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Archive for May, 2012

This was in high circulation a while back.

For anyone whose seen a Herzog film or read Where’s Wally this is one of the great youtube moments.

Werner is your classic, serious Germanic filmmaker, full of pretensions. Wally a frivolous, beanie wearing twit.

This video always makes me happy for some inexpicable reason. It is cultural mash-up at its finest.

 

 

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OutKast really found an audience with some super groovy rhythms and nagging melodies early on in the noughties. “Ms Jackson” and “Hey Ya!” were both huge hits which followed an almost faultless formula.

However, to discover their earlier work on the albums ATLiens (1996) and Aquemini (1998) is an absolute revelation. Here in the late nineties they succeeded in mixing, seamlessly, classic hip hop sounds with ever so smooth soul and R&B harmonies. It is an intoxicating and persuasive brew.

Aquemini is their masterpiece. Song after song (interspersed with silly soundbites of dialogue) manages to do the impossible – make seemingly frivolous party music rich in substance, yet never stifling. Enjoy one of the great tracks here:

 

 

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David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia is the epitome of big picture film-making. It is ninety percent spectacle. The story is set during the first world war – the English middle eastern campaign against the Turks – where one man is sought as a heroic posterboy for the morale of the allied nations. Enter the eccentric and brilliant T. E. Lawrence. He is thoroughly unhinged; the perfect man to trek across nameless deserts in order to obtain an alliance with the Arabs. And we as the audience journey alongside him, every movement, every passing flourish. The film has the ability to throw the viewer into a narcoleptic state with such an immensity of barren, evocative desert to experience. Yet once one gets a hold on the disquieting isolation and aggressive climate, it might be difficult not to get swept up in the process.

Up until the late fifties, David Lean had been making quaint and beautiful British films – Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist – all stories which mined a rich vein of human interest and drama. Then, in 1957, he began a new phase in his directing career with Bridge on the River Kwai. It was the overlong grand epic (Alec Guiness’ performance makes it worth the investment). But the best was still yet to come.

Lawrence of Arabia has a plethora of cinematic delights. Lean creates some moments of true poetry (see below). Yet, maybe largely owing to Peter O’Toole’s fine work, we are never totally removed from the troubled genius within T. E. Lawrence. Here is a man who does not want to be who he truly is; this pale skinned Englishman sincerely desires an Arabian soul. O’Toole makes us feel Lawrence’s dysphoria – it is a powerful performance.

Nevertheless, there are parts of Lawrence which don’t quite work. Some scenes are missing a core, others feel disconnected from the prevailing narrative or emotional tone. But despite these weakness, Lawrence stills rides victorious.

Lawrence in many ways sowed the seeds of several branches of film-making which bloomed at the box office in the proceeding twenty years. The visionary images of Kubrick’s 2001 had their genesis here. Meanwhile, Spielberg’s blockbusters were obviously enamoured with the scope (and budget) on display here. It is a double-sided influence; some of it bad, some of it good. And David Lean would never better it.

 

 

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The trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to his brilliantly unsettling (and occasionally hilarious) There will be Blood, was released yesterday and my heart is beating at ridiculous rates.

It’s called The Master, it comes out in October this year, and it looks positively intriguing. Check it out:

 

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Forster constructs some great prose and observational magic around the edges of his novel, Howards End.

While shopping for presents with her new friend Mrs Wilcox, Magaret, a intelletual with little time for Christian belief, brings a masterful critique of the Western season of Christmas. It is not only well observed, but also profound in its prognosis of an entirely disappointing and mystifying culture (italics followed by bold font). One could expand this tight little dissection to allow reflective thought on all outward forms of the faith:

They drove from shop to shop. The air was white, and when they alighted it tasted like cold pennies. At times they passed through a clot of gray. Mrs Wilcox’s vitality was low that morning, and it was Margaret who decided on a horse for this little girl, a golliwog for that, for the rector’s wife a copper warming-tray. ‘We always give the servant money.’ ‘Yes, do you, yes, much easier,’ replied Margaret, but felt the grotesque impact of the unseen upon the seen, and saw issuing from a forgotten manger at Bethlehem this torrent of coins and toys. Vulgarity reigned. Public-houses, besides their usual exhortation against temperance reform, invited men to ‘Join our Christmas goose club’- one bottle of gin, etc., or two, according to subscription. A poster of a woman in tights heralded the Christmas pantomime, and little red devils, who had come in again that year, were prevalent upon the Christmas-cards. Margaret was no morbid idealist. She did not wish this spate of business and self-advertisment checked. It was only the occasion of it that struck her with amazement annually. How many of these vacillating shoppers and tired shop-assistants realized that it was a divine event that drew them together? She realized it, though standing outside in the matter. She was not a Christian in the accepted sense; she did not believe that God had ever worked among us a young artisan. These people, or most of them, believed it, and, if pressed, would affirm it in words. But the visible signs of their belief were Regent Street or Drury Lane, a little mud displaced, a little money spent, a little food cooked, eaten and forgotten. Inadequate. But in public who shall express the unseen adequately? It is private life that holds out the mirror to infinity; personal intercourse, and that alone, that ever hints at a personality beyond our daily vision.

                                                           Howards End, Chapter X.

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Howards End is a great novel, superior in every way to A Room with a View. A marked development in Forster’s characterisation, poetic description and plotting make his earlier work seem simplistic and light. It sketches, seemingly without effort, the grand and dramatic struggle within the nineteenth century English class system – this is a significant achievement.

By illiciting the reader’s interest and love for his characters and their situations, Forster gives us not a theatrical stage where the action takes place (like Room), but one drawn from the hardness of the real world; yet a fallen societal system cannot be laid at the feet of injustice, for no one class in particular is responsible. Forster is far from judgemental or one sided in Howards, for every strata of society he envisages has its virtues and problems.

Furthermore, unlike Room, Howards supplies some of the richest female characters in the twentieth century novel. Forster barely concealed disdain for poor Lucy – she muddled her way through a failed engagement and simultanousely hid her desire for another man – in Howards everyone is either redeemed or shown pity (especially the heroine and her sister).

As one journeys with the characters of Howards End – Henry Wilcox (the well to do bourgeois), Margaret and Helen Schlegel (socialist intellectuals with some means) and fragile Leonard Bast (working class, backwards) – these actors rub up against the other, causing confrontation sometimes leading to tragedy. On occasion these relationships become chewed up in the mechanics of the plot, but more often they are grounded in the mystery of a meta-narrative beyond human understanding. Personally, I delighted in the truth of Forster’s portrait; the way in which the day to day lives of these people, exemplified in their weakness and flaws, acted as a powerful catalyst for transformation. But essentially, they are fallible individuals each merely yearning for a trust necessary for healthy human relationship.

The brilliance of Forster’s creation lies in how he envisages the constantly shifting nature of human relationship as a microscopic picture of a society in flux. Here is a developed portrait of a post-industrial England which is still changing in considerable ways. There is a melancholy hanging over descriptions of a countryside in the process of giving way to a rapidly expanding London. And the inevitability of a world where the cause of the rich and educated will be aided, while the rest can find happiness not in comfort, but the possibility of adventure in an externally beautiful world. In this way Forster is neither fatalistic nor depressive. Life is to be experienced, bringing joy and fulfilment no matter where one finds oneself situated in society.

 

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There are so many approaches to documentary film-making, it kind of makes the head spin. Once you’ve got the main attack planned, then there’s every other variable – the subject matter, the directorial style and the tone.

It makes choosing favourite films and documentarians a more subjective experience than normal. American director Steve James is my pick. I just watched his film from last year, The Interrupters, and it is another brilliant work of entertainment and cultural immersion. One of my all time favourites is James’ Hoop Dreams, from 1994, which follows two black American teenage boys as they devote most of their youth to striving to enter the NBA. It is a beautiful film – after watching it you feel like a different person. And the same is true of The Interrupters. It is inspirational, in the best sense of the word.

The Interrupters takes its name from a group of Chicago men and women who ‘interrupt’ community violence in order to attempt to reverse the disastrous culture of murder within black American males. The gold in the story comes from the lives of these workers. Many belonged to this world years previous. Many have done extended jail time. They have a heart for the lost souls they see everyday. This is especially true of Ameena, the female interrupter. She’s a small, plucky Muslim woman who lived this life, almost died in the process, and came back to give everything for those on the street. It is one of the most beautiful, inspirational and radiating appearances in any documentary film. I felt like her life was implicitly, but loudly asking, “so what are you going to do sacrificially with your life?”

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. I love the work of Steve James because he shows you real people living life on the edge of society. He is far from a great director (Errol Morris), or a flashy one (Michael Moore), but what he brings are amazing stories told in the trenches. He is right there in the thick of it. You feel like life is happening in front of you. You feel his love for his subjects coming off the screen. And he makes me love and care in turn.

 

 

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