The Films I've Watched This Year #16

Film Evening.  Another short list, mostly because of Eurovision (which is even blander than usual this year with only about three songs with any kind of artistic merit) (The Netherlands entry's my favourite largely because of its spiritual similarity to The Broken Circle Breakdown) and wanting to finish off the eighth season of 24 which is still utterly stupid.  Now that I'm so near the end I feel like I have to see it through, especially since it's at the point where writer Manny Cotto has his Enterprise season four head on and is obviously doing stuff for the fun of it, trotting out some of the old favourite storylines from previous years and even some of the same characters in the way that fans who've taken over a franchise often do when they're nursing it through its death throws, just as a tribute.  If this was the kind of show which did ghosts and dream sequences, I'd almost expect a fever dream ala The Tudors in which Jack's visited by the many people who've died or he's killed in the process of protecting his country ("Dammit!) not least Nina Myers (though she's clearly there in spirit for various reasons anyway).  Nine episodes to go.

The other main piece of television this week was the utterly cinematic BBC Wales adaptation of Under Milk Wood starring a galaxy of local talent (available on the iplayer here for a couple more days).  Approaching the task of replicating a piece originated for radio on television and presumably with having to grab odd hours here and there with the busy participants, it cleverly makes such choices part of the artifice and asks the audience's imaginations to gather together the pieces, placing participants shot in obviously different locales in the same settings interacting with one another with wipes and fades and superimposing of shots creating dream-like quality that are utterly beguiling.  But despite the artifice, it's Dylan Thomas's words which are to the fore, the piece challenging the viewer in a way which few arts-based commissions have in recent times, just the sort of project we looking longingly into television history at, but on our television screens right now.  Only broadcast on BBC One Wales on Bank Holiday Monday in the early evening, it demands to be networked in the same slot, but I urge you to click the link above or find it on an app and wash yourself away with the words.

Ocean's Eleven
Full Frontal
Married Life
The Girl Chewing Gum

Arguably the best new film I saw this week was The Girl Chewing Gum, a twelve minute art film from 1976 currently on display as part of Tate Liverpool's Constellation's exhibition. Inspired by the scene in Trauffaut's Night and Day in which the director shouts directions from behind a camera to a scene to the scene's we watching, this sees artist James Smith apparently directing traffic as he orders cars and ordinary passers-by into frame ("Now could the trailer move ... now I want the children up to no good to cross the road..."), though we know from the artifice that such instructions have been dubbed on afterwards (and recorded in a field we see later). It's hilariously Pythonesque and also prefigures somewhat Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction, in which Will Ferrell finds his life narrated by Emma Thompson.  But the real draw for people with a certain interest set is the moment when the camera pans right to reveal a queue of families outside the Dalston Odeon, waiting, judging by the times on the billboard, to see The Land That Time Forgot on its original release (Oliver is also showing on the other screen).  Lucky kids.

Married Life is a surprising courageous piece of filmmaking but such virtues are hidden.  A melange of film noir, Sirkian domestics, Hitchcock and oddly a smattering of Rattigan and Coward, it sees Rachel McAdams as the object of affection between Piers Brosnan and Chris Cooper, the latter spending most its duration working up the courage to murder his wife (Patricia Clarkson) in order to be with her.  It's a useful, old school chamber piece, with McAdams underplaying in a role which generally requires her to smile winsomely.  But it's the special features section on the dvd that holds the real surprise as we discover three alternative endings of varying length as we see that director Ira Sachs in attempting to find a shape for the piece ended up hacking off and removing a whole ten minutes off the end in which the characters lives are seen ten years after the point at which the film currently ends with car crashes and court room scenes that look like they took at least three weeks and millions of dollars to shoot.  But the director realised that he didn't need them and that the point he was trying to make is all in Brosnan's voice over and the current final shot of the film.  Amazing.

The bank holiday and so lack of post presented the opportunity to work through some more of Steven Soderbergh's films in order.  Ocean's Eleven is just about perfect.  The more I watch it, the more I realise it's probably as important to me as The Godfather appears to be to others.  It's funny, sad, clever and the pinnacle of what modern Hollywood magic is capable of.  On the commentary, Soderbergh says that it was a very difficult shoot for him.  While he could tell the cast were really enjoying themselves, he was unsure whether the material he was getting would add up to anything.  But when he sat in the editing room it turned out to be the easiest of footage to watch and rewatch in the editing process.  That's the chemistry between the performers presumably, and the democracy especially since they're all pretty much equal partners even though in career terms they weren't in that place at all.  But it's also visually the perfect marriage of photography, the lustrous images of Las Vegas and David Holmes's score which despite hitting come of the cliches (Elvis) and creating a few new ones, never quite manages to totally glamorise the place.  It's not Leaving Las Vegas, but the seediness remains.

Then it's straight into Full Frontal, which, in the entire context of the directors career with Schizopolis, Ocean's Twelve, The Girlfriend Experience, Bubble and The Last Time I Saw Michael Gregg makes perfect sense.  Indeed it's practically Son of Schizopolis.  But at the time, critics hated it.  The old Rotten Tomatoes survey, "An confusing movie made worse by the poor camera work" isn't just grammatically suspect, it entirely misunderstands filmmaking.  Isn't it possible Soderbergh's shot it that way for a reason?  That he's contrasting the scuzziness of real life with the artifice of cinema?  They'd expected, I think, a Neil Simon-type sex comedy (which is how it was generally thought of in pre-production), but its actually something akin to Mike Figgis's Timecode with bits of a faux-indie relationship drama edited in.  Not knowing quite what to make of it back in the day, I ended up reviewing Rendezvous , the film within a film, though I entirely failed to mention the Terence Stamp cameo which in the wake of actually watching The Limey and having shared universes on the brain at the moment, is frankly brain splitting.

In the same year, Solaris was released.  On first viewing Solaris, my understanding of the ending, which I'm about to spoil so stop reading now if you haven't seen either this or the Tarkovsky version, was that a Solaris created copy of Chris had been transported back to Earth and he had then begat another version of Rheya.  Watching again at university in the wake of the Tarkovsky version, I was then corrected, I thought in that we're instead seeing Chris in Solaris ala 2001 being reunited with the copy of Rheya, not least because the action is a repeat of the opening of the film when he cuts his finger.  Now I'm convinced I was right the first time.  For a start, Gordon warns about the Solaris copies turning up on Earth and the effect multiplying.  But when Chris is in the kitchen and we cut to the action of him returning the ship as it falls into Solaris, the editing and sound are very similar to the moment earlier in the film when the Rheya "ghost" remembers the moment of the original's suicide.  This Solaris Chris, now on Earth, is becoming aware of his own facsimile status begating another Solaris Rheya as company in the process.  Their friends will be surprised ...

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