‘Up in the Air’ (2009) – A poetic film review

A poetic review/ critique of the film ‘Up In The Air’ (2009), starring George Clooney.

Alone.

With your sharkslick moves; dripping hubris as you cruise
With digital ease through analogue seas
Of people, places and unrecognised faces,
An indefinite trip outside of all time, high-flying
Straight by people with lives weighted down and laden
With people, places and recognised faces they’ve acquired.

Detached.
Pack light: Move swift. Use-less
Energy on useless roots and routes that shoot and shout
Down through the fuselage of your ethos.
Crowds gather where clouds don’t matter and where clouds don’t matter the crowds have scattered –
Jettisoned ballast until your chosen solitude is so close
That you are immune
To your own calloused touch.

Moon bound.
Flying round.
Two hundred thousand miles in the air, getting nowhere
Nearer than closer to somewhere.
Targets thin like skin. Thin air,
Greying hair yet still; you don’t care
Because you care about not there, or there, but the ellipsis in between
Where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Never home, never slowing, sharkslick fin slicing
Through seas of barely recogniseable faces.

Inching.
Ten million miles closer to that home of your imagination
That dream made real by corporate corroboration,
A scene that means as much to you as two recent teens saying I do,
One small step closer to the landing site called home.
Ten million miles flown,
Each first class seat a throne,
The Emperor’s New Throne in fact,
Weighing just as much as your emptying soul.

Travelling.
With no destination. Outward bound, outward facing,
What exactly is gestating in that sharkskin case
Of you-shaped templates and hollow replacements (of holiday luggage)
Permanently escaping the one place you came from
That is so far away that you finally cannot place it.

But yes, you feel it, for beneath the calloused skin and
(Now slightly dipping) fin and silent, chrome wing
Is him: that collection of people, places and changing, aging faces
That initially flew you in.

-Unseen

Poetry: ‘Groundhog Day’ (a sonnet)

Finally finished this Groundhog Day sonnet. It’s taken me about 15 months.

 

Groundhog Day
You wake up and the day is still the same.
You wake up and the day is still the same.
You wake up and today is yesterday.
You wake up and the day is still the same.

You wake up and the day remains the same.
Confused, unused to things that stay the same,
You wake up and today becomes the day
That something in the rhythm needs to change.

You wake up and create a better day.
You take a challenge and begin to play.
They marvel at the things you start to made.
She listens to the things you have to say.

You wake up and the day is still the same
Until you take the chance to wake again.

Related: Groundhog Day – a critical analysis

12 Years a Slave: A review in texts

I recently saw the award-nominated, award-winning, Steve McQueen directed tale of hope in the face of hopeless adversity: 12 Years a Slave.

Below is a transcript of text messages sent between myself and a friend of mine, spanning his viewing of the film and mine. I thought it kind of made for an interesting ‘review’.

Warning: Contains spoilers (sort of)

Warning: Approach with a sense of irony.

-Unseen Flirtations

* * *

I seen 12 Years a Slave this arvo. Have you seen?

Nope…

 

Dang. I’ve got a very clever observation that you would find amusing because you’re au fait with film crit. It’s a spoiler though. See it so I can make my smartarse joke.

Ok! I’ll see it this weekend I think. Hang on to the gag!

 

Prepare to be extraordinarily underwhelmed. At my joke, that is. The film might even be worth watching beyond its role as wit-fodder…

Finally saw 12 years. What was your joke?? Ps: Monday evening? I can come round yours or we can meet somewhere…

 

Yeah, sure thing. Come on over. I’ll be home from 5pm, I start work early these days. Ok, 12 years ‘joke’: Brad Pitt is the magical negro!

He is! Probably executive produced it that way, what with his UN family and all…

 

What did you make of 12 Years overall?

VERY melodramatic. But completely unwavering in its telling of the story. Great cast, maybe bar Pitt 🙂  Def more Hollywood than Hunger.

 

I couldn’t get past the Hollywood sheen. Hans Zimmer’s score was almost identical to his Inception one. It bugged me throughout the film. The stream of big names were distracting: Benedict Cumberbatch, Garrett Dillahunt, Paul Giammati, Brad Pittt -they didn’t have enough screen time to establish meaningful characters so didn’t get past cameo status, which is a big problem when you’re trying to immerse an audience into the brutality of historically accurate slavery.

True. It wasn’t until Fassbender kicked in that I settled into the narrative. Some heavy handed big studio decisions at play fir sure. Thank god Northup wasn’t played by Will Smith or Tom Hanks or something!

On reflection, I appreciated the lesser known actors, maybe for the reasons you outlined…

Yeah, Fassbender’s whipping girl was great. So great that I was half expecting her to turn around and freak out at the lights and cameras. I should really learn her name. And how to pronounce and spell Cheeter Igerfor’s. I also want to read the script. At least seven scenes must read like: EXT. PLANTATION -DAY, We linger on SOLOMON NORTHUP’S eyes. <end scene>.

Chee woe tell, Ij ee four, right? Can I blog this conversation? I’ll keep you anonymous…

 

You can’t use ‘ij’ in a phonetic breakdown! Are you going to blog this bit? Hello Internet! Remember to use the comments to remind OP what he is 😉 Two more things. One, I forgot Michael K Williams off the good actor cameo list, and I’ve probably forgot others too. And two, despite its flaws TYAS does give valuable insight into what the daily life of USA slave life might have been like. And it’s not a stretch to say it provides some context for understanding current US race relations. There, a bit of balance, because all things considered it’s not a bad film at all.

What a considered write up. OP??

 

Original Poster

Ah, of course. Right then, I’m gonna blog this. Any last requests?

* * *

 

And…. that was the whole conversation.

Poetry: 1955 (inspired by ‘Back to the Future’)

1955

The future of the past is always dim.
The past we recollect is always bright.
The present may be flawed but still we cling
To it. As though we’re fighting for our life.

The 1955 in which we find
Ourselves is picture perfect and we must
Do everything we can to re-align
The faces that we think created us.

The resurrection of a perfect past.
The preservation of a perfect real.
The destination of a swerving car,
With teenage freedom reeling at the wheel.

As Marty speeds away from now to then
We hope he finds a way to live, again.

Click here for my brief poetic breakdown of the film. Recommended.

846 words on: Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day

Squeaky clean and militarily innocent.

You can dismiss Independence Day on various levels: audience-baiting ‘Armageddon porn’, meaningless pageant of  ‘holy shit’ set pieces or painfully transparent slice of ‘fuck yeah’ U.S. nationalism, to name three. I already knew this, before my wife and I channel surfed our way into the summer of 1996 last Friday night . What I hadn’t realised, until said Friday night, was the real issue at hand: that Independence Day is the biggest piece of pro-U.S. military propaganda in the history of all cinema. Let me explain.

First of all, the US military is painted as being way, way, way too squeaky clean. Will Smith, with all his abs, ears and charm, is a manifestation of the American Dream’s perfect soldier. Committed, human, loyal, brave, witty and so on, and he inhabits a world of similarly plucky soldiers (including the slightly simple loveable best mate destined to die tragically – thanks Harry Connick Jr).

This much is normal. Hollywood readily presents rank and file military personnel in such light and I’m not suggesting for a moment that a summer blockbuster should explore the sinister subtexts of military policy. But isn’t just a little bit strange that everyone linked to the military in this film is Good? The bald-headed General guy that flanks President Bill Paxton is unwaveringly loyal and almost physically built out of integrity – he doesn’t even know that Area 51 existed, whereas the snivelling CIA intelligence weasel is fired for his moral ambiguity. As an audience, we are asked to question Intelligence and trust Military Might.

Then there’s the President himself. Why on earth is he a fighter pilot? The film forces us to equate military action with moral fortitude. It isn’t enough for the president to lean upon military action; he literally has to hop in the hot seat and fire the missile that initiates Mankind’s victory.

And what about that drunk, shambling crop dusting pilot? The one who saves the day in an inspiring moment of kamikaze gusto? His back-story states that he served as a pilot in Vietnam, a conflict notorious for leaving many US soldiers in a state of significant psychological damage. He can’t piece his life together at all, until called upon to get back into action. Military service rejuvenates him completely, simultaneously giving him a purpose in life and the means out of his depression into History Book Heroism.

Still unconvinced? Ok, why is it that so much is made of Drunk Crop Duster Hero’s having been abducted by aliens? It’s because we, the audience, are supposed to see this as the causation of his mental instability, not the years of service fighting in dodgy wars for a country that has abandoned him.

Then there’s the alien enemy: instinctively malevolent, insidiously evil, and icky. The film doesn’t give us a single chance to empathise with them, hammering home the point with the croaky “We… want.. you… to… die…” sequence that ends in a hail of gunfire. Basically, the military response is shown to be the only logical one, which implicitly blinkers an audience to the subtle politics of the situation. It becomes a very simple case of ‘Kill The Foreign Element Because They Are Evil End Of’.

Now I wouldn’t mind so much (I mean, it is only Independence Day for crying out loud), but the U.S. military sort of thrives on this type of over-simplification. We saw it in the 1960s with President Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War, in which faceless ‘Communists’ were an enemy in need of annihilation. We saw it in Iraq, where supposed weapons of mass destruction were justification for a sustained military conflict. And we continue to see it in the War in Afghanistan, in which the lines have been blurred between the al-Quaeda organisation, the Taliban government that harboured them, insurgents and, sadly, civilians.

Or maybe I’m overreaching.  The following extract from 2005 World Socialist Website article ‘Military interference in American film production’ suggests that the film is far from a successful endorsement of the military:

Producers of the mindless blockbuster Independence Day (1996) bent over backwards to gain access to Department of Defense heavy equipment. The Pentagon rejected these overtures, claiming that the movie did not contain any “true military heroes” and that Captain Steve Hiller (Will Smith) was too irresponsible to be cast as a Marine leader (he dates a stripper). Moreover, the invading aliens were thwarted not by the Marines, but by civilians. While Dean Devlin, the scriptwriter, agreed to rectify these “flaws”, Independence Day was given no assistance.

Before you go though, one last thing (here comes my Columbo moment…) A quote from Dean Devlin, Independence Day writer/ producer, in correspondence with the Pentagon:

“If this doesn’t make every boy in the country want to fly a fighter jet, I’ll eat this script.”

And there we have it. A cynical ploy to gain governmental support? Or the core motivation of a film that sees the actual President don flight jacket and save the day from the front line itself? I’ll let you decide.

-Unseen Flirtations

If they're evil, we should kill 'em.

Articles of interest:

Hollywood Propaganda: Nightmares in the Dream Factory?

Military Interference in American film Production

Top Gun versus Sergeant Bilko? No contest, says the Pentagon

810 words on: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Crazy, Stupid, Love

In Gosling We Trust

In many ways, Crazy Stupid Love is an exploration into innocence and experience featuring a collection of adults, children and teenagers who demonstrate  varying degrees of adolescent naivety and are linked by their uncertain grip on the adult world of love, loss and capital R Relationships. In other ways, never has a film’s title been so accurate. Allow me to elaborate.

First, the film is definitely about love. It all kicks off with the ups and downs (mainly downs) of loving father, Cal Weaver (Steve Carell), and his not so loving wife. He has one lovely daughter and a lovesick son, who is hopelessly in love with the babysitter, who in turn is hopelessly in love with Cal himself. Then you have Ryan Gosling’s Jacob: a smoother-than-thou pick-up artist who cruises bars for women and is basically in love with himself. So that’s Love.

Then there’s stupid. From the outset, characters in this film do stupid things, including but not limited to: rolling out of moving cars, performing public confessions of love inspired by The Scarlet Letter, re-enacting the swan lift from Dirty Dancing, throwing shoes off balconies and putting naked photographs of themselves in envelopes within finding distance of their parents. Stupid.

Then there’s the crazy. From scene one onwards it becomes very clear that this is a film populated with (in the words of the babysitter) “bat-shit crazy” people. They are all, to man, odd, carrying out irrational acts as normal and making decisions that come out of left-field. On this level, Crazy Stupid Love is almost a study in mad behaviour, drawing its comedy from a well of dysfunction. It doesn’t take long for the film to establish that people are weird, and weird is funny, be it Jacob inviting a virtual stranger to stare at his penis, or melancholic pre-teen Robbie Weaver calmly delivering a “love is for assholes” diatribe to his English class. Crazy crazy crazy. Just how they all avoid being unwatchably irritating is frankly a miracle (though some come dangerously close).

Now, I’ve double-checked and no-where in the title does it mention the word ‘genuine’, so you would imagine that the film wouldn’t even attempt to reach up and rummage around on that particular shelf. With all the Crazy and all the Stupid, Crazy Stupid Love stays firmly on the right side of farce, romping about like an expensive sit-com with enough quirk to earn some Indie credentials. The problem is that just when you resign yourself to this, a big fat slice of Genuine comes out of nowhere and sits there, unannounced, and you find yourself staring at it like “WTF is that?” The first Genuine Moment is a real miss-hit; Steve Carell mooching about in the rain after confessing his recent exploits to his recently estranged wife, immediately after meeting said recent exploit at his son’s Parent/ Teacher night.

It doesn’t work. Unlike, say, The 40 Year-Old Virgin (of which there are shades in this film), Crazy Stupid Love doesn’t give you quite enough sensitivity early on enough to make the midway hit of Genuine Drama feel anything other than misplaced. When, shortly afterwards, the second hit of Genuine Drama arrives, there is real potential for a full-on derailment, save one small thing: Ryan Gosling.

If you don’t already know, Gosling took complete ownership of 2011 with acclaimed performance after acclaimed performance, and really, the man can do no wrong. In Jacob, he lends an intensely charming likeability to what is essentially an amoral sexual deviant. When the time comes for his first Genuine Moment (a failed one-night stand with Emma Stone’s Hannah), there is a depth of character that carries the farce gently into calmer, stiller waters, with little turbulence. In Gosling we trust.

The good news is that while Crazy Stupid Love doesn’t seem to know exactly what it is (open-handed sit-com? Off-beat Indie?) it never forsakes its excellent sense of humour. You will laugh, at least twice, and the absolutely insane climax provides a good old-fashioned twist that eases you gently into the final act. Fairly fluffy stuff, I’ll admit, but anything else would have been unfair for such a vulnerable set of characters with such endearingly big hearts. On three! One, two, three: “Awwww….”

Love: both crazy and stupid

810 words on: The Artist (2011)

The Artist

Innocence meets charm.

There was a strange moment just before the beginning of The Artist when the cinema fell silent. Not just silent in the ‘shut up now, the film’s about to start’ sort of way, but silent in an almost tense anticipation of the daunting prospect of spending two hours watching a film, in silence. Well, not actual silence, but free of dialogue. Only music. This strange and daunting prospect seemed to hit home simultaneously as the audience allowed a few nervous laughs to escape. We’ve all seen the trailers and had signed up to the novelty of watching a silent film in 2012, but could the film actually hold its own? I was willing to find out.

The film opens with a silent film being played to a packed audience (ironically) whilst the cast and crew await backstage. It’s all very disorienting as you get to grips with a) the costume dramatics b) the black and whiteness c) the absence of dialogue. But, before you can decide whether it works for you or not, the film has hurtled off into its narrative with an energy that sweeps you along. See, The Artist is a full on silent movie, by which I mean it leans into the genre (if you can call it that) with gusto. The lack of dialogue is played for laughs from the outset, and the performances are a broadly energetic and expressive as they need to be with literally no voices to help you along. The orchestral score is bold and grandiose, whilst the cut-captions are sparse and comedic. Even the black and white is richly tonal, offering a feast of cinematic greys.

In all of this the film is almost a charm offensive for the Silent Movie. Lovely moment follows Lovely Moment at such a pace that you find yourself falling in love with the very notion of silent cinema as much as following the ups and downs of arrogant-yet-loveable silent era star George Valentin and plucky up-and-comer Peppy Miller.  I found myself revelling in the quirks and joys of the film on a functional level, unwittingly forming close attachments to the central characters. The Artist is a proper silent film, complete with melodrama, crude plot avenues, broad brushstrokes of character, overblown acting, gags, punchlines, physical comedy and even mugging at the camera acting (which Peppy lambasts upon the advent of the ‘talkie’). Yet, somehow, the novelty factor of these outmoded conventions soon develops into charm, and then delight. How?

Well, for one, this is a lovingly rendered project. There is so much care and attention put into making the film pay due respects to a dead cinematic era that it is almost Pixar-esque in its beauty. Each 1920s swipe, each wink, each soft focus close up (I think there were two) is a little charming in-joke that you find yourself cooing at, even if you don’t appreciate the original source material. Nostalgia is infectious, after all.

But The Artist is far more than a film about silent era cinema that is cleverly played out in the contextual style. Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted a proper film with subtle brush strokes of character, moments of real drama, pain and pathos, humour and ambivalences. It’s as rich in emotional tone as it is in its shades of grey, anchored by Lovely Moments of humour and charm. The performances are considered and genuine, balancing pantomime with real, actual acting. The emotional hits ring true, despite the melodrama they also come with.

Now, all of that you’ve just read is what I was busy enjoying when I should have been thinking about what the film is actual about, which stands as testament to how engaging and diverting it is, on a structural level. Thematically, it doesn’t disappoint.

The Artist is a love note to film itself. As we fall in love with the quirks of the silent movie, we fall in love with something that feels like the essence of cinema. Valentin, beautifully played by Jean Dujardin is an embodiment of this, and we fall in love with him too. So does Peppy Miller, equally beautifully portrayed by Bérénice Bejo. As a representation of the ‘future’ of film, it is no accident that she falls in love with the personification of film’s past. She clings to it and wishes it to survive, against the odds, just as we do. Half way in, I found myself just hoping the film could maintain its momentum through the final act, as evidence that this hit of quirky nostalgia could indeed hold its own in a cinematic landscape populated by 3D features and do-anything CGI.

The good news is that it can. The Artist is a rare thing of honesty and beauty that enchants on multiple levels. A silent film that speaks to the heart, in volumes. Aw.

Unseen Flirtations

That's all, folks!

PS: With all of this, The Artist still cannot be dismissed as an inconsequential cinematic bauble. It makes serious comment on the death of innocence that came with the death of the silent age of Hollywood. The Film’s overriding optimism and charm isn’t therefore simply preferable, but absolutely necessary in promoting the essence of film that it explores. Food for thought with a spoonful of sugar.

581 words on: Never Let Me Go (2011)

As something of a resolution for 2012 I have promised to jot down my thoughts on any/ every book I read, film I watch, album I listen to, etc.

First up, Never Let Me Go: the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian love story. Watched last night about 8 months after reading the novel. Apologies in advance for all the made up words.

On the periphery, looking in.

Never Let Me Go

I’m not saying that a film should ever be, or even attempt to be a facsimile of a novel. That’s unrealistic. But something of the essence of the novel must remain if the author’s original intention and resonances are to survive.

Never Let Me Go the movie is a love story. A love story set to an intriguing sci-fi premise, but a love story all the same. This is well and good, the plot allowing the fresh-faced cast to play emotional and stare into the middle distance. On this level, the film works well and is a worthy vehicle for Knightley, Mulligan and Garfield to play tortured, confused, malicious, lost, et cetera.

Never Let Me Go the novel, however, is something different entirely. It is a study not so much of doomed love as of discarded lives poured into too small vessels, and this is where its emotional impact lay. Kazuo Ishiguro is a master of slow-release trauma and enigmatic tension. In Never Let Me Go his characters occupy lives that are almost literally meaningless in a human sense, existing only to be harvested of vital organs before the ‘completion’ (the suitably clinical euphemism for death). As such, they cling to fragments of their existences in both physical and conceptual senses, putting huge weight upon bits and pieces of life that ‘real’ people can take for granted.

The ‘Sales’ at Hailsham are a manifestation of this – highly anticipated events where the students exchange tokens for charity shop tat, which they then go on to hoard and treasure with a fervour usually reserved for family heirlooms.  Their social lives mirror this. Tiny skirmishes, minor victories, half-glances, stray insults and the like take on massive significance: more than they really deserve. But what else can we expect from humans with unfairly truncated existences ?

The novel’s key success is in allowing the sad irony of these precious discardments (I just made up that word…) to gradually become apparent to the reader. By the time you reach denouement, you are wincing not so much at how sad their lives are, but at how ignorant of their own insignificance they have been. It’s heart-breaking, and opens a creaking door to difficult philosophising on all human transience in the real world.

The film misses this. Minor details of the central trio’s pasts are used merely as flesh for their skeletal, brittle love triangle, which, frankly, isn’t all that interesting. Love triangles are dramatically easy, but trite and dull. The film gives us character but ignores the more complex, taut, trauma of lives burning with all the fire of humanity and forced into unfairly flimsy contexts. The Hailsham lot are, as Ruth asserts, ‘from the gutter’ and their lives are an inadequate patchwork of crap. This isn’t just ironic – it’s tragic.

Ultimately, the film’s fatal flaw is in failing to realise this and erroneously making these shards of crap out to be as supremely significant as the characters feel they are. There is only one moment when a sense of this is portrayed, ie:  when Tommy presents his ‘proof of soul’ drawings to the mistress (can’t remember her name, sorry…) in the desperate hope of a deferral from organ donation and she explains they are useless. Watching Garfield shamble the various sheets of lovingly rendered paper into a useless bundle is difficult to watch; a rare moment of genuine trauma amid all the glossy trauma you’d expect from a starlet cast. If only more of the film was as traumatic… Ah well.

-Unseen Flirtations

Sad, yes. Tragic? Not quite.

The ‘Dance Movie’

The ‘Dance Movie’

A poetic analysis of that lesser-appreciated cinematic genre: the Dance Movie.

Form:

I have a confession to make. I’m quite partial to dance movies. Movies about dancing. Those faintly ridiculous films in which dancing not only features, but is a key ingredient in the very fibre of the main characters’ lives. Films like Dirty Dancing, Footloose, Step Up, Step Up 2, Step Up 3D, Save the Last Dance, Breakin’, Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, You Got Served, Strictly Ballroom et cetera.

It’s one of my many guilty pleasures. Anyway, these films, it has to be said, are something of a different animal to the conventional Hollywood movie. Yes, they have plot and narrative and pathos and all that good stuff, but they exist to do more than simply tell a tale. They exist to celebrate dance. See, the dance movie’s hook is the whole dancing thing – we know even before the opening credits that we’re going to see some hot moves, regardless of any subtextual social commentary/ politics/ comment on the human condition/ whatever.

The titles allude to this. Dirty Dancing would probably be better called ‘The Abortion Scandal’ or ‘The Summer I Lost My Virginity’. Footloose might be titled ‘Overcoming Christian Dogma’. And what about all those dance movies that tackle the theme of interracial relationships? (eg: Save the Last Dance, Breakin’). ‘He’s Black and She’s White’ perhaps?

Structurally, the dance movie pretty much goes from Dance to Dance, via Dance. A big dance at the beginning, lots of little dances along the way as the narrative works through its complications, and a big celebratory dance at the end, when all is well. There is literally no deviation from this format, and if there is, it isn’t a dance movie.

Language and Imagery:

With such a clear emphasis on dancing, the dance movie is largely preoccupied with capturing what we can call ‘hot moves’. All these films feature key set pieces sprinkled evenly throughout the narrative, in which great pains are taken to make dancing seem as exciting as is humanly possible. These sequences are always frenetic and busy – lots of bodies throwing lots of shapes and fast editing to make it all that more kinetic. Then there’s the montage…

The Montage (yes, it deserves its own subheading)

A key feature of the dance movie is that bit, somewhere in the middle, where someone needs to get better at dancing in order for the plot to reach resolution. This is where a montage comes in – a little cut up of dance sequences set to energetic, motvational music, by the end of which the protagonists are significantly better dancers than they were, three minutes hence. I love it. Below is a little rundown of some classic dance movie montages:

Dirty Dancing: Johnny and Penny teaching Baby to Rhumba. Song – ‘Hungry Eyes’ by Eric Carman

Footloose: Kevin Bacon teaching his shitkicking hick buddy to barn dance. Song – ‘Let’s Hear It For the Boy’ by Deniece Williams

Breakin’: Turbo, Ozone and Kelly training to form a new breakdancing crew. Song – ‘Ain’t Nobody’ by Chaka Khan

Step Up 2: The misfit dancing  form a super dance group to compete in the upcoming underground street battle. Song – ‘Shake Your Pom Pom’ by Missy Elliot

Save the Last Dance: The black guy teaching the white girl how to dance ‘street’. Song – ‘You Know What’s up’ by Donnell Jones

Imagery:

Needless to say, some of the dance movie’s most memorable images are taken directly from the montage sequences. The beauty of the montage is that it’s got almost no purpose other than to show off some dancing, make the protagonists look sexy, and include a few comedic bloopers – perfect to create memorable snapshots.

Rhythm:

The beauty of the dance movie is that it has no delusions as to what it is and as a result, a dance is never far away. These films, as you might expect, have a definite rhythm, with regular peaks of dance-fuelled excitement, culminating in a mind-blowing explosion of dance insanity. The narrative is constantly leaning forward towards this culminating moment, be it Dirty Dancing’s swan lift, Footloose’s barn dance or Strictly Ballroom’s rule-defying competition win.

Any quiet moments exist purely to allow the characters to ‘develop’ and/ or reveal poignant facts about their troubled pasts, which makes the subsequent dances all the more important. We care a lot more about Johnny’s ability to cha cha cha after we find out about his subjugated life as an exploited dancer, for example. These moments of pathos tend to come after the montage, setting up a melancholic penultimate act before the victorious ending. Dramatic stuff.

Tone:

Dancing aside, the dance movie is almost uniformly melodramatic. There’s always some troubling context surrounding all the dance action that drives the narrative forward, and it always leaves the protagonists in some kind of dramatic flux: Love triangles, social pressures, mysterious pasts, lost dreams, racial conflict, et cetera. Further to this, there is always a point reached where things get so screwed up that not even dancing can save the day, until, of course, dancing saves the day. You know when these bits arrive because a)no-one is dancing and b)the soundtrack gets all minor key.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. These films always, and I do mean ALWAYS, end in celebration, a huge triumph where dance has enabled the protagonists to overcome their problems. Yay.

Subject matter:

The central message behind every dance movie is as follows:

“No matter who you are, no matter what you do, all of life’s problems can be overcome through dance.”

And when I say ‘problems’ I mean everything up to and including racial injustice, class prejudice, gang warfare, bereavement, parental conflict, religious oppression and poverty. At this point, I ‘m tempted to make some overblown statement about how these films are fundamentally about the resilience of the human spirit and flight of the soul in the face of oppression etc etc, blah blah blah, but I won’t. I’ll leave you to make those conclusions – here’s the ‘Hungry Eyes’ montage from Dirty Dancing, for inspiration. Enjoy.

-Unseen Flirtations

Never Let Me Go: A review in tweets

Never Let Me Go: a review in tweets

Finally got round to reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘Never Let Me go’. A run down of my thoughts on the film in reverse chronological order, as posted on Twitter.

Not yet… Curious to see what a decent cast could do with those characters RT @gtpodcast Have you seen the movie version? Good stuff.

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Perhaps sadly, the main characters’ warmth stems from their ache and deep-rooted trauma #neverletmego

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Text is secondary to context, which itself is secondary to subtext #neverletmego

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For Ishiguro, relationships are s battlefield of human interaction, subtly painted, but emotionally exhausting #neverletmego

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Plot takes a deserved back seat to the careful revelation of character, which makes the story all the more engaging #neverletmego

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He has the gift of creating infinities out of fleeting moments. It’s special. #neverletmego

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Moments of real intensity arrive unexpectedly, then are pored over with the focus of a vivisection #neverletmego

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Ishiguro’s is a painful detailing of life crammed into too small a vessel #neverletmego

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Ishiguro never asks us to pity his characters, but he does insist that we live through their most challenging moments #neverletmego

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In his novels Ishiguro never lets us forget that human relationships are capital C complicated #neverletmego

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Ishiguro is a master in quiet devastation and unafraid to deliver trauma #neverletmego

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Part character study, part sci-fi thriller. A completely compelling thought experiment #neverletmego

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One of my 13s that read Never Let Me Go: She kept shaking her head, repeating it’s a “bad book, bad book”. Almost weird.

What I forgot to say:

Form:

As I tweeted somewhere up there, it’s difficult to say exactly what this novel is, form-wise. After the first chapter or so I was all geared up for a careful character study of the narrator a la ‘Remains of the Day’, which, to be honest, the novel delivers. But it soon diverts into more sensational territory as little hooks of plot get thrown in there and the science-fiction premise becomes apparent. Then philosophical ideas are introduced and the whole thing begins to feel like a thought experiment. First off, thank god Ishiguro is an accomplished enough writer to avoid falling prey to plot while all this is happening. He manages to continue the careful analysis of character whilst developing a thriller of a plot, without having the whole thing become clumsy. This is less a novel concerned with what happens than with how people cope with what happens, reminiscent in tone to Pale View of the Hills (Ishiguro’s first offering).

Language:

Stark, plain, unfettered, direct. He writes with minimal poetry but high impact, detailing all the silences in communication where powerful experiences reside. At uni I remember one of my tutors making a lot of the fact that Ishiguro is Japanese, but writes in a very ‘English’ register. Whatever. You can ignore post-colonial subtext here; he just uses the English language with economy and discernment. That’s all.

Imagery:

Despite what I said above in ‘Language’, Ishiguro does have a knack of detaining a scene. Especially at reflective moments of emotional repose, he stops to set the scene and evoke a mood. This wouldn’t be worth talking about but for the fact that he does it so bloody well – be it a description of an overcast day, some rural backdrop, or some kind of rainfall that in the hands of some other writer would be chalked up as simple pathetic fallacy.

Also, he sometimes lets the narrator get figurative (for example Kathy realising that Madame sees them all as ‘spiders’). Subjective and illuminating of character, yes, but also useful imagery that adds depth overall.

Rhythm:

An Ishiguro novel is the definition of a ‘slow build’. It’s the mark of a confident novelist for him to take his time with the exposition of plot, but (as tweeted), that’s probably because plot is so secondary to the development of character. One of his slightly irritating stylistic quirks is his setting up of the next big plot development at the end of each episode, literally separated by a line break, which gets a bit heavy handed at times, but to be honest, that might be necessary evil. Ishiguro does things like: but the real surprise was to come later, after what happened in the wardrobe, which would stay with us all forever.

The wardrobe incident began in the summer after we started to blah blah blah (yes I’m making this up by the way). It keeps the momentum up, but feels a bit clonky at times.

What is noteworthy is the skilful manner in which he bases his narrative around key events/ moments in his characters’ lives, building the narrative around crucial moments of tension of realisation or trauma or joy or relief or whatever. It’s truly beautiful that these moments can be as massive as a death or as innocuous as finding a cassette tape in a charity shop. Important moments are entirely subjective, meaning that when they occur is as important as how important they are.

Tone:

It’s safe to say that Never Let Me go is almost uniformly tragic throughout. It’s a slow release of trauma and strained human relationships that becomes increasingly poignant as we are fed details of the main characters’ existence. By the half way mark, it’s been made pretty clear that this is a story of doomed lives, and all the little rifts and skirmishes of social interaction take on a different kind of poignancy. These characters are alive, and their worries are literally of life and death importance, but they are also pathetic, in the truest sense of the world. Kind of like the toys in a ‘Toy Story’ movie, battling to survive a journey across the road that the rest of us can complete without a second thought. It’s poignant, and sad.

Subject matter:

Well, humanity. The pain of what it means to be alive when life is finite. The sci-fi, dystopian premise amplifies this for the novel’s protagonists, but the novel’s central concern is one we can all relate to. Like ‘Remains of the Day’ (which, I think, is altogether more accomplished) ‘Never Let Me Go’ is also about life lived in delusion, or realisation come too late, from which stems a lot of the novel’s poignancy. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m guessing it will focus largely on the ins and outs of hyuman relationships and the ‘love story’ element, but maybe that’s just me being prejudiced against Hollywood. Will watch and report back.

-Unseen Flirtations



Ps: I’m still 20 pages or so away from finishing the novel. I know, I know… When I’m done I’ll re-read this stuff and amend/ add to as appropriate.

Pps: I’ve had a third of a bottle of wine, so not as lucid as I have been.