Film #289: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

director: Stanley Kubrick
language: English
length: 137 minutes
watched on: 2 May 2017

I’ve put off watching this movie for a long time – I think I always thought it would be more gruesome or shocking than it ultimately turned out to be. I did the same with films like Se7en, or even Sebastiane. Or The Silence of the Lambs, which I actually have but just haven’t gotten around to yet.

The film was made in the 1970s by Stanley Kubrick – along with Sebastiane, The Devils, and a few others, I borrowed it from my friends. Incidentally, I’m kind of getting used to some of the tropes of 1970s cinema that have died out since, like brightly-coloured credits cards. The film is set in the future, which is interesting to see, because the image of the future from back then is one of brutalism and strange outfits. The main characters in the film speak with this unusual argot, whose apparent purpose is to stop the film from dating badly. At any point, it could potentially be future slang.

It starts with scenes of gruesome violence and rape – and I didn’t know this, but apparently, Kubrick actually pulled it from UK distribution because he didn’t want to influence the youth of the day. But although we’re later invited to sympathize with the main character Alex, and the film takes an ambiguous stand about the violence itself, I did definitely see the satirical blackly comic side of it – especially later on, or in the prison scenes. And there’s a lot of homoeroticism in the movie. It has a lot of layers.

For sure, the famous scene where Alex gets his eyes clamped open in a form of extreme aversion therapy is pretty horrific (apparently Malcolm McDowell’s eyes were actually damaged during the scene), but I didn’t find the rest of it as shocking as I thought, basically. I was more just surprised because I hadn’t realized he had a Yorkshire accent. I think I expected it to be set in America. I can be really ignorant sometimes…

Kubrick’s signature styles, such as being very exacting about the contents of the movie’s frame, are comparable to his other work like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen his other work, so I enjoyed that aspect of the movie. I saw about half of Full Metal Jacket a couple of years ago, so I think I should go back and watch the rest of that. That movie is reflected in the attitudes of the authority figures in the prison scenes.

There’s a debate in the third act of the film, when Alex gets out of prison but now starts to retch and get sick because of the aversion therapy whenever he considers violence or sex, about whether this constitutes a violation of his free will. I thought it was interesting, especially since it’s made clear he doesn’t really know the terms he’s signing up for, but I’m not sure I believed that the aversion therapy would be so successful if it were real.

So I liked it overall. I should have watched it ages ago – that’s my only regret. How about you, what do you think?

Film #283: Grey Gardens (1975)

directors: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
language: English
length: 94 minutes
watched on: 16 April 2017

I pretty much had this movie thrust in my hands, along with Drive, Sebastiane and a bunch more, with the promise that it was fascinating. I had never heard of it, but apparently it’s had quite an influence on filmmaking.

It’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary movie about two women – a mother and a daughter, both named Edith Beale and nicknamed Big Edie and Little Edie – living in their decrepit, falling-down mansion. They’d repeatedly had complaints about their overgrown garden and were threatened with eviction, which is how they came to the attention of the filmmakers, the Maysles brothers who were famous documentarians. They appear to be former rich folks who had fallen into poverty. Evidently they also were or had been socialites.

Their personalities are definitely over-the-top, and I’ve definitely seen these kinds of people as archetypes before. They’re very aware of the camera, but they’re also presumably acting as they would if the camera wasn’t there, and they occasionally stop each other and scold each other not to say something in front of the camera. They argue a lot throughout the film.

Little Edie is very strange for me – she wears a headscarf in every scene and often talks about her devotion to the Catholic church, although from a modern perspective that kind of headwear would definitely be more associated with Islam. She often dances around on screen and likes to show off her happy-go-lucky side. Her mother often disparages her, and she often stays in bed or sitting down due to age.

It’s definitely a fascinating look at a world I didn’t know existed. I kind of like how much they don’t give a shit about the squalor around them – she is literally dancing around in the filth of her house on more than one occasion, and she feeds the raccoons that live in the uninhabitable parts of the mansion. Apparently when the house was sold later it was just full of raccoon carcasses…

I think it’s worth a watch. Not my favourite that I’ve watched recently – I like the energy that the two women bring to the work, but it was a bit relentless. It’s also difficult to say anything concrete about it because it’s a fly-on-the-wall character-driven piece, and has no plot. It tries to stay neutral about its subjects, although the Beales try their hardest to get the Maysles to participate in their arguments. I tend to prefer my documentaries to have more of an opinion.

Film #266: All Over Brazil (2003)

alloverbrazildirector: David Andrew Ward
language: English
length: 9 minutes
watched on: 9 Feb 2017
link to the video: https://vimeo.com/1802140

I’ve still got a fairly long list of short films to get through at some point – when trawling for them on the internet, this is one that stood out to me because it’s set in Scotland in the 1970s.

It’s about a kid who likes glam rock and wants to dance around with make-up on (the above image is his fantasy). Of course, his dad, more into football, isn’t OK with this and gets angry. But in the end he lets the kid out with his sister to go see the band he likes, and there’s some kind of reconciliation between them.

Obviously I saw this because it’s gay-interest, and I thought it was a sweet film. It doesn’t really match my experience, though – my parents weren’t like that with me. I daresay my dad would recognize the situation more than me.

I was surprised that the movie was from 2003 – I didn’t realize how much video quality has improved since then. I think this was made for TV (for the BBC), and the quality is accordingly pretty low.

An interesting little snippet or slice of life. What do you think? You can watch it online easily – and tell me what you think.

Film #265: Any Day Now (2012)

anydaynowdirector: Travis Fine
language: English
length: 98 minutes
watched on: 3 Feb 2017

My favourite anecdote about this film is that back in 2014, when the movie was released in Japan, one of my middle-aged students recommended this movie to me (and the others in the group). I don’t generally talk about my sexuality or relationships with my students (have to draw a line somewhere), so I have to wonder whether she’d sussed me out and was trying to wheedle it out of me, or whether she’d just thought it was good and worth sharing. Aw, I kinda miss them.

Anyway, the movie is about a gay couple in the late 1970s / early 80s who take a disabled kid under their wing (he has Down syndrome) when his mother ends up in prison, and eventually go to court to try and get legal custody of him. One is a lawyer who’s summarily kicked out of his job by a homophobic employer. The other is a drag queen and singer played by Alan Cumming. Spoilers ahead, watch out!

The movie has all the hallmarks of something based on a true story, but digging a little into the background after watching it, I found that only the beginning part – a gay man taking care of his neighbour’s disabled kid – was based in reality. The second half of the film, where they have the legal battle to try and get the kid, is realistic based on the period, and researched very well, but entirely speculative and fictional. It might be an amalgamation of a few real court cases.

To be honest, I felt kind of cheated that it wasn’t. I don’t know which part of the story it was that felt like it couldn’t be fake – perhaps the court case itself, or the personalities of the characters, or the particularly speedy start to the two men’s relationship (it blossoms cutely and naturally, but very quickly), or the fact that it ends on a really massive downer. I mean, I’ve watched plenty of other period drama recently (Sing Street, High-Rise, Stranger Things, etc), and it’s not like I believed they were real. I think it’s just the nature of the bold leaps of faith in storytelling – or perhaps I had a preconceived notion that it was based in reality.

On the other hand, perhaps all that is just testament to the realism of the film (although it is a bit kitschy at times). I believed every second of it, and I thought the characters were smartly portrayed by all the actors – of course Alan Cumming was great in his role, and I loved the young actor playing the kid. I thought I recognized the other man, but I saw other pictures of him online and I don’t think I know the actor.

So it’s a smart film, I thought. I’d like to hear from others who’ve seen it – what did you think?

Film #239: High-Rise (2015)

highrisedirector: Ben Wheatley
language: English and a bit of French
length: 119 minutes
watched on: 27 October 2016

High-Rise was only out in Japan on limited release, so a group of us wanting to see it travelled down to Yokohama to a tiny indie cinema which felt like walking back into the 60s. I didn’t really know what the plot would be before going in, preferring to be surprised, basically.

The movie is set in a tower block in probably-London in a heavily stylized version of the 1970s, with bright, blocky colours and characters smoking in every scene. Tom Hiddleston moves in, and tries and fails to integrate with the different social strata in the block. Basically, the upper floors are the upper class, wining and dining and making fun of the lower floors, who can’t afford basic necessities. Perhaps a microcosm of mainstream society.

Hiddleston kind of remains an outsider for most of the movie, and his story isn’t as interesting as the other characters’, in the end, especially the guy with the moustache in the picture above, who seems to represent socialist uprising, or the Architect living in the lavish penthouse, with an actual garden and horseriding wife on the roof.

About halfway through the movie there’s a very sudden and almost unprecedented descent into chaos and madness, when the upper floors become vulgarly orgiastic and the lower floors become violent and the whole of the tower block’s society starts to decay. Pretty much every character becomes detestable for one reason or another. I just didn’t see why they couldn’t just, like, leave. Life is going on outside the block as normal, after all, and we do get a chance to see a couple of the characters outside work, but a large part of life in the tower block is self-contained – the supermarket, gym and so on are all there.

Other than that, it was often incomprehensible, and I wasn’t sure what the movie was trying to say. Is it supposed to be a critique of society, or a warning? Should it even be given the luxury of consideration? I enjoyed many parts of it, but I didn’t feel like the whole thing meshed together well. At the same time, I feel like it might warrant a second viewing in the future to catch parts that I didn’t get the first time around.

Have you seen this? What did you think?

Film #70: Argo (2012)

121016_CB_ArgoMarkLijek.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeDirected by: Ben Affleck
language: English with some Farsi, Arabic
length: 120 minutes
watched on: 21 November 2012

I went to see this on the recommendation of Mark Kermode, after I was surprised to find out that it was one of the few movies that came out in Japan at the same time as in Britain. It didn’t disappoint. It’s based on a true story that happened during the Iranian Revolution, where the US embassy is stormed and six diplomats hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house. Then an “exfiltration” expert suggests that they travel over there pretending to make a film and smuggle the others back as part of a film crew.

As the film deals with the film industry, indirectly, as a subject, it did have a tendency to take potshots at the industry, which came across as self-indulgent at times. And the ending was very certainly dramatised to a high degree. But those were basically the only major complaints. The film tells its story well and fairly simply, and really recreates a 1970s image quite well, so that even people like me who weren’t alive at the time almost feel transported back (although the number of moustaches almost becomes laughable at a few points). It’s good.