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Viewing Log / 2013 / Week Six

04/02/2013 - 10/02/2013


Histoire(s) du cinéma [Jean-Luc Godard, 1988-1998]: The myriad of meanings suggested by the title establish the often complex and incessantly multi-layered nature of Godard's epic, audio-visual essay, which gestures, through bracketed plural, to both the "histories of cinema" and the "stories of cinema", but should really be approached with a full acknowledgement of the bilingual pun that renders it, more precisely, as 'His Story of Cinema.'  Through the progression of these ten films, Godard wrestles with the concept of cinema; its meaning as a historical point of reference and its stature as a dead (or dying) art.  It's also an attempt to analyse, pre-Cousins, the "story of film", not as a conventional documentary, or even as a film about the history of the medium, but looking at cinema, as an idea, as if it were a genuine narrative arc; a history defined not by events, but by characters, stories and emotions.  For Godard, the history of film is the story of film itself; where the "men who made the movies" (Thalberg, Welles, Hughes, the Lumière's) were not just businessmen or technicians with an idea to exploit, but adventurers, gangsters, lovers or prisoners of the (he)art.  Their story of film is a love story, but it's also a tragedy, a psychodrama and an autobiography, existing all at once.  To explore the story of the history of film, Godard assembles sounds and images in an almost stream of consciousness approach - full of diversions, similes, tangents and associations - that, if properly reconstructed, becomes a narrative; a story from beginning to end.  Though full of bold pronouncements - the majority of which are sure to prove contentious - Godard always returns to the image of himself, alone in his seclusion; reinforcing the personal aspect of both the work and the man himself; this maker of films, haunted by images; like the exiled Prospero with his books. 

On the Beat [Robert Asher, 1962]: Plainly speaking, this is the best of Norman Wisdom's early 'Pitkin' comedies, as it finds the perfect balance between the kind of intensely physical slapstick that the actor had already showcased in the back-to-back brilliance of Trouble in Store (1953) and One Good Turn (1954), alongside the heart and soul of a great story, full of warmth and imagination.  The best of Wisdom's films play to the social limitations of the performer, presenting his character as the butt of the joke; the lovable loser "who generally means well", but always gets it wrong.  Here, his hope and longing to become a celebrated policeman like his father before him propels the narrative and gives purpose to the extended set-pieces, the madcap plot and the 'Walter Mitty' like fantasy sequences that establish the character as something of a hopeless dreamer.  For me, this aspect of the character infused the comedy with a delicate sadness; where the shortcomings of 'Pitkin', and the inevitable humiliation of the character via his continual attempts to receive recognition amongst his detractors and peers, only makes his ambition all the more endearing.  For co-writer Wisdom, On the Beat is a definite tour-de-force, not only demonstrating the best of his 'Pitkin' persona, but also creating an opportunity to adopt a very different kind of physical caricature; the flamboyant stylist Giulio Napolitani, the film's unconventional villain. 


Anti-Clock [Jane Arden & Jack Bond, 1979]: If Jean-Luc Godard remade Alphaville (1965) in the style of Numéro deux (1975) the end result might look something like this.  In fostering such a comparison, I don't mean to diminish the work of Arden and Bond, or to suggest that their film is in some way derivative of the experiments of a greater "auteur", but simply attempting to provide a context for this strange and often impenetrable work.  An excursion into the realms of post-modern science-fiction, presented as an ongoing video deconstruction of the notion of "truth" in relation to recorded memory, Anti-Clock is both a fascinating continuation of the themes explored in the earlier Arden/Bond collaborations - the cold and clinical Separation (1968) and the surreal and disturbing The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) - and a mesmerizing example of a director using the cinematic form to create an interrogation of its subject, where the shots and cuts not only suggest meaning but also implication; insinuations to the true nature of the central character, suggested via the juxtaposition of images, sounds and ideas.  Subtitled 'A Time Stop In The Life Of Joseph Sapha', Anti-Clock is essentially an investigation into repressed memory, regression, Oedipal anxiety and the now more prevalent than ever notion of the world as a complicated system of audio-visual surveillance.  Like The Other Side of the Underneath, psychoanalysis is used as a facilitator, in which these fragments of memory, viewed as a montage of recorded images on a bank of television monitors, create the 'impression' of a story; its past, present and future. 

From Beyond [Stuart Gordon, 1986]: A work of atmospheric hokum from the often reliable Stuart Gordon, who as ever manages to transcend the low-budget aspect of his work to create something alive with invention, ambience and imagination.  As with his breakthrough film, the cult-horror Re-Animator (1985), the gallant mix of both "lowbrow" and "highbrow" influences won't be to everyone's tastes, with the gestures towards the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Louis Stevenson often jarring against the Roger Corman meets William Castle emphasis on gothic horror and repulsive special effects.  There are several sequences in the film that push tastelessness to new levels, but as with the best of Lucio Fulci, it's the vivid, dreamlike quality of the film (and its often startling images) that leave the greatest impression.  The idea of portals between worlds is suggestive of the idea of dreams and dream-states - both in keeping with the themes of corruption and insanity - as well as the more interesting representation of the "viewer", transported via the use of this device into another dimension; a mirror to our own relationship (as an audience) with the film itself.  It's perhaps worth seeing just for the dazzling use of colour - which reminded me of the Bava of Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) or a less adventurous (but no less intoxicating) take on Argento's masterpiece Inferno (1980) - and for the third-act decent into the realms of pure 'Cronenbergian' "body-horror."


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