Monthly Archives: March 2013

About a Girl

Sucker Punched

‘She never let’s us ‘ave nuffin’…it’s always, “Do a’ look like a f***in’ bank?!” She says she’s not gor enough saved for a piana but she’s always got enough for ciggies. She fink am soft or what?’

Brian Percival’s 2001 short film  is still a raw and poignant reminder of a child’s perspective on a bleak, British landscape. The final minute is just one of the standout marks that delivered one of the most unforgettable short films of the noughties.

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The Nao of Brown

urlA sequential State of Mind

‘I had a feeling something wasn’t right, it was over my shoulder and inching up on me…it doesn’t always happen like that…’

Glyn Dillon’s tale of obsessive compulsion and the meditative journey one would seek to keep their head above the dark waters of depression is both a unique and often profound look at a particular state of mind. The story forces us to examine a mental state and reminds us of an often forgotten, illusive persuasion of where we should be – our mind planted in the present…’the now’; while all the time we strive to move forward and become more aware of our surroundings and the influence of others.

The Nao of Brown is as alarming as it is charming; and Dillon’s half-japanese character, Nao is the very embodiment of these juxtapositions. The story intends to fracture and unnerve and place you in her red shoes – presenting an individual divided by culture she has been left to seek her own identity where she attends classes on Buddhism to help improve her state of mind while rating her anxieties out of ten. Her cute, elven features – black bob and splashes of red add to her mischievous personality that often spirals in to violent fantasies of harming others. But while there are obvious moments of delusion, there are her interests that keep her (relatively) grounded where her obsession with Japanese Ichi comics sparks an infatuation with a local washing-machine repairman who resembles a title character called the ‘Nothing’. While their relationship develops, the love of her work colleague is eluded to amongst their trivial banter and is perhaps the one person who is truly able to pull her to shore.

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The schizophrenic nature of the narrative is chosen deliberately to draw us in to Nao’s own, irrational feelings. We are often confused, then comforted, disturbed…yet reassured. In one scene involving a pregnant woman, Nao’s thoughts of harming the woman are visualized in alarming detail and we are often left alone with her figuring out whether she has actually committed such a heinous act. If you are a parent, the scene is magnified…quite literally.

The Nao of Brown is the perfect mix of Miyazaki fantasy and kitchen sink drama as her own story is interspersed with that of fictional author, Gil Ichiyama’s Ichi character, Pictor – a humanoid tree soldier whose world is brought to life further through Dillon’s dedicated website that presents an animated trailer, interviews and all manner of Easter eggs. It is during these pages that the style contrasts the subtle washes of Nao’s personal story and focuses on more distinctive lines reminiscent of ancient woodblock prints and the spirit of Moebius that infuses this sequential masterpiece in a rich tapestry of history and mythology that mirrors Nao’s own journey.

In the end we are left with the journey and one that reminds us of what is important in life. If you’re willing to invest in this story then be prepared to leave a piece of yourself behind.

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The Bride of Frankenstein

bride

Official poster for James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Silence and Monsters

‘Sometimes I have wondered whether life wouldn’t be much more amusing if we were all devils, no nonsense about angels and being good.’ Dr. Pretorius

Shortly after the breakthrough of sound during the late twenties, with the significant success of Alan Croslan’s The Jazz Singer (1927), film had begun, for the first time, to show less ‘universal’ appeal. Translation was now crucial and many auteurs in the field, such as Charlie Chaplin, believed that the onslaught of sound had destroyed the mystique of film and therefore delayed adopting the technology for as long as their respective audiences allowed them to.

By 1931 the main established studios – Fox, Universal, MGM, United Artists, Paramount, Columbia, Disney, Warner Bros. and RKO – formed autocracy to control the film industry. Hollywood had now developed from an orange-groved real estate in to the archetypal American Dream town of hi-tech Deco studios and sunset boulevards – a realm that promised to offer the ultimate destiny through the soundtrack of Jazz, the curiosity of Egyptian motifs and extravagant, oriental attire. The thirties was a decadent time that placed its foot firmly on the accelerator and embraced the streamlined aesthetics of speed as much as it did the apparent ambivalence of sound. Whatever the likes of Chaplin thought, film was entering a new, golden age that was to be taken advantage of.

caligari

Vivid, iconic design brought to life in the abstract set-pieces of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Robert Wiene’s most obvious influence on contemporary cinema is Tim Burton’s heavily stylised approach

Horror was a genre that had already been explored during the 1920s with noticeable success. The distinctive, German expressionistic style of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and F.W. Murnau’s Noseratu (1922) were two films in particular that were enhanced by the lack of sound – their distinct atmosphere and design allowing just the right balance of engagement for the audience to convey what is ordinarily held back in such early examples. The results of such deft direction and artistic rigor are some of the most poignant of early cinema and still have as much importance and influence on modern film and popular culture today. Obvious examples, such as Tim Burton’s gothic eye for detail has a tendency to evoke both whimsical tales populated with grotesque, nightmarish caricatures that have become much more than a legacy of Caligari. The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s 2002 single, Otherside showcases the four musicians playing various abstract versions of their instruments within a broken, fragmented cityscape reminiscent of Wiene’s original set-piece.

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Boris Karloff’s infamous Monster has more than often been mistaken for Frankenstein himself due to parody and popular culture

From the later success of Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925), the idea of creating iconic performances, in league with Lon Chaney’s haunted character, was to become Hollywood gold. Horror was now perceived to be ‘enjoyable’ and therefore cried out for more of the same incarnations brought to vivid life through such actors encased in heavy makeup and surrounded by innovative special effects that would continue to push the boundaries of filmmaking. Two films in particular – James Whale’s Frankenstein and Tod Browning’s Dracula, were both made during 1931 and although didn’t have the visual and atmospheric impact of their predecessors, shocked audiences through their use of heavily stylized set pieces and vivid imagery. Where Browning still tended to rely on the silence of Bela Lugosi’s central performance of Dracula, it was Whale in particular who had adopted the abstract techniques found in earlier German cinema to help convey a sense of unease. Although the theatrical acting style lent itself to rather ‘hammy’, stilted performances, the construction and shear craft of the sets were crucial in his effort to elevate Mary Shelley’s story through a relatively fresh medium.

Whale’s ideas deviated considerably from the original source material, begging many to consider over the years whether the original source material was read at all. This Hollywood classic hinged itself on Boris Karloff’s Monster – in a classic scene, his curiosity in a young girl begins with an innocent game and ends in a with her drowning. The audience watches in horror as the Monster, in a flight of panic and realisation of his crime, flees and leaves behind one of the most disturbing moments in the history of film. This particular scene has become a strong example of added depth to thematic approaches in film – an area of which was retained from earlier, silent examples that were forced to plant ideas rather than explain through subsequent dialogue and narration. Ironically, this early ‘talkie’ had given birth to a silent creature that helped convey the subtle complexities of humanity that allowed for the added depth to reach the surface. More than often a film’s script can become an abbreviated version of its original source and therefore loose certain depth and complexity. In this instance it is to be reminded that Mary Shelley’s original version of the Monster is articulate and tends to speak more frequently in the original novel. Classic literature has a tendency to verbalise internal monologues and therefore in adapting Frankenstein, Whale had made the decision to keep his version mute.

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Elsa Lanchester poses for a publicity shot. The actress also portrayed Mary Shelley in the opening scene

In his sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), cinematic techniques had developed rapidly since the original’s release. Although neither are far from good examples of adaptations – where Frankenstein moved away from key aspects of the novel, The Bride of Frankenstein reminded itself of its routes in both literature and modern filmmaking that helped create one of the strongest examples of how a sequel can surpass its predecessor.

During the opening scene, Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), confident and reserved in her demeanour is questioned by her husband and Lord Byron on her infamous tale. She goes on to introduce her next chapter of how the Monster survived and in no time at all we are reintroduced to Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his bride-to-be, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). Frankenstein is tested further in his madness when the insane Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) arrives on his doorstep. This is an individual torn from the very pages of fairy tales and gothic literature – an almost hysterical character that conveys the mischievous soul of Rumpelstiltskin in all his sinister, twisted glory. He is sharper than our familiar scientist and in a pioneering, unforgettable scene, taunts Frankenstein by showcasing his own scientific breakthrough. Closer to a page from Alice in Wonderland, he proceeds to reveal four bottled homunculi in order to narrate his tale. Pretorius, the master of deception, and a true alchemist, has researched the recreation of life and, much like Whale’s direction of the scene, Pretorius is very much the deceiver. The homunculi scene is Whale at his most creative and deceptive as he delivers an apparently redundant moment in the film, yet becomes one of the most memorable. It is surreal, poetic and a direct reflection of a filmmaker’s soul.

As a homosexual during these times, James Whale’s own alienation was none more apparent in how much his monsters outshine Henry Frankenstein and have gone on to become far more iconic. Karloff’s performance steps up to embrace the sensitivity – the mind of a brute now learning to live and love. This is a monster that is misunderstood in many ways – both in the context of the story and beyond. During the final scene, as the Bride is revived – her bird-like, erratic movements reveal repulsion and in those final moments we sympathise with the Monster more than ever.

As we struggle to hold on to the image of Henry and Elizabeth – their stilted, theatrical performances distracted by sound; it is the Monster and his own Bride that burn themselves in to our psyches in all their glorious, silent detail. Unforgettable machinations of a master pioneer.

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M83 Trilogy

homepage_large.be990fa7The Cerebral Soundscape of Anthony Gonzalez

‘I love composing music and making music with pictures in my head, it’s really what’s driving me. Cinema is the biggest influence for me – even bigger than music itself, so this album is built as a soundtrack, as an imaginary film. This is what we tried to convey with this trilogy.’ Anthony Gonzales, M83

Do yourself a favour – if you still haven’t listened to the stunning M83 album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming then watching the trilogy of music videos below would be the perfect place to start. Much like Daft Punk’s nostalgic collaboration with legendary Japanese animator, Leiji Matsumoto in Interstella 5555, the three films for Midnight City, Reunion and Wait are directed by Fleur & Manu and resemble every attempt to collapse Kubrick, Fricke and Otomo’s Akira in to an epic, sublime landscape of latent power and magnitude. The later influence, aside from Josh Trank’s film, Chronicle, is perhaps the closest experience you will have to a live action rendition (who needs one, right?) of the anime classic. Indeed there are the conscious influences; but M83’s Anthony Gonzalez writes more than capturing a particular moment that reminds you of the very things that have shaped your Spielbergian youth. Instead he builds on those foundations; and in the process crafts both uplifting, dreamlike music that is both evocative and transcendantal. If this is where Fleur & Manu succeed, then it is in the synthesis of the unique sound and vision of a multitalented musician.

Midnight City

A group of telekinetic children escape their asylum in an attempt to regulate their inherent superpowers.

Reunion

Embracing their powers, the children battle authorities who come under the control of another, less fortunate child.

Wait

The third instalment brought to life with support from The Creators Project and shows the apparent exile, rebirth and natural rehabilitation of two surviving children.

M83 – StarWaves – Oblivion Soundtrack

It’s no surprise since 2011, that Anthony Gonzalez has gone on to compose the Oblivion soundtrack; Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi vehicle due out in April. The first track, StarWaves can be listened to online and already hints at something quite special indeed through a sweeping score that both emulates and builds on some of the great filmscore composers.

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John Milius

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Tales of a Hollywood Maverick

‘He doesn’t write for pussies and he doesn’t write for women. He writes for men. Because he’s a man.’ Sam Elliott

It’s easy to forget how many defining films, John Milius has been involved in. Epic, brutal and laced with high octane – his stories are of a brute force and calibre that has rarely been rivaled in the history of Hollywood. His films have, for better or worse, been a result of their zeitgeist – often disposable but more than memorable; underneath their hardened exterior their subject matter begs for you to scratch at the surface to see if there is a hidden subtext. There have been misfires – non so notable as his collaboration with Spielberg on 1941 – proving, for both film makers, that if you’re good at something then stick to it. If there is anything to take away from the best of his work, aside from a solid story, it is the immortal lines that have resonated onscreen – dialogue that has, at times, become more than infused in popular culture.

Despite his questionable politics (self-described right-wing extremist and ‘zen anarchist’), Milius is a filmmaker worth discussion and the soon to be released documentary will no doubt provoke and entertain. Much more than the quintessential American; the accomplished surfer was unable to join the Marines due to health issues and channelled his ferocious appetite for books towards writing films instead. Whether it is the disturbing reflection of humanity’s deepest and darkest recesses of the soul in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; to hear Schwarzenegger crush his enemies and hear the lamentation of the women; or simply question our luck while we stare down the barrel of Clint Eastwood’s .44 Magnum – there is a realisation that Milius’ work is more prominent and resonant than you realise.

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