Thursday, 20 September 2018

Subordinate to the Spray-on Cobwebs

Sleepy Hollow (1999)


(This post was requested by Thaddeus Urban, who backed the “Whistle and I'll Come to You” tier on the surprisingly successful We Don't Go Back Kickstarter, where I promised to write about a film of the backer's choice. Thaddeus very kindly picked a film that's at least partially on topic, and about which I'd have much to say. Which was a relief, let me tell you.)

One of the criticisms that I often level at Tim Burton is that at some point he went from making movies to making Tim Burton Movies, by which I mean that the tics of his style overwhelm everything else, that they became about certain things that recur, over and over. There is a feeling of sweet decay to a Tim Burton Movie, that its gravestones are decked in spun sugar and spray-on cobwebs, and the gothic excess is accompanied by quirky comedy. Danny Elfman is there, too, making sweet spooky-ooky choral flourishes. A Tim Burton Movie (as opposed to a movie made by Tim Burton) is lush, and overwrought, and reassuringly creepy, and often includes this big, heavy subtext about parents and familial dysfunction, and if it's an adaptation where this isn't explicit, that subtext will be added, even if it's not there to start with. Take the bizarre backstory and coda in his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), where Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp, as it so often is in Tim Burton Movies) is messed up because his dad, a dentist (Christopher Lee) put him in elaborate Heath Robinson dental appliances and disowned him due to him wanting to be a chocolatier.

Funny, isn't it though, that the charge I laid at the door of his Planet of the Apes was that it wasn't Tim Burton enough? I complained that Burton's trademark aesthetic had been abandoned, and I saw that as evidence that he evidently didn't care about the film, since the marks that make it his were largely absent. So what is it then? The bloke can't win: either he gets you playing Tim Burton Bingo, or he's not being Tim Burton enough. I mean, what is it about films like Beetlejuice (1988) or Ed Wood (1994) that makes them so much more satisfying than a film like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Or for that matter Sleepy Hollow?

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Written in Water #22: The Miracle of the Sparrows


All I have to show you is this bird
I made with fingers, spit and clay.
I breathed on it like Jesus had, I heard,
To make it come alive and fly away.


At the end of the Gospel of John, the evangelist writes,
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
John 21:25
I've always liked that as an ending. It feels like a recognition of the shortcomings of the story's form and an assertion of validity in a humble, eloquent way. There are other versions of Christ's story, the evangelist is saying, and they are no more or less valid than this one.

Friday, 7 September 2018

The Question in Bodies #18: I'd Love to Tell You, But You Aren't Ready for the Truth

Poppy (2014-present)

Poppy, if you don't know, is a pop star. Poppy is a fictional character, with a storyline of sorts. Poppy's most recent single, “Time Is Up”, begins with Poppy more or less declaring herself something other than human.
In the factory
In the sterile place where they made me
I woke up alone
Dizzy from the programming
Have I been wiped again?
Oh my God, I don't even know
Over the next three minutes, she declares herself a harbinger of the extinction of humanity over a four to the floor backing of the whitest techno, courtesy of collaborator Diplo. I mean, in terms of actual quality and cultural importance, it's pretty much the 21st century version of Zager and Evans’s “In the Year 2525”, but it's also the most Poppy thing ever.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Artsploitation! Richard Blackburn on Vampires and Apes

Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural, which is honestly one of the most downright fun films I've found since starting my project, was directed by Richard (Dick) Blackburn, and I had the immense privilege to talk with Dick over the phone a couple of times over the last week, and to ask him about Lemora, and also, more briefly, about his voice work on Return to the Planet of the Apes, which makes Dick the nexus of an unlikely crossover of my interests.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

September Will Let You Down

I’ve known you all my life,
And it sounds so glib, but it's true,
You were there the day I was born.
I grew up looking forward to seeing you.
The first time I fell in love,
I fell in love with you.
I still look out for you,
Forget everything I ever learned about
Life when you arrive.
I know you're not exclusive,
Know you make the same
Promises to anybody interested.
I haven’t been so faithful myself.
I’ve had others.
They’ve run hot and cold.
But it’s always you I want.
I want to feel your touch on my face.
I want you to make everything
All right again.
It won’t work.
It’ll rain.
Our plans to meet up like we did
When I was a kid
Won’t ever come off;
The party won’t work out
The way it should.
You’ll turn frosty and
I won’t know why.
I’m holding my breath for you.
I’m biting my lip.
September will cheat on me.
September will let me down.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Question in Bodies #17: The Elephant Man (1980)

I don't cry.

I haven't since I was fifteen. I remember the last moment I cried, the blood I spat into a boy's face; I remember the first moment, some time later, that I decided I never would again. My body has kept that promise. I never cried at my father's death, or at the birth of my children, or when a friend died, or one Sunday afternoon when I stood outside a flat holding a bloody knife in my fingertips, wondering if I would have the strength to deal with what was inside. It's no longer a thing I do. Or can do.

There's a point, I suppose, when you've had enough. When all the things heaped upon you change you forever, and your body and identity, entirely outside of your conscious control, say, no more. No more. When you have no safe space to which you can retreat, and that continues for as long as five, six, seven years, something happens to you.

You change. You change inside. It changes who you are.

Monday, 20 August 2018

We Don't Go Back #88: Arcadia (2018)


One of the best things about this job has been that with increasing frequency I get to see things and talk about things I might not otherwise see, or see them in a way I might not otherwise do. Thanks to Marc Roberts, Wyrd Wonder of Cardiff, I had the opportunity to see Paul Wright’s awkward and mildly controversial visual collage Arcadia, and then to talk about what I got out of it with the audience at Chapter Arts Centre, on 9th August this year.

My notes on my first viewing of the film were lengthy and not especially coherent. The film is associative; its message is hidden in its structure, the way in which clips of film segue into others.

Even if you’ve seen parts of it – I recognised maybe half a dozen of the hundred or so snatches of film Arcadia uses – that’s beside the point. The visual essay itself depends on how these things fit together, on its order and structure.

The film fired associations, intuitive links. I can’t be linear here. I have to be associative. I have to digress. Not all of the images here appear in Arcadia, by the way. It's probably fair to tell you that.