Monday 20 January 2020

Cult Cinema #20: Live Together or Die Alone

Doomsday (2016)

The Doomsday we're looking at here is not to be confused with Neil Marshall's bonkers 2008 “post-apocalyptic Scotland, as run by Festival Crusties” action movie, or any other film or TV show of that name. This one is a strange and probably incomplete streaming drama about a peculiar cult that has been available on Amazon Prime Video for a little while now, and which I stumbled across, almost by accident, a few weeks ago, and watched through three times, which sounds a lot, except there's only two episodes (IMDB says it's four, but that's because each of the two existing episodes was released in two parts) and there are unlikely to be more.

Anyway, as usual, this post contains spoilers.

Monday 6 January 2020

We Don't Go Back #92: Worzel Gummidge (2019)

(Did you see Mackenzie Crook's adaptation of Worzel Gummidge this Christmas? Wasn't it great? I'm going to talk about how great it was in detail here. That means spoilers. You know the score by now.

Screen adaptations of books usually become better known than the books themselves, and it's basically true that you're more likely to have seen the film or TV adaptation of most literary works than you are to have read the actual book. This isn't a bad thing. Making an adaptation is a work of democratisation. It allows you to access a story and may in fact introduce you to the books. My dad only heard of MR James because of the BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas, and I only heard of him after my dad consequently got a book of MR James stories from the library. I first heard of Jorge Luis Borges (my favourite author basically) because I saw Alex Cox's adaptation of Death and the Compass on BBC's Arena strand back in 1996.

In some cases, the adaptation itself becomes so much more familiar than the books that a large chunk of the general public never realise that it was a book in the first place.

Disney has a lot to answer for here. I can guarantee that when you mention Mary Poppins, the proportion of people who think of PL Travers's melancholy, occult-tinged books rather than those heartwarming song and dance numbers performed by Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke (or even Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda) is vanishingly small. The same goes for Dumbo, Bambi, The Rescuers and Lady and the Tramp: there's a good chance that you may not even have known that they were adaptations.

One classic example of this is Worzel Gummidge.

Friday 3 January 2020

On a Thousand Walls #26: The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (2018)

There is a way to phrase a title that raises an expectation, to tell you about style, tone and content. For example, let's look at the early work of George Lucas, because it's an easy one. Star Wars (as Episode IV: A New Hope was simply called on release) is a pair of booming, declarative, internally alliterative monosyllables that almost have their own echo. It is the title of a film where a planet gets blown up, and if it does not disappoint in that department, that's less of a surprise than you might think. The title of American Graffiti, meanwhile, suggests a sentimental approach to the indiscretions of youth – you may be ambivalent towards the concept of graffiti, or for that matter the concept of America, but juxtaposition of the two makes both better. Graffiti is just writing on walls, but American graffiti is something to feel nostalgic for. On the other hand, there's something brutalist about THX-1138. Something that evokes the mechanistic, the Soviet (or, more accurately, the Western idea of the Soviet). And indeed it's a bleak, chilly sort of film. Not Soviet, though. THX-1138 is very much a capitalist dystopia. It's the future Elon Musk wants.

But. The point is, there's a lot in a title. Repo Man. Excalibur. Jupiter Ascending. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Apocalypse Now. The Shining. The title is a vital part of your engagement going in, and creates an expectation, or inspires investigation into a mystery, or simply tells you what sort of film you're watching.

It's actually very rare that a title is apparently made with the intention of wrongfooting you. And it's sort of complex how The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot does that. To talk about those expectations, there will necessarily be, as ever, spoilers.

Thursday 2 January 2020

On a Thousand Walls #25: The Love Witch (2016)

No film so nails what it feels like right now, how the past haunts the present, as The Love Witch.

No preamble here: there will totally be spoilers.