Monday, 12 November 2018

The Question in Bodies #22: Freaks (1932)

(Freaks was made in 1932. Back then, the language used to talk around people with bodily deformities was what we'd now think of as pretty offensive. But it's the language of the film, and it's difficult to talk about the film clearly without using its language. And it's a worthwhile and humane film. It deserves to be talked about. Still. If I offend or use terms carelessly, I'm sorry. I would like to do better. Let me know. As ever, expect spoilers.)
Carnival barker:  We didn't lie to you, folks! We told you that we had living... breathing... monstrosities! You laughed at them! Shuddered at them! And, yet, but for the accident of birth, you might be one as they are. They did not ask to be brought into the world, but! Into the world they came! Their code is a law unto themselves! Offend one and you offend them all!
It's a simple enough film, this, and in some ways very much of its time for most of its brief length. It comes from a period where cinema had literally only just found its voice, and you can see that a bit in how former silent actors are still grappling with how to present themselves in talking film. There are moments that look creaky and mannered now, the jolly, tinny parp of the jazz age film orchestra sometimes at odd with the images it soundtracks.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Cult Cinema #11: The Pain is the Point

Martyrs (2008)

(I'm not sure you can spoil a film like this. The blank description of the carnage, misery and pain visited upon the women in the 2008 original version of Martyrs is inadequate, really, to get across the extremity of it. Suffice to say, though, there are many spoilers here, along with all of the content warnings.)

Martyrs has a dire reputation. Even the people who like it will tell you it's a work of relentless, nihilistic carnage; the ones who don't will dismiss it as torture porn. Is it? Well.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Magician's Wireless

I
Yesterday I went outside, and it was unseasonably cold. And the sky turned red, and purple, and finally black, and then it began to rain, huge icy bullets of filthy, dirt-streaked water, greenish and oily and iridescent on the back of my hand, a dirty black rainbow on my skin, the cold of it burning, the hairs prickling, the pores closing.

Friday, 26 October 2018

The Question in Bodies #21: Lectio Infernalis

Possession (1981)

(OK, look. I'm just going to list the things worthy of a content warning and be done with it. This post includes talk on: suicidal behaviour; self harm; spousal abuse; misogyny; childhood trauma; infidelity; God. Probably some other things too. But that's your warning. Do what you want with it.)

Writing about films saved my life.

That’s a pretty serious statement to make, true, and of course it’s hyperbole, except that it isn’t, not entirely.

Deep breath, then. Over the space of about three years, I underwent what they used to call a nervous breakdown. I’m kind of cagey about talking on this; there’s always the sense that a thing like this is never really in the past tense. And yeah, I had a couple of false starts, and lulls, and times when I was fooled into thinking the fragile flame of a candle was the distant light of the sun at the end of that tunnel, only for it to be extinguished, which is somehow worse than never having had that light in the first place. The extent to which in my adult life I’ve been free of my mental health issues has only ever been a matter of degree, although it's only in the last two years that what I have wrong with me has really been pinpointed in any way that allows me to work with it. Writing about it, as I have increasingly in the last year, as my recovery has been something I’ve gradually become more confident about, has been a precarious, frightening thing.

There is the risk, for one, when you self disclose with any kind of honesty, that you might be revealed as a terrible human being. The risk that your honest appearance to the world might be as prejudiced, or as self regarding and pretentious, or as a navel gazer, or as inflated and pompous, or worst of all, as pathetic and creepy and small. I've been all of them at times, I think. I'll try not to be any of them here and now, but the problem with honesty is that there are no filters. There are no masks.

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Question in Bodies, parenthesis: April (2018)

I'm not really experienced in writing about theatre, especially the sort of theatre that hinges on you not knowing the ending, that depends upon a transformative revelation. While spoiling the twist of a movie is often not a deal breaker, the twist in a theatrical performance, which is still a one-time personal event in a way that a TV show or a movie cannot be in 2018, is sacred. I remember that episode of Toast of London where Steven Toast is on the radio being interviewed about being in a Famous Long Running Mystery Play, and blithely gives away the ending without even realising he's done it, and it's funnier if you know how hard theatre people try to keep stuff like that under wraps.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

The Question in Bodies #20: It Mattered to That One

Evolution (2015)

(This post comes with a content warning for discussion of child abuse. As usual, spoilers abound.)

You've probably heard some variation of the inspirational fable about the little boy who's walking along this beach that's covered with washed up starfish, and every so often he stoops over and picks one up and chucks it back into the sea, and some adult comes up and says, in the way that adults only ever talk to kids in inspirational fables, “What are you doing, kid? There are too many starfish here to save! How does it matter?” And the punchline comes when the kid picks up another one, throws it into the sea, and says, “It mattered to that one.”

Which makes a powerful and important philosophical point about the value of small kindnesses. I like that one. It's one of my favourites. I've used it myself more than once.

And of course, as is the case with all the best parables, which are by nature improbable, it is flawed if taken strictly literally as a narrative. Because of course, it didn't matter to the starfish, because starfish are utterly alien. There's no brain in a starfish, just a collection of nerves and ganglia spread out among its arms, and around its mouth, so that even if you could ascribe the thing with consciousness, it's not a unity, but a collection of joined and sometimes competing consciousnesses that grow and sometimes split, and regenerate lost components of the gestalt. The experience of a starfish is probably impossible to imagine.

I wonder if Lucile Hadžihalilović had this story in mind when making Evolution. The starfish, both in terms of its alienness and the value of throwing one back, is the thematic image that defines the film.

Monday, 8 October 2018

We Don't Go Back #89: I go to sleep before closing my eyes

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů) (1970)

Because I touched upon most of the Important Films quite early in this project, when I didn't know what I was doing with it, I feel I gave some of them short shrift. Which is why I gave The Witch, Blood on Satan's Claw and Witchfinder General second goes. My original piece about Valerie was quite good, I thought (it has one glaring error in it, which is going to be fixed in a second edition, though), since it was almost as oblique as the film. In many ways that piece on Valerie was the first one where I thought, actually, you can do something more interesting than just say whether you liked it. But still, I reckon Valerie deserves more. Valerie will always deserve more.