stylo film

I’m not there

im_not_there_2007_2

The surgical scalp cuts through the flesh and the false stories.

There he lies. God rest his soul, and his rudeness. A devouring public can now share the remains of his sickness, and his phone numbers. Even his ghost was more than one person.

1. An old guitar case with a pair of legs and beaten shoes runs for the last train out of town. He doesn’t know where it’s heading but its sure better than where he’s been. Carelessness brought him to these parts,  a freight train takes him away. Far, far away. Gazing out on an ever changing landscape, on an empty stomach, among the hobos and the nobos, the boy tells a good tale. This machine kills fascists.
Marcus Carl Franklin is Woody, The Fake.

2. You don’t have to write anything down to be a poet. Some work in gas stations, some shine shoes. Some sell a hundred million records. So what have you to say for yourself, sir? He rattles off endlessly quotable, nonsensical verse. Defying description and good taste.

A word for you fans, sir? Astronaut.
I refuse to be what I am not. I refuse to say what you want me to say. I am not here.I am not there. I refuse.
Ben Whishaw is Arthur, The Poet, The Jokerman and The Thief.

3. Here we are, face to face with the real Jack Rollins. A man who traded the limelight for a different kind of light all together. Years ago they said I was a prophet. I used to say, “No I’m not a prophet” they say “Yes you are, you’re a prophet.” I said, “No, it’s not me.”  Christian Bale is Jack/John, The Prophet.

4. That’s when she knew it was over. The longest running war in television history. The war that hung like a shadow over the 9 years of her marriage. They both had tried their best, but their best was half-hearted.
Gazing across at the man that she sits beside, that she’s stood beside all these years. The father of her children, the face of a thousand photographs. But he isn’t there. People change, times change. Who is this man? This isn’t the man that she gave herself to.
He finishes dubbing on his latest major picture whilst she continues to apply the paint to her scenes of destruction. Great big abstract canvases, hanging on the walls of the home for their children. A constant reminder to them of their own scenes, of their own destruction.
And there it ends. All alone with Richard Nixon.
Heath Ledger is Robbie, The Star of Electricity.

5. Its 1965, Newport Folk Festival, and we’ve been waiting here for hours. Woody Guthrie was dead. Little Richard was becoming a preacher. So whether you were a folk singer or a Christian – rock n roll was the devil.
There he is. The crowd cheers.
The young man takes to the stage in a cloud of smoke, under weight and unwell. Plug socket styled hair and leather jacket.
She looks like Bob Dylan. She talks like Bob Dylan.
He turns the keys and each note tunes and wails as it find its way.
The crowd jeers. He plugs in and plays.
An entire generation awakens.
Cate Blanchett is Jude Quinn.

6. Seven simple rules of going into hiding:

One. Never trust a cop in a raincoat. Two. Beware of enthusiasm and of love, both are temporary and quick to sway. Three. If asked if you care about the world’s problems, look deep into the eyes of he who asks, he will never ask you again. Four. Never give your real name. Five. If ever asked to look at yourself, don’t. Six. Never do anything the person standing in front of you cannot understand. And finally, seven. Never create anything, it will be misinterpreted, it will chain you and follow you for the rest of your life.
By the road where nobody goes, the show must go on. And it is here where he will die.
Richard Gere is Billy, The Outlaw.
Bob Dylan isn’t here.

This is Todd Haynes.

 

 

D.M

Death in an Alley

james-bond-photos-behind-scenes14

As Daniel Craig returns for his fourth instalment as agent 007, STYLO FILM looks back at his finest scene so far – in the critically maligned Quantum of Solace (2008).

The British spy leaves the party as he entered – uninvited and unwelcome. Swiftly  he leads the girl to his rented Range Rover and together the two disappear off into the night.

There is no romance here – strictly duty, as always. She is a Bolivian agent with her own score to settle, her own vendetta. Truth be told, they had been lucky to have let alive, but they both know that the nights not over yet.  They sit in silence, reflecting on their evening as he navigates through back streets. This would be the first in the franchise, where he doesn’t sleep with the girl.

Brilliant blue sirens suddenly light up the landscape. There are no such thing as coincidences, not in this profession. He slows to a stop. Exiting the vehicle, the spy casually greets the two armed officers who at once order him to open the trunk of the vehicle. Now why would they want that? His enemy has friends everywhere.

The officers instantly draw their weapons as he opens the trunk to the bloodied body of his colleague, René Mathis, agent of the French Secret Service. He had been foolish to have left Mathis alone at the party, and now he’s paid the ultimate price.

The dying man leaves with profound final words – as only the movies can allow, then rests his head. Lifting the lifeless body, the spy throws him into the dumpster. The dead do not care for sentiment.

The body stirs and the police open fire, as ordered. The spy springs into action, throwing his colleague into the line of fire before effortlessly killing the two officers.  Two bullets – that’s all it takes. That’s all he needs.

He scans the alleyway for witnesses before dismantling the weapon and tending to the fallen agent. There’s a hospital on the other side of town but there is little point. Both men know it. All they can do now is sit and wait for death to come.

He cradles the man who he had once called a friend. A man who he had once had called an enemy. But in a world of shadows and secrets there are no friends, only casualties.

Lying by the side of the road in an unnamed town, the men forgive each other. For this is the life they chose, the consequences of which they accept.

The dying man leaves with profound final words – as only the movies can allow, then rests his head. Lifting the lifeless body, the spy throws him into the dumpster. The dead do not care for sentiment.  Rifling through his colleagues pockets, he takes anything of value and then returns to the car, abandoning the body.

This scene shows us more of Ian Fleming’s 007 than we did in 7 films with Roger Moore.

“Is that how you treat your friends?” she asks.

“He wouldn’t care”

This is the life they chose. The car starts and they drift on, leaving the night behind.  All the while, the spy is silent still.

James Bond will return – but in what form?

Quantum of Solace is directed by Marc Foster

D.M

Home is where the Heartache is

Charlotte-Bob-lost-in-translation-1041669_996_609

Touch down in Tokyo and it’s unclear whether you’re awake or still asleep. Everything moves so fast that it starts to slow, dreamlike. Gazing out the back window of a beaten cab as it navigates through neon towers. Eyes sunken and sleepless, reflecting on animated advertising.  Is it him? It looks like him…

It is him. Bob Harris. An aged American actor, shipped out to Tokyo to promote watered down Whiskey. Living off single serving soaps and shower caps. Passed between PR people and translators. Forcing a smile, like at any moment he could burst out laughing (or crying). But he doesn’t. It’s a contained performance. The fax machine feeds through messages from home. His wife sends fabric samples.

Roaming the carpeted corridors one night, he passes another insomniac. A single serving stranger. Charlotte is in Tokyo with her husband, a professional photographer who is away on work. He could take her along with him but he doesn’t. Charlotte came along because she doesn’t know what else to do. She sits around in her underwear, bored, listening to self-help tapes. She sits on the window sill and gazes down at the city below. She rings home and someone answers but doesn’t listen. She cries out in a crowded room but no one can hear.

But it’s easier to spill to a stranger. Someone who will listen to you, who isn’t simply waiting for their turn to speak. On the top floor of the high rise hotel, in the familiar glass walls of the bar, Bob and Charlotte find each other. And they ask each other big, open questions about life and about love. They make fun of themselves, they make fun of one another.

When they finally flee the hotel, they go dancing in the streets and in the bars and in the downtown arcade centres. Two lost souls enjoying the strange city. They meet in the strip club and end up back at an apartment party. Charlie Brown sings karaoke classics. There’s nothing more than this.

In time you can learn to leave your problems behind.  In time you can learn to live with them. Neither Charlotte nor Bob has the answer, but together they feel a little less lonely.

But there’s nothing sexual to it, thankfully. They are kindred spirits. Old friends in another lifetime, perhaps. Together they watch foreign films with foreign subtitles. They order in. They lie on the bed. Comfortable enjoying each other’s silence.

Their relationship charts the traditional crisis points in anyone’s life. Charlotte, newlywed and fresh out of school, stands at a cross road, different pathways stretching off in all sorts of crazy directions, unsure of where to step. Bob stands a little further down the line, gazing back at the path he chose, pondering where others might have lead. Everyone wants to be found.

There are some problems that you find you can’t run from, no matter how many miles you put between you. In time you can learn to leave your problems behind.  In time you can learn to live with them. Neither Charlotte nor Bob has the answer, but together they feel a little less lonely. Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.

All that is at home is heartache, all that is in the past is distraction. The future is unwritten and so very scary. But what did he say to her? Did she find her way? Did he? It doesn’t matter. In an empty room, in the quiet of the night, in the secrets that they keep, they’ll meet again. He turns and walks away from her, disappearing in the crowd. Lost once more in the current of all things.

Lost in Translation is directed by Sofia Coppola

D.M

Cinema is Dead!

Lovers with 3-D glasses at the Palace Theatre, 1943. Weegee.

Lovers with 3-D glasses at the Palace Theatre, 1943. Weegee.

I remember cinema. I am told that it was The Lion King (1994). My first cinematic experience. At near full capacity my family and I had to resort to occupying front row seats. That close in it’s impossible to take it all in.  I don’t so much remember the film as I do the screening room, the atmosphere, the anticipation. The excitement of a grey weekend. The smell of sickly popcorn and sticky flooring. Banners of our heroes and their villains, hung from the high ceilings in the foyer like gods. The plush red padded seating, well-worn and stained. I can remember strolling beneath the screen trying to figure out and steal its secrets, watching the audience watching on. I remember growing up with that sense of anticipation. Sprinting out the school gates to beat the queues. Cheering and whistling along on class trips. Birthday parties. I remember sneaking in. Sharing an experience. Seeing the trailers. First dates. Student rates. Ice Blasts. Cheap Tuesdays. Hungover Sundays… I remember cinema, will you?

***

If somehow you have stumbled across this site then you will surely be familiar with the story however, for the sake of this argument, let us reflect. It’s June 2014, and the North Korean government have threatened merciless action against the United States if Columbia Pictures are to go ahead with their release of The Interview (2014), a frat pack political satire featuring Seth Rogen and James Franco as gossip journalists instructed to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.  Fast forward to December 16, 2014, and the film is then threatened by a group that called themselves GOP (Guardians of Peace), with an aim to attack any cinema that presents it. Having referenced 9/11 in their email, theatre chains are quick to pull the film from release. The next day Sony Pictures announce that the film will not be shown and pull it from its Christmas wide release date.

Now had the film simply been left to its devices, its nonsensical plot and dumbed-down duo would have surely passed by the box office without so much as raising an eye. Instead, overshadowed by controversy, it became a cause of global concern, a nod to life imitating art. Another case of the Streisand effect. But this was no longer a question of fart gags and slapstick silliness, this was a statement of free expression and the First Amendment. Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw wrote that this would be an “unprecedented defeat on American turf”. Sony suffered enormous backlash and was soon put under immense pressure to reconsider its decision. It wasn’t too long before celebrities soon stuck their two cents worth in, including a certain President of the United States. “That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about. We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States.” America, fuck yeah!

And so, on December 24, 2014 the movie was finally, inevitably, released. It was released via streaming services such as YouTube, Google Play and Xbox Live, as well as various Sony products. Within hours, the film spread to file sharing websites and TorrentFreak has since estimated that The Interview had been downloaded illegally via torrents at least 1.5 million times in 2 days. Despite this, it still managed to recoup over $11 million at the box office which, considering its limited release, was very respectable. However by January 20, 2015, it has made $40 million in digital rentals, dwarfing its theatre return and making it the most successful digital release in Sony’s history. “The people have spoken!” tweeted Seth Rogen, and indeed they had. The people chose to stay in.

Online streaming has always been viewed with scepticism by the film industry yet welcomed with open arms by TV and Mobile. On-the-go mobile entertainment consumption is steadily rising, fast approaching the $2bn mark. In August 2010, Netflix reached a five-year deal worth nearly $1 billion to stream films from Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  It has since signed deals with The Weinstein Company, Pixar, Marvel, 20th Century Fox, DreamWorks and Walt Disney, with more than 50 million subscribers globally.

Now under the circumstances, Sony was left with little choice but to distribute digitally. Of course it was a risk, but it was a risk that paid off and one that may have just laid the foundations for a film distribution revolution. Surely other production companies will have taken notice, rubbing their hands at the prospect of instant content distribution, growing large enough to finance movies on their own terms and release them across all platforms. Surely cinema chains will have taken notice too, sinking in their seats at the prospect of an empty theatre.

Filmmakers will soon be faced with a decision on their hands: do I want my film seen or do I want it seen on a big screen?

So the sight of tight pursed Hollywood hype executives, chewing cigars in cloudy boardrooms, demanding bigger breasts and prequels to sequels, may well be a thing of the past, as the last five years have seen an extraordinary shift in production development, namely the rise of crowdfunding. This growing sector was estimated last year to be worth $5.1 billion. What sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have shown us, is that web activity can be alchemised into actual hard cash. Veronica Mars (2014) gleaned a record-breaking $5.7 million from 91,585 Kickstarter donations. Actor, writer and director Zach Braff raised US$3.1 million from 46,520 backers in May 2013 to create the feature film Wish I Was Here, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Even the godfather of gloom himself, David Fincher, used it to raise over $400,000 for just a story reel.

Paul Schrader’s The Canyons (2013) brought in $159,015 in funding throughout May–June 2012 and its screenwriter, Bret Easton Ellis, has gone on record to say that in future all films will be produced this way. Funded by fans and then sold to iTunes for instant distribution. Crowdfunding represents significant financial muscle, now at the disposal of filmmakers, new and seasoned alike. The opportunity is upon us to cut out the middle men. The accessibility of technology makes it possible for us all to produce – and own. For the first time filmmakers do not have to rely on studio interference, financing or distribution. So are the likes of Kickstarter being used to subvert a risk-averse Hollywood? Perhaps. Perhaps the crowdfunded experience can be used to augment it. For after all it brings a gain that isn’t purely financial. Every pledge that an investor makes should be recognised as not just a case of dollar and cent, but as a pair of eyes. A theatre ticket. A download. The brilliance of crowdfunding thus lies in its ability to link audience, marketing and finance. Whereas the movie industry has famously resisted change throughout its relatively short history, major transformation over the next decade seems inevitable.

The sight of tight pursed Hollywood hype executives, chewing cigars in cloudy boardrooms, demanding bigger breasts and prequels to sequels, may well be a thing of the past

Just like there are those who care for the crackling of vinyl, there will always be those who will seek out the seclusion of cinema. And the big screen will still show the big movies. And there will be fewer theatres. And ticket prices will go up. Ideas focused film will soon exist on demand. As consumers we are increasingly choosing to stay in, devouring entire seasons of HBO and Netflix programming.  Binging on week nights. Pausing for bathroom breaks. Just one more episode before bed. Choosing to spend eight hours watching season one of True Detective back-to-back on HBO GO. It’ll be all about decadence. The ‘movie business’ lives on but the future of cinema is uncertain. On September 30, 2014 Netflix announced they would be producing and releasing their first original movie. It is the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“, entitled “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: The Green Legend“. It is scheduled for instant release on August 28, 2015.

Filmmakers will soon be faced with a decision on their hands: do I want my film seen or do I want it seen on a big screen? Martin Scorsese once said “We can’t keep thinking in a limited way about what cinema is. We still don’t know what cinema is. Maybe cinema could only really apply to the past or the first 100 years, when people actually went to a theatre to see a film.”

Cinema as we know it is dead. Long live internet television!

Something Blue

Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche

Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche

It was just like in the movies.

Coup de foudre. Love at first sight. Strangers crossing paths share a moment – strangers no more. Standing still in the middle of the road. Linger on, her pale blue eyes. And then it’s gone, and there is no going back. It feeds into her fantasies, now faking everything. My heart was missing something but I did not know what it was. Adèle awakes in the night to find, the girl with the blue hair on her mind.

There is no love like young love. Like first love. When the future is flat, with roads stretching far and wide. When every summer has a soundtrack and every day has a promise. Adèle seeks her out. Emma the artist. And they lie back and let the sun shine down on them, chatting shit and blowing smoke. Their faces, honest and unstudied, fill every inch of the frame. Their love for one another is all-consuming, immersive. Each still is a study, saturated in the colour blue. For Adèle, the dedicated student with the conservative upbringing and schoolyard boyfriend, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Sometimes love just gets in the way of life.

Blue is the Warmest Colour courted much controversy when initially released. Its premiere took place as France passed a new same-sex marriage law, followed swiftly by anti-gay-marriage protests in Paris. Its two leading ladies publicly denounced their director, reflecting on a horrific shooting experience and an ordeal that left them never wanting to work with the man again. This is a film that does not exactly shy away when depicting a study of love, and what it is to be loved, which is commendable. The eight minute interlude (which took ten days to shoot) depicting the two girl’s sexual awakening, however, is an error on the director’s part, inevitably serving as a source of sully and distraction for prude critics and gossip columnists. Pornographic!” they said. “Exploitive!” they jeered. Ça me fait chier!”

“It’s not what you take from someone, it’s what you leave. In the quiet of the classroom, in the clothes she wears, walking out into the sea; Adèle bathes in blue.”

Despite the surrounding controversy, Blue stole the spotlight at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, unanimously claiming the lucrative Palme d’Or prize. Jury President, Steven Spielberg, was left “spellbound by the amazing performances of the two actresses, and especially the way the director observed his characters (This being the first film to have the Palme d’Or awarded to both the director and the lead actresses)”. Its French title: La Vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2’ (The Life of Adèle: Chapters 1 & 2), points us perhaps in a less ambiguous direction. These chapters charts the transition Adele goes through, from schoolgirl to school teacher, and for Emma, being a free-spirited artist to a much celebrated professional. Steering clear of homosexual cliché, it focuses instead on its coming-of-age tale of discovery. What director Abdellatif Kechiche shows, is that love transcends gender, transcends age. The relationships that we build at this time in our lives, and the experiences that we share, go on to define the person who we go on to be. Through the open eyes of Adèle we go through the emotions: attraction, lust, tenderness, jealousy and, ultimately, loss. This is in an intimate, heart-breaking account of heartache.

Even Picasso went blue.

Adèle is thrown out of their apartment by Emma, in a fit of rage and shattered glass. Left to stumble out onto the streets, crying out into the night. The difference between once and never is everything. And when apart, time just slips by, as it does. Sometimes you don’t even realise. A new hairdo, a new lover, a new life. It’s not what you take from someone, it’s what you leave. And she’s haunted again by the stranger who passed by, this time crueler than before. In the quiet of the classroom, in the clothes she wears, walking out into the sea; Adèle bathes in blue.

How long has it been? Days, months, years? Meet me in the café, meet me half way. It’s so easy to fit back into that role. They embrace and remember what it was like to fit together.  Breathing in each other. It’s new but still you. But the blue has grown out over time and It’s clear that what was had is now gone and they knew that before they arrived. So what is this? Tears threaten then spill, trying a smile through snot and mascara. Faced with having to get over her all over again.

For Adèle, Chapters 1 & 2 conclude in the gallery, at the opening of Emma’s latest show, re-introduced to old friends in a new light. The blossoming of their sexual relationship, now painted and primed, hung for the eye of the critic. It draws in an audience, but there is no place here for the painters muse. No place among the cultured crowd of Emma’s new circle. No place in Emma’s future. Adèle walks away from the gallery, toward an ambiguous future, lighting a cigarette, all dressed in blue.

Sometimes life just gets in the way of love.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is directed by Abdellatif Kechiche

D.M

People are Strange (When You’re a Stranger)

Under the Skin

Are you alone?

A young man slips beneath the surface. A lost form floating on in the darkness, naked. Above him the sight of the half dressed woman walks on. He inspects his body in blue light.  His limbs stiffen and sound with each movement. He’s not alone. There is another down here. Another man, suspended. For how long? Free-floating and evoking an eternal state between dream and death. Reaching out to hold on to the hand of the man who shares this alien world, he instantly recoils. With a bang this man is no more. Cue that eerie music. That string sound, strung-out. What is left is skin. His outfit.  Hung in the darkness, shaping and shifting. Lifeless. This is Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013).

Hang it in the galleries.

Hang it in the chapels.

I thought of Bill Viola.

Bill Viola has been creating a wide range of single-channel and installation videos for galleries all over the world since the 1970s. He himself describes his work as visual poems in which he grapples with issues of identity and spiritual significance in the modern world. For Viola, the medium of video is well suited to illustrate the fundamental questions of birth, death and existence.

I think of Jonathan Glazer.

A nameless woman prowls the streets of Glasgow seducing strangers. Who is she? Where does she come from? It doesn’t matter, she is alien. Adopting the guise of human, she takes to a transit van and begins to hunt down and converse with unsuspecting males. Men who are merely returning home from the pub before their lives are interrupted by the prospect of a lift. Are you alone? As Scarlett Johansson purrs in fake fur and blood red lips – the men enter eagerly. These are unassuming, unnamed non actors and this is a Hollywood movie star – how much more alien can you get.

We watch the film and the film watches us. Whether descending into a Glaswegian shopping centre or choking on a chocolate gateau, it’s all experience. Life is about experience. The film itself is an experience. It sits somewhere between art house and video art. It’ll sit in your head for days. There are no answers, only questions. In this climate of cinema, Under the Skin stands alone – alien.

Our human lives, as represented here by Glazer, are more akin to sculpture in stone than to video. Like the Renaissance greats of the 16th Century, we begin with an unformed block, pure and untouched. And over time we chip away. Our experiences form us. We acquire assistants, friends and families, who help us shape this form. And there are no second chances. We are scarred.

So why not carve it into something beautiful.

I think of Under the Skin.

Set alight in an unnamed forest in a nowhere town; she is alone, ravaged, raped and none the wiser. There are no answers, only questions.

Under the Skin is directed by Jonathan Glazer

D.M

Talking about Y-Generation?

The age of the unpaid intern. Lou Bloom is Nightcrawler

The age of the unpaid intern. Lou Bloom is Nightcrawler

Can you hear that? That’s the sound of the machines shutting down. It’s the sound of Judgement Day being pushed back a year. The apocalypse is not now. The superheroes may have saved the day but the green screen will return. It’s the sound of prestige pictures with sweeping scores, going for gold and celebrating celebrities. Love it or loathe it, the Oscar season is upon us.

And like any run worth noting, there’ll be a dark horse. Yet few will come as dark as Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014). It won’t win any Oscars, but it should. It’s intelligent, stylish, thought provoking, funny and what’s more, relevant. All talk this week will be focused on Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner (2014), yet in the screen next door, Gilroy is giving audiences a new kind of artist altogether.

“My motto is, ‘if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.” Lou Bloom is a man after a job. A down and out with greased back hair and hunched figure, he drifts from petty crime to odd jobs. With a sales pitch at the ready, he swallows self-help books and speaks in wiki tongue. His goal is to find himself a career and reach the top – by any means necessary. A chance accident on a freeway one night takes Lou’s curiosity; the blood thirsty camera crew holds his attention.

In the city of angels, when the sun sets and darkness descends, the nightcrawlers come out to play. These freelance filmmakers tune into police radio and crash the crime scenes. And make no mistake this is their city. They play at their own intense pace, drifting across lanes and pushing past police, camera at the ready. They duck beneath caution tape and stroll through your front door. How far is too far? Ever the entrepreneur, Lou takes no time at all to hire an assistant and run off into the night to acquire his own car crash television. Nothing is off limits to him. Privacy is for paedos. We live in a time of WikiLeaks, the phone-hacking scandal, Snowdon’s secrets. The Fappening is happening. Viewer discretion is advised.

“Gyllenhaal’s incredible weight loss for this role symbolizes his character’s hunger, both literally and figuratively. For this is the age of the unpaid intern. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd. Sell yourself. Why should we employ you?”

It’s worth noting that this could have been any career, it just so happens that it’s television news. A choice he faced from the desperation of unemployment. And in a career like journalism, where dishonestly dishing dirt is the name of the game, Lou’s detachment and complete lack of empathy to his subjects means his ‘art’ commands a substantial sum. Nina, a production manager who works the vampire shift at a failing network, soon becomes a collector. She takes it upon herself to shape the twisted eye of Lou’s lens, educating him on the craft of constructing breaking news and mass hysteria. If it bleeds, it leads.

Lou Bloom is a sign of his time. He displays a gaunt figure with bug eyes sunk in their sockets, forever scanning his landscape for opportunity. Gyllenhaal’s incredible weight loss for this role symbolizes his character’s hunger, both literally and figuratively. For this is the age of the unpaid intern. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd. Sell yourself. Why should we employ you? Having faced his fair share of rejection, Lou can then ultimately be seen as a success story – a perverse, twisted take on the American dream. At the beginning he is one of tens of millions who struggle to find work. The minute he finds any sort of stability, what does he do? He hires an unpaid intern.

“Now I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. But I believe that good things come to those who work their asses off and that good people who reach the top of the mountain, didn’t just fall there.” – Lou Bloom

What do you want to be when you grow up? Late-end Baby Boomers and Generation X parents have grown old and pampered their own with helicopter parenting. It’s a now boomerang generation who have been reassured that it’s the taking part that counts. Rewarded with an A for effort. In turn they have created a ‘Generation Y’, one inadequately prepared to face the hardships of life. We’ve stumbled out into the world overeducated and underemployed, having to enter a job market in the wake of a global recession. Handed a society beyond our means, we’ve spent our youth chasing qualifications that no-one will ask about, building up debts that will never be paid. Employers demand experience and yet are not willing to give it. Go build a future on a zero-hour McJob contract. It’s a hard lesson to learn that the life you ordered isn’t in stock. That nothing is certain and that it isn’t likely to change.  Today’s cinema is littered with victim narratives.

The greatest gift in life is knowing what you want to do with it, after that it’s just a case of finding a way. Maybe Lou is inspiring all of us to reach a little higher.

Nightcrawler is directed by Dan Gilroy

D.M

The River Runs Wild

On the 21st anniversary of the death of actor River Phoenix, Stylo Film reflects on the star’s brightest performance, as Mike Waters in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991).

untitled

River Phoenix as Mike Waters

Stood on the side of a road that never ends. It’s his road. The fucked up face.  Cattle Call soundtrack yodeling cowboy blues. All hand held. Handsome features, not quite a man. Hair swept wild and erratic. Clothes well-worn and beaten, styled for sleepless nights on loveless streets. His home-movie memories of a mother flicker and fail as visions of home fall out of the sky, smashing into a thousand tiny splinters. Stood by the side of a road, waiting. He mumbles quietly to himself and paces back and forth, checking his pocket watch. Waiting…for what exactly? Something is happening somewhere, but not here. Not on this road. Clouds shape and shift in time-lapse motion. Again he checks his pocket watch, but why? There is no reason to know of the time.

He is timeless.

***

It’s the small hours of Halloween, 1993, just off Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood. The body of a boy, sprawled out on the sidewalk, suffers the final throes of a lethal drug overdose. Those close try and fail to resuscitate. Having been dragged out of The Viper Room, Hollywood’s home to the hip and the young, his night passes by without him. The sound of the stage plays on. Outside someone finally makes for the phone booth. It’s the boy’s brother. All 911 calls are recorded yet this one will be broadcasted. This is when the seizures begin. Sirens sound in the distance. The chaos of the club soon pours out. A crowd gather in fancy dress, keen to witness whispers that had filtered through the night. Paparazzi pounce then think better of it.  Paramedics try and fail to resuscitate. Under blinking blue light, the convulsions cease and the body is still. He was pronounced dead at 1:51am, October 31, 1993. He was 23 years old.

***

“When the walls of the world close in, he simply drifts off into a dream. Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about losing yourself. It’s about being lost in a moment, in a drug or even in the arms of a stranger.”

Two hustlers, one born into wealth, the other poverty, aimlessly wander the margins of society – nowhere to go, no place to be. We meet Mike on his return to Portland, Oregon, as he reunites with a collective of fellow hustlers. They pass the time gathered in graffiti stained bathrooms and cheap diners, blowing smoke and swapping stories. Dark haired, handsome and straight, his friend Scott looks on his own hustling ways as mere days of rebellion, an act that will eventually be dropped when he turns 21 and inherits his father’s fortune. Mike however has no such promise. He is the lost boy who looks for love and sells sex. Vulnerable, quiet and gay, he suffers from narcolepsy: a stress-induced condition characterized by brief attacks of deep sleep. As a result he is disinterested and disconnected from his surroundings, prone to nodding in off in the climax of a scene. When the walls of the world close in, he simply drifts off into a dream – his own private Idaho. Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about losing yourself. It’s about being lost in a moment, in a drug or even in the arms of a stranger. Shot in shallow depth of field, Mike fades in and out of focus. Eventually Scott and Mike skip town and embark on a journey of personal discovery in the hope of finding Mike’s long lost mother. It’s a journey that takes them from Portland to Idaho, Rome and back. Finally Scott returns home to his fortune, leaving Mike and the low life behind.

After the critical success of his debut offering Drugstore Cowboy (1989), director Gus Van Sant looked to return to a project that was close to the heart. The self-penned tale of two hustlers searching for a home was one that had not been met kindly when pitched originally to studios, its script being deemed ‘too risky’. It was only after the subsequent recognition of Drugstore that Gus could get their attention. He had only one request; River Phoenix. Rumour has it the actor’s agent wouldn’t even allow for him to see the script. Yet where his management saw risk, River saw opportunity. It was an opportunity to finally shed the skin of teen sensation and sink his teeth into something substantial. Whichever way you look at it, for an actor whose career had been built on an image of purity, acting a gay prostitute was a hell of a risk. Yet in 1991 Gus Van Sant presented My Own Private Idaho to critical acclaim.

The Fucked-Up Face

The Fucked-Up Face

River Phoenix: actor, animal activist, spiritualist, musician and vegan, he was an Oscar nominated teen idol and Hollywood’s golden child. The son of hippies, he gained widespread attention for his first significant role as outcast Chris Chambers in Rob Reiner’s coming of age classic Stand by Me (1986), before being nominated for an Academy Award for Running on Empty (1988), the story of a son running away from the fugitive lifestyle of his parents. Nicknamed the “Vegan James Dean”, River was recognised as much for supporting and financially aiding environmental and humanitarian organizations, as he was for his acting. Yet two weeks after his death, toxicology studies would reveal traces of heroin, cocaine, cannabis and valium in the bloodstream. It was a dirty death for a clean living child, an irony that was not lost on the media who went into a feeding frenzy. Pictures of River – open casket, cropped hair and colourless – circulated the glossy magazines, supposedly demonstrating the dangers of drug abuse. The distress call, the one his brother made from the nearest phone-booth, had air time on all the major channels. Condemned as a poster boy of wasted youth, it’s now rare to read his name in print these days without focus being on his untimely demise. He has become but a harrowing anecdote to the career of brother Joaquin and a warning to be soon slapped in the faces of celebrated child stars. His legacy has become mythical, destined to live on in Tumblr feeds and unauthorised biographies. He stares out from the chests of Topman teens and creeps up in unpopular pop songs. So why is it that River’s name has not endured in the same way that the likes of James Dean and Heath Ledger, other stars who died too soon, has? Where River differs from the ‘live fast, die young’ tragedy types he has since been associated with is that he lacks a commercially recognised body of work. His filmography existed on the peripheral, the avant-garde. Besides a cameo role in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade (1989), he never made a major mainstream hit. Yet as Mike Waters he delivered an intimate, instinctive performance as the motherless child, lost in the homes and hearts of strangers.

River favoured a style of method acting championed by the likes of Brando/Dean/Clift. Often compared to the late great icon throughout his career, it is understood that Phoenix died having never seen a James Dean film. As a child he was raised on the road, away from the history of cinema.  He had a talent that was raw and unschooled, unpredictable and magical. So it goes that he discarded all source material that Gus had tried to pass on, commenting that he had a lifetime of wandering state to state from his hippy upbringing to draw upon. He went out into the night and spoke with these lost boys, eager to learn and to live. You can find him in the background of a scene, the edge of your screen – always interpreting, improvising. Years later fan boy actor James Franco would present a video art piece entitled ‘My Own Private River’, in which he showcased 100 minutes of unseen footage of River from the dailies of Idaho. Critics were given rare access to a character without story or script. Each take he is different. Each take he is reborn. It is compelling viewing of an actor displaying a natural nuance and instinct for his craft

“Cut off on the eve of greatness, My Own Private Idaho stands as River’s truly great performance and as a testament to an actor with boundless potential . Cinema mourns the boy who never grew up.”

It’s testament then to River’s talent that his star shines so bright in a film such as this. By all accounts it is idiosyncratic filmmaking. It dips in and out of narrative and Shakespeare, fiction and documentary. It’s surreal to the point of absurd with an aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place in a William Eggleston print. The entire middle act is bogged down and lost in a baffling pastiche of Henry V. Yet through it all, its success is it never taking its eye of the emotional crux: this notion of home. How far can you go astray before you are truly lost? There’s a stroke of genius when Gus invites real hustlers of Portland to sit before the camera and tell their own tales. When given an audience these boys spill their secrets. They talk of the street life, the drug life, hustles gone bad and hustles gone good. They talk of the future with nothing but optimism. Mike sleeps through it all.

The campfire scene in particular anchors an otherwise wandering narrative and showcases just what made River so special. The two friends discuss their idea of home. Scott, having been brought up with a silver spoon, resents his father and yearns to break away and be his own man. Mike, having never known of a ‘normal’ family life, aches to be held and comforted. It is here where he confesses to Scott that he could love him without payment. Originally forecast as a 3 page shoot, River took it upon himself to rewrite the whole scene, bringing a level of innocence and clarity to what on paper had been an emotionally and sexually ambiguous character. For River, this was to be the closing of one act and the beginning of another. Audiences hadn’t seen this side of the star and rewarded him at the 1991 Venice Film Festival, as best actor. He gave himself over to characters and it is said to be no coincidence that whispers of a descent into drug abuse sadly began surfacing in Hollywood around the period of Idaho. Footage of interviews surrounding the press release would show a kid squirming under the light of the lens, dirtied and uncomfortable, evasive and contradictory. “(On the subject of drugs)…I don’t even like talking about it…Nancy’s said it all for me, anyway: Just say no.” Cut off on the eve of greatness, My Own Private Idaho stands as River’s truly great performance and as a testament to an actor with boundless potential. Cinema mourns the boy who never grew up.

***

Dispatcher: “Where’s your brother right now?”

Caller: He’s lying on the cement!”

Dispatcher: “Is he breathing?”

Caller: “(…) I don’t know.”

***

19 years after production was forced to shut down, the director finished his film. It was an aneurysm and some rather grave words from a doctor that had brought upon this urge to finish the unfinished. Reels of its fragmented footage had long since been discarded by the insurance company, left to collect dust in the dark corners of some warehouse somewhere. With the help of his associates, the director broke in and stole back his film, which he smuggled to New York. He then shipped this 700 kg of footage to Holland where the film was held in storage until he could appeal to fans and gather funding that would see it to the finish.

It was an apocalyptic feature centring on the character of ‘Boy’; a young hermit and widower in a derelict post-nuclear landscape. When a successful Hollywood couple find themselves stranded in the desert, Boy at first comes to their rescue, only to imprison them later on. It was to be called ‘Dark Blood’ and had been due for release in 1993 had tragedy not struck. By all accounts it had been a difficult shoot. A toxic atmosphere between the director and his female lead had not helped a gruelling five week shoot in the Utah desert. With 80% of the footage in the can, cast and crew then flew to LA, to complete the final 11 days of interior shooting in studio. On return, the director has revealed his young star has having said: “We’re going back to that bad, bad town.” Driving off into the night, it was to be the last time the director saw his actor. The performance of ‘Boy’ was never completed.

***

His road. The fucked up face. Camera steady, kept at a distance. Eyes flicker as the boy falls. Beaten and broken, left to lie in the middle of a road that never ends. Slide guitar sounds, up and down. “I’m a connoisseur of roads. I’ve been tasting them my whole life.” Some people take your heart, others take your shoes, and still others take you home.

Forever waiting, but for what?

He is timeless.

 

River Phoenix starred in 13 feature films. Dark Blood premiered in 2013 at the Netherlands Film Festival, unfinished.

D.M

The Origin of the Auteur

In 1950 film theorist Andre Bazin founded Cahiers Du Cinema, the first major film magazine to treat its subject ‘with the seriousness, respect and passion traditionally reserved for the other arts’[1]. Cahiers brought together leading French critics of its time (Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, and Rivette) and would become the intellectual core of a movement which was to be later known as La Nouvelle Vague (The French New Wave), one of the most celebrated and unique cinematic movements in film history.

Francois Truffaut, a young critic of the Cahiers Du Cinema, wrote a famously controversial article in 1954 entitled; ‘A Certain Trend of French Cinema’, in which he viciously attacked its current state. Truffaut targeted what he deemed ‘la Tradition de la qualitie,’ French post war films that were, in his opinion, star studded studio based adaptions of classic novels by a handful of directors, which consequently stunted the growth of cinematic art by not exploiting the possibilities that the medium had to offer. Truffaut furthered Alexandre Astuc’s initial argument by placing authorship of film solely in the hands of the director, reducing the scriptwriter to secondary level. “There is only one auteur of a film, the director. The scriptwriter does nothing more than supply raw material to the auteur.”  This was a concept that was to be defined within the pages of Cahiers as a new generation of critics championed the artistry of such ‘auteurs’ as Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and Nicholas Ray, dismissing all that went before.

The auteur theory was more than just stylistic tics, what counted was the dialectical relationship between who was behind the camera and who was in front of the cinema screen

Although this concept of auteurism came into vogue in the 1950’s it was by no means an entirely original one. In 1921 filmmaker Jean Epstein had used the term ‘auteur’ to apply to filmmaking, and filmmakers like D.W Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein had compared their own cinematic techniques to the literary devices of such writers as Gustave Flaubert and Charles Dickens. In post-war France however, authorship became a key structuring concept in film criticism and theory. They believed that if film was to become an art form in its own right then it would be the one who wrote and could express themselves in film language, that would be the ‘author’ of the work. Indeed Truffaut’s first film, Les Quatre Cent Coups (1959), is rife with references to writing and authorship, from the opening shot of a class of school boys writing to Antoine’s mimicry of his mother’s handwriting and of the accusations he receives of plagiarism.  When Antoine is arrested and placed in a cell it is because he has been caught with a stolen typewriter.  These adaptations were characterized by a much more clearly defined and active role by the director and their features were more personal and autobiographical than those of the ‘tradition of quality’.

Whereas the Tradition of Quality represented a mere translation of a pre existing screenplay, Truffaut would argue that it should be seen as an open ended adventure in creative mise en scene. The idea being that even in the most constricted studio system, a true auteurs voice could still be witnessed through stylistic composition. ‘The new film would resemble the person who made it through style, which impregnates the film with the personality of its director.’[2] The auteur theory was more than just stylistic tics, what counted was the dialectical relationship between who was behind the camera and who was in front of the cinema screen.

Thus it was in mise en scene that subjectivity was inscribed. The idea being that one could enter the movie theatre and within five minutes recognise a Hawks from a Hitchcock and that there are thematic preoccupations that run throughout their entire body of work. For example with Howard Hawks, the women of his films are notoriously strong, able minded characters that could hold their own against the men. Alfred Hitchcock’s work offers the audience an incredibly bleak view of the world and of crime which is recognised as his signature style. The underlying theme in Nicholas Ray films is that evil exists in every human being.

The Art of the Auteur. Truffaut interviews Hitchcock, published 1967

The Art of the Auteur. Truffaut interviews Hitchcock, published 1967

In Truffaut’s classic study of Alfred Hitchcock, comprising of a series of dialogues between the two, Truffaut validates his regard of Hitchcock being a ‘film author’ by suggesting that he is not merely a technician with a speciality but a complete filmmaker and all round specialist. Truffaut explains that by exercising complete control over all elements of his films, from photography and cutting to the construction of the screen play, the directors voice is there to be seen each step of the way. It’s interesting to note that the American films the group of critics looked to as sources of influence were, at that time, not shown with French subtitles and as the majority of the group were unable to speak English, extra emphasis was subsequently placed on mise en scene.

Auteurism was never meant as a statement of quality but of identity. The greatest success of the auteur theory could then be that for the first time in film criticism there was a shift going on in the way that films were conceived and understood

The auteur theory was met with equal admiration and suspicion, dividing critics of its time. Andrew Sarris, American film critic and leading proponent of the auteur theory, would argue that “the distinguishable personality of the director was a criterion of its value” whereas his counterpart Pauline Kael retaliated, in her landmark critical essay ‘Circles and Squares’, by stating that “often the works in which are most aware of the personality of the director are his worst films- when he falls back on the devices he has already done to death”. The politique des auteur was paradoxical. The Cahier’s group could defend Hollywood as a system, yet within that system they could elevate an individual as an artist and as an auteur and therefore transcending critique. Kael exploited an error in the formula by arguing that filmmakers become confirmed within it and that it didn’t offer a clear study of the individual work as the auteur theory grouped, what she concluded as good and bad work together. However that is not entirely accurate, as the critics of la Nouvelle Vague’s argument was that an artist’s ‘best’ work was not necessarily the most complete or the one that was in best accord with tradition – but his most personal. This does not mean to say that the most important aspect of an auteur is the ability to express his personality, as has usually been claimed, but rather his desire to express a personal world view.

Auteurism was never meant as a statement of quality but of identity. The greatest success of the auteur theory could then be that for the first time in film criticism there was a shift going on in the way that films were conceived and understood. The auteur theory validated itself by critics who now attempted to establish not whether they liked it or not but in fact what was being said and by whom. Auteurism placed film back into the hands of the director.

And so the concept of the auteur crossed over to the United States in 1968. Andrew Sarris published The American Cinema, which for the first time listed major film directors and their major preoccupations. The works made in this period insisted on a personal relationship between the director and the spectator and it is this single characteristic, this common cinematic ideal that eventually unites these disparate artists. Film no longer acted as a product designed for mass consumption but a process which could be intelligent and with which could become engaged with. Nouvelle Vague scripts were more personal and often more autobiographical than those of the Tradition of Quality.  La Nouvelle Vague advanced the notion of a mise en scene of the voice. It offered a cinema that was current and up to date. It did not hesitate to incorporate current affairs or popular songs of the time into the films. For these artists, film became a means of discovery and of developing an understanding of the world. ‘It is their concern with making sense of the history of film by how film relates to its raw material: life. How do we use film, how does it change us, how does it help to explain our existence and how does it function as a language?’ [i]

[1] Page 20. Insdorf,A (1994). Francois Truffaut. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] p 224.De Pau/ Torello.2008.

[i]Page 8 Monaco, J (1976). The New Wave. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

D.M

Machine Made Melancholy

The human species continues to evolve. On we go, ceaselessly into a new age, rediscovering the world we live in. Computer technology aggressively develops. Machines are now adapting to us as much as we have learnt to adapt to them. We are reliant on being entertained, educated, amused and pleasured by them. They keep us connected and they keep us company. There is no doubt our perception of the world is now device dependant.

This entanglement, of mankind and technology, is reflected in cinema recently. The rebooted ‘Robocop’ limps into cinemas this month just ahead of Walter Pfister’s ‘Transcendence’, where Johnny Depp is literally fused into a machine. First off, we are matched with ‘Her’; Spike Jonze’s existential, postmodern love affair with its sights set firmly on our present. However, this is not a love story. This is a story about love, a study of human interaction.

Warm Los Angeles sunlight shines on the not too distant future. Commuters navigate ordered streets in their rows, muttering to their androids, all high wasted trouser and pastel coloured shirt. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely soul, aimlessly wandering the circuit board city. Unable to emotionally express himself, he spends his days expressing the thoughts of others, a hired pen friend for those incapable. Nursing the wounds of his failed marriage, Theodore refuses to clear the ruins, unable to move on. Is Theodore then Jonze’s representation of modern man, sensitive, introverted and utterly alone? Having spent a career portraying tormented, twisted men, it’s refreshing to see Phoenix so delicate, so soft around the edges. His iconic-scarred lip aptly masked by moustache.

We furiously fought the machines in Blade RunnerTerminator and The Matrix and yet here we are, open armed and vulnerable, coaxing them into the bedroom

Introducing Samantha (Johansson), a husky voiced, operating system with artificial intelligence. She is smart, seductive and ever so sexy, the great-granddaughter of Siri. Her awakening triggers the reawakening of Theodore.  Smitten, the two roam the streets, hungry for experience, educating one another on everything about everything. And who better to educate him on the strange phenomenon of being, than his computer?

“I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with my computer” states a rather bemused Theodore. “You’re not” sounds Samantha, “You’re having it with me”.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix)

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix)

Theodore confides in Samantha, sharing everything he couldn’t with his ex wife, Catherine (Mara). We learn that the diagnosis of their divorce was down to Theodore being unable to cope with the stresses and strains of a ‘real’ relationship, which goes some way in explaining his connection with Samantha. He even tries dating briefly, but to no avail. Simply put, he cannot commit to anyone the way he can his computer, his whole world now in his pocket.

This love affair, between man and machine, is at first, greeted by all with embarrassment and yet as the film plays, acceptance. The once sceptical friend Amy (Adams) even finds love in her OS after the breakdown of her own marriage. It seems everybody’s at it.

It’s been described as science-fiction, as comedy, romance and drama, yet rather alarmingly, not as horror. Is this notion of the death of human intimacy not a horrific one? We furiously fought the machines in Blade Runner (1982), Terminator (1984) and The Matrix (1999) and yet here we are, open armed and vulnerable, coaxing them into the bedroom.

Manufactured to serve the every need, Samantha touches upon an interesting notion. No-one knows who you truly are. No-one can know everything. What we reveal to one person we withhold from another. We create profiles to suit social scenario, exposing not who we are but who we would like to be, how we like to be seen in that circumstance. Yet what we hide from our friends and our families, we confide in our technologies. They know your desires, your obsessions, where you are and where you’ve been. Arguably your computer knows you better than anyone.

Each status, each picture uploaded, each click of the mouse is a careful construction. Next time you turn on and tune in, ask yourself what your profile is saying about you

This month saw 10 years pass since Mark Zuckerberg took that social construction and redefined it on the web. Since then over 1.23 billion of us have signed on as users (half the world’s population with internet), with 750 million using it daily. It has become perfectly natural to be more comfortable interacting online, behind usernames and passwords, and the reason being: control. Each status, each picture uploaded, each click of the mouse is a careful construction, a reflection from the mirror of self-desire. Next time you turn on and tune in, ask yourself what your profile is saying about you, or at least, what it is you want it to.

Computer technology continues to evolve. On we go, ceaselessly into a new age, rediscovering the world we live in. American scientist Marvin Minsky suggested that today’s robots are our cognitive children. What Spike Jonze is suggesting is that they are our cognitive lovers. So when the machines leave and the lights go out, what are we left with? Abandoned, Theodore and Amy sit surveying the cityscape, side by side, alone, together.

Print.

Her is directed by Spike Jonze

D.M