of location, weather and organic material as well as the perfectly retrained and measured edit. This contributes to the immense emotional investment that this story evokes as it follows an elderly woman who lives in a small home with her ill husband nearby an isolated town.

As we watch her days pass by, we grow to know her routine of milking her cow as to sell milk and earn a meagre amount of money so that she may eat as well as feed her husband. And it’s experiencing this mundane everyday that we’re allowed to step into the shoes of Nabat, our main character, and begin to impress upon this narrative a sense of understanding – one that builds upon themes of old age, isolation and lonesomeness. This narrative and formal strategy of Nabat is what makes it so poignant; this film serves as a powerful medium through which we are transported into an empathetic exploration of this woman’s life. And so, the moving emotional conclusion I took from this narrative was centred on the idea of both perseverance and preservation. In such, I couldn’t help but consider the crushing futility of Nabat’s life. She has lost her son, soon loses her husband and later is left on the fringes of an evacuated town due to the moving front-lines of a war. Nonetheless, Nabat continues with routine and so simulates a life in which there is a tangible sense of purpose about her.

With poetic sub-plots concerning a wolf, this narrative then evokes a confounding emotional concept of prolonging a futile wait for cessation; death. And there’s very little that can be said about this thematic crux as it seems to expose a truthful depiction of life that is inarticulately effecting, leaving this movie one that simply needs to be experienced.

 

 

 

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Logan – Role Reversals

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Logan – Role Reversals

Thoughts On: Logan (2017)

A withered Wolverine and Professor X are thrown into a violent maelstrom when they encounter a rare young mutant.

Logan

The last superhero movie I subjected myself to was Dr. Strange, a movie I had put off seeing after sitting through the likes of Suicide Squad and Captain America: Civil War. None of these movie were particularly awful – many claim Suicide Squad was, but I didn’t hate it – however, since Dr. Strange, I haven’t been all that interested in superhero movies. This is why I held off seeing Logan; despite being a departure from the average superhero movie it was nonetheless unenticing. But, having finally seen it, I find myself in the same old position. This was a pretty good movie, but nothing particularly spectacular. Its main downfalls are that it sets itself up to be more than mediocre through an implication of heavy drama that it simply fails to provide. In such, Logan makes a clear sacrifice of scale for both the graphic aesthetics and the tough subject matter, but doesn’t utilise either of these elements in a satisfying manner.

In short, Logan lacks an emotional punch. I say this having seen all of the X-Men movies, a few of the cartoons, though never the comics, and so are quite familiar with the characters as well as the world. In being a conclusion to the tale of Wolverine (unless we get a reprisal of his character – which wouldn’t be unexpected), Logan didn’t have a sense of finality or catharsis. The reason why comes down to the fact that the drama doesn’t evoke any emotional reaction and that the spectacle is far too muted to be exciting or engaging. This leaves Logan, as a character, without any major inner or physical conflicts to overcome within this plot; he doesn’t have to fight off the biggest baddest guy and he doesn’t have to confront the most crushing of his inner demons. As a blockbuster, this was then quite underwhelming. However, there are hints within this movie that this was possibly intentional.

There is an attempt throughout Logan to provide a subtextual story about change. As with all of the X-Men films, this theme of change is linked to the concept of being different, excluded, a minority or an outsider. With the realist approach to the narrative being supported by this motif throughout the X-Men universe, Logan having a muted sense of finality implies that this film isn’t so much just a goodbye to an old character – and an older form of superhero movies – but also a welcome to something new. Whilst I appreciate this attempt to provide complex subtextual material, it is unfortunately underwhelming. And I suppose that’s a word I could use to describe almost every aspect of this movie; it is simply unremarkable.

This is a problem we are seeing across many blockbusters that, like Logan, are attempting to welcome something new. This “something” is of course a reflection of a shift in culture, one that is reversing many stereotypical roles. Within Logan, this is quite stark with the clear implication that “Wolverine” will now be a small girl. We have already seen this in other movies such as Kick-Ass and it has always come off as quite the gimmick. The same rings true within Logan. Whilst the character of Lauren is somewhat impressive as she flies through the air and murders men two times her size, there is a strong sense of fraudulence; it just doesn’t feel genuine.

The main signifier of this is, of course, the iconic roar of Wolverine that has been replaced with a shriek. This entirely ruins the action sequences, pushing the already absurd visuals too far. Emphasising this is the so-so direction and choreography of the action set-pieces – which are, yet again, underwhelming. Imbued into the character of Lauren is then an undeniable lack of verisimilitude that is a significant symptom of this mediocre movie.

It’s at this point that you could argue that these movies, superhero movies, are a mere form of fantasy and so act as wish-fulfilment that needn’t be realistic. This is not the means through which I mean to criticise this film. I entirely appreciate and support cinema as wish-fulfilment. However, I think this role reversal is a trope that drastically reduces the quality of such a concept when applied badly, and so needs to be analysed. To begin just this, when we look to Kick-Ass, we find an example of this role reversal trope that we see in Logan handled much better.

With a scene like this, there is a formal recognition that the concept of a small girl killing a bunch of guys in a room is ridiculous. This is exactly why this is a comedic film with sensibilities in the choreography and soundtrack to match. Logan doesn’t recognise the absurdity of its imagery and instead leans on the logic of the narrative for support – that logic being that this little girl is a manufactured weapon.

However, we all know that the whims of the screenwriter supersede the logic of the narrative – after all, the screenwriter invents this logic. This is why there is an inextricable absurdity imbued into a scene where small children kill or beat adults. A good example of this absurdity would be found in the end of The Incredibles…

But, just like with the scene from Kick-Ass, there is a counter-balance put in place in this sequence, and that is comedy. The baby or the small girl suddenly revealing incredible powers is tantamount to a punch line, but, when treated as such, it often works. When such an approach is dismissed, as it is in Logan, the absurdity easily becomes inescapably overt. This contributes to a lack of verisimilitude, leaving a sequence that contains an absurd role reversal as disingenuous or simply silly.

This is an idea that some may reject on the grounds that it criticises a movement that tries to see movies be more inclusive and less stereotypical. However, I wouldn’t suggest that such a movement needs to be stopped, just that, in the case of Logan, its agenda is applied pretty terribly. What’s more, if this trend of role reversals is to transcend a status of a cliche or a comedic trope, it will probably need to alter its approach – especially assuming we’re going to be seeing a lot more from Lauren in future X-Men movies. So, in such, a film like Logan needs to essentially do two things.

The first aspect of Logan that needs altering is the level of power given to Lauren, the little girl. Whilst she doesn’t simply destroy everything in her path, she never faces true antagonism – meaning, she is thrown to the side every now and then, but is never put in a truly compromising position. The reason for this weak sense of conflict and pressure may come down to the mediocre writing and direction, but, it is also pretty blatant that a movie depicting a small girl being beaten up is not going to be very well accepted. What this then further suggests is the absurdity of this role reversal which is reaching a little too far; people don’t necessarily want to see small children in brutal action films. There are two sides within us all, one that is compelled by violent imagery of varying degrees, and one that is compelled to compassion. No one really needs to be told that our affinity violence doesn’t extend to small children – even if they are superheroes. This is why it was a bad decision to use such a young girl in Logan; we want a brutal action movie, one that isn’t subdued by the presence of a child.

This paradigm also extends to women in action movies. Whilst it is generally acceptable to see women fighting women and even women beating up men in action movies, women getting destroyed by men isn’t very palatable under most circumstances (within a comedy or a serious and dark drama, this may work). This is what holds us back from verisimilitude and dramatic poignancy in action movies of this class. The trope of a woman or a child beating a man many times their size is often nonsense that only cheapens a film – especially when there is no real fight put up. We can understand why when we look to movies such as Alien and The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

In both of these films, we see the impossible seem probable. Within Alien, we see humans defeat a superior life form. And within The Planet Of The Apes, we also see a superior life form, ourselves, overcome. This is an archetypal kind of story that teaches a lesson in verisimilitude. In short, movies of this kind all feature the underdog beating the big-dog in a way that is unique to them alone. In such, in Alien, humans use the intellect they have and the aliens lack to emerge victorious. The apes within The Plant Of The Apes use their physical strength, that which humans certainly do not have, alongside their new-found intellect to overthrow us.

This is a screenwriting paradigm that is used to manage conflict that is best represented in the context of Logan through a film like Mulan. As in Logan, we see a classic role reversal within this narrative. However, it is not reduced to simple comedy and it is never truly absurd because Mulan always perseveres to find unique solutions to her conflicts…

A good example of this would of course be the arrow moment in the “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” sequence. Whilst all the men assume they can use their brawn to climb the pole, Mulan recognises that there are other ways to overcome adversity that are better suited to her abilities. It’s exactly this that Logan lacks. Whilst Lauren has her own style of fighting, one that is unique to her small frame, she never exhibits any other idea than that she is the “little girl wolverine”. In such, I am not saying that female characters should be given less power and then made to figure out what to do. I am instead suggesting that they should be given equal antagonists so there is a strong sense of conflict that must then be overcome in a manner unique to that female character. This has us come all the way back to the main signifier that suggests Lauren, as a character, is a weak one: her awful shriek that badly imitates Wolverine’s roar.

What this small detail says about the whole concept of role reversal is that it is predominantly about antitheticals colliding. For many action movies, this unfortunately boils down to the idea that women are men. This stems from the notion that women can do anything that men can do – which is largely true, but not entirely. There is a distinction between men and women that is quite precious though equally obvious. It’s great that cinema and filmmakers challenge this with movies such as Kick-Ass, but, if such a notion is ever to be taken seriously (as in, it works outside of a comedy), the idea that women can do what men can needs a little more nuance. As in Mulan, it should be made clear that there is a divide between men and women that can be transcended, but only through paths unique to a character. We may hopefully see this in later X-Men films through Lauren not just having feet claws that aesthetically differentiate her from Wolverine; she will hopefully have distinguished character traits that have her stumble as she tries to jump hurdles that Logan did, yet also other traits that allow her to overcome hurdles that he couldn’t. After all, what is the point of this role reversal if we are to dismantle the image of a girl or a woman and just replace it with a man? If women would like to see themselves represented in the cinema, why is this so often done by taking the essence of male characters and simply forcing them into the shell of a woman?

What is the ultimate paradox of role reversals in a film like Logan is then that they are executed in such a way that the role reversal is made null: the girl is depicted as just a man in a tiny female body. It’s this lazy, cookie-cutter mediocrity that has always been apart of the modern blockbuster that is now masquerading as progressive politics to win new target audiences over. This is quite a clever trick that filmmakers and studios have been recently employing as it morally obligates certain audiences to see a movie whilst putting up a moral shield against all criticism. A good example of this would of course be the recent Ghostbusters movie. Many people who critiqued this movie were dismissed as sexist. And whilst I can’t comment on the film as I wasn’t bothered to watch it, this seems to be a clear trick puppeteered, knowingly or not, by studios trying to reach the largest audience and stir up a lot of attention.

Because no one wants to see these new kinds of movies that depict non-stereotypical figures reduced to a trope with strong ties to mediocrity, even bad quality, it makes sense that we recognise a prevalent flaw of films like Logan. Because of its badly managed role reversal, Logan dug itself into a hole whereby it couldn’t deliver on the spectacle of brutal action, nor provide a true dramatic punch that we could take seriously. If movies like Logan are to transcend this paradigm, they need to better select and match their protagonists and antagonists, but also allow their role-reversed figures to develop into unique characters, not just remain their antithesis within a different shell.

So, it’s from this point that I’ll leave things to you. Do you think the role reversal in Logan worked? Do you think it could have if managed differently? What are your general thoughts on this topic?

 

 

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End Of The Week Shorts #8.2

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Nabat – Preservation

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End Of The Week Shorts #8.2

Today’s Shorts: The Arctic Giant (1942), Chungking Express (1994), Joey Coco Diaz: Sociably UnAcceptable (2016), All That Jazz (1979)

Surprisingly stupid, though, equally interesting and, with its own sense of style, kinda cool.

This is a short cartoon from the original Fleischer series – the first to ever depict the character of Superman. It is about a group of scientists that discover a frozen Tyrannosaur in the arctic, bring it back to America (**refrigerated, of course**), but, through an unlikely accident, it is thawed out, allowing it to come back to life and terrorise the surrounding city. Superman then has to fight it off as Lois does a whole bunch of dumb shit.

Story-wise: horribly executed. But, with a strong aesthetic when it concerned non-humans, The Arctic Giant was ultimately somewhat fun. I can’t wait to see DC’s remake of this one.

Technically brilliant and highly immersive, Chungking Express was a film I thoroughly enjoyed watching. Despite being an expressive exploration of isolation, loneliness and romance, I wasn’t drawn into this film’s characters and story. I was much rather thrown into a cinematic spiral by the all-consuming tone conjured by the style and tone.

This, however, doesn’t mean that the story or characters are weakly constructed. Instead, I just need to watch this movie again – which certainly won’t be a task.

Tremendous.

This is the second time I’ve watched this stand-up special from one of my favourite comics, and it holds strong. Whilst it’s not the funniest content I’ve seen from Diaz as he seemingly holds back a little, this is a brilliant hour that covers some of his staple topics. Let it be known that this is not for the faint-hearted, nor will it have a proper punch if this is your introduction to Joey Diaz. As one of the most unique comedic personas out there, this is a special that’s aimed at a core audience who’ve probably grown to know Joey through all the podcasts, live streams and series he appears on.

So, personally, this was a pure blast. The only issues I had with this was the editing and camera work that let a fucking dickhead sitting in the front row interrupt the frame. Nonetheless, great content that I probably shouldn’t recommend.

This is an excellent film; essentially, a meeting of Fellini’s 8 1/2 and Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes.

Starting with its downfalls, as this isn’t a perfect film, All That Jazz isn’t very well paced – especially in the latter half. The sequences are often too drawn out, which is somewhat understandable considering that this is a musical of sorts, but these sequences usually fail to add new layers to the subtext of the narrative. Moreover, the musical numbers simply aren’t very good – judging the music unto itself. This ultimately leaves All That Jazz as, in some ways, lacking in atmosphere and a dramatic/spectacular punch.

That said, the formal achievements in this film are pretty immense. Exploring a self-absorbed artist through his work, much like Fellini does in 8 1/2, we also see exposed a complex commentary on the momentum of life in face of death by this narrative. With the direction, cinematography and set-design embellishing these elements of the script, it’s then pretty undeniable that this is a hugely significant feat.

So, all in all, whilst I wasn’t fully immersed into this narrative, I was struck by all that it was and have a sneaking suspicion that this is a film that will grow on me as I re-watch it over time.

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End Of The Week Shorts #8.1

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Logan – Role Reversals

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End Of The Week Shorts #8.1

Today’s Shorts: Combate De Boxe (1927), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Easy Street (1917), Brief Encounter (1945), Magic Myxies (1931), Pickup On South Street (1953), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957a), Shall We Dance (1937)

Combat De Boxe is an experimental film that deals with a sport that has always been bound to cinema (later television of course) since the very beginnings of the form through kinetograph movies such as Corbett and Courtney (1894). In such, Combate De Boxe combines poetry with technological tricks such as double exposure and split screen to capture an abstract montage that serves as an impressionistic depiction of what it is like to be in a boxing match.

What makes Combat De Boxe even more interesting is its formal links to a film that came out 53 years later: the masterpiece, Raging Bull. Whist Scorsese distinguishes (from movies such as Rocky) a strong and unique formal aesthetic in his boxing sequences that really take you inside the ring through POV, Dekeukeleire also does this, but with a clever use of the close-up and negative imagery that have you situated inside the ring, looking outwardly (as if through a boxer’s distracted imagination).

This ultimately leaves this a surprising short from the silent era that somehow manages to capture an aesthetic far ahead of its time.

Entirely endearing, Little Miss Sunshine is a perfect movie, one that poignantly explores three ideas: losers, winners and fears.

With great performances all around, a brilliant script and good direction, Little Miss Sunshine is then about living your life in face of the momentum of the world around you – a concept perfectly captured by the image of the van that they are always running to catch up to. As a road movie, this van is an integral part of the journey, but what we grow to find out is that this narrative is not so much about the the road, the destinations or the stops along the way, rather, the family within this yellow VW Campervan. With the world soaring by, it’s only this bubble that matters, one that constructs its own definitions of “loser” and “winner” whilst fearlessly doing what it feels it has, wants and needs to do.

As is common with Chaplin, a story of the little guy prevailing against all odds, a story that makes light of the darkest sides of life; poverty, drugs, violence and chaos.

With some brilliant comedic action set-pieces and a well established scenario, Easy Street is not only a hilarious spectacle, but a romantic and hopeful tale of change in a community. Having not seen a Chaplin picture in a while, this really hit home and was a pure joy to be immersed in. Yet another brilliant movie from one of the greatest figures in all of cinema.

Any romance that features a love triangle or some form of cheating is very hard to do well, but Brief Encounter is an effortlessly masterful depiction of extramarital love affairs.

This all comes down to the manner in which, through script, cinematography and camerawork, we are made to see the subjective and psychological perspective of our main character, Laura Jesson. In such, we are made to understand the confounding, tearing emotions of a person who has stumbled onto love when they know they ought not to. So, as the title and taglines suggest, this film is about the bittersweet brevity of precious encounters that life sometimes throws our way.

Every second of this film exudes this powerful and complex emotional concept, deeming it one of the greatest romance films I have ever seen.

This is a really impressive science documentary of sorts from the 1930s co-directed by an early British pioneer in the field, F. Percy Smith. In such, this contains some of Smith’s most astounding use of both micro and time lapse photography as “Magic Myxies” are investigated.

The downfalls of this film come down to the science and little else. So, primarily, this subject is far too dumbed down, but the script is also pretty incorrect about many things. The main blunder is that, whilst these Myxies (Myxomycetes – slime moulds) are Eukaryotic organisms (they have membrane-bound organelles, which separates them from bacteria – Prokaryotes) they are neither animals, plants or fungi, instead, protista (a kingdom of organisms that kind of just means “other”). (High school biology seemingly does come in handy later in life). However, considering that this documentary is over 85 years old, this can be forgiven.

So, despite these scientific fallacies, Magic Myxies is still a pretty awesome film from a technological and aesthetic perspective.

P.S. You can watch this here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=04kdhZQTnIU

Pickup On South Street is a pretty brilliant movie. The direction is great with strong cinematic language that manages to inject some impressive camera movement, cinematography and fight choreography into this narrative. Moreover, the script is pretty solid with an intricate plot, multi-faceted characters and complex subject matter. In such, Pickup On South Street uses the subject of the Cold War to explore the shades of good and bad in dubious American citizens.

Both in terms of form and content, Pickup On South Street is then a rather impeccable movie, well designed and executed. It nonetheless didn’t resonate with me however. The characters weren’t very compelling, and neither was the narrative. This lead me to only see the downfalls in logic in character decisions and disengage from the momentum of the plot. I think this all just comes down to the fact that crime-thrillers rarely do much for me.

Alas, Pickup On South Street is an impressive movie that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the likes of Double Indemnity, Touch Of Evil, The Killing and movies alike.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter is the Deadpool of the Hollywood Golden Age – just a thousand times better. In such, just like Deadpool is a deconstruction of the superhero genre, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter is a deconstruction of wish-fulfilling Hollywood romances and spectacles of the 30s, 40s and 50s.

With brilliant… everything – characters especially – this narrative perfectly assess a much explored idea of success being found in a humble, preciously average life. This is such a poignant projection of this almost cliched idea thanks to the execution of the excellent script, but also because of the direct revision it provides on classical narratives and the manner in which we interact with them. In such, whilst many high-end pictures are about simple endeavours in love, family and heroism, all that surrounds them is often a contradictory spectacle of celebrity and vapidness.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter embodies a classical formula whilst providing this simultaneous commentary on how we interpret it, ultimately assuring us with no reservations the idea that, “success is the art of being happy”.

Such is the simple greatness of this film that cannot be better articulated by anything but the film itself. Highly recommended.

A fine picture and a solid piece of entertainment, Shall We Dance features the iconic Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a twisting, on-off romance invigorated by the timely topic of “fake news”.

Highly enjoyably with a narrative that grows stronger with each number and plot beat, there’s nothing to really say about this narrative. And I suppose that’s its only downfall; Shall We Dance is a pretty unremarkable film. Though this is not a throw-away movie, it certainly lacks a spark or punch as it is heavily sedated by the conventional romantic structure that is kept together by slightly inventive, though never truly astounding, musical and dance sequences.

All in all, Shall We Dance was a good time, but also a film that should be approached neutrally. In short, don’t expect a spectacular masterpiece.

 

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Every Year In Film #9 – Roundhay Garden Scene

Thoughts On: Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)

Four figures walk in circles within a garden.

In the previous post, we introduced one of the most poorly documented, yet incredibly significant, figures of cinematic history, Louis Le Prince. In such, we covered a little of his life leading up to the creation of his first (surviving) film, Man Walking Around A Corner, which was shot with a sixteen lens camera and paper film. Though this was a huge jump towards what we know to be cinema nowadays, it has to be made clear that most would not consider Man Walking Around A Corner to be the first film ever made – just like most wouldn’t consider the films of Muybridge and Janssen to be the birthing points of cinema either. This is primarily because of the problem with perspective that arises when a filmmaker uses multiple lenses or cameras. In short, cinema, if we had to begin to define it, is known for a single lens, or a singular perspective. However, if we stop and think about this definition, it is a very arbitrary one that has dissolved with technological jumps in cinema.

Consider, for example, digital cinema and animation that doesn’t really have a singular perspective, nor a camera. Without question, we would consider films such as Toy Story as cinema. Moreover, we would consider The Matrix, a film that uses multiple cameras in the bullet time sequences, as cinema also. This begins to imply that maybe it was Muybridge, maybe Janssen, that made the first films, as the key defining factor of cinema is the moving image. And whilst we had moving imagery with devices such as the zoetropes, stroboscopes and phenakistoscopes; photography as well as projection through camera obscura and the magic lantern, this motion and projection didn’t meet with the capturing of the real world until the likes of Janssen and Muybridge. So, when we consider Le Prince’s films, what makes them so significant is not that they are given the label of “the first films”, rather, that they represent a form of the technology that remained relevant for over 100 years. We begin to see this with the LPCC Type 16, but, as said, the 16 lens model of a cinematic camera was not a very viable option. After all, Le Prince had to devise a complex system that involved numerous shutters and two reels of film that were, as we would imagine, cumbersome to manage. This is why, in 1888, Le Prince built and patented his next cameras.

The Le Prince Cine Cameras Type 1 Mark 1 & 2 both had singular lenses that would allow paper film to be exposed as it moved intermittently. These were significant cameras as they were the first to use a single lens through which to expose a moving reel of film to light. However, why didn’t Le Prince just create the single lens cameras in the first place?

There are two reasons for this. The first concerns the patenting of his original 16 lens camera from 1886. Included in his patent, Le Prince proposed the construction of a camera with one or more lenses, but, this detail was rejected by the office as it was seen to interfere with an already patented camera of Dumont’s from 1861. However, it has to be noted that Dumont’s patent was for a still photography camera that used glass plates, not a motion picture camera that used paper film. Nonetheless, Le Prince was only granted a patent for a camera with more than 2 lenses – a decision he could not object to soon enough as he was in England and the patent office he submitted to was in the U.S. This is one reason as to why his first camera used 16 lenses, but, he also needed to devise a manner in which to pass film across a single lens.

Employing J.W Longly, inventor of the automated ticket machine, as his assistant, Le Prince constructed this system to do just this. The LPCC Type 1 passes paper based or gelatin film from two spindles, positioned above and below the lens of the camera, intermittently being stopped at a gate through an electronic and clockwork-like mechanism.

Having constructed and successfully patented this design in 1888, Le Prince would go on to shoot what is often referred to as the first film ever. This is the Roundhay Garden Scene…

Shot with the LPCC Type 1 MkII in his father-in-law’s garden in Leeds, this is 20 frames depicting Le Prince’s parents-in-law, a family friend and his son walking in circles. A question we may come to again, however, is: what qualifies this as the first motion picture?

I would certainly reassert that this has been reduced to a somewhat arbitrary definition as cinema has evolved, but, simply put, the Roundhay Garden Scene is shot with film and a single lens camera. This is something that no one else had managed to do up until this point and is the formal and technical focal point from which cinema grew from for decades to come.

So, with the first motion picture under his belt, Le Prince would go on to shoot scenes of Leeds Bridge and his son playing an accordion.

What is significant about the Leeds Bridge film is that it is, arguably, the first non-staged depiction of people. Whilst the Passage Of Venus could be considered the first documentary as it is the simple documentation of a planetary process captured with imagery that could be manipulated into motion, Le Prince’s Leeds Bridge scene does what Muybridge, whose films predate his, never considered. Le Prince not only took his camera out of a controlled setting, but captured life and people unknowingly. What is then significant about this short clip is its symbolic representative of a more truthful observational cinema that would be developed over time – often with reference to Lumière pictures which, at later dates, also observe in a documentary-esque manner.

A particularly interesting element of Le Prince’s Accordion Player is the staged act of playing music. It is difficult to even ponder about Le Prince’s thought processes in 1888, but it seems that he recognises the importance of sound in relation to the moving image – despite its absence in this short. It’s with this very early film that it is then implied that maybe the moving image was never intended to be silent.

Keeping this in mind, when we look back to the works of Muybridge, the only prolific ‘filmmaker’ up until this point, we see images from a man with incredibly illusive motivations. As we’ve discussed, he wasn’t really documenting scientific material. It instead seems that Muybridge was conducting hundreds of experiments that were exercises in control, revelling in the human ability to freeze and manipulate time. This is not what we see with Le Prince. There is no fixation on control apparent in his small body of work, instead, something that will continue to become more common as more films are made over the years: an interest in what exists within the frame. In such, whilst Muybridge’s work seemingly marvels at the invention of moving imagery and the power it gives humanity, Le Prince’s uses the technology to peer into the world and share the content, not just the form, of cinema. What I then personally feel when looking at the works of these two pioneers can be summed up with two reactionary statements. When looking at Muybridge’s work, I think: “Wow, look at that technological achievement. How did he do that?”. When looking at the works of Le Prince, also Edison and the Lumières, I think: “Wow, look at those people/places/things from over 100 years ago. Who are they? What was it like back then?”.

So, whilst I love to look at the early works of the mentioned figures, Muybridge sits in a class of his own as Le Prince is a great representative of what would later be deemed a “cinema of attractions”. So, with this we see another distinguishing element of what makes the Roundhay Garden Scene a significant film and, arguably, a first.

To start to move towards a conclusion, we’ll return to the initial idea that Le Prince is a poorly documented, yet incredibly significant, filmmaker. The answer to this paradox largely comes down to the fact that Le Prince never marketed himself like Muybridge, Edison and the Lumières did. He was thus never really famous – and such was a significant element of filmmaking (and still is to a certain extent) in what was almost the wild west of cinema. To paint a picture, we only need to consider figures such as D.W Griffith and Charlie Chaplin. Both are remembered not only because they were great filmmakers, but because they were insanely famous.

However, Le Prince’s significance through time is not so cleanly attributed to “bad marketing”. The fact is, he never had a chance of becoming really famous for his work. Le Prince disappeared, never to be conclusively found, in 1890. What is unfortunate about this is that this is how Le Prince is remembered – even to this day. Instead of being seen as the man who made the first films, Le Prince is often only made note of because of conspiracy theory and a rather cinematic conclusion to the end of his life. In such, Le Prince’s legacy is always overshadowed by this, admittedly, intriguing disappearance that may have had links to Edison and patents, maybe his family, or even suicide.

However, this is not a detail that I want to focus on as most probably already know this element of his story. Instead, what I want to conclude with is the idea that Le Prince was significant for many “firsts”. He not only pioneered the first single lens cameras that used film, not glass plates, but implied a form and aesthetic that would be bound to, later developed upon by, early silent cinema. If anything, this is what should underscore his title as the “Father Of Cinematography”.

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Every Year In Film #8 – Man Walking Around A Corner

Thoughts On: Man Walking Around A Corner (1887)

A man, as the title suggest, walks around a corner.

One of the most poorly documented figures in all of cinematic history is arguably the most significant: Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince. Le Prince was an inventor, born in France, who grew up around his father’s friend’s studio. That friend was Louis Daguerre, a man we have mentioned before in the series. He was a pioneer in early photography who invented the first publicly available kind of photographic equipment.

This was known as daguerreotypy, and involved metal plates treated with chemicals – material which Janssen would use in his photographic revolver to capture the earliest known pre-film, The Passage Of Venus. Le Prince, growing up in and around Daguerre’s studio, was taught about chemistry and photography, and would go on to study both painting and chemistry later on in university. Specialising in the painting and firing of pottery, Le Prince would later be hired by a brass founding firm in Leeds, England: The Whitley Partners of Hunslet. Here he would marry the sister of the man that invited him, an old college friend whose sister was Elizabeth Whitley, in 1869.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian War (or, The Franco-German War of 1870) as an officer of volunteers, Le Prince returned to England where he and his wife set up the Leeds Technical School Of Art in 1871. It’s here where he gained notoriety for his work with colour photography and metal pottery. This lead to him being commissioned to construct portraits of Queen Victoria and William Ewart Gladstone (at the time, Prime Minister of England) which would be placed in a time capsule in the foundation stone of Cleopatra’s Needle.

Taking a side-note, the depicted Cleopatra’s Needle is in Westminster and is one of three Egyptian obelisks – the other two can be found in New York and Paris. This monument has very little to do with Queen Cleopatra as it was constructed over 1000 years before her reign. The statue was given to the British by the then ruler of Egypt in 1819, Muhammad Ali (not the boxer) – but was delivered much later (in 1877) just because the British didn’t want to pay for transportation. This welcomed (though initially declined) gift was eventually given in commemoration of the Battle of Alexandria that was fought between the French and the British in 1801. As mentioned, when this was erected in 1878, a time capsule was hidden in the foundation. Contained within are said to be the following…

12 photos of English Beauties

A box of hairpins

A box of cigars and several tobacco pipes

A baby’s bottle

Some children’s toys

A shilling razor

A hydraulic jack and some samples of the cable used in the erection

A 3 inch bronze model of the monument

A complete set of British coins

A rupee

A written history of the strange tale of the transport of the monument

A translation of the inscriptions

Copies of the bible in several languages

A map of London

Copies of 10 daily newspapers

Included in this was also Le Prince’s portraits, presumably, photographs fixed onto metal or pottery. So, following this, Le Prince moved to America with his family to become a manger of a group of artists that produced panoramas, later, he would work on moving picture machines in the New York Institute For The Deaf. It’s here where he constructed and patented a camera with 16 lenses.

This was the Le Prince Cine Camera Type 16 (LPCC Type 16). Le Prince would refer to this as his “receiver” and it would work in a very similar way to Muybridge’s system – just in a more condensed manner. As we’ve discussed previously, Eadweard Muybridge constructed some of the first ‘films’ using multiple cameras being tripped electronically…

Le Prince’s camera would take exposures from 16 lenses in one device – all tripped 1/16th of a second apart. These exposures would be captured on paper film within the device and could be brought together to produce the illusion of movement. One of the only surviving experiments that Le Prince shot with this camera in Leeds during 1887 is our subject today.

There is, however, quite a bit more to be said about Louis Le Prince. We will do this in the next post though. For now, we’ll conclude on this note. So, just before I leave you with Le Prince’s earliest surviving film, pay careful attention to the manner in which the frame jumps to different angles – which is a signal that this was not shot with a single lens camera. Moreover, whilst the precise date of this picture isn’t known, a letter dated 18 August 1887 was sent from Le Prince to his wife in America, giving us a good estimate of when it was made. Beyond that, I’ll let the earliest experiment, and the closest example to what we have technologically come to know as film so far, speak for itself…

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Every Year In Film #9 – Roundhay Garden Scene

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