Some ruminations on things, related or not

09 November 2011

MP here

I saw 33 films in October; so far this month, I've seen one. Following an expensive weekend in London (MF Doom and Ghostface Killah's gig in Camden was a bit disappointing), I enter the sixth week of a master's degree, so there's other business to attend to, and after my local independent cinema decided to book in The Black Power Mixtape for an extravagant two screenings against 19 and counting of The Help, I've given up on theatrical releases for the time being.

I hope said cinema will surprise me following a period of primitive accumulation and start showing the "proper stuff" (that which can't be seen at the multiplex, which rules out The Help and Tin Tin, for starters) when the next economic boom comes around, if our much needed revolution doesn't happen before then.

I'm not a snob, I just find these things problematic; if independent cinemas have to compete with the multiplex by showing the same films, then the only thing they're offering that's different (other than somehow pricier tickets) is the "air of privilege" that comes with "supporting your local independent". If anything's snobbish, that's surely it. Clearly, though, in an economic and therefore cultural recession, "independence" is an oxymoron if not a facade.

It's not always grim up north. Props, for instance, to Leeds International Film Festival - celebrating its 25th year - for playing a great selection of films old and new this month. I was as delighted to see Aita screening (tomorrow and this coming Sunday) as I was to see Involuntary in the lineup (three screenings scheduled); I wrote on the former in my brief coverage of last year's London Film Festival trip, while I watched the latter earlier this year - a recommended Swedish film whose non-parallel, multi-story narrative revolves around an eponymous theme, like Griffith's Intolerance but shorter.

The main appeal to LIFF25 is the new Béla Tarr film, The Turin Horse, whose inclusion made me ponder its absence at this year's London Film Festival. At any rate, someone in Leeds is clearly what we might call a cinephile, as opposed to a profiteer - though the terms don't have to be mutually exclusive.

I'd be making the solitary trip down to Leeds for The Turin Horse as well as for Satan's Tango - Tarr's seven-hour epic on the fall of Stalinism that made my Top 10 earlier this year - but for work and university commitments.

Speaking of which, I'm writing my first assessed piece at present, on a chosen director's signature style. William Friedkin's the auteur of the day. He directed my favourite film of course (link on the paragraph above), so it's been fun and illuminating to look at his other films. Who knows, maybe I'll develop this short analysis at a later date and rescue him from relative obscurity; he can be cringeworthily reactionary in commentaries, but he's a fine and efficient storyteller - how many filmmakers of Scorsese's generation can you name whose films clock in at 90 minutes or so?

Elsewhere, another module has given me some vampires to test my critical fangs on; there's much discussion to be had with this monstrous lot. "Otherness", "sexuality", "ethnicity" and "adolescence" have been the obvious buzzwords so far, but Marx made metaphorical references to vampirism in discussing capitalism; today, of course, capitalism also resembles that other undead creature - the zombie. (Hint: book recommendation.)

The same course has had me return to Michael Haneke and his 2005 film, Hidden, in particular. Enthralled by his last film, The White Ribbon, but confused as to its deeper implications, watching Hidden again has allowed me to return to gnawing problems. That film's mystery elements get more and more compelling with each viewing, due to camera placement and performances, but its allegorical pretensions become more preposterous, given that it seemingly equates petty bourgeois complicity in colonial France and ignorance in postcolonial France with the unthinking cruelty of a six year old boy, whose actions are in any case never accounted for with dramatic plausibility.

Reading some academic appraisals of the film, there seems to be in certain circles an unquestioning acceptance of the film's pretensions, and even indirect endorsement - heaven forbid an academic imparting explicit opinions - of Haneke's knowing resistance to a knowable objective reality. That's just a superficial cynicism that appears ludicrous no matter how serious the intellectual spouting it seems; if we may as well not bother changing this world by first understanding how it works, we may as well top ourselves like the family in Haneke's Seventh Continent. But I suspect that wouldn't go down well with the middle class patrons at whom last Friday morning's screening (only one of two, remember) of The Black Power Mixtape at my local was clearly targeted.

All thoughts return to cinema, and, in a way, to cinema-going. To counter that final sentence of the opening paragraph: who the hell am I kidding? I'll be off to see Wuthering Heights at some point. I had deep problems with Fish Tank, so I'm interested to catch its director's latest effort, especially since I liked the trailer so much.

So there'll be another film review here pretty soon after all, I guess.

Ps. Arriving slowly but surely at the belief that my "research interests" don't pass for official academia, here's a link to a wonderful article on thirteen one-sheet design traits that are here to stay. Give me stuff like that over Lacanian wordplay and truisms on identity any day of the week.

Pps. The picture is of a pensive-looking Malcolm X, whose absence from the Black Power Mixtape trailer had me alarmed, until I realised he was killed in 1965 and that the film comprises archival footage of 1967-75.