Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Dead But Not Yet Buried


I found this article while trying to locate reviews of the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, After Earth, that didn't originate from an English speaking source.  I thought the argument was quite interesting, so, with the aid of an online translator and my own efforts to clean up the text (hopefully not losing too much of the article's original intent), I'm re-posting it here.  The article was interesting to me because it seems to suggests that outside of the Anglophone blogosphere there are others who find something genuinely quite unsettling about the way English-language journalists are approaching Shyamalan's work, or more appropriately, approaching Shyamalan the filmmaker.  The legitimate fury that the writer/director has inspired has long since gone beyond constructive criticism; it's no longer about evaluating the work with as much reverence and respect as you might afford the work of an another human being, but an effort to actively (and gleefully) destroy Shyamalan and his professional reputation.  The journalists (if we can even call them such; the majority have no journalistic training and no education in film) are backed and encouraged by a culture of ever increasingly vitriolic audience members who likewise have little knowledge of the cinema and its histories and are attacking these films from an entirely consumerist perspective.  That a great number of genuine movie fans aren't outraged by this (regardless of their feelings for Shyamalan and his work) is both a surprise and a disgrace, since this issue seems to have passed well beyond what we might call valid film criticism into a kind of censorship by consensus, which is unacceptable. 

This article by Hendy Bicaise gets to the core of this issue, citing several critics who, for me, have crossed the line into something quite destructive and actually prejudicial; no longer striving for objectivity or respect for those of us who see Shyamalan as a relevant and imaginative filmmaker, but really just trashing the films without analysis or interpretation.  However, his article is not just a defence of Shyamalan, but an attempt to look at After Earth as an actual film and not just as a product of this strange burlesque of opinion.  Bicaise actually engages with the material, wittily interpreting it; it's not just about standing in judgement over the film but attempting to place the film into a proper 'auteurist' context within the parameters of Shyamalan's work.  As an approach, it's refreshing to see, and reminds me of something the Toronto based film critic David Davidson said recently in his article about Shyamalan's relationship with the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma.  Davidson writes: "Even though Night is a championed director at Cahiers they acknowledge the flaws in some of his films, when they deserve it. What is the big difference between Cahiers and how most other critics view Shyamalan's work is that Cahiers approach his films with a generosity instead of condescension."  In highlighting the Cahiers reception of Shyamalan's work, Davidson is providing a wider context on the director and his reputation outside of the U.S., but is also highlighting the disparity in the way these films are written about and received.  The serious, analytical, academic study of film (all film) as genuine objets d'art - and not just as 'product' to be gossiped about or griped about or slapped with some flimsy numerical reward - seems beyond the grasp of the majority of Anglophone critics, who look to approach the medium with an absolute indifference and contempt.
 
 
Reflections of Lady in the Water [Zak Forsman & Kevin K. Shah, 2006]:
 
The translation below is in no way definitive.  It's full of mistakes and may even lose the quality and the intention of the original piece.  Nonetheless, I wanted to highlight this particular consideration because it communicated something that I've tried to express myself, but was unable to find the right words.  Rather than re-post the promotional images used for the original article I've added several images of my own choice, to provide illustration.  Final apologies to Hendy Bicaise if the translation is so far off from his original article that it becomes a completely different work, but regardless, the thoughts and insights that this text provides, not just in regards to the critical judgement of Shyamalan the filmmaker, but as a critical study of his latest film After Earth, is for me invaluable.
 

 
After Earth
N'enterrons pas trop vite M. Night Shyamalan
By Hendy Bicaise
Vodkaster, June 5th, 2013
 
Is the haste proportional to the hype?  M. Night Shyamalan is now hated, especially in the United States, and especially in the American press; but is this in proportion to the enthusiasm he once aroused with The Sixth Sense (1999) and Unbreakable (2000)?  Since Lady in the Water (2006), the director seems to pay for "betraying" a number of his admirers.  As if, in retrospect, they felt guilty for having so loved his early films.  The icy reception of After Earth - his new film, in theatres this June - brought down sharply by critics and shunned by the American public, seems to confirm this: Shyamalan has become the scapegoat for Hollywood.  This is an opportunity to return to this critical determination, incidentally to argue that it is unfair, and to see how Shyamalan has found the best person to defend his position, chiefly, himself.
 
 
After Earth [M. Night Shyamalan, 2013]:
 
A decade ago, Newsweek magazine devoted its cover to M. Night Shyamalan.  It read, in full, in bold, without a question mark, "The Next Spielberg ".  For several years, and again with the release of After Earth (2013), the American press cannot help referring to this statement.  For Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times, for example, the film is "an unintentionally funny sci-fi thriller made without imagination by a director once considered the new Spielberg."  It is amusing to note that the stronger the rejection of this later work, the more enthusiastic their response to his earlier success appears.  Before sticking the knife in, they recall their affection for his early films and voila, the dismissal becomes easy.  A recent video by 'Screen Junkies' (a group responsible for the web-series "Honest Trailers") operates on the same principle.  The three columnists have fun electing the "worst film by M. Night Shyamalan."  To do this, they go through his films chronologically, from the "masterpiece" The Sixth Sense to the "nadir" of The Last Airbender, tracking the reception to Shyamalan's work as it becomes more severe.
 
In the video, the 'Screen Junkies' conform to another constant in bashing Shyamalan by maintaining that the latest film is always worse than the last.  The most striking example of this so far was the infamous chart taken from the aggregate ratings site, Rotten Tomatoes, in which the films were each ranked from a system of binary ratings assigned by a panel of American critics, presenting a programmed devaluation.  With the release of After Earth, his fiercest critics will begin to move-in, asking themselves, how do we lower the perception of a filmmaker even further when one is already at the lowest?  If American journalists had the ambition to continue to belittle Shyamalan's work for as long as possible, they should have made their rejection less swift.  Even with the release of Lady in the Water (2006), the reaction was already very violent.  In Time Out, Trevor Johnson announces "[the film] isn't just duff, it's career-threateningly catastrophic."  Shyamalan, the director who openly teased reviewers when he wrote the character of Mr. Farber (Bob Balaban) - a heartless film critic eventually eaten alive by a monster - has clearly sought the ire of Johnson and his cronies.
 
 
Lady in the Water [M. Night Shyamalan, 2006]:

The French press is more divided.  If some say "it's just ego", others defend it more than ever.  For Cahiers du Cinema, Lady in the Water is a great movie and is even found in their Top 10 of 2006.  A distinction shared by The Village (2004) two years earlier, also elected in the top ten films of the year by the magazine, in second place behind Tropical Malady (2004) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul .  For a while, this fact was merely anecdotal, at least until 2010 when the Thai director, having just won the Palme d'Or for Uncle Boonmee, said in an interview with Les Inrockuptibles that Shyamalan is one of his favourite contemporary filmmakers.
 
 
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives [Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010]:
 
Reflections of Lady in the Water [Zak Forsman & Kevin K. Shah, 2006]:

However, does the defence of his films by some of his peers and only a handful of scattered critics make it difficult to hope for a comeback?  Should we instead listen to sceptics and expect nothing more of Shyamalan, or follow those who despise, unreasonably, and throw out everything in retrospect, including his first film?  As most negative critics are often the loudest, it's better to try and find peace and reason.  Like the rule of survival instilled by Will Smith to his son in After Earth ("Take a knee"), do the work and try to point to the origin of the hatred.
 
The anti-Shyamalan cabal sometimes looks like a competition.  Recently, in the Metro Times , Jeff Meyers began his review with these words: "Is there a more satisfying career implosion than that of M. Night Shyamalan?" before adding, not without a certain cowardice: "Far be it for me to wish ruin upon anyone, but the filmmaker all but invited derision from those in my field when he spoke long and loud of his genius and then in The Lady in the Water brutally murders an arrogant film critic and casts himself as a writer whose work brings about world peace."  It always comes back Lady in the Water; the origin of evil.  After he offered them the screenplay in 2004, the bosses at Disney were the first to suggest the consequences that such a film would have: "You attacked the film critic? They'll kill you for that..."  Since then, the struggle with each new work to find the harshest word against Shyamalan has become a kind of national, journalistic sport.  This year's game is sandwiched between the poisoned Jason Gorber of Twitch.com, who calls the film "apocalyptically bad" and Richard Roeper, who anticipates it to be "one of the worst movies of 2013", while the Wall Street Journal wonders if it is "the worst movie of all time" (before answering "no", though it is nice to be asked the question).  But for the prize "WTF" comment we have to turn to the blogger Mike McGranaghan who says that 'After Earth is "the cinematic equivalent of the video Friday by Rebecca Black. "
 
The most amazing thing about all of this is the fact that so many - whether they're critics, bloggers or moviegoers who respond to their articles - speak without knowledge of Shyamalan's cinema.  In itself, this is not a problem: all the critics and their followers cannot know, by heart, the work of each auteur.  The problem is, they claim their ignorance with pride.  The first person to respond to the Roeper article on the newspaper's website makes it clear: "I admit his movies fell down from Lady in the water, which was the last one I saw."  A declaration that therefore has no real merit, but nevertheless reflects a general feeling.  The consideration of his filmography as ramshackle since 2006 is almost a given, obvious, no need to see the films to attest.  Moreover, Jason Gorber of Twitch begins his review with a similar confession: "I purposely missed out on Signs, and The Village, and The Lady in the Water, each film with progressively lower IMDb ratings."  They're free to avoid the films, if they wish to, but why not be more discreet?  What does the critic hope to achieve by boasting, publically, that he shunned the previous films of a director in the same column in which he discusses his latest work?  This is a clasping confession.  So naturally, in comparison, the viewer who loves After Earth, who has not ignored its author and, in fact, believes it more natural to defend his latest film, inevitably ends up in a position of force.  For it is only by summoning all of these previous films that M. Night Shyamalan's' After Earth becomes vast.
 
Far from thinking, Scott Foundas in Variety describes the investment of the filmmaker on this project as "clearly a director-for-hire, his disinterest palpable from first frame to last."  The director here is more than a simple yes man, for the film is clearly placed within the continuity of his work and, more importantly, adds to its general discourse.  The future, as described in After Earth, is not our future, but the future of the characters of Shyamalan's previous films.  The people of Nova Prime - the planet where Cypher and Kitai Raige (Will and Jaden Smith ) live at the beginning of the film - are the descendants of the heroes of Signs (2002), The Village and Lady in the Water, etc..  Shyamalan recites details, references and self-citations to support this suggestion.  The baby monitor of Signs, a primitive means of extraterrestrial communication, turned into a standardized object, is here used by Kitai Raige for extraterrestrial communication.  As captured by the film's signal, it is now audible, tenfold, a millennium later in After Earth, on the edges of space.  Even the "Great Eatlon", mythical eagle and benefactor of the Lady in the Water, is back in a sequence of this latest film, again to save a teenager's mission.  And when Kitai gets rid of an enemy by dropping it into a hidden crevasse - like Ivy Walker in The Village - he invites the possibility that the boy has been raised and educated on the exploits of the other heroine, blindly traversing kilometres to save a loved one.
 
 
Lady in the Water [M. Night Shyamalan, 2006]:

After Earth [M. Night Shyamalan, 2013]:

 
The Village [M. Night Shyamalan, 2004]:

After Earth [M. Night Shyamalan, 2013]:

On Earth, as now on Nova Prime, Shyamalan's tales seem to have been told for a thousand years.  We also look back to the character of the prophet in Lady in the water, where Vick Ran played some small role in the changing world of the last millennium.  One thinks of nature, and its rebellion against humanity in The Happening (2008), as the first warning that the earth is to be taken seriously, and which would eventually lead to our inevitable departure from this "blue world."  Alone, abandoned by almost everyone, M. Night Shyamalan has come to save himself.  Rather than wait, time gives him reason; he jumped a thousand years in the future to talk about a world where his films were finally appreciated at their true value, and even became words of the Gospel.  It must be remembered, the sentence that would have pronounced Beethoven to the end of his life, facing the chilly reception of one of his last compositions: "It might please them... some day."  Critics and fans of the film can at least agree on this point: this is a statement that would also be well suited to M. Night Shyamalan.
 

 
Original text published by vodkaster.com, © Vodkaster & Hendy Bicaise, 2013
 
You can read the full article, in French, with original illustrations, hereI would also highly recommend Davidson's blog and his translations of several articles on Shyamalan's work, as published in Cahiers du Cinéma, and contrast it to the lazy, repulsive way English-speaking reviewers approach these films.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Catch Us If You Can

 
Quotes from John Boorman on the making of a film
 
Plus some additional notes of my own
 
 
"The first Beatles film had come out and was a big success.  Nat Cohen [Anglo-Amalgamated Films] leapt on the bandwagon and sold Warner Brothers on doing a film with the Dave Clark Five.  He got a price from Warners for the States that would more than cover the budget, and the rest of the world was his.  Would I be interested in making it?  David [Deutsch, producer] said that to have a feature under my belt would help me to get the Glastonbury film made.  The real lure was that I would have carte blanche.  As long as Dave and the band were in it, I could make whatever film I wanted.  Since the film was already in profit, in a sense, Nat didn't care what the picture was like as long as it cost less than Warners were paying for it.  But it had to be done right away, to be shot before the band's next American tour."  (p111)
 
"I was still unsure.  Could I devise a story that would fit?  I decided to enlist the help of a writer.  Charles Wood was busy writing the second Beatles film.  I went to another of our circle, Peter Nichols.  I proposed the Dave Clark idea to him.  He was gloomy about the prospect and reluctant to take it on.  Nevertheless, he agreed to meet Mr. Clark, and we went together to the large suburban house he had recently acquired in North London."  (p112-113)
 
"When we arrived, we had some fragments of a story, but in conversation I began to improvise and surprised myself at how interesting it got.  A trip across England, a roaming couple, encounters with, well, I wasn't sure yet, but the hypocrisies of the sixties ripped open, laid bare, the lies, the exploitation.  Nonsense of that sort.  Dave said, 'We want to be stuntmen.'  He claimed to have done this work before his musical career took off, though in the event, he was too clumsy and slow to do anything of that nature in the film.  I proposed that the band would not be seen playing their instruments, that their songs would be on the soundtrack only.  They would play characters."  (p113)
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

"We sat in a room for three weeks and we wrote the script.  The Dave Clarke Five were stuntmen making a commercial promoting meat.  At the time, there was an advertising campaign for milk featuring a sprightly girl, Zoe Newton - 'drink a pinta milka day' - and we invented a variation on that.  'Meat for Go' was our slogan."  (p113-114)
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

"The Meat Girl is manipulated by an Ad Executive (a Merlin surrogate) and she feels trapped.  Dave Clark is disgusted with the situation and he and the model run away together.  They are pursued across England by the advertising people and encounter a swathe of types from the burgeoning sixties, mostly drawn from my documentary experience.  Marian Knight and her friends played beatniks squatting in an abandoned village on the Salisbury Plain that turns out to be an army training ground.  (I had seen this place during my military service and stored it for future use.)  They meet an elegantly depraved middle-aged couple in Bath (the Glastonbury experience)."  (p114)
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

"They had in mind a haven, an island off the coast of Devon to which they flee.  The final disillusionment comes at low tide when it ceases to be an island.  Their dreams shattered, the girl goes back to the Ad Man and Dave drives off with the lads.  We drew a portrait of a shallow materialistic society, controlled and manipulated by advertising, where youth was a commodity.  It was a bleak picture, but expressed as comedy; Peter's pessimism was tempered by his comic gift." (p114)
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

"Three weeks to write it.  Three weeks of pre-production.  We called it Catch Us If You Can.  David Deutsch helped me put a crew together.  It was Tony Woollard's first picture as a designer.  David Tringham's first time as a first assistant director.  Manny Wynn was an Israeli who had worked with Tony Richardson.  It was his first outing as a Director of Photography.  He was fat and prickly.  He was scornful of my television background.  He argued about my choices of camera set-ups.  For long periods, he refused to cooperate.  'You work out what you want and when you're ready I'll give you the stop.'  He was sure I would have to beg him for help.  When I was ready, he would step in with the light meter."
 
"It was the best thing that could have happened to me.  The camera was my tool.  I had lived with it, day in, day out, for years.  I taught myself how to design feature scenes, to break down sequences into set-ups.  The choices of where to put the camera are infinite, but I always knew exactly where to place it and how it should move, and if I didn't, I learned it was a sign that something was wrong with the scene itself.  Solve the problem and the camera would find its proper place."  (p116)
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

"Inevitably, I was having problems getting a performance from Dave.  I cut his dialogue to a bare minimum.  I had to play him silent and taciturn.  Often this came off as sullen.  There was nothing light-hearted about him, nothing youthful, nothing graceful or rhythmical - and he, a drummer.  I used Barbara [Ferris, lead actress] to get us through the scenes.  This made him resentful.  He thought I was favouring her at his expense.  Barbara, in turn, was insecure about how she looked.  With the right make-up and lighting and the correct angle, she could achieve moments of beauty that real life denied her, but her voice was thin and would not carry emotion.  Her face and eyes were expressive of subtle feelings, but she lacked the effervescence, the exuberance that might have coaxed something from Dave.  So I had to play her as somehow in thrall to the Ad Executive, and therefore unable to respond to Mr. Clark's saturnine presence."  (p116-117)
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

"Just before the film opened, I gave a press interview in which I said Catch Us If You Can was not a great film.  The wrath of Wardour Street [centre of the British film industry, at that time] fell about my head.  Nat Cohen was in paroxysms of word-groping rage.  David Deutsch said, 'Don't you know that every film is great before it opens?  In fact, great is the very least you can say of it.'  But I knew it was not.  However brilliantly Peter and I had decorated the surfaces, it had a hollow centre."
 
"Four months from the day Peter and I sat down to start writing, the picture opened.  It was greeted with kindness by the critics.  Although it was sucked along in the wake of the Beatles movie, the young audience was perplexed by its pessimism.  It opened shortly after in the States under the title Having a Wild Weekend.  Pauline Kael praised it inordinately in The New Yorker, which gave it and me a degree of credibility in Hollywood.  I returned to the BBC and my family, remorseful and a little wiser." (p117-118)
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

All quotations taken from Adventures of a Suburban Boy, published by Faber and Faber, © John Boorman, 2003
 

 
For me, the key scene in Catch Us If You Can takes place quite early in the film, towards the beginning of its adventure.  Having broken free from the production - from the shackles of the commercial and its professional responsibilities - the two main characters hit the road.  After tearing a path through the busy London streets in a white E-type Jag that they stole from the location, the characters first engage in a variety of random activities (each intended to illustrate how supposedly youthful and rebellious they both are) before eventually finding themselves, uncharacteristically, at a botanical garden.  Here, Boorman's camera frames a lone apple on a delicate branch, turning the object, through the significance of the shot, into a symbol: the forbidden fruit?  The characters, in this sense, are surrogates for Adam and Eve, but their Eden is an artificial creation.  Nature as a manufactured space, existing in a glasshouse, hermetically, like in a bubble.
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:
  
The characters themselves are also trapped within a manufactured environment of their own.  They live and exist - as even the most two-dimensional of characters do, to some extent - but without any real sense of freedom or spirit.  In leaving the 'commercial' (the production) mid-shoot, the characters are also in a sense escaping from the snare of fiction.  They're breaking the fourth wall of their own existence; leaving the unreality of the film - the location with the camera and its crew - and emerging into the reality of the world itself.  Here, the fake glamour and the play-acted exuberance of the advertising industry ("Meat for Go") jars against the grim actuality of sixties Britain.  The cold wintery landscapes, the despair and hostility; the scars of war and commerce, all captured in desolate black and white.
 
Although these characters embark upon this journey in an attempt to escape the confines of a (social) scene and situation that is both lifeless and restricted (more a prison sentence than an actual way of life), their ultimate dream of freedom is no less hollow or self-absorbed.  While the characters converse in a disconnected call and response that illustrates their inability to co-exist, the girl, Dinah, talks of a life of solitude, only punctuated by brief moments of grandeur and decadence.  She cites The Great Gatsby as a point of reference and talks of "parties that go on for days."  "On the mainland" she adds, "people would watch the lights [and] sometimes, they'd hear a snatch of music and laughter on the wind."  The dream - the great pursuit that drives these characters to the end of the earth - is no less empty and superficial than their own imprisoned existence under the control of the Ad Executive as they go about replacing one form of isolation - one "bubble" - for another.
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:
 
The characters in the film aren't really interested in the reality of the world, as it exists, away from the façade and the false exteriors of the commercial industry, but to create an ideal; a place where their narcissism and distorted vision of the world as reflected through the influences of music, films and literature can be nurtured, without work or responsibility.  They cling to this dream, this end goal, while continually being reminded of the struggles and the suffering of the human condition (of real-life) as it unfolds as a rolling montage through the Jaguar's refracted windshield.  The smog of London, the dirt and decay, the swathes of burnt-out "drop-outs", hounded or rounded up by armed soldiers in what appears to be the start of a civil war, and the marked landscapes of nuclear winter, dead trees, drifts of snow, floods and ruined vehicles, ambush these characters with a vision of reality, exaggerated for the purposes of metaphor and creative critique, but no less intended to strip away the lie of the "swinging" sixties, where every character - from the decadent middle-class couple, with their 'film-buff' fancy dress, to the stuntman's former mentor, now living as a would-be John Wayne on a dilapidated mock cattle ranch - are presented as people hiding behind a pretence or fabrication (a "dress-up" culture where everyone plays a part).
 
It is through this Adam and Eve symbolism and the obvious representation of an artificial Eden (in contrast to the more devastated natural landscapes seen later in the film) that Boorman and Nichols are able to present the notion of advertising (and the influence of the pop-culture in general) as the new religion of the twentieth century.  As characters, Dinah and Dave both find themselves unsatisfied with the world that has been given to them, and through the rejection of this world, must suffer the indignities of a world outside of their own self-contained setting; a world where people actually have to fight and struggle to survive.  Their eventual surrender - their retreat into the controlled, heavily mechanised world of the entertainment industry - is in many ways a retreat into the world of illusion; a return to what Boorman calls the "shallow materialistic society, controlled and manipulated by advertising, where youth [is] a commodity."
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:
 
The comments of the director may paint the film as a decorative failure, but Catch Us If You Can strikes me as a quintessential Boorman project, and remains, in my opinion, a good introduction to the filmmaker's oeuvre.  It establishes not only the anti-corporate/anti-establishment satire of later films, such as Leo the Last (1970), Zardoz (1974), Where the Heart Is (1990) and The Tiger's Tail (2006), but also offers the first of Boorman's visual contemplations of the landscape; where the setting, or the contrast between the noise and the squalor of the inner city and the calm and serenity of the countryside, becomes an almost mythical quest to rediscover the essence of existence.  The journey of the film - which takes its characters literally to the end of the earth - is also a journey into the past; into a part of the world untouched by civilisation - untainted by fashion - and existing almost out of time.  In this sense, the emphasis on the landscape (or the natural landscape) is consistent with the elemental/environmental concerns of films such as Deliverance (1972), Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985) and Beyond Rangoon (1995), where the atmosphere of a place (the location) is imbued with a kind of energy, or a living spirit, as much a central character as the figures on-screen.
 
 
Catch Us If You Can [John Boorman, 1965]:

What Boorman categorises as the film's major failings - the lack of exuberance or youthful vigour, the coldness of its central characters - are for me its greatest virtues.  The emptiness of these characters, where their rebellion is less an act of revolution than a brief moment of self-aware panic, gives a greater weight to the film's critique of the shallow decade; where the protagonists - despite having their every wish and whim catered for by a management of dedicated svengalis - are left wanting more.  The lack of vitality and the insecurity found in the performance of Barbara Ferris for instance, gives her character a feeling of sadness that is entirely overwhelming.  She may not charm or seduce her stoical companion as the screenplay entailed, but instead offers a portrait of a young woman more or less imprisoned by the nature of the "scene", the environment.  The sadness of this character is the sadness of all characters who, having been turned into icons - not just by the advertising industry, but by the presentation of the film - are robbed of their own identity, becoming simply "the girl", the symbol of this pop culture of glamour and hedonism that is at odds with her own feelings of loneliness and isolation.
 
Through the development of the film, the hopeful Dinah finds that the real world is even less forgiving than her own manufactured existence.  In her life under the guidance and control of the Ad Executive she is used and exploited, but she is also shielded from the poverty, the ruin, the violence and the discontentment of the modern world.  She realises through the course of her journey that those outside of the bubble are as desperate to get in and she was desperate to get out; that their own lives, in many ways, are an attempt to create a bubble of their own; that her life - which to Dinah is cold and cruel - is from the outside something to aspire to.  Faced with the ultimate disillusionment, she accepts the lie that's been sold to her, and embraces it.  This feeling of cynicism, of the characters seeing through the façade of a world created to protect, imprison and ultimately exploit them, is a theme that Boorman returns to in his later films, Zardoz and Leo the Last, but it is really the film's brutal and satirical depiction of the pop "industry" and the commoditisation of the youth culture that for me gives the film its lasting relevance.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Boorman on Boorman

A few months ago, I posted a recommendation of the film director John Boorman's excellent memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy (Faber and Faber, 2003), in which I considered the idea of one day offering a loose commentary on Boorman's work using quotes from the man himself.  This will be in lieu of an actual blog 'retrospective' - something I once deliberated - but nonetheless still intended to add to the critical discussion of Boorman's work, which at present seems non-existent.  The 'series' will begin in a few days with some quotes on the making of a film that Boorman himself has largely rejected, but which for me ranks as one of the greatest British films of the 1960s, Catch Us If You Can (1965). 

Earlier this year, I referred to the film as "a 'road movie', but a road movie punctuated by Boorman's typically surreal lyricism", before further defining it as "a formless narrative full of car chases and fancy dress sequences, underscored by an aching loneliness and an atmosphere of cold, wintery despair."  It was a film sold as a pop-musical, post-A Hard Day's Night (1964), but is really punctuated by "a feeling of intense sadness; where the spirit of youthful rebellion is already being sold as a pop commodity, and where the characters try to escape into a mythical landscape of rural, post-industrial decay."
 

John Boorman directing Barbara Ferris, Catch Us If You Can (1965): 

Boorman, for me, is one of the great British filmmakers.  A fascinating eccentric committed to maintaining that "lost grace in the film-making process, where the material things of the world – money, buildings, sets, plastic, metal, people – disappear into a camera and become nothing but light and shadow flickering on a wall."  While Boorman is primarily acclaimed for films like Point Blank (1967), Deliverance (1972) and to a lesser extent Hope and Glory (1987), the full breadth of his vision can be found in films like Catch Us If You Can, Leo the Last (1970), Zardoz (1974), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985), The General (1998) and The Tiger's Tail (2006); the majority of which are still awaiting their critical reappraisal.