Archive for the ‘ FILMS 2017 ’ Category


Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist/
Here to be Heard: The Story of the Slits

In the year which celebrates a 100 years of women having the right to vote it is fitting that two very different tales-with some connecting threads- of how women gained a strength then took that acquired power and used it as a means of expressing this recently found freedom through fashion and music. Athough the stories of Westwood and The Slits are very different and have vastly opposing outcomes in terms of financial success- Westwood has a global business generating millions whilst The Slits have still to recoup the advance on their nearly 40-year-old debut album- they do have a shared and significant starting point: Punk!
Technically Westwood had moderate success before punk but it is her association with Malcolm McLaren and The Sex Pistols –whom McLaren managed- that she first became widely recognised and forever associated with.
Not that this is something that she wants to discuss in the documentary by Lorna Tucker. In fact it would seem that Westwood is reluctant to discuss anything of this era or any other in this documentary by Lorna Tucker as she appears curmudgeon like, awkward, brusque and downright rude whether she is aware she is being filmed or not.
Often the viewer is left wondering why she agreed to participate in this film at all as she waives most questions with a haughty air, rarely even making eye contact with the camera at all. Having since distanced herself from the film it is easy to see why as she is painted in a very unflattering light although this is no fault of Tucker who continually tries to draw out Westwood’s more pleasant side. Despite this car crash quality-or maybe because of it- it is still extremely watch-able whilst the clothes are never anything less than exquisite and her influence can never be underestimated.
Perhaps Tucker should have made the film about Westwood’s husband Andreas Kronthaler as he makes for fascinating subject matter, more than willing to discuss anything even if he is like a comic creation of Sacha Baron Cohen; a figure of ridicule who takes himself so very, very seriously.
The only time Westwood’s icy demeanour melts a little is, ironically enough, when she is discussing climate change. One is left with the feeling that this is a subject she would happily talk about for hours and hours on end.
By comparison Tessa Pollitt and the former Palmolive of The Slits seem more than happy to recount their glory days as members of all girl band The Slits as it at last focussing on their side of the story as previously the media focussed on the perspectives of the late Ari Up- who sadly passed away in 2010- and Viv Albertine. Like Westwood, The Slits have a great legacy and were hugely influential in the punk and post punk era.

Their debut album ‘Cut’ is a classic which transcends the era that bore it due to it sounding nothing like anything else either then or even now (by default they were the first band I ever saw live in my early teens as they supported The Clash on 1977’s White Riot tour and being the opening band therefore makes them my first live music experience). The fact that it was produced by young women with a fierce attitude and a blinding vision was a revelation at the time is this is simply not how women were supposed to behave or look; at least in the nineteen seventies male dominated patriarchal society. Patti Smith may have opened the door for them but The Slits booted it in, and then used that same door as a weapon thus making sure it would never close again.
Albertine makes an appearance and is always a worthy contributor but her side of the story was more than ably told in her 2014 book Clothes, Music, Boys and one feels this is more Pollitt’s and to a lesser extent Palmolive’s film.
Although the overall feel of the film is occasionally disjointed there is some very fascinating early footage captured by Don Letts which raises the interest quotient somewhat. When it does begin to drag around the time of the reunion tour another dimension still remains as some of the last ever clips of Ari Up not too long before she dies give the whole thing a sentimental twist one doesn’t normally associate with The Slits.
Now that the 40th anniversary of punk in 2016 has passed both of these films can stand alone in their re-telling of an era which forever changed the landscape of the country; with things in even more disarray now than they were then perhaps neither are films of sentiment or history but a lesson in how to drag a sexist,racist, backward, bigoted country with delusions of grandeur out of the quagmire it has entrenched itself in.


Call Me By Your Name

This stunningly tender and visually encapsulating coming of age gay love story, directed by Luca Guadagnino, captures perfectly the complexities, the aching intensity and confusion of passion. Set in Northern Italy in 1983-the Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Love My Way’ offers an aural time guideline here- somewhere in Northern Italy, the scene is set when Elio- Timothee Chalamet- an exceptionally precocious and intelligent seventeen year old is moving out of his bedroom to make way for his academic father’s yearly intern who arrives in the shape of the impossibly handsome Oliver- Armie Hammer- with neither realising that the next few weeks will be life changing for both of them.
In fact their initial meeting is low key with Elio casually offering to show Oliver around the town and its neighbouring country vistas. At first there seems little in the way of natural chemistry but gradually we feel Elio’s interest piqued although it is Oliver who makes the first move when he casually starts to massage Elio’s shoulder during a volleyball game. There follows a series of subtle moves and missed opportunities on both sides until one day on a bike ride they both confess-albeit without saying it in explicit terms- their true feelings for each other and things slowly but eventually explosively unravel until they are able to be honest with each other.
The thing that makes this film stand out from others in this genre is that there are no external pressures on their affair. Instead the problems that arise are down to the two protagonists reading and misreading signs with neither one wanting to be the one to make the first move for fear of offending the other.
The film is also visually stunning and many analogies of succulent fruit ripening and waiting to be devoured are constant throughout the film. Likewise the erotica of classical male statues- the study of which is Oliver’s main purpose for being in Italy-, where everything is in exaggerated by sensual curves, offer further visual sign-postings as to where things are all heading .
As for the scenery it captures perfectly hazy, lazy summer days where everything and nothing happens; when Oliver first arrives he asks Elio what people do there and Elio flippantly replies ‘Wait for the summer to end’. A soundtrack of period music alongside the contemporary Surfjam Stevens contributions also work in perfect sync giving the film a sense of looking back at a simpler time most likely through the mature Elio’s eyes today.
The standout performance in the film is Chalamet as Elio. He is a character you constantly feel for and somehow manages to transfer his emotions over to the audience clearly and consistently. In one particularly poignant scene after the lovers have spent their final couple of days together he is at a remote train station after Oliver has departed for America and phoning his mother to collect him you actually feel his heartache as he struggles to hold it all together. Another great scene comes between him and his father-Michael Stuhlbarg- where his father makes a speech which is so profound and deeply full of morality that it applies to anyone whatever their sexual orientation.
Call Me By Your Name is quite simply an emotional, visceral and visually stunning film that captures not only the complexities of love but also the simplicity of an earlier era. The absence of technology allows real human emotions to raise to the surface-no emojis or smiley faces to express emotions needed here, not when eyes, lips and words articulate so much more- and succeeds on every level.


Bloodlight and Bami

Grace Jones: icon, diva, untouchable goddess, fearsome adversary and real life, live genuine superstar. A bullet-proof façade or so you might think until you see this Sophie Fiennes documentary on the Grace Jones behind the armour; how much behind the armour is still unclear at the film’s conclusion but this is probably just how the irrepressible Ms. Jones wants it.
Essentially it is a film of two halves, one half the diva and public persona whilst the other focuses on her family life back in her original home of Jamaica.
Hence we witness the typical superstar strops as she bawls someone out over the telephone for not meeting her specific demands, ending with her throwing the phone across the luxurious hotel suite; the next minute however we are ensconced in a shanty town in a sunny and breezy Jamaica where she effortlessly slips into the local patois with childhood acquaintances, smoking a spliff emerging altogether as a much softer character, although the charisma remains firmly intact.
Likewise the glamour alternates between body-con Azzedine Aliah mixed with the structured futurism of Issey Miyake in her role as superstar. This contrasts with the more relaxed diaphanous loose dresses, baggy fatigues topped by the Philip Treacy sunhats and caps of her Jamaican self. Both are constructions however, both she wears impeccably and both are very much Grace Jones.
A new side for many viewing this film however is the reveal that her grandfather –Mas.P- was an extremely religious preacher and violent disciplinarian and that Grace and her siblings endured many beatings and punishments as children. Apparently it is the fearful presence that he used to command to instil terror in them that she distils in the icy, detached and cool demeanour of her stalking, skulking, marauding and intimidating stage presence.
The live shots which inter-cut with backstage shots and the Jamaican home life seem to originate from her 2009 Hurricane tour and one backstage conversation returns to her infamous altercation with Russell Harty, which propelled her to household name status, which she initially dismisses with a flippant ‘He’s dead but I didn’t kill him’ before offering her explanation of what actually happened on that 1980 show.
Of course it wouldn’t be a film about Grace Jones if we didn’t actually witness some true diva style tantrums; the aforementioned phone throwing sequence is typical but another sees her refuse to perform on a stage set miming to La Vie En Rose surrounded by female dancers as it makes her look like a Madame in a brothel. Another sees her try to restrain this side in Jamaica when long-time collaborator Robbie Shakespeare- one half of the legendary rhythm section Sly ‘n’ Robbie- fails to turn up for a recording session and she tries to reason then intimidate him into appearing much to the consternation of the engineer who keeps worriedly insisting ‘don’t piss him off’.
Ultimately this portrait attempts to unravel the mysteries behind the enigma and reveal another side to a very public demeanour and it does so successfully. To an extent. One can’t help feeling that despite the other side of Grace that emerges from the film is in deep contrast to the more recognised one it is still very much what she wants us to see and how she should be seen. It is still a fascinating ideology however and having her in control of how she is observed is just quintessential Grace Jones and frankly we really wouldn’t want it any other way!


Bladerunner 2049

The eagerly anticipated- or over-hyped depending on your view of the original- sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Bladerunner like its predecessor is ambiguous in its intentions; leaving more questions unanswered than answered. This time Denis Villeneuve is at the helm although Scott’s spectral presence is in every nuanced frame and deliberately so as familiarity with the original is essential in understanding the continuing narrative of Bladerunner 2049.
Ryan Gosling’s Officer K aka Joe fills much the same terrain as Harrison Ford’s Deckard in the original; an LAPD sleuth who hunts down replicants and ultimately ‘retires’ them in a dystopian near future. Convincingly played in his usual doe-eyed inscrutable way Gosling is ably supported in his task by Robin Wright, Jared Leto and of course Ford himself who returns as Deckard giving a great performance. Also of note is Ana de Armas as K’s holographic lover who absorbs the persona in line with his current moods and desires; one minute caring and nurturing supporter the next a sultry vamp.
The characters would be nothing without the sets and cinematography though and both are visually stunning throughout. Capturing the essence of the original but not relying on either homage or impersonation; sun-drenched vast deserts, rain-soaked streets and neon skyways all compete for attention and mirror the unfolding drama.
It is the music however which is the film’s true star, swelling, soothing,building and malingering as suits the scene. It is the music which ultimately prevents the film from dragging- at 2 hours 45 minutes it could be termed overly long for some used to more action filled blockbusters.
As for the plot I am not going to reveal anything in the way of spoilers- every sequence of events in this film offers up unnecessary clues- but suffice to say it is as intriguing, complex, perplexing and intuitive as its predecessor.
Ultimately the film as a whole is a triumph. For once the hype was(almost) justified and fans of the original who have sat through various drafts-I am sure there was even a Tea Lady’s Cut at one point- will find their patience has been rewarded.


American Valhalla

This documentary about the making of Iggy’s final album, Post Pop Depression, with collaborator Josh Homme from Queen’s of The Stone Age is a fascinating insight into the working processes behind what became a great album to rival Iggy’s previously best works.
Directed by Andreas Neumann and Homme himself –he obviously understood the momentous scope of the project and wanted to capture every detail on film or in journals and diaries- it is an intimate portrait of an artistic endeavour few outside the inner working circle of record making very rarely glimpse. The fact that not only are Homme and Pop huge influential characters on the music scene but both have immense charisma means that this film has an advantage over other films in its genre. Never once does it lapse into muso ramblings or terrain which might appeal only to the most avid fan.
Instead it compels and draws you into the process from its very first frames wherein we see the band about to perform the album live for the first time with them already onstage playing the upbeat and frenetic intro to the classic ‘Lust for Life’ while Iggy limbers up behind a monitor waiting to explode onto the stage. When he does a huge surge of adrenaline coursed through my body and a huge smile erupted across my face.
Even at this late stage of his life Iggy is still the personification of what rock and roll is really all about!
As for the recording process, most of it took place at the legendary Joshua Tree ‘home’ studio for authenticity; to try to capture a feel suited to the album’s subject matter.
The recording complete segues into the realisation that the results were so good that there was a need to tour the album culminating in the now legendary show at The Royal Albert Hall in London. If I have one criticism of this film it is that there could maybe have been more footage of this kind as it merely whetted my appetite.
Leave them wanting more I guess.
There was also a great sense of rapport, understanding and respect between Homme and Pop as witnessed in the latter interviews of the pair in an empty auditorium. One particularly touching moment is when they are discussing a major interview for the album wherein Iggy has to travel to New York on a morning flight but is awoken in the early hours to be told David Bowie had passed away. At this juncture he wells up-as did I- and you can see he is on the precipice of an emotional collapse but the camera cuts away as a mark of respect.
Apparently this was a one-off screening of this film so I am unsure whether it will make it into the cinemas again but if you can see it in any way at all then please make sure you do. As for the record itself, well it definitely ranks up there with The Idiot and Lust for Life as one of Iggy’s best and most consistent solo offerings and one that no-one expected from the then 69 year old. Then again superseding everyone’s expectations is always what Iggy does best!


The Handmaiden

Taking its central themes and inspirations from the 2002 Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith this erotic thriller directed by Park Chan-wook constantly strives to outguess its audience with each of its three sections exploring the same tale from a different character perspective.
A much more complex and interesting take on the original tale of a pickpocket lifted from poverty to high society in Dickensian London than the BBC drama from 2005 even though both are period dramas the question of location literally sets them worlds apart as by transplanting the action to South Korea –under colonial Japanese rule- there is an exoticism and erotica the earlier interpretation never achieved.
The tale remains basically the same when a pickpocket is used to try and help an unscrupulous conman posing as a Count seduce an heiress out of her fortune when it becomes clear that sexually she is more attracted to women than men thus requiring female complicity as his own masculinity obviously falls short.
What then follows is a web of deceit, intrigue, sexual duplicity and a plot which keeps second guessing its audience and holds their attention rapt.
Beautifully shot amidst outstanding scenery with stunning sets- the palatial residence of the supposedly duped heiress is part Victorian Gothic mansion and part traditional Japanese and as labyrinthine as the action- which combine to make the whole viewing process even more of a visually stimulating experience than it already is.
Although the film clocks in at around two and a half hours long the great central performances alongside plot devices and exotic settings somehow conspire into making the time fly by.


I Am Not Your Negro

This Oscar nominated documentary by Raoul Peck focuses on author and civil rights activist James Baldwin and his personalised recounting of the struggles and assassinations of three of his close friends, allies and fellow civil rights campaigners and/or activists: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Unfortunately he died several months after embarking on this project in 1979 so we will never know what conclusions he eventually reached regarding some of the changes that took place in his lifetime.
It is a stunning and utterly captivating piece of work which highlights the struggles of the African-American in 1960’s culture when it seemed anything was possible and change was not only inevitable but necessary. It was going to be long, hard fight however.
Baldwin’s fictional work at this stage was beautifully written prose and his stand out works- Go Tell it on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room and Another Country- tackled taboo subjects, both racially and sexually motivated, in a fashion that furthered his beliefs without ever being didactic. His message was always very clear however and that message was one of injustice and that survival meant a change in both moral and racial codes.
Baldwin also published poetry and short stories to further that message even further and also appeared on the TV and lecture circuit where he called out the racist standards inherent in American culture at this time. An interesting excerpt on the Dick Cavett show in 1969- Cavett looks as nervous as he did five years later when confronted with a drug addled David Bowie in his most outlandish and talked about interview- sees him pitted a right-wing conservative ‘expert’ and subsequently demolish him most eloquently and elegantly; making a point without having to force it.
His interesting analogy that black Americans were brought up being force-fed white heroes such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper and rooting for them in the movies as they obliterated the Native tribes was an eye opener for Baldwin when he realised that the native tribes were in fact him and his culture and that he was already being conditioned to oppose them.
The fact that he was also homosexual was a double whammy but that is only looked at briefly in this documentary as it is not the central theme of the work.
The most interesting and poignant thing about this documentary is how far things actually did change. At one point there is talk of a black President in the next forty years and the idea is thoroughly ridiculed. If in fact the two decades leading up to the Obama years were neglected and history moved sharply into the Trump administration it would be easy to say that little change had been effected at all as the racial divisions which drove the civil rights campaign fifty years ago are as wide as they ever were. Or perhaps they are just as apparently obvious again.
This documentary although it looks at a particular time in history is just as relevant as ever. In fact as much can be learnt today from the viewpoints it contains and similarly they can also be acted upon and things can hopefully move forward yet again.