I was saddened to learn of the death of Tony Scott. This was mainly because a man had decided to take his own life, leaving friends and family bereft. The circumstances surrounding his death, the causes of his leap from a bridge, are still unclear, and speculation is not my business. I didn’t come here to eulogise Scott’s work, nor even to defend it. If you do want to read an eloquent and spirited case for the artistic value of his films, look no further than Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s stirring appreciation. I have little that is terribly positive to say about Scott’s – I have always find his style so pronounced and his angular, dyspraxic cutting so distancing, that I rarely warmed to a Tony Scott film. Continue reading
Tom Cruise is now so eager to entertain us, to prove that he is the hardest-working movie star in the world, that he has to hang from the world’s tallest building, an icon climbing an icon. The more bad press he generates, the more intensely he will stare, and the higher he will climb up tall things. Fair enough – I can’t imagine Taylor Lautner keeping up that kind of pace into his 50s. Continue reading
I started writing this post about the films of Peter Tscherkassky nearly three years ago, and never finished it: that happens sometimes, if I don’t have time to complete a bit of writing, or I lose my train of thought, or if I come across an article that says exactly what I wanted to say. I can’t remember what happened to this one, but I was reminded of the unfinished piece when I attended a talk by Tscherkassky at the newly opened EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam. It was the first time I’d seen the films projected on film, and it reignited an interest that had begun for me after seeing them on DVD and trying to use some of them in my teaching. Listening to him explain the incredibly painstaking methods he uses to create his films made me think the least I could do was knock out a few words in response. Continue reading
Here, in four chapters, is a lecture I gave to undergraduate students in the Department of English at The University of Exeter in 2010. The students had already watched the film, so if you haven’t seen it, you should probably avoid this talk until you have, as it discusses important plot developments. The title I was given was “The Politics of Privacy”, but my talk doesn’t address that idea directly: Michael Haneke’s Cache was one of several texts for that week on a module dealing with personal expression in writing and film, often focusing on postcolonial subjects. My lecture introduces students to the film and suggests some ways to interpret it and start to unravel its mysteries.
For reasons of upload limits, I have had to divide this lecture into four segments,. These were obviously not planned breaks, so each chapter will start and stop a little abruptly, I’m afraid. If anyone’s interested, I’ll also post the complete audio file for the lecture, but the video version includes slides, text, and video clips that should help to illustrate it, especially when I’m reading out long quotations.
At present, I’m only able to post all four chapters to my YouTube channel, though these are at least available in HD – Vimeo has tighter upload restrictions, so I can’t post all of them yet, but you can find updates, and earlier video podcasts, at my Vimeo page.
These are some preliminary thoughts from a first viewing of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. I’m in the process of writing a chapter on representations of Georges Méliès for a forthcoming book, so this will be one of my primary texts, and I’ll need to watch it again. I thought I would assemble some notes as I go along. As a result, this might read like a string of disjointed observations at times, but hopefully there will be some points of interest for you along the way. I’m happy to discuss the film, too, and I’m aware that it has divided moviegoers in a way that it didn’t necessarily divide the critics. A quick perusal (which is all anyone should usually have to endure) of the IMDB comments page will give evidence of popular objections to the film. It was looking like a weighty flop on its domestic release, but Hugo will probably just about claw back its $170million budget (the best evidence that this greenlit at a time when it looked like 3D was an infallible cash-cow) when the totals are added up from international markets. So, please leave me a comment if you have an opinion about this film. Continue reading
This is an adaptation of Singin’ in the Rain, published in Movie Love comics, April 1952, to tie in with the film’s original release. It seems clear that this was not intended to be the first place to encounter the film, but a chance to remember it. Scenes are sketched out so quickly (they have to cram the entire film into 12 pages) that they would surely be difficult to understand if you weren’t already familiar with the film. Before there was home video, and long before you could own a digital copy of a film on a mobile device and replay favourite scenes at any moment, paratexts like comic book adaptations did the job of replaying films for their fans. Continue reading
A (very brief) account of the invention of the Daguerreotype photographic system developed by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787 – 1851), as featured in Camera Comics #005 (1945). To see some examples of the stunning results visit the galleries of the Daguerreian Society, or click on the examples of modern Daguerreotypes produced by the artist Chuck Close at the bottom of this post.
Something a little bit miraculous happens while you watch Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre. The film is effortlessly engrossing without ever hitting the marks one might expect in a film about such emotive subject matter. In the eponymous French port, a defeated writer, Marcel Marx (André Wilms), now eking out a living shining shoes, takes in a Gabonese child fleeing the immigration authorities, and goes to great lengths to ensure the child’s safety. Continue reading
Last year, Andreas Gursky‘s photograph of a stretch of the Rhine river went on sale Christie’s in New York. It’s not even, I think it’s fair to say, the prettiest stretch of the Rhine. You might even call it featureless, but it does at least show the basic features of a river – water, two banks, and some sky. The sky, water, and footpath are more or less the same shade of grey, though they deepen in tone, and grow progressively narrower, from top to bottom. It has a striking symmetry, and a simplicity of structure: parallel strips of colour all the way across the image, extending into offscreen space. All is not what it seems, though: the photograph has been digitally tweaked to remove a factory building and some passersby: nothing ruins a minimalist composition like the presence of an old man walking his Shih Tzu. It’s a strong, austere image, a c-print framed on plexiglass, and quite enormous at 81 x 140 inches, but you might wonder why it sold at auction for $4.3 million (beating the previous record set by Cindy Sherman‘s Untitled #97, especially since a digital photograph is endlessly reproducible. It must look great on somebody’s wall.
I’m more familiar with Gursky’s dizzyingly detailed studies like Chicago Board of Trade (above, 1999), where the minutiae of something as potentially abstracted as a financial system are shrunk into a morass of concrete but febrile activity. It is at once systemic and messily chaotic. Rhein II has a wholly different vibe. Is it a homage to, or a parody of romantic landscape painting, or just an assertion of the singular abilities of photography to “store” a fragment of a place for our future, vicarious pleasure?
On this day in 1886, Willis O’Brien was born. If you’ve visited Spectacular Attractions often, you’ll have encountered his work on King Kong (more than once – I’m nothing if not repetitive where my childhood favourites are concerned), so I thought I’d mark his anniversary with some images from designs for films that never got made. You’ll see character portraits from his Frankenstein vs King Kong, a proposed mash-up of his most famous creation, and the creature he had always wanted to portray; War Eagles featured Vikings riding on the backs of eagles to fight dinosaurs; Baboon: A Tale About a Yeti was a self-explanatory, if contradictory title (is it a baboon, or is it a yeti?), but appeared to contain a scene in which the creature wrestles with a pack of sharks; The Last of the Oso Si-Papu was another story idea that O’Brien imagined in watercolour designs, in which prehistoric beasts appear in a Wild West setting, rather like an earlier concept for The Valley of Gwangi, which was finally realised by Ray Harryhausen in 1969. O’Brien’s enduring interest in staging scenes of combat between prehistoric monsters in an accelerated Darwinist struggle for survival was the perfect excuse for his delicate and characterful puppet animations.