Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Art of Talking

This blog passed an invisible milestone this morning with just over 1000 comments racked up among these pages, so if you've ever taken the trouble to leave a comment on anything you've encountered here, I'd like to say thanks very much - even to the guy who left a comment to say I clearly didn't understand the meaning of the word spendthrift. Thanks dude. Comments are the things I prize most on this blog - it means that someone has read something I wrote and is moved enough to write back. Even the spendthrift guy. One of the best things about receiving a comment is how it can kick start a dialogue, which is often more entertaining than the post than precedes it, especially when it zigzags off topic into unexpected zones of discussion. So thanks once again and please keep 'em coming !

Edgar Allen Poe writes a comment: It's plutonian shore you zounderkite !

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

An Echo of Silence

More Nordic Blues.... I remember at the time thinking that was a really clever title... A peculiar set of circumstances today led me back to the review below, which I wrote and posted on Amazon way back in April 2000 for the VHS edition of Ingmar Bergman's The Silence. This was the first film review I ever wrote and I was so sure of its brilliance, a job offer from Empire seemed inevitable. Still, it's not so bad, it's readable, and relatively short and painless. Amusing to see that Amazon's product review editors effectively bleeped out the word masturbation in the line: Made in 1963 The Silence still remains strong, with scenes of sex, nudity, ...and alcoholism - the ellipsis marks should read masturbation. And so without further ado, here's one of my early ejaculations...

Along with Cries and Whispers and The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman's The Silence is his best work, a film mesmerizing in its still potent power to disturb. The film charts the deterioration of the relationship between two sisters who book into a vast hotel in a nameless foreign region. Tensions mount and hostilities soon arise as both sisters can only find futility in their search for a warm, compassionate and tender relationship. Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) has a compulsive sexuality, which prompts her to have sex with strangers, while Ester (Ingrid Thulin), a cold repressed and alcoholic intellectual agonizes over her lesbian feelings for her sister...

The Silence is a strange film fueled by strange passions and emotions. It's rather minimalist in style, for Bergman rarely ventures outside the empty hotel, which is peopled only with a ghostly elderly porter and a troupe of circus dwarfs. With Sven Nykvist's camera exploring the space of the vast hotel corridors, it may for some recall Last Year at Marienbad but I think the film has more significant parallels with David Lynch's enigmatically bleak Eraserhead, both films sharing similar themes and a dark ambiance. Symbolically, the film is not a difficult as other Bergman dramas. The sense of decay is omnipresent throughout the film - the sisters' relationship, Ester who is suffering with a terminal cancer, and the region itself with its streets patrolled by tanks, suggesting the whole damn thing is about to slip into war. And Bergman's superb use of the hotel, which the characters seemingly can't escape from, takes on almost Kafkaesque proportions. Made in 1963 The Silence still remains strong, with scenes of sex, nudity, ...and alcoholism. The film ended an extraordinary trilogy that began with Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light; a series Bergman made which addressed his evaporating religious faith. Incidentally, look out for the funny scene in Woody Allen's Manhattan where Allen is horrified by Diane Keaton's merciless criticism of the film...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Crisis In A Hot Zone - Revisiting Black Hawk Down

Just two years after Spielberg forever changed the look of the war film, Ridley Scott's 2001 picture Black Hawk Down borrowed Saving Private Ryan's aggressive visual intensity to portray the devastating power of modern mechanized combat. Some 13 years on, Scott's film takes it's place alongside Alien and Blade Runner as one of director's finest works, with credit due also to producer Jerry Bruckheimer for not diluting this huge 100 million dollar production with his usual commercial excesses, a lesson learned perhaps from the critical mauling of Bruckheimer's previous film Pearl Harbor. Originally Black Hawk Down was to be helmed by Con Air director Simon West who brought Mark Bowden's 1999 account of the battle of Mogadishu to the attention of Bruckheimer. Scheduling conflicts with West's 2001 film Tomb Rider forced him to opt out (he retains an executive producer credit on the finished film) and the film was offered to Ridley Scott who was enjoying something a second wind with Gladiator and Hannibal.

Ridley Scott has long professed to being a fan of James Cameron's Aliens, and one imagines Scott relishing the idea of making his own combat movie. Although Black Hawk Down and Aliens are literally worlds apart, both films deal with marines stranded in hostile territory ill-prepared and ill-equipped for battle. Black Hawk Down is a brutal, exhausting wholly immersive war film, if one wanted to experience the noise, the disorientation and savagery of urban combat this is the film to see. Scott places his cameras right at the centre of combat and never flinches from the gruesome details of warfare, the mangling of bodies by bullets, bombs and shrapnel, including one particularly harrowing moment of improvised field surgery when a medic plunges his hand into a gaping wound to clamp a leaking artery. Scott's visual sensibilities are as sharp as ever and punctuates the ferocious pace with arresting images - a helicopter stirring up a vortex of dust and strewn rubbish, or a shot of a marine carefully placing a comrade's severed hand into his satchel, presumably to return to its owner.

The film is fitted out with a fine cast, among them some well known faces which can be hard to spot among the crew cuts and combat gear, (look fast and hard for early appearances by Orlando Bloom and Tom Hardy), and while the rangers have little or no back story screenwriter Ken Nolan (and various uncredited writers) invest the principle players with memorable bits of business to hang to their characters - Eric Bana's delta force loner and self-confessed war-junkie, Tom Sizemore's no-bullshit battalion commander, or Ewan McGregor's wet behind the ears desk clerk plucked from the office as a last minute replacement. The film was criticized for offering little Somali perspective in the film, except for a token dialogue scene between a Black Hawk pilot and his captor, but the film unapologetically sets out its stall as a blue-collar combat movie, pro-military, and light on political analysis. For the definitive account of the events of October 1993, Mark Bowden's book is required reading...