I don’t think I got Jim Jarmusch until today. I saw ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ at the magnificent Astor Theatre earlier today and it was glorious. The central characters of the film, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires. They are impossibly old, they are reclusive – in the world but not of it, they are artistic, and they are so, so in love. If I had only two words for this film, they would be languid, and restrained.
Still: Only Lovers Left Alive
The film was beautifully realised in a number of ways, I will try to go each of them. Firstly, cinematographically, this film had some lovely themes. Adam, who lives in Detroit, is black – his clothes are black, his hair is black, his house is very dark, and all of the scenes in Detroit are dark. Eve on the other hand, who lives in Tangier, is white – her clothes are pale, her hair is pale, her house is pale, even the scenes in Tangier, which are at night, are much paler in comparison.
The characterisation is lovely too, Adam is a reclusive, musician who is pretty grumpy, fascinated by the world of science and weary of the zombies (humans). Eve is light, but thoughtful, she reads every language, she is fascinated by the world of humans and has a zest for existence. They are the quintessential yin and yang, and they were small charms of the other’s colours as a token of their difference and their love.
Thirdly, the acting by Swinton and Hiddleston is delightful, much of which is without dialogue. The whole film is quite minimalist in some ways, but the affection between the two leads is very real. I saw an interview with the two of them, along with Jarmusch and John Hurt (who plays Christopher Marlowe) and it was clear that the affection between them was not only on screen. Their ability to portray a love which is literally ageless but still just as potent was truly remarkable – their complete comfort with each others’ presence while still having a burning desire for the other were equally believable. Together, they achieve a level of sexiness that is rarely seen, and is heightened by their never consummating it on screen.
Music also plays a huge part in the effect of this film. I commented to a friend as soon as the credits were finished that I must get hold of the soundtrack immediately. Most of the soundtrack is by Sqürl, Jim Jarmusch’s band. It manages to be moody and atmospheric while also being able to drive the action – lots of wailing guitars and slow beats, giving the film a sort of timeless urgency.
Only Lovers Left Alive theatrical poster
I have to give big ups to Jarmusch for this film. Having seen ‘Dead Man’ and finding it beautiful but confusing, I was ready for this movie to be somewhat inaccessible, but I was pleasantly surprised as I let the film wash over me. The Marlowe as Shakespeare conspiracy theory is interesting, but probably not something I want to go in to here, I suspect it may have created some tension between Jarmusch and Hiddleston, who has very successfully performed Shakespeare (see also this post). I could be wrong, but the interview I mentioned before includes some interesting body language between them when the interviewer asks about the issue. It is a credit to everyone involved that with so much to work with and such talented people on hand the film is so restrained, so understated, and that this is one of the things which makes it so great.
Overall, it gave me some excellent food for thought. A poignant and thoughtful look at love, life, humanity, pleasure, despair and death. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Today’s prompt it to write about an event that is about to be taken over by an evil corporate, or shut down. Please note that the opening scenario is completely hypothetical – don’t panic!
Avid followers of this blog will be aware that I’m in love with the Astor Theatre. It is beautiful, unique, and full of love for cinema and for nostalgic art forms like actual printed film. So when I heard that they were signing a merger with one of the big cinema chains, my heart broke.
My heart broke, not just because the Astor as I know it would be gone, but because of the fact that an amazing, independent business was not able to support itself. In a culture that seems to be obsessed with being ‘anti-corporate’ and supporting the local up-and-coming businesses, in a city were artisan and craft markets are flourishing and where everything is about mason jars and mismatched antique crockery, one business that is actually providing something culturally valuable just can’t survive.
I mean what the fuck people? We can all sit in our armchairs and talk about supporting local businesses, but how many of us actually do it? When was the last time you went to a farmers market instead of Coles or Wollies? When was the last time you visited your local library? Or bought a book from an actual bookshop instead of from Amazon? How often do you buy products owned by Coca-Cola Amatil? Or Unilever? Or supermarket ownbrands that try to undercut anything new? It’s so easy to go through life not thinking about the choices you make and how they shape our world.
These choices don’t require you to be bold, they just require you to be mindful, and I know that requires a lot more energy than just buying shit on autopilot, but please try. Worse than our supermarket behaviour though is our complete devaluation of cultural artefacts – live theatre, independent cinema, poetry, writing, music, photography, the list goes on. We live in a world where we expect this stuff to be accessible for free. We expect there to be a never-ending stream of new stuff available for consumption and yet, we as a society are losing sight of what it takes to produce it. Every new novel is a struggling writer trying to pay their rent. Every new album is an artist sitting in their bedroom in the middle of the night trying to record because they have to get up in the morning and go to work in a cafe. Every amazing photo of the night sky, or the city at dusk, or a glittering beach that you ‘borrow’ and share on your Facebook feed without giving proper credit, was taken by someone trying to make a living from their art.
I guess what I’m trying to say, in a long winded slightly ranty sort of way, is that if we value art, if we value entertainment and new creative voices, we have to start showing our support in real dollars. When you see an exhibition advertised, go see it! When you know someone who’s launching a book, go buy it! When you hear of a new band performing, go hear them! I get that our society is changing with the digital age and the accessibility of free stuff, but I think it’s important to keep in mind what that means. Nothing comes for free, and in Australia with the Coalition government trying to change the budget in a fundamentally-terrible-for-the-arts way, now more than ever before we have to support local talent with our own money and time.
It’s been a while since I did one of these, so I thought I’d give it another whirl. Today’s film is the 1973 classic ‘Soylent Green‘. I saw this last night at the beautiful Astor Theatre in St Kilda. The Astor is a fantastic venue for exploring old movies in the format they were designed for – on the big screen.
Soylent Green theatrical poster
Going into ‘Soylent Green’ I knew the punch line; I suspect there wouldn’t be many people who don’t know it but I didn’t know the path of the narrative, having never read the book or read a synopsis. Based on the 1966 novel ‘Make Room! Make Room!‘ by Harry Harrison, the film follows Police Detective Frank Thorn as he investigates the death of a rich man in a dystopian future. Having destroyed the planet with pollution, overpopulation and global warming, humans fight for survival; unemployment is at 50%, food and water are rationed, almost everyone is desperate.
Depressingly, this future is now only eight years away*, and when I look at the issues this film explores I realise that we’ve been trying to get traction for the idea that we’re going to drive ourselves to extinction for a long time. This is probably one of the first man made dystopian future films made, paving the way for different versions as our scientific understanding changed; ‘Waterworld’, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, and to a lesser extent ‘Children of Men’. As the threat of mutually assured destruction and nuclear holocaust in the Cold War died down, the idea that humans would destroy themselves gradually became more attractive. One might speculate that at least one of Harrison, director Richard Fleisher, or screenwriter Stanley Greenberg, were inspired by Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring‘ (1962) in this formulation of the future.
But back to the film. I’m finding it difficult to work out how I feel about it. Given that it’s over forty years old, the stylistic approach is very different to what we expect now, specifically the pacing was much slower than a disaster film nowadays. That’s not to say that they didn’t build suspense well. Throughout the film, there was a very minimal musical score, and in the last sequences there was almost silence as the hero discovered the truth. This silence was unusual, unnerving and really creepy.
For my money, the best actor here was Edward Robinson, who played Sol. I couldn’t get behind Charlton Heston’s Thorn, but Sol really spoke to me – a nostalgic man, broken by the desperation around him. I think it was probably the weird romance that occurred between Thorn and Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young) that made it hard for me to get behind Thorn. It felt very unrealistic that she would just fall for a random stranger who burst into her life and stole her dead boss’s stuff. He also probably smelled terrible, every shot he was in he was sweating and he doesn’t have a shower because of water rationing. Yik!
The ending of the film also left me feeling dissatisfied. I wanted to know what was going to happen – without Soylent Green people would starve, but would they refuse to eat it when they knew what it was made from? How would the ingredients actually change the consumption, especially when people are starving. And how would Thorn survive given his injuries? Would he be able to get the message out anyway or would he be silenced? So many questions!
My overall feeling leaving the theatre was that of great unease. While relatively short, and relatively old, ‘Soylent Green pack a pretty big punch. It’s hard to rate it, but I’m going to give it 4 out of 5 stars. Certainly worth watching and definitely deserving of it’s cult/classic status.
*Although we have reached the seven billion global population that Harrison suggested.
I haven’t done a Watching Movies post for a while, somehow life got in the way of taking myself to the cinema, but I thought I’d make up for it by seeing four films over two days. This post, therefore, will be short reviews of each of the four films, in the order that I saw them.
The Wind Rises (2013)
The first of this weekend’s celluloid dreams was Studio Ghibli’s latest offering ‘The Wind Rises’ at the Cinema Nova in Carlton. From director Hayao Miyazaki, whose other films include ‘Ponyo’, ‘Spirited Away’, and ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, ‘The Wind Rises’ is an animated feature which focuses on pre-WWII Japan. The film’s hero, Jiro Horikoshi is an aeronautical engineer who designs planes which will eventually be used by the Japanese as fighters, the Zero. Jiro and many of the other characters are historical figures, however my Japanese history is pretty sketchy so I just have to trust that the film is accurate-ish.
Miyazaki’s films often involve quite surreal sequences; high fantasy and exaggerated characters which work well in an animated film. While ‘The Wind Rises’ has a couple of dream sequences in which conventional reality takes a back seat, I was surprised by how much of the film was done as realism.
I chose to watch the English dubbed version, over the Japanese language version with subtitles for two reasons; firstly, dubbing jars much less in animated films because they don’t really talk anyway, and secondly, while there will be translation anomolies either way, one can get more words in a dubbed version than in a subtitled version and hopefully that results in a more faithful translation. That being said I’m also not a big fan of having to read the subtitles. The English voice cast was full of people who I recognised, which was also fun; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Mandy Patinkin, John Krasinski, and Martin Short.
In terms of the plot, this film was a poignant exploration of the life of Jiro leading up to WWII (which is actually not mentioned in the film, but is implied). It was a very interesting portrait of the time period; Japan was quite poor, they were occupying Korea (also not mentioned in the film), it was an interesting time of cross over between traditional Japanese lifestyles and Western influences from clothing to aeronautical designs. Given the film’s time frame, I should have been ready for it to be a sad story, but having seen a couple of Miyazaki’s other films I was expecting it to be a light children’s story. It might be rated PG but I think this is a film made for adults. My friend said he managed to only cry a little bit, and I was very close to tears as well.
Beautifully drawn, in particular the backgrounds are spectacular, and beautifully written; there is surprisingly little dialogue, and it’s all important, this is a moving film well worth a watch. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Rear Window (1954)
The first Saturday night’s double feature at the Astor in St Kilda was ‘Rear Window’. A classic thriller from Alfred Hitchcock, this is the story of the L. B. Jeffries (Jeff), who is stuck in his apartment, in a wheelchair, with a broken leg for what feels like an eternity over a sweltering Manhattan summer. Pre-television, Jeff’s boredom leads him to spend his days watching his neighbours; his apartment faces the back, the rear windows, of several other apartment buildings. In one of these buildings, he sees some suspicious activity and we follow his story as he tries to convince his friends and the police that he’s not just a paranoid curtain twitcher.
To make this film, Hitchcock built all of the apartments on a sound stage. Each apartments has actors playing the inhabitants and they were all given activities to perform. The whole thing seems to have been run more like a play than a film; in particular some of the opening shots are of the camera, set in Jeff’s apartment, panning over each of the apartments giving us a glimpse into the life of the people living there.
Based on a short story, ‘It had to be murder’ by Cornell Woolrich, ‘Rear Window’ has been spoofed and references many, many times. I went into the film without knowing the ending, but assuming it would be similar to ‘The Simpson’s’ version; which it was and wasn’t at the same time.
Despite having been made 60 years ago, the film was suspenseful, and believable. Some of the cinematography dated it a little, particularly the heavy use of soft focus for Grace Kelly, and some of the attitudes and pass-times of the characters placed it at the time, but generally speaking it could easily have been made recently. I did notice the age difference between Stewart, 46, and Kelly, 25, but unfortunately that hasn’t really changed all that much.
All in all, I can certainly see why this film has had such a profound impact on popular culture and is considered a classic. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Rear Window poster
The second of the Astor’s double feature was ‘Vertigo’ – another Hitchcock film starting James Stewart. This psychological thriller makes ‘Rear Window’ seem like a comedy – it is much darker, and without giving away spoilers, the ending is horribly unsatisfactory. In this film, James Stewart plays a retired police detective who suffers from acrophobia, fear of heights, and gets vertigo, dizziness, whenever he’s somewhere high.
The opening titles of ‘Vertigo’ are a distinctive sequence of receding and advancing spirals. It’s a visual that stays with you and has a certain similarities to a Bond film opening (although with the first Bond film in 1962, ‘Vertigo’ was probably an influence on Bond, rather than the other way around).
Based on a novel, ‘D’entre les morts’, a French crime story by Pierre Boileau, Stewart’s character ‘Scottie’, John Ferguson, is hired to investigate the strange behaviour of the wife of an old college buddy. As the investigation progresses, Scottie falls in love with the woman, played by Kim Novak, and that’s about all I can tell you without spoilers.
Again there are a few interesting gender issues in this film; specifically Kim Novak is also 25 in this film, but Stewart is now 50. Additionally Scottie’s friend Midge is an interesting portrait – a woman who is in love with him, but she seems to be too ambitious, or capable, or career driven, or not pretty enough for Scottie to notice. She’s also supposed to be a college buddy, but actor Barbara Bel Gedes is only 36 and doesn’t quite pull off the concept of being the same age.
The film’s ending is unexpected and not a little distressing. I would be extremely surprised if an ending like that made it past a test screening nowadays! It speaks to Hitchcock’s influence in the industry and to the changing expectations and tolerances of the movie-going public.
Despite the unusual ending and consistently dark tone, this is another classic well worth watching. I’m giving this one 4 out of 5 stars (I dropped it from 4.5 for being a bit long and having an annoying ending).
Die Besucher (Visitors, 2012)
The final film in this epic weekend was ‘Die Besucher’, a German film, which I saw as part of the Goethe Institut Festival of German Films at the Palace Como in South Yarra. The film follows a family as the patriarch, Jakob, tries to break some news that will have an impact on all their lives. The three adult children, Karla, Arnolt, and Sonja, live in Berlin away from the family home in rural Germany. The younger two of the three are still heavily financially dependent on their parents.
This is a character driven film, much more than a plot driven one. The film quietly explores the unspoken conflicts between the six members of this family. Directed by Constanze Knoche, and co-written with Lies Bagdach, this film was made with a very modest budget. They spent several years working on the screenplay and getting the funds together to make the film. It would be easy to assume from watching this, that it was a big budget studio production; the acting is first rate, particularly from Uwe Kockisch who is a prolific and well-respected German actor, the screen-play is extremely tight, each moment of dialogue or silence is perfectly crafted to carry forward the character exploration. It has also been made with high production values, that is to say the the cinematography, sound recording and soundtrack, bear none of the dodgey hallmarks one might associated with a low-budget feature.
My biggest complaint about this film is the ambiguity and apparent tidiness of the ending. To me, it felt like the characters forgave too quickly and the reconciliation seemed unrealistic, however my friend disagreed with my interpretation and didn’t think there was a reconciliation. I can see how both interpretations could be correct. I think there was a part of me that identified strongly with a family whose conflict is unspoken, and so perhaps I was more appalled by the ability to forgive and forget than she was.
Overall a lovingly crafted film which left both of us feeling quite unsettled. It’s not an easy film to watch for reason’s I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the result of a built up of tension over the 90 minutes which does not have a satisfactory release. Even so, this film deserves 4 out of 5 stars.
Unfortunately I can’t find a trailer with subtitles, but this should give you a feel for it: