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The Devils (director’s cut) (1971) or livewithfilm feels historic amid the debauchery…

21 Nov

A suppressed masterpiece, Ken Russell’s own cut of his legendarily controversial film The Devils remains difficult to track down. So when livewithfilm saw that the BFI was screening it – potentially for the third time in the film’s history – this blogger jumped at the chance to revel in the madness.

With a plot oddly pertinent to the stringent cuts and bans the film endured, The Devils perfectly realises and confronts systems of repressive power, namely the state and religion. In an unparalleled performance of both force and subtly, Oliver Reed’s Grandier is the priest that garners the malice of scheming French royals. With the state keen to tear down the walls of his city, Grandier is accused of being in league with Satan – having supposedly possessed the local nunnery and its lusty superior Sister Jeanne.

Creating an awe inspiringly wide vision, the film at once recalls the scope of Cecil B. Demille and the hedonistic excesses that remained Russell’s own hallmark. The fate of Grandier positions religious orders as puppets of state control. Manipulated to rid the French king of this turbulent priest, the Christian order’s swift descent upon its wayward brethren only serves to prove its own hollowness.

Yet Russell intriguingly doesn’t position such claims as the simple answer. Grandier retains a form of faith, creating the implication that individual belief remains untainted in the face of an established religion at the beck and call of political figures.

Russell is in complete control of his grand vision, consistently managing to instil the feeling of complete disorder while retaining form and momentum. Matching exquisitely composed visuals with unsurpassable performances from both Reed and Redgrave as Sister Jeanne, The Devils is essential cinema.

The time has come Warner Brothers, release this unedited – and crucial – cut.

Outskirts (1933) or livewithfilm rises up for the Motherland!…

4 Nov

Boris Barnet’s 1933 film Outskirts remains revolutionary in both form and content, an intriguing artwork with a beating political heart. Constantly surprising as only the earliest exponents of sound films could be, Outskirts uses all its means to express the destructive absurdity of the twentieth century. Giving a moving portrayal of the impact of both the First World War and the Russian Revolution on everyday life, Barnet focuses on the inhabitants of a small village on the Russo-German border. The onset of war forces factory workers to ditch their rebellion and volunteer ‘for the Motherland’. Brothers Nikolai (Nikolai Bogolyubov) and Seneka Kadkin (Nikolai Kryuchkov) march to the trenches, leaving their father Pyotr (Aleksandr Chistyakov) to lament their departure. With aggressive nationalism being provoked across the town, a young girl (Yelena Kuzmina) riles the masses by falling in love with a German prisoner of war.

Barnet’s control of Outskirts is formidable with both sound and vision coming to signify greater social ills. In his most subversive association, Barnet uses the sounds of machine gun fire over the driving machinery of the shoe factory. An image regularly returned to throughout Outskirts, here the individual is positioned as the victim of the twentieth century’s driving political change. As patriotic Russians cheer departing soldiers, their cries become the train’s jets of steam driving the young men to their violent destination. Similarly mocking the grand associations of conflict, the falling bombs of the Russian Front as introduced through a comical swanee whistle’s swoop. Even a horse sighs at the laziness of his sleeping master, with a mournful ‘oh my god’. At times surreal, Barnet’s manipulation of medium forces the viewer to see familiar historic events in a new light and reassess the impact and legitimacy of such acts.

Allowing Barnet to damn the early twentieth century with greater vehemence, the film’s naturalistic performances remain relentlessly moving. Akin to the Italian neorealist films Bicycle Thieves and Rome, Open City that would tread similarly revolutionary ground a decade later, Outskirts frequently remains interested in portraying ordinary characters caught in everyday life. Kuzmina’s performance as lovelorn Marika creates an image of heartbreaking naivety amidst worldwide violence. Similarly, early cross-nation friendships between her father Alexander and their German lodger recall the humanistic vision of Renoir’s La Grande Illusion. This comparison is also particularly relevant once Outskirts begins to dwell on the horrors of trench warfare. Constantly emphasising that the conflicting armies are both equally disgusted with the conflict and share a common humanity, Barnet tends to hammer home a point that subsequently loses some of its power. While this remains an uplifting theme, Outskirts smashes its steam train straight into it with little nuance.

Nevertheless, Outskirts remains as politically relevant and innovative as it did on its release. That we still haven’t got Barnet’s forcefully put message about the lunacy of warfare perhaps validates Outskirts’fury.

Outskirts is released on DVD on 12 November

On the Road (2012) or livewithfilm stops scatting to hitch a ride…

10 Oct

Ahead lies the road: hurtling down it steams this twitching, scintillating, rambunctious film, full of possibility and brimming with life. Spewed from Kerouac’s text yet in reality an independent piece in an entirely different medium, On the Road cannot be compared to its source. So indicative of a mood and bound within its form, the written journey remains unfilmable. Yet this is not to say Walter Salles’ film does not neatly harness that feeling and form a loving interpretation of it. While a little baggy (a near unforgivable misstep given the tightly wound quality of its source), On the Road burns with a flame even Dean Moriarty could appreciate.

 

Opening on the crowded art scene of New York circa 1947, On the Road plunges deep into the mangled worlds of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley), Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge). Cutting violently and switching from hapless poet to wayward love interest, Salles utterly evokes this existence in his form, reproducing at once the heady highs of hipster life and the crippling incongruity these characters feel amid the stayed establishment.

 

Igniting their lives, Dean drives Sal and Carlo to further psychological and sexual lengths. Captivating and dauntingly bold, Hedlund utterly convinces as the formidable Dean. Slowly becoming the driving force of On the Road, Hedlund sucks attention towards him, remaining at once a thrilling and wretched presence.

 

As Dean and Carlo make their way to Denver, Sal is left to make his own way out of his city. With Sal travelling through evocative mountains, cotton fields and blazing sun, the camera still manages to resist simple shots. Jittering away like Sal’s itching lust for the road, Salles’ frame finds an intriguing abnormality in every image.

 

Finding themselves together once again, Sal and the newly married Dean venture out on an adventure of their own. Neatly followed by a near omnipresent musical beat, the duo storm towns and cities, continuing their search for an identity that constantly eludes them.

 

The host of hangers-on come to define On the Road, discarded and picked up with a surprising brutality. While Viggo Mortensen cleaves an exceptionally dark streak through the film’s mid-section as heroin addict Old Bull Lee, Kristen Stewart pulls in a career defining performance as Dean’s on-off wife Marylou to retain a feminine defiance amongst the male bravura. Even as Kirsten Dunst seems a little out of place throughout, her ever-harassed Camille suits her aloof presence. Calling Sal to dance, a filtered camera evokes the heroines of classical Hollywood in Camille, while all those around her flee for the future.

 

On the Road remains at its strongest when twitching with youthful exuberance. When attempting to force a fixed narrative voice onto the plot through voiceover, Salles only serves to slow the pace and stifle the wildness. Yet at its height, On the Road remains a trip to remember.

The Trial (1962) or livewithfilm bangs the gavel for Orson Welles and Kafka…

15 Aug

Franz Kafka’s crucial novel on the nightmarish power and impenetrability of the law realises the early twentieth century as a paranoid dystopia, rife with oppression and manipulation. Recreating these deep shadows with his customary panache, Orson Welles takes a fitting leap from the oppressive gloom of Touch of Evil and Citizen Kane to forge a stylised reality in an undeniably expressionist fashion. Forming the text into an artistic feast, the evident authorial stamp imprinted upon The Trial saw it becoming Welles’ favourite film.Visually, it might just well be.

As Josef K (Anthony Perkins) is woken in his room by a shadowy law-man, he is arrested and charged. Ignorant of what he has been accused of yet eager to protest his innocence, K travels to confront the judicial system. Yet facing a labyrinthine network of lawyers, judges and criminals, K struggles to uphold his virtuous nature in the face of this tirade of accusation.

Stylised swathes of darkness lead the viewer into The Trial, remaining omnipresent throughout K’s futile battle against the establishment. Startlingly true to an often surreal book, Welles skilfully uses shadow to communicate the oppressive nature of Kafka’s text. The law lurks in every corner of this world, planting an inescapable mark on the physiological and psychological states of its inhabitants. With low camera angles, even the ceilings become agents of the state, at one point forcing a downtrodden man to crawl under their weight. The expansiveness of the outside world is little of an escape, an apocalyptic wasteland that remains chillingly familiar to K. Harking back to the unsettlingly angular and artificial environment of Das Cabinet des Dr. CaligariThe Trial creates a world buckling under injustice; never beautiful but constantly startling in its style.

Forming K into a jittery man-child, Perkins’ portrayal of Kafka’s protagonist remains a significant divergence from the original text. While the book used the intelligence of K to amplify the impossible nature of the failing system of law, Welles’ The Trial misses out on such an impact by making K into an individual caught unawares. However, Perkins remains superbly driven throughout and creates a powerfully pathetic central pillar for the film. Playing Albert Hassler, Welles, unsurprisingly, doesn’t miss out on the opportunity to remould an originally frail character into a rambunctious monolith. While not exerting the same impact as he did over The Third Man, Hassler becomes a fitting figure of power. Disappointingly, in his directorial role, Welles makes the decision to alter Kafka’s finale and an incredibly powerful literary ending. This ultimately taints The Trial’s dénouement but surprisingly does not detract from the impact of the preceding two hours. The film is majestic and essential. The verdict: stunning.

Fitzcarraldo (1982) or livewithfilm realises it has the emotional state of a nineteenth-century steamship

3 May

It is an oddly tiring sensation for livewithfilm to know that every film it watches will require a write up to follow. It isn’t difficult to form opinion about film because, after all, as an art form it is arguably designed to provoke debate and discussion. Simultaneously livewithfilm is under no obligation to keep going, aside from the ever creeping guilt ignited by another empty day on the blog’s calendar. But much like the enormous steamship dragged through the Amazonian jungle in today’s film, livewithfilm keeps moving on, fuelled by the momentum of all the blogs that precede its latest entry. You know when times are tough when one emerges from a two and a half hour epic, feeling pathos for a hulking water cruiser.

Opera lover Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) is determined to build a suitable music venue in the centre of the Peruvian jungle. Realising that he must generate considerable funds for his project, he forms a crew that will travel with him and harvest rubber from a section of untouched forest. Yet his plan develops into one that forces the ship to travel into dangerous territory and scale a mountain.

After hearing the tales about Werner Herzog’s film, livewithfilm couldn’t wait to observe the madness. Worthy of its own documentary (Burden of Dreams (1982)), the film’s production saw a 320 ton ship moved over a jungle hill, without special effects; multiple members of the crew injured during the turbulent filming of a rapid sequence; and Herzog being offered a gift of Kinski’s murder by a native chief who took exception to the star’s violent displays of anger. Amusingly this offer was only refused by the director because he needed his actor to complete certain scenes for the film’s completion. Amidst all of this emerges an intriguing movie that deftly mixes naturalism with the scene chewing fanaticism of its acting talent. Yes Fitzcarraldo tends to drag in places but this only adds to the uncompromising nature of both the protagonist’s and Herzog’s visions. It is a grand spectacle that both encapsulates and envisions untamed artistic vision.

The Ides of March (2011)

12 Mar

And so livewithfilm keeps rolling! It is a testament to yesterday’s Shame that subsequent viewing has been greatly overshadowed by Steve McQueen’s nihilistic vision. Retrospectively packing a greater impact, it would take an impressive piece of filmmaking for livewithfilm to forget such a brutally realised vision of modern excess. Perhaps as a fitting accompaniment then, livewithfilm has delved deeper into the ills of society with the political thriller The Ides of March. Whilst sporting far fewer thrusting pelvises, George Clooney’s film still judges discord and self examination as the outcomes of contemporary Western existence. Yet as excellent as the actor is, livewithfilm gets the feeling that Shame would have been a far slicker (and thus sterilised) vehicle if Clooney was at the helm.

Spearheading the communications wing of Governor Mike Morris’s (George Clooney) Democrat presidential campaign, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is more of a devotee than an employee. Completely in awe of Morris, Meyers eagerly works with Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to gain the crucial endorsement of Senator Thompson. Yet after Stephen spends numerous nights with campaign intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), the perfect façade of Morris begins to slip. Questioning his own allegiances, Stephen must resist the lures of opposition campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) whilst battling to once again respect the man who may become president.

Especially whilst Republican candidates battle across the pond, Clooney’s film is decidedly compelling viewing. The back stabbing, competitive world of politics is neatly realised through his highly stylised eye. Morris is effectively deified as the rarely glimpsed figurehead; the choice to realise him as a distant figure ensures that he remains an ostensibly serene focal point of reverence. Yet for a political thriller to have any real clout, it needs to infer more than The Ides of March managed. For the film to emerge with little more to say than that politics is rife with trechery and manipulation remains disappointingly anticlimactic. This unfortunate bathos sours the film’s final image. As intriguing as it remains, Clooney’s film needed more to cement itself as a meaningful political examination. Nevertheless, this is no ill step for Clooney. Neither as stylish nor significant as Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), The Ides of March is another neatly realised narrative. Whilst the lack of a significant ending was unfortunately apparent when viewed next to yesterday’s Shame, The Ides of March remains an enjoyably frothy image ofAmerica’s political figureheads.

Shame (2011)

11 Mar

After a relatively muted public outcry (thanks for the email readers!), livewithfilm has dusted off the typewriter and come back to blogging. Inadvertently trapping itself in a creative rut, this blogger repeatedly came across films that didn’t cry out to be revisited. Much admired pieces from the ‘classic’ canon are often excellent enough but do not lend themselves to short write ups if one is looking for interesting perspectives. Never wanting to retread tired ground, livewithfilm was yearning for new and interesting films. Right on cue, Steve McQueen’s newest boundary pusher arrived to reinvigorate and rally.

In a hedonistic metropolis of easy thrills, Brando (Michael Fassbender) cultivates his life as a sex addict through privacy and distance. Upsetting the psychological serenity that Brando enjoys in his world of no strings attached copulation and ritualised masturbation, distant sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) unexpectedly arrives in hisNew Yorkapartment. Significantly filling this measured zone with the seventies tones of ‘I Want Your Love’, Sissy’s arrival marks a potential moment of salvation for Brando. Akin to the towering skyscrapers that surround the siblings, an unresolved issue that has clouded their relationship looms above them.

More measured than McQueen’s Hunger (2008 – reviewed on the 16th November by livewithfilm), Shame sources a deeply pervasive disquiet from its realisation of sex addiction. Appropriately raw and shocking, McQueen paints a lurid picture of this demoralising, all encompassing, disease in the hub of consumerism: New York. Whilst the director has stated that he only set the film in the Big Apple because of its more approachable society of sex addicts, this location at once accentuates Brando’s dependency on capitalist consumption and the separation that he surrounds himself with; Brando is a towering, phallic skyscraper, knowing only a life dedicated to supporting himself in every need. As tenuous a metaphor as this first seems, Shame is a masterful example of symbolic suggestion and allusion. The light blue sheets that signify Brando’s covert sexual mores are carried with the character throughout: his shirts, workplace and fittingly the concealing hood of his well worn tracksuit inescapably hark back to the bedroom. Even a focal point of desire on the subway shines out of the crowd, her bright clothing a spotlight of sexuality in the muted colours of the commuting multitude. Building on such imaginative direction, Fassbender provides a devastating yet subtle performance that instils Brando with an intense fragility. A beautiful and tragic film, Shame is one not for the faint hearted. But rightly so. An American Psycho (2000) for the soul searching noughties, the film never shies away from a brutal vision of reality. It only benefitted from the ensuing hail that livewithfilm endured as the blogger left the cinema.

Melancholia (2011)

25 Jan

Dissatisfied with the major collapse in recent reviewing, livewithfilm resolutely declared its intent to write tonight despite a hectic schedule. For it seems that the greatest barrier to constant film viewing is the prospect of a social life in any form. Before you suggest it, The Social Network (2010) does not provide a satisfying middle ground for such a quandary. Yet luckily enough, livewithfilm was able to head down to the Prince Charles Cinema this week (its favourite picture-house), catching Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia in the process. This blogger would have struggled to find a more fitting watch in the week that held ‘blue Monday’, the apocalyptic vision playing easily beside the most morose day of the calendar.

Whilst Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) hurries to organise a lavish wedding for her depressed sister Justine (Kirsten Dunst), questions are raised about the movements of celestial body Melancholia. Infuriated by Justine’s mental illness, Claire’s husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) remains sure that the planet will not crash into planet Earth as many suspect. Yet Claire maintains doubt about humanity’s future, collapsing with anxiety just as Justine begins to find faith in her own pessimism.

An auteur who can be relied upon for the production of challenging work, Von Trier once again defies expectations with Melancholia. Moving from the gut-wrenchingly grisly Antichrist (2009) into science fiction, the director’s work has always been an exciting, if not always successfully executed, prospect. Whilst there are tinges of Renoir’s manor house farce La Règle du Jeu (1939), Melancholia most certainly is not laugh-a-minute fun. Seemingly the realisation of a high concept idea, the film explores varying psychological reactions to the inescapable destruction of humanity with subtlety and artistic flair. Livewithfilm told you it was a tough watch. Yet whilst this blogger was embroiled within the pervading gloom of Melancholia’s subject matter, Von Trier’s film impressively remains a compelling watch. As seditious as Festen (1998), Melancholia’s subversion of the family unit is a gleefully uncomfortable vision from the rebellious Dane and neatly mirrors the Earth’s inevitable disintegration. Furthermore, Melancholia’s inquisitive exploration of the power of depression becomes even more poignant once recognition is given to Von Trier’s close relationship with the disease.

The Artist (2011)

4 Jan

Whilst livewithfilm’s gift to itself this Christmas was a yuletide distance from the computer, this blogger was unable to fully escape a wealth of filmic viewing. Alongside taking advantage of a television schedule stuffed with celluloid, livewithfilm was even able to find time in its busy schedule to head to the multiplex. Thus even though many of the upcoming films were not watched and reviewed on the same day and therefore do not abide by livewithfilm’s stringent regulations, such wintery gems could not be ignored. An apt choice for this critic’s first 2012 post, The Artist was caught by livewithfilm on the cusp of the new year.

America, 1927. On the opening night of his spy thriller ‘A Russian Affair’, movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) greets his adoring public with an insatiable glee. Yet a kiss from fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) on the celebrity’s cheek instead brands this optimistic nobody as the next hot property inHollywood. After auditioning as a dancer for Valentin’s new production, Miller is gifted a role by the actor and swiftly grows into an audience favourite in modern sound pictures. However, Valentin resists his studio bosses, intending to remain working in silent pictures. Directing and starring in new soundless movie ‘Tears of Love’, Valentin is crushed when Miller’s latest film trounces Valentin at the box office, leaving his career in tatters.

Left unmentioned in the synopsis yet highly significant to the plot, Michel Hazanavicius’s film is black and white and silent. Although The Artist is a visually and aurally stunning piece, much has also been made of the historical significance of this choice; the production of a modern film in this manner without doubt reflects positively on the timeless nature of the now outdated form. The relative experimentation deployed by Hazanavicius undoubtedly exposes the great artistic potential still available to the medium. However most importantly, The Artist is a success because of its witty performances and touching plot. Hazanavicius’s film is a relentlessly enjoyable and uplifting work that left livewithfilm laughing and weeping in the aisles. Seen with two hours left of 2011, The Artist immediately became this blog’s film of the year. Abandon any inhibitions regarding black and white cinema immediately and search out this heart-rending gem. If that doesn’t draw you in, it does boast a life-saving comedy dog.

Breathless (1960)

13 Dec

Livewithfilm is in a bind. Whilst the idea of watching and writing about a variety of films first seemed akin to an exposé of cinema, an intriguing journey into celluloid, the interests of livewithfilm has left the blog in an odd position. Each film chosen by livewithfilm has been, quelle surprise, one that livewithfilm has desired to see. The task of constantly watching and writing about films would be far more strenuous if all that this blogger chose was dross. Yet in conforming to such logical intentions, livewithfilm has managed to report on a series of enjoyable and pleasing movies. There have been misfires: Taffin was no masterpiece for sure; The Devil Rides Out and 3:10 To Yuma were flawed yet compelling watches. However, the films chosen have been nearly universally liked. Maybe livewithfilm is overdue a painful watch. This all occurred to the blogger after having chosen Godard’s Breathless, a film well loved and admired by many. Livewithfilm has been looking forward to watching this Nouvelle Vague classic for some time but perhaps it should be the final ‘classic’ that the blog chooses. To experience the highs, must livewithfilm endure the lows?

Jean-Luc Godard’s Parisian thriller-come-love-story sees Michel Polccard (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on the run after stealing a car and shooting a policeman. Travelling to the capital, Michel meets past sweetheart Patricia Franchini (Jean Seberg). Unsure whether to travel toItaly, Michel and Patricia begin to reignite their adoration for one another.

It is frankly a miracle that livewithfilm managed to squeeze out this much of a plot from Godard’s elusive and intangible piece. For what is meaningful in Breathless is in fleeting conversation, passing remarks and intriguing images. Nothing is as literal as it first appears which can be infuriating. Even though Livewithfilm found Breathless less wilfully obtuse than Vivre sa Vie and with fewer unintentional moments of hilarity than Jules et Jim, Godard’s film often seems difficult to a near pretentious standard. Had livewithfilm failed in the filmmaker’s eyes when it did not issue a droll French guffaw with the character who stated that his life’s goal was ‘to become immortal and then die’? But reader do not fear, Breathless did not fly completely over your blogger’s head. The quick interchanges between Patricia and Michel are hypnotic, effortlessly breaking down all ideas of romantic love. Key to its success, Breathless exudes cool. The sight of Michel glancing his shaded eyes over a newspaper, cigarette coquettishly held and hat irreverently balanced, is as smooth and graceful as cinema comes. So another livewithfilm recommendation then…