Monday, October 24, 2011

David recommends . . . DO go and see RESTLESS

Who needs another teenage rites of passage story? Was my first thought on hearing about Restless (US, 91 mins). After all, it must be at least, what, 5 minutes since the last one came along? A genre more reliable than London buses.

But as the reveals start rolling we realise this is an onion film.  As each layer is uncovered in the two youngsters' lives Restless becomes a serious, intelligent and absorbing exploration of some of the challenging issues that face humans at all stages of life. More existential drama than just another teen opera.

Henry (Son of Dennis) Hopper's Enoch is an obnoxious, self-absorbed, narcissist.  A standard adolescent male in other words. Indulging in his weirdo hobby / compulsion of attending funerals of people he does not know he hooks up with Mia Wasikowska's elfin Annabel, coiffed like a young Jean Seberg in Breathless. Together they embark on what at first seem to be routine teen adventures of outsiderness, not being understood, and dressing weirdly.

Gus Van Sant is a curious director. With just 14 feature films in 26 years he does not quite compare with Terrence Malick's conservative output of 5 in 38. But it makes clear he is not a standard Hollywood creature.  Just as Malick spends much time being a philosopher and seeker after spiritual truth, Wikipedia sums Van Sant up as a "director, screenwriter, painter, photographer, musician and author". Gosh.

This neo-Renaissance man positions himself firmly and effectively in that widening gulf between arthouse and blockbuster. At his more commercial end, Good Will Hunting (1997) and Milk (2008) both attracted Academy Awards. At the art end of the scale 2003's Elephant won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Truly Van Sant can claim to be the King of US Indie.  Restless is somewhere in the middle, made with just a $14 million budget but produced by Ron Howard's company, Imagine. 

All of those films conform to a pattern which had already emerged in Van Sant's second and third movies - Drugstore Cowboy (1989) and My Own Private Idaho (1991) - an apparent obsession with social outsiders, whether adolescents or older. Drug addicts, hustlers, Uma Thurman with mutant giant thumbs, unrecognised maths genius cum janitor Matt Damon, gay politician and civil rights trailblazer Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) etc., etc. 

So in Restless it's more of the same with troubled youth. To get to the deeper stuff Van Sant teases his audience by immersing us in wave after wave of teen movie cliches. 

In Enoch / Hopper's first shot we immediately know he is weird, as both his tie and hair are awry. In his second shot we discover that he dresses weirdly, all Edwardian jackets and fob chains, but worn with Doc Martins or motorcyle boots - think Lindsay Anderson's If meets The Wild One. He is soon seen at one of the crashed funerals insensitively, but artistically, making a sculpture out of buffet items.

Enoch is spotted by Annabel / Wasikowska, who immediately fancies him. As she, like him, enjoys dressing in all black she presumably has noticed the opportunity for them to recreate the Christian Slater / Winona Ryder teen outsider couple of Heathers. She too is a walking teen movie reference. When not dressed like Winona Ryder she appears to be channeling that other teen Queen of the 80s, Molly Ringwald - all pink or retro or fake leopard. Before our very eyes the pair embodies the irony of the outsider teen dilemma - the only way to Be Myself is to dress like every other outsider teen. 

In case this is not yet enough to establish classic teen movie credentials, Enoch has an imaginary friend, like Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko. And there's a train / bridge / river sequence that must reference Stand By Me

So now to repeat: all these teen movie cliches are not there to reprise a John Hughes high school rom com of the 80s, but to set us up with a study of human beings facing difficulties we will all face in our lives. In the case of the young couple in Restless these challenges just happen to land on top of the hormonal struggles of their age.

Henry Hopper is excellent as angry Enoch. Dennis, of course, had his own teen movie credentials, having uniquely appeared in no less than two out of James Dean's three films, including the iconic Rebel Without A Cause. Henry frequently looks spookily like his father, and while playing an angry adolescent he nonetheless manages a performance far calmer, more measured, than many of his Dad's. Aged 20 and in only his second feature I found this an impressive effort.

Even better is Wasikowska as Annabel. While she looks about 15 in the movie, she's the older of the pair at 21, and Restless is her 10th film. This young Australian won a host of awards and nominations for both Alice In Wonderland and The Kids Are Alright (both 2010). After that she graduated to playing Jane Eyre in the 2011 British version. 

Wasikowska's apparently grounded, mature Annabel is counterpoint to the alternatively suppressed and explosive rage of Hopper's Enoch. And yet it is Annabel who we discover has the more serious challenge to face. It is in witnessing her almost serene adaptation to her difficulties that Enoch gains perspective on his own troubles and hence gains the insight required for all rites of passage movies.

Even after we get deeper into the onion layers, is Restless still cliched, corny, schmaltzy even? That will depend perhaps on your own personal reaction. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a, to me, astonishingly low rating of only 38% fresh. On the other hand it was selected for the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes for films that are "original and different".

I was held by Restless from the excellent opening credits, intellectually stimulated throughout the middle, and moved by the end. Despite being three decades beyond adolescence I found myself both thinking and emoting about a host of episodes from my own life.

Go and see it and make up your own mind.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Do NOT bother with . . . . . SLEEPING BEAUTY

It's not so much irritating as boring, spending 104 minutes wondering what's going on onscreen? And realising early on that what's going on offscreen is that I just don't care. Am I being teased? is the apparent pointlessness of everything happening onscreen meant to create an air of mystery that will be resolved at the end? Maybe and no, in that order. And above all, I did not care. Hence an overall sense of pointlessness - as to what the central character is up to, why this film was made, and my spending time seeing it. Repeat, don't care.

I left the cinema with a sudden and crushing sense of the futility of my own life. Then an existential epiphany - the only meaning in my life would be to tell you lot not to see this pretentious but unsuccessful attempt to be something. But what? Latin American magical realism? Del Toro? A hint of Bunuel? The corrosive, toxic influence of serial cinema criminal, Michael Haneke? A touch of the 60s anti-hero (Godard, yawn) about a thoroughly unpleasant protagonist? Hint of mid-20th century existentialism (Antonioni) in that most of the other characters are even more obnoxious?

To allay my boredom and distract from my irritation I spent much of the time trying to identify the many genres this movie reminded me of. It seems derivative of so many and yet fails to achieve even the status of pastiche. Evidence of the growing cancer of film school and film studies on the products of young writer-directors? Please make movies that are good stories, rather than movies which are pale imitations of millions of other movies. Enough of referencing! Try originality!!

If you are still reading, lets sum up the action. Unpleasant female student appears to be assisting her troubled finances by playing the role of guinea pig in scientific experiments. Allegory? Metaphor? Body as object for exploitation? She moves on to a bizarre new career being paid to serve wine wearing only her underwear in a creepy establishment whose customers are repulsive old men. Only a step further to get her kit off and enter an even more bizarre role in the same establishment as a drugged - hence insensible (asleep, thus the title) - prostitute whose repulsive old male clients are forbidden from "penetration, or leaving marks".

So is this meant to tell us something about sexual power and sexual exploitation? About gender relations? If so, just tell us! Either it's a tortured allegory, in which case a strong argument for in-your-face filmmaking like Ken (Cathy Come Home) Loach. Or it's just empty crap. I reckon the latter.

So often these days i sit in cinemas feeling as though I am watching a student short that has been dragged out into feature length. Technically competent, and a couple of good ideas at the outset. But simultaneously too clever for itself and not clever enough. Just not enough going on to justify having been funded in the first place.

Yet another desperate attempt to fill that gap between true art movie and hideous US popcorn blockbuster. Despite all this there will be many out there who react on the Emperor's new Clothes principle - it's so different and incomprehensible and frankly unenjoyable that it must be a triumph of world cinema and the genius of auteur creativity blah blah. Just watch for the prizes at Cannes, Sundance, Venice etc. But meanwhile go and see Drive instead.

Friday, February 25, 2011

David recommends . . . . . . . . . . . . THE FIGHTER

The best film around. As good as BLACK SWAN or THE ROYAL SPEECH THERAPY, and this time not about posh people.

Yes, it's about boxing, but it's a lot less violent than those ballet gals. But THE FIGHTER is not really a boxing film, it's about family dynamics. It asks the question, "Is blood truly thicker than water?" Just that some of this particular blood is spattered on the canvas of pugilism. Most of the time we do not see any boxing, and when we do the punches are way more predictable than the truly shocking violence of SWAN.

It's a really good film, bleak and slow-paced, reminiscent of the best of Clint Eastwood's work - Mystic River or Gran Torino. We are in the US rust belt, the heartland, a world of economic collapse, urban decline, and crack houses. Think The Wire, but with mostly white folks.

The perennially under-rated Mark Wahlberg is excellent as dumb but determined but going nowhere boxer Mickey. He is the hub of a huge and nightmarish family, who could have been rejected by Jerry Springer for being too OTT.

Hysterically over-acting Christian Bale is his addict-brother-coach. Keeping it in the family as his manager is his hideously domineering working class matriarch of a mother. Let's say this is not the best team a boxer could have behind him. 

On top of that dreadful duo, poor Mickey has what seems like 100 sisters, all of them appalling, all big hair and constantly calling people "you fucking skank". They steal the show, providing a unique combination of Greek chorus and top-notch humour.

Best performance of all has garnered a third supporting actress Oscar nomination for the wonderful Amy Adams, following the great shifts she put in on JUNEBUG and DOUBT. With her giant, hyper-cute saucer eyes - even bigger than Anne Hathaway's - Adams normally plays adorable ingenues. But here she is as tough as they come, and as Mickey's new girlfriend is the agent of plot change encouraging her feckless man to stand up to the clan from hell. The best boxing action of the whole film happens when the harridans turn up to stop her interfering with family business. It's all, like, "You fucking skank!" "Don't call me a skank, you fucking skank!" Whack! Pow! Aaaagh! Grunt. "Oh my Gaaahd!" 

It's worth the ticket price just to see Adams' and Wahlberg's performances.

THE FIGHTER is an excellent film about relationships and family ties and the conflicts between them and personal aspirations. Wahlberg's Micky finds himself in a genuine dilemma, providing a sterner test than anything he meets in the ring. Will he resolve it? Watch and see, and if you think the plot is heading in typical Hollywood hype direction bear in mind that THE FIGHTER is a true story.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

David recommends . . . THE BLACK SWAN



Do you like ballet? Then this may not be for you. A high culture pal of mine reported that THE BLACK SWAN is one of the most violent films they'd seen. Relax, it's not Driller Killer, or even Reservoir Dogs. But I've not seen an audience look away from the screen so much since The Exorcist. This is the bunny boiler version of The Red Shoes.

I was completely gripped by TBS. I've never been able to take ballet seriously, not seeing how standing let alone shuffling about on tiptoe has aesthetic value. And as for the bit where they run the length of the stage to jump two feet into the air, well it's nature's way of showing that the human power to weight ratio means watching real birds take off will always be more beautiful. 

But TBS is not really about the ballet. It's about competitive women going bonkers through under-eating, pushy Moms, and sexual frustration. Yes, it's Black Narcissus with extra Freud on the side.  A great drama / thriller with a good script, well-directed. And I've always loved the music to Swan Lake, which here is edited into the off-stage action superbly, as well as the dancing itself.

Two criticisms. 

The first half is a wonderful interplay of relationships between 5 people, with Natalie Portman's troubled Nina at the hub. But i the second half we focus in on Nina's inner world so much that the other characters are shifted to the periphery. That's down to the script, but I can;t help feeling that a true master of the psycho-genre like Hitchcock would have been able to retain the interplay between inner and outer worlds.

Second caveat is, sorry here I go again, political. You may not notice this because of the terrific edge-of-seat drama, but TBS is yet another movie which features those dodgy cliches linking women with madness, creativity with madness, and madness with violence. 

But don't let that stop you from seeing it. TBS is even better than the King's Speech, being far more of a roller coaster ride in its passionate tensions. And it's worth thte ticket price just for the maturing Portman's excellent performance. She must be the front runner in a competitive field for the Best Actress Oscar.

Friday, February 4, 2011

David recommends . . . BLUE VALENTINE

If you are open to watching a film other than The King's Speech this week then I cannot recommend BLUE VALENTINE highly enough. TKS is a very good film; BLUE VALENTINE is a much better one. This is an excellent, low budget indie which has received considerable plaudits at Sundance and the Golden Globes. It is a searing, emotionally honest tale of a relationship at two stages, one very good, and the other, well, very bad.

What works so well in a very intelligent script is that the two stages, the happy and romantic early days, and the trouble and strife later on, are told in parallel via dramatic intercutting. It's not easy to watch at times but it is always gripping. A strong story, well told.

But the even better reason for seeing BLUE VALENTINE is the exceptional acting by the leads, Michelle Williams as Cindy and Ryan Gosling as Dean. Williams is turning into one of the best young actresses around and has an leading actress Oscar nomination for this role.

Williams is less known to many of you out there than other actresses because she is not Hollywood blockbuster material. She emerged in teen TV rom-drama Dawson's Creek (alongside Katie 'Mrs Cruise' Holmes), but came to movie prominence as a Heath Ledger's girlfriend in Brokeback Mountain (her first Oscar nomination).

Since then Williams has set about becoming the Queen of US Indie Cinema. She impressed in 2008's Wendy and Lucy as a metaphorically lost young woman wandering the Oregon landscape looking for her literally lost dog while trying to get to Alaska. She was even better in Mammoth (2009) as the harassed young doctor and mother who realises her long working hours mean her daughter is becoming more attached to her Phillipino nanny than to her. Both are excellent films which merit your attention if you can catch them.

In BLUE VALENTINE Williams portrays another mother, with her own ambitions (medical school) but struggling to make her own decisions rather than yield to events which overtake her. Included in which is Ryan Nelson's Dean, all manic energy and frantically romantic wooing.

Gosling gives an even stronger performance in my view, though no Oscar nomination for him, though, like Williams, he was nominated for a Golden Globe. A great performance because it is his character who changes the most, or perhaps the most vividly. For as we intercut between the two periods of the relationship the differences between Dean's behaviour and appearance are shocking.

All Dean wants is to be with the two objects of his love, Cindy and daughter Frankie. But he and Cindy are both changing, which asks the age-old questions: will they remain compatible, and can they stay together?

Not just another relationship in trouble story. BLUE VALENTINE is smart and engaging and thus a welcome antidote to appalling rom-com pap like Love and Other Drugs. The story contains a sudden reveal half way through which you will not anticipate even though I've just told you there is one. This is intelligent and mature film making which explores the difficulties of relationships, ironically via two young and less well-known actors. Please go and see it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

David recommends . . . POLITICALLY DECONSTRUCTING the fine movie that is THE KING's SPEECH

Apparently 90% of the World's population have already seen TKS. And the rest will have seen it by this time tomorrow.  So no point writing a piece aimed at helping you decide whether to see it or not. Instead let's discuss it and make some points I hope you will find of interest from my traditional socio-cultural approach.

Those familiar with my curmudgeonly personality are perhaps expecting me to slag TKS off. So let's get the praise out of the way. It is a very fine, well-made, and entertaining film. Firth gives his strongest performance of what is already an excellent career. Yes, he should get the Oscar. A big hand for the production design and art direction, and how they and the cinematography complement each other. BAFTAs all round. 

Finally a lovely and subversive bit of shot selection. Camera tuition says on a one-shot (one person in the frame) you should either (a) position the character in the centre of the frame or (b) so their face is towards the top right or top left, with them looking "into the frame", i.e. towards the centre. When the camera switches between two people in a conversation, this will often involve a series of the latter shots with one character to top-right and the other to top-left. As both of them are looking into the frame this enhances for the audience the sense they are watching a dialogue. 

In TKS this is subversively altered. When Bertie (the stammering George VI) and wacky speech therapist Lionel are conversing they are often captured with each looking out of the frame, away form the centre. This is very unusual, and is usually confined to experimental movies and the more pretentious pop videos.  Watch the film and see what the effect is, which I think contributes a lot to the psychological realities of each character and of their relationship.

So that's the praise. Now on to the deconstruction.

TKS is on the way to being one of the greatest box-office successes in British cinema. First because it only cost a remarkably low $15 million to make. As this is what Cameron Diaz gets paid for one picture you'll see why US blockbusters now cost $300 million or more. Secondly because you lot are all going to see it, as is every American who loves that "cute old British stuff". Hence has already grossed $91 million after just a couple of weeks. So congrats all round to those responsible for this cost / take ratio.

This means TKS has to be counted as a successful commercial movie.  Yet it will be regarded as worlds apart from the traditional Hollywood commercial movie that many of you out there like to go and see. 

So let's consider TKS in the context of my obsessive twin missions on here. (1) To deconstruct the idea that "art movies" and "commercial" cinema are two rigidly separate worlds. And (2) that the former are always better than the latter. TKS is a classic hybrid. A commercially successful movie ($76 million profit and counting) with serious claims to be of higher cultural value than most "Hollywood dross". 

And it is the claims to higher cultural status which will drive you reading this and many others, especially in the UK, to see it.

So what is going on? Does TKS merit this higher status claim?

1.  It is a feel-good movie with a happy ending.

The art-house crowd's primary objection to the Hollywood they hate are these two elements. Yet TKS is 100% F-G and H-E. And you know it is going to be Happy Ending before you even buy your ticket, because all the publicity and reviews have told you. So has the word-of-mouth from your friends.  Not to mention this is all actual history.  

2.  Absence of "jeopardy".

But hang on, there's more. Another criticism of Hollywood movies is their blatant emotional manipulation of their audience. This happens via the sequence of jeopardy then resolution. Boy meets girl, then loses girl =  jeopardy (tension). Will they get together again? Boy gets girl again = resolution = happy ending. The predictability of this 3-act sequence gets criticised as simplistic.

In TKS there is NO jeopardy. No tension. From start to finish we head in a straight and smooth, non-bumpy, ride to the Happy Ending you knew from the start was going to happen. Yes, we see Bertie struggle with his speech therapy and we empathise with him. Yes we see vulgar, Aussie outsider Lionel struggle with his up-tight, snobby client, and we empathise with him. But at no point do we seriously doubt where this will end up.

So as it drives to its happy ending is not TKS even more simplistic, more predictable than a standard Hollywood movie?

3.  It's a safe, British, costume drama packed with box-office stars.

On film and TV what the Brits probably do best is the costume drama. So it's a safe medium. And it sells very well in the US among a middle-class demographic brought up on Upstairs Downstairs and Brideshead. They love their toffs.

And the casting? Firth, Rush, Michael Gambon, Helen Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom (did you spot her?), Timothy Spall, Guy Pierce, Jennifer Ehle. This is not exactly promoting new on-screen talent. No risks here.  This is what is known as "Oscar bait".

4.  Accurate history?

TKS is being sold as a true, historical story. "Based on the incredible true story" says the trailer. Spin which is being passed on via word-of-mouth, witness my friend who saw it first.  It is a true story in that these are real characters and Bertie did have a stammer, with which he was helped by Lionel Logue.  But "based on" is the important bit. Bit like "from" or "up to" in other marketing.

Hollywood is regularly criticised for its treatment of history, ranging from more minor errors to the downright outrageous. The USA won WW2 on its own, Americans cracked German codes etc.

But hang on a minute. The characters in TKS are divided strictly down the middle into goodies and baddies. Evil whore Mrs Simpson, her snobby gimp lover Edward VIII, Bertie's cruel Dad, his cold Mum, and, of course, Hitler, are all on The Dark Side. 

Firth's Bertie starts off snobby but Learns His Lesson and ends up calling Lionel, well, Lionel. He is never truly bad. Rush's Lionel is unequivocally wonderful. The future Queen Mum is a bit snobby but also warms up, and otherwise is loving and wonderful. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret are cute and wonderful. Even Tim Spall's Churchill is wonderful. In TKS we are spared the episode when Churchill set armed troops on striking Welsh miners.

And the wonderful Royal Family of Bertie + Future Queen Mum + Princess / Future Queen Elizabeth? In TKS these guys are contrasted with the stiff, cold, aristocratic virtual child abuse of Bertie's parents. The emotional drama here is Bertie's ability to throw off his horrible childhood deemed responsible for the stammer. 

This gives us a familiar device in film: it mirrors the social progress from that sort of parenting to the more enlightened, touchy feeling parenting of the post-Dr Spock generations. So the message of TKS is social progress: nowadays we are more enlightened, more equal, and more in touch with our feelings than back then.

But hang on a minute. This story about Royal parenting and bringing up damaged Princes I seem to have heard before. Remember Diana? Remember the tabloid spin about how a major part of her tragedy was the equal tragedy that Charles has been badly brought up by a cold, snooty, aristocratic family? In other words by Queen Elizabeth with the aid no doubt of the Queen Mum. 

So in telling its tale of bad / cold / snooty Royals and progress towards good / warm / cuddly Royals TKS gives a false version of history on the emotional level that is the core of its appeal. And are we really that more equal in the UK today?

5.  Good v evil.

In case you missed it, TKS is structured around a neat split between goodies and baddies which could have come straight out of a Hollywood Western. None of the moral ambivalence or anti-heroes of, say, The French New Wave.

6.  The Politics

So TKS ends up making us feel good via our identification, in part, with Bertie and Future Queen Mum and their lovely daughters. Would it be outrageously ultra-leftist to suggest that TKS thus functions as an ideological production which will not exactly drive us into Republican hordes storming Buckingham Palace?

Thus TKS remains a very good film. The six preceding points are not to say it is not a good film. They are to question the extent to which TKS deserves to be embraced as something radically different to Hollywood. For it is a very conservative film on many levels. Casting, genre, plot, and portrayal of the Royals. 

Which leaves the crucial question: why will many of you go and see it while telling yourselves you are watching something more akin to arthouse cinema than to commercial Hollywood dross? For if all cinema is one or the other then this has to be, well, one or the other.

Because cinema is an example of what French Marxist Louis Althusser dubbed "ideological state apparatuses". He wanted to explain why in Western capitalist societies it was so rarely necessary for the forces of the state to intervene directly in maintaining a class society. As in when Churchill and Thatcher set troops and armed Police on the respective miners of their eras.  

Following the lead of his Italian Marxist predecessor Gramsci, Althusser suggested these ideological apparatuses - religion, education, cinema etc. - function to maintain a cultural domination over society by the ruling classes. Gramsci termed this "hegemony". As The Clash put it, we are "controlled in the body, controlled in the mind".  Most of the time, these ideological apparatuses function to support the state as a repressive apparatus. The population, in effect, represses itself, mentally.  So the state can take a back seat until really needed.

This contrasts with autocracies. Take Saddam Hussein. Millions of Iraqis were very clear that they hated and opposed Saddam and his Baathist thugs. Rebellion, even discontent, was suppressed via direct violence.

Marcuse famously said "we define ourselves by the products we buy". Guided by the marketing industry we "identify with" products. And we do this primarily to tell ourselves where we are in the class hierarchy. No one wants to place themselves at the bottom. Which is why "chavs" buy Burberry. We are all desperate to buy ourselves into a good self-image. Which is why in a 2009 poll 80% of UK respondents said they are "middle class".

Thus Bourdieu's "cultural capital". The real basis of an unequal, class society is economic - income and wealth: do we own and / or control the means of production, as Marx put it?  Most of us do not. That is economic capital.

But we can buy varying levels of cultural capital, ranging from the most affordable to the most inaccessible. Even at the lower end products enable people to reassure themselves they are not working-class: Sky subscriptions, "designer" clothes. But at the top end are the turbo-rich, like UK tax avoider Sir Philip Green, whose wife kindly bought him a solid gold chess set for his birthday.

So within the world of commodities there are huge gradations. But what is important is that we can all tell ourselves we are not working-class, we are not "chavs". 

This has a political angle. For in the modern world of political marketing, political parties and their policies are also commodities. 

Voting Conservative has always offered working-class people a route to de-identify with their own class and take on airs. Thus what used to be known as in psephology as the deferential vote", exemplified by the controversial 60s TV character Alf Garnett. Made easier in contemporary Britain by a millionaire Tory leader who describes himself as middle-class. Thus the happy Britain of 2011, in which White Van Man with his Sky Sports can stand shoulder to shoulder with his equals in the Tory Cabinet.

And since 1997 the Labour Party, or New Labour, has wanted to get in on the same deal. Relentlessly chasing the same middle-class votes, including the votes of those working people who have bought the right products to delude themselves they, too, are middle-class.

So what does all this have to do with TKS? 

THE KINGS SPEECH is a film about social class. 

Bertie refers to Lionel, the son of a brewer, as "the first ordinary person I have spoken with". For a King, the son of a businessman running his own enterprise is "ordinary". 

Where is the out and out working-class? We see them in TKS. Servants hold doors open for their masters, silently. In the streets we occasionally see people from even lower down the social scale, who ogle the rich and famous, silently. In the film's final scene Bertie has successfully made his famous speech and, flanked by The Future Queen Mum and the Lovely Princesses, heads out on to THAT balcony. Below are the masses. Tens of thousands of them. Perhaps more. They are now longer silent, for they cheer and clap their beloved Ruler.

But the Buckingham Palace crowd are just that, a faceless crowd, shot from way above, far away. They are as invisible to us as they have been to Bertie, who just about gets to meet an "ordinary" capitalist's son.  Luckily for this heaving mass, Bertie, along with the other hero, Churchill will get them through the War. Their own future massive contributions, digging coal, manufacturing bombs, and, above all, dying - unlike Bertie and Churchill - are not signposted in the film.

Back to cultural capital and class.

Cinema is both an ideological apparatus and a commodity. As Marcuse told us, we define ourselves by the cinematic products we buy. Or at least the ones we tell our friends we buy. So going to the cinema is an opportunity to tell ourselves that we are not chavs. 

We cannot do this by seeing Avatar or Pirates of the Caribbean - both extremely well-made films. We must do this by seeing the socially constructed concepts that are "art films", "European cinema", "World cinema", and their smaller, national versions, "French cinema", "Indian cinema", and so on. We will gloss over the fact that most films watched by French and Indian people are not the ones sent to the UK and marketed to the middle-classes.

So is TKS a British film? In many ways yes. The cast are mostly honourable British luvvies, with Aussie Rush thrown in. And it was filmed across a host of UK locations from Battersea Power Station to Ely Cathedral. 

But it was financed and / made by several cooperating production and film finance companies, including ones from the UK, Australia, and the USA. 

Among the latter is the Weinstein Company, set up by brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Who made their names working for the ultimate Hollywood company - The Disney Corporation. Bob and Harvey have gone on to set up several different companies, each involved in production or distribution.  Among the films the Weinstein have helped make it to the screen are Rambo, Halloween, Hellraiser, The Amityville Horror, Scary Movie (and 2, 3 and 4), Piranha 3-D (Kelly Brook takes her clothes off), Zack and Miri Make a Porno. And most recently, another British classic, Lesbian Vampire Killers.

TKS, yes, a British movie, but with significant Hollywood input as to production and distribution.  And remember, it is the Producers who get up on stage to collect the Best Picture Oscar.

So bear all this in mind when you watch it. And when you describe it to your friends. Yes, it's a great film, and deserves all its praise. And yes, it's a better film than many others, including many Hollywood movies. But it is not completely different from a Hollywood movie, in content or financing. 

TKS is a very effective and successful commercial movie with very conservative production values, content, and socio-political messages. Watching it does not make you a better person.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 David Recommends Film Awards

And the winners are . . . 


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo


Noomi Rapace for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the two sequels


Nicolas Cage in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans


Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl in Kick Ass


Werner Herzog for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Samuel Maoz for Lebanon




Kick Ass


Sex and the City 2




Good Hair


Piranha 3D