Monday 23 September 2019

Don't do that, Rupert

(I just needed a picture of an exceptionable Rupert. Sorry.) 
I saw a review of a poetry book this morning, which I'm not going to link, and I mean I'm not a good poet and I don't know much about poetry, but here's the thing, this was a little book by no one you'd heard of, from a tiny publisher, and the guy (from the name, 95% sure it was a white guy, English, and from the writing, 95% sure he's straight) who reviewed it was utterly scathing, and not even in any methodical way. He was just mean, picking out a couple of terrible lines without giving you any idea of the book beyond "this has some bad lines in it".

And OK, maybe I'd read those lines too and go, "ouch" – and the lines he singled out were indeed pretty ouch – but seriously, Rupert? What does it achieve?

You know I write about film, right? And you know I'm not afraid to say bad things about a film if I think it's bad? But the thing is, sometimes I get sent movies that were made by first time directors and which cost like 25p and I don't think it's fair to rag on those. Like, there are things you can say, but there's punching down and punching up.

There's a qualitative difference to saying, for instance, "This piece will spoil plot points, but to be honest nothing will ruin things for you quite as much as actually watching the film,"* about a multimillion buck blockbuster to saying that about a self funded folk horror short made in a back yard in Glasgow.

Pointing out that a film about monsters that cost gazillions to make, made gazillions in the box office and has gazillions of fans is bad is not going to hurt anyone. They're big enough to take it. It's like a BB bullet shot at, well, at Godzilla. Ruthlessly dumping on the production values of a film that can't afford to look like a Hollywood blockbuster because the cash was scraped together from a mid-range Kickstarter, or squashing like a bug the aspirations of a first time scriptwriter, or tearing out the bad lines of someone's small press poetry collection?

The word for that is not "criticism". The word for that is "bullying". When, like me, you're just someone with a blog, OK, you can feel like you're on the bottom of the tree too, but the role of the critic is never really just to say whether something is good or not anyway.

And there's an intellectual discipline in writing a redemptive reading of a thing. People seem to think that it is somehow more clever to be negative about stuff. That's false. To find reasons to see the value in things is often more difficult and challenging (and trust me in this: I watched Hellraiser: Hellseeker last night, or Hellraiser 6 to you), and much, much more worthwhile.

And all the more important when your subject isn't, for whatever reason, strong enough to take a hit, even if it's just from some random with a blog.

*Yes, I was pleased with myself for writing that. And yes, I do understand that makes me a bit of a dick. And no, I don't care.

Thursday 19 September 2019

Cult Cinema #16: The Endless (2017)

I'm not the only writer that's made this observation, but I've found in the last couple years since I've been doing this that certain films are easier to write about than others. And this doesn't map exactly on to how good they are. Great films are easy to write about. Really terrible films are easier to write about still, too easy in fact, because any idiot can lay into a film and give a brutal run down of what's wrong with it. A deep dive into what's good or even great about a bad film isn't all that tough, and a bit more rewarding (and I have a soft spot for those films that are in no way good but nonetheless wildly entertaining). Films that are a wild mix of brilliant and awful are a gift. But films that are just sort of average are tough work; it feels you like have to fight to tease anything out of them.

The hardest of all are the ones that are pretty good. Not the best ever, just good. Solid, well made, well performed, well structured films with a clear idea of what they're doing and what they're saying, and how to say it. Because what else is there to say? To understand the film, you just have to watch it.

Which is a bit of a long-winded preamble to me putting The Endless in just that category. It's a good film. I recommend you seeing it. I enjoyed it and that's just as well because I've watched it four times now with the intention of writing about it and I'm still not sure what to say (especially when my last go at a piece, after the third view, got accidentally deleted about a thousand words in and I ragequit and abandoned it for a month). Spoilers abound, both for this and Resolution (2012), the film to which this is a loose sequel, but not as many as usual. People who are upset or strongly affected by talk of suicide might prefer not to read this piece, although mention of such is only brief.

Friday 13 September 2019

WDGB Midsommar Special #2: Dymphna

The last time Dymphna wrote a guest post for me, it became the single most read piece on this site for nearly two years by several thousand views. Dymphna is a fierecely intelligent writer and an excellent game designer (fans of role-playing and folk horror should definitely take a look at her game Dreaming the Devil), and when she offered me a short piece on Midsommar, I jumped at it like a puppy offered an especially tasty treat. Dymphna's piece is a rare thing on this site, a piece that you can read before  you see the movie. 

Thursday 12 September 2019

WDGB Midsommar Special #1: Eve Elizabeth Moriarty

So I've seen Midsommar, because of course I've seen Midsommar, and I have things to say about it, but I'm holding back on that because from tomorrow I'm going to be at the 13th MotelX film festival, in Lisbon, where I will, aside from being honoured to be on the jury for the short film selections, be hosting a folk horror masterclass with Midsommar director Ari Aster, and it just seems sort of sensible to hold off on saying much about it until I've, y'know, met the guy and talked about it.  

However! I'm not the only one who's got Thoughts, and several great writers I know have ideas about this. So over the next few weeks I'm running three (at least) takes on Midsommar by my friends and colleagues. 

First up is my good friend, the frankly powerful Eve Moriarty. Eve is a poet and academic, and it is no exaggeration to say that she numbers among my favourite people in the whole world. Here's what she has to say. There are spoilers in this piece.

Tuesday 10 September 2019

The Question in Bodies #26: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

I'm a sucker for the sort of film that messes with genre, and especially for the sort of film that uses genre to get away with saying things that you couldn't in a serious social realist drama. When a Serious Film, capital S, capital F, actually does make Serious Issues, which is a vanishingly rare occurrence, for all sorts of reasons, the issues become the tail that wags the dog, almost; people begin to watch the film because it is about the issues, people argue with it on the grounds of the issues, people make it part of the issue and it's almost as if it loses the ability to say anything because you know what it's going to say before you start. It becomes part of the conversation rather than starting a new one.

For example, Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake (2016), caused questions to be asked in Parliament. The conversation around it was impassioned, but centred around whether it was an accurate representation of the experience of poverty (spoiler: it is) and, reduced to a political statement, it became the sort of film you watch either to hear what you knew already, or to pick holes in.

But genre films have been sneaking this sort of thing past audiences for a long time. That's not always a good thing: cinema audiences aren't necessarily literate enough to get the point (and indeed, as I keep saying, a big stream in fan culture lionises illiteracy), and might even seize on an entirely different point to the one you meant to say (see The Matrix). But the simple joy to be found in a film that's slipping things past people can't be discounted. Even if these things are blindingly, sledgehammer obvious.

Which I suppose brings us to Sorry To Bother You. As always, this post carries a spoiler warning.