The Legend of Barney Thomson

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The Legend of Barney Thomson

Directed by Robert Carlyle

UK, 2015

HOME, 26 July 2015

The Legend of Barney Thomson

The film has a definite sense of  style,  quotidian, gaudy and ever so slightly gothic, due to the locales and the colouring and the story, which  holds your attention, no worries.

Then there is Robert Carlyle’s lead performance, his portrait of a sad bastard who’s a spectator in his own life, poor sod. Things just happen to him. A fellow by name of Ray Winstone gives a good showing an’ all – as a London cop who’s up North, not from round here, here being the city of Glasgow. It is Emma Thompson as Barney’s mum who astounds most, mind. She is so good, so convincing, so on the money, I didn’t realise even that it was her until the credits came at the end. ‘What the fuck?’ I thought , in character and keeping with the film. For there is an awful lot of profanity here – should you give a fuck, that is.

Despite all the pleasure that the film gave me – and it is a black, black comedy and I laughed a fair bit of the time – I felt it could have been even better. Some of it was sit-com material, while other scenes made one think of Hogg or Stevenson.That allusion to Taggart, for example, is an indication of small ambition. Will people pick up on it in 50 years’time? And this could have been a film that people will want to see 50 years from now; who knows, maybe they will.

Anyway, this is a good (could have been great, in my opinion) debut from Robert Carlyle as director. He should do more.

Chimes at Midnight

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Chimes at Midnight

Directed by Orson Welles

France, 1965

HOME, 26 July 2015

Chimes at Midnight

As is well known, Orson Welles had an immense regard for Shakespeare. He remarked one time, when working on Macbeth or Othello or perhaps another play, that it was salutary to be confronted with material that was better than you were.

The restoration of Chimes at Midnight, a film about Falstaff that uses the texts of several Shakespeare plays, shows that Welles’s appreciation was grounded on a profound understanding of the Bard’s art. This film has it all. There is bawdy and battle scenes, noble sentiment and callous intrigue, splendour and squalor, wit and pity and terror, and even a play within a play, with Falstaff taking the part of the king. All is wondrous: John Gielgud is here and Welles’s Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s two greatest characters according to Harold Bloom (the other being Hamlet), is his equal.

A masterpiece.

Chimes at Midnight is showing again at HOME today and tomorrow, further details here.

Private Gym

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Private Gym

Private Gym

So, a tale of a man and his penis. Yes, another one. I’ll try to make it, well, not too tall.

And the story begins when I receive an intriguing product called Private Gym, which is described as a ‘pelvic muscle system for men’. What’s a pelvic muscle? Well, when you next have a piss, consciously slow or stop the flow of urine. You’re doing so by usiing your pelvic muscles. The pelvic muscles support the penis.

Private Gym as a package includes an instruction booklet, an interactive DVD and two items of exercise equipment: a ‘resistance ring’ to be placed around the penis and a magnetic weight, the purpose of the weight being to attach it to the ring. More about these two items in a possible sequel, for now, however, one can make the observation that it is clearly envisioned that your penis will be up for some heavy lifting in the days and weeks to come…

Two exercise programs are outlined – basic training and an advanced form of what’s called resistance training – and I’ve been following the first of these (not involving ring or weight) for a month or so. By briefly contracting the pelvic muscles, you can condition and strengthen them over time. This may lead to an improvement in sexual health and anyway it is helpful for what my doctor calls ‘the waterworks’, the bladder and prostate too. I found the exercises to be easy to do, taking less than 10 minutes a day, and while the results were not spectacular (to reiterate, this is not a tall tale) I enjoyed definite benefits in terms of performance, and that in only a month.

An attraction of Private Gym for me was that it involved no little blue pills or otherwise dodgy pharmaceuticals, but rather a practical, evidence-based, no-nonsense program of simple exercises – and, as I say, it yielded tangible results. The evidence comes from the work of Andrew Siegel, author of Male Pelvic Fitness, who played a part in developing the program. Moreover, the medical panel overseeing the program includes the renowned Grace Dorey.

While carrying out the exercises this past month, I’d often call to mind the passage in The Unbearable Lightness of Being where Milan Kundera describes Johannes Scotus Erigena’s thoughts concerning what the experience of Paradise was like for the First Man: ‘He [Erigena] believed, moreover, that Adam’s virile member could be made to rise like an arm or a leg, when and as its owner wished…’ These exercises won’t deliver quite this level of control, but then again, would you really want them to? That fantasy – and it is a fantasy, albeit a theological one – as with many, may be best not realised. For as Kundera adds: ‘If it were possible to raise the penis by means of a simple command, then sexual excitement would have no place in the world.’ (Quotes taken from page 246 of the Faber edition).

Properly followed, the exercise program outlined in Private Gym is effective and worthwhile and can do much good. If interested enough to research further, my advice would be to google ‘pelvic exercises for men’ and to look as well at the work of Andrew Siegel and Grace Dorey. You can find more details of the Private Gym program itself by visiting their website here.

Now to start on the ring and its attendant weight…

13 Minutes

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13 Minutes

Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

Germany, 2015

HOME, 19 July 2015

13 Minutes

The story of Georg Elser, a man who, in 1939, attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

He was an ethnic German, an artisan / musician from a mountain village, and so one would have thought a person who’d have been attracted to National Socialism. Yet he rejected their coercive and racist ideology outright.

It is a substantive film, engrossing and thought-provoking throughout, though there are one or two unpleasant scenes: an interrogation by the Gestapo (not exactly a genteel picnic of smoked salmon and pink champagne) and, later on, an execution for high treason which seemed to go on forever (it is a silent death, hanging, but it is by no means instantaneous or sudden, to put it mildly).

Christian Friedel gave another accomplished performance, following on from his appearance as Kleist in Amour fou; he is clearly an actor to look out for in future.

There are no Jews in this film, the emphasis being on the German resistance to Hitler’s reign. National Socialism  was a tragedy for Germany, a betrayal of her history – that’s the take-home message. And in this respect the film is of a piece with, for example, recent historical reconstructions of the von Stauffenberg plot and the revival of interest in the work of Hans Fallada.

A fine film.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

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Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Directed by Alex Gibney

USA, 2015

HOME, 15 July 2015

A film about the Church of Scientology, the brainchild of L. Ron Hubbard, a minor science-fiction writer.

This is as though a Horace McCoy novel were being played out in real time in present day California. Are they for real, John Travolta and Tom Cruise, when they speak up for this cult?

There’s a lot to get through here: the absurd ‘creation myth’, so-called (actually: crazy, unconvincing science-fiction nonsense, not to say poorly written), that lies at the heart of the ‘church’ (the IRS of the US government may recognise Scientology as a religion, but we don’t have to) and its teachings ; the salacious way in which its practices collect the intimate details of its members’ sex lives; the uncompromising way in which it deals with dissenters and backsliders. Most of the testimony comes from ex-members and therefore has an authenticity to it.

For myself, I was struck by the contrast between Hubbard, the church’s founder, and the current head, one David Miscavige, Tom Cruise’s bosom buddy. Acting like your typical chancer, Hubbard can be seen peddling a weird system of beliefs, trying his luck, seeing how many gullible fish he can snare. A neat, medium-term con – at any rate, it worked. Then Hubbard dies and Miscavige takes over: what is he to do with it? Well, he consolidates and plans for the future. Miscavige comes across as your typical American CEO, what with his business suit and tie, his unctuous manner and weak, unfunny jokes. You sense a ruthlessness too, mind, and some sinister accusations are thrown at him here. But basically it is that old go-getter imperative of ‘If you’ve got a lemon, make lemonade.’ Miscavige is selling the sizzle, working the tired con he’s been left with as best he can.

An enlightening film.

Love & Mercy

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Love & Mercy

Directed by Bill Pohlad

USA, 2014

HOME, 15 July 2015

Love & Mercy

It works well, this film based on the life of Brian Wilson, not least because of the two fine actors who play him, Paul Dano and John Cusack.

We see Wilson at two periods of his life: when discovering his artistic voice and coming up with Pet Sounds, an album where he attempted to ‘play the studio’, as he says here. And later when reaching out to a woman (played by Elizabeth Banks: excellent) and trying to escape the control of a domineering quack psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti: ditto). The psychiatrist is not unlike his father – cruel, abusive, cowardly – and in a curious way it is the insight and feeling of Brian’s youth, as expressed in songs such as the sublime ‘God Only Knows’, that save him later. He need only realise what he always knew – easy, huh?

More music would have been nice, but honestly this is a captivating portrait of a fine human being and a great artist. And as for that avant-garde (or specifically: musique concrete) notion that the studio might be an instrument too: absolute genius.

Slow West

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Slow West

Directed by John Maclean

New Zealand, 2015

HOME, 9 July 2015

Slow West

A Western such as Robert Louis Stevenson may have come up with.

Actually, The Master of Ballantrae has some scenes set in the New World and Stevenson also wrote about his travel experiences there in The Silverado Squatters.

What’s it about? Well, this noble Scottish lad travels to America (over ten thousand mile) to find his lady love, a girl called Rose. He hooks up with a gunman (Michael Fassbender, who makes any film worth watching) who offers to help and guide him, for a fee. In fact, the gunman has a double motive: Rose and her father are wanted, there’s a price on their head. And the gunman is a bounty hunter although not, as becomes clear, the only one.

That’s the setup and altogether it’s an inventive and entertaining Western. The black humour is ofttimes highly effective.

The Third Man

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The Third Man

Directed by Carol Reed

UK, 1949

HOME, 9 July 2015

There is so much to see in this great, great film that even on a thirteenth viewing (and I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve seen it), you feel that you’re missing something.

This is so even as you relish anew the details that have stuck in your mind. Say, the policeman who hands Anna her lipstick as she’s taken in for questioning, an act of compassion by an anonymous man. Or the Baron and Dr. Winkel living in the same house by the Prater, their relationship clearly a gay one (see how the Baron places his hand affectionately on the doctor’s arm, as Holly turns away to wait for Harry by the Riesenrad). Calloway’s (Trevor Howard) throwaway cynicism is exhilarating, as when he says: ‘Death is at the bottom of everything, Martins. Leave death to the professionals.’ A remark that presages Paine’s death in the sewer, after which Martins picks up Paine’s gun and goes after Lime, walking like one of the protagonists in his novels.

Early on, Calloway casually refers to the war as being ‘when the business started in ‘39’, an unproblematic remark until you realize that the Allies had declared Austria the first victim of Nazi aggression, by virtue of the Anchluss of 1938. This was apparently an invasion, though Hitler was greeted by cheering crowds in the Stephansplatz. Clearly, Calloway line is at odds with the settlement (we are reminded that there are no tidy ends to any war) which viewed the Austrians as victims. Also, all those fucking objects cluttering Winkel’s living room (Martins: ‘You’ve got so much stuff.’), including what looks like a porcelain figure from the Augarten: is it fanciful to think that they were most likely plundered from the homes of deported Jews?

It is wonderful to look at Vienna’s baroque churches juxtaposed by the rubble and ruins of war, to think that they somehow escaped destruction; like looking at Piranesi’s drawings of Rome. This is, together with Lime’s flight through the underground sewer, authentic noir. And it is a world away from Jugendstil Vienna, Otto Wagner’s magnolia apartments with their floral patterns.

A detail I noticed for the first time here, for I was sat close to the screen: when Popescu (Siegfried Breuer), the Rumanian racketeer, turns over his hat, you can see that it was made by P. C. Habig: he’s definitely a man of wealth and taste.

Another thing: I came to The Third Man this time after viewing Joseph Leo Koerner’s excellent documentary on Vienna: it’s on You Tube and is highly recommended.

Finally, even the credits of the film are interesting in that Greene gets at least equal credit: it’s a Carol Reed production of The Third Man by Graham Greene & a screenplay by Graham Greene. Not ‘a Carol Reed film’. When did the director get the possessive credit?

A great, great film.

Amy

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Amy

Directed by Asif Kapadia

UK, 2015

HOME, 5 July 2015

Amy

As with the earlier Senna, Asif Kapadia’s film about Amy Winehouse’s too-short life provides no overarching narrative.

We are simply shown footage of Amy Winehouse together with commentary from those who knew her. The footage is arranged chronologically (more or less) and that gives the film whatever structure it has. Of course, we most of us know how it will all end.

Her voice was there from the start, it seems, for the earliest strand of film has her singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at a friend’s party. She also wrote poems, what could be song lyrics, read music and played the guitar. (How? Where’d this all come from? Curiously, the film doesn’t tell us.) And that look of hers: the beehive hair-do, the big lashes; a mask that made her face invisible to others; no one saw her. It was there at the start, all worked out. She entered the world, leastways the public world, strange and fully formed. That was what she had going for her and it was then a question of whether her talent and artistry could enable her to overcome the problems in her personal life.

She was a child of divorced parents, suffering from an eating disorder that was apparently never treated (we learn of it casually half way through the film). She seemed to be always seeking a father figure or a mentor, a strong man to take control of her life. Or she never really took control or responsibility for her own life: that’s another way to put it. Anyway, what she found were parasites and predators, leading to further problems with drink and drugs. Everyone looked on, not least a baying media, as her life became a slow motion car wreck. Here it all looks like an ineluctable process, the momentum unstoppable, somehow inevitable. It wasn’t.

This is not as good a film as Senna: for one thing, the clips are too short. Also, while Amy Winehouse was (is) remarkable as a singer and songwriter, she was in many ways absent from her life. She is too passive a figure to be heroic. And as for the rest, the hangers-on: they are way too shallow for you to feel much sympathy. You call to mind Freud’s judgement: most people are trash.

Magician

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Magician

Directed by Chuck Workman

USA, 2014

HOME, 4 July 2015

A documentary about the life and work of Orson Welles, mainly the work.

It’s fairly comprehensive, covering his work in radio and theatre as well as film, but there are precious few new insights. Welles is the main contributor, curiously enough, but we are only given snippets of interviews of him; there’s nary an extended speech. Other talking heads include Peter Bogdanovic, Charlton Heston (the star of Touch of Evil) and Simon Callow.

Many years ago I saw an Arena documentary about Welles and this film seems to have plundered it at length, for the clips are awfully familiar. So Jeanne Moreau calling Welles a destitute king; Anthony Perkins recalling his remark that Joseph K. was ‘guilty as hell’; I’d heard both these before, then, over 25 years ago, on the BBC. There’s skimpy treatment of the Pauline Kael controversy, as of everything else. No word from Joseph Cotton.

For those looking for an overview of Welles’s career, this documentary does the job. If you’re looking for something that looks a little deeper, best thing would probably be to seek out David Thomson’s biography of the man.

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