Category Archives: Film

Gordon Gekko had the best phone ever.

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When someone says the 1980s to me this is the visual I conjure: corporate raider Gordon Gekko just chilling on his wee private beach, making plans at dawn to change the world with Bud Fox. Those were the days when the mobile phone could be utilised as a weapon. I need this in my life.

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Patrick Batemans are among us.

I was on an Edinburgh bus the other day (it’s a twice-daily slice of masochistic trauma) and overheard two geeky types talking about their mobile phones for 30 fucking minutes in the most detailed and scripted way imaginable, emphasising every nook and cranny of their devices. Two thoughts popped into my noggin: 1. These semi-hipsters really adore their smartphones. 2. This sounds like something Straight Outta American Psycho (book and film).

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Bateman talks with such gusto about his suits, haircuts, business cards, and other trivialities of the material world in a way which seems completely manufactured, as if he’s reading verbatim from a magazine spread. And it really is how many people converse these days. It’s a mass regurgitation of accepted gospel strewn over the pages of lifestyle mags or celebrity endorsements through visual media. In recent conversation I’ve seen a person’s eyes flicker to their top-left to recall key lines of a Guardian newspaper review of a hit movie. They essentially parroted the critique word for word.

It’s why Bret Easton Ellis’s magnum opus satire continues to be relevent. It’s not the murders that captivate decades on, but the novel’s spot-on depiction of how much of our everyday language is fed to us on a consumer basis. And how we use it without even realising.

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Here’s a Pat Bateman belter:

‘“Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. Ensure a strong national defense, prevent the spread of communism in Central America, work for a Middle East peace settlement, prevent U.S. military involvement overseas. We have to ensure that America is a respected world power. Now that’s not to belittle our domestic problems, which are equally important, if not more. Better and more affordable long-term care for the elderly, control and find a cure for the AIDS epidemic, clean up environmental damage from toxic waste and pollution, improve the quality of primary and secondary education, strengthen laws to crack down on crime and illegal drugs. We also have to ensure that college education is affordable for the middle class and protect Social Security for senior citizens plus conserve natural resources and wilderness areas and reduce the influence of political action committees.” The table stares at me uncomfortably, even Stash, but I’m on a roll.’
― Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho.

There’s a lot of poetry in that.

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Dunkirk (2017) – a brief appraisal.

Dunkirk (2017) is a new kind of war movie.

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There are no gratuitous blood-and-guts sequences, nor are there any overtly saccharine attempts to sentimentalise the drama (think Spielberg). It was wound like a spring, and shot with such precision and clarity of vision. The film is a non-linear impressionist snapshot of the evacuation, and it was so refreshing to see a picture made of that great escape bereft of nonsensical German accents or extended scenes of generals and statesmen at conference tables. It’s the anti-genre constraints war movie, more akin to a peak Michael Mann picture – Heat (1995), The Insider (1999) – than your generic battle flick.

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Fear predominates – fear of being smothered by a relentless enemy, this claustrophobia reflected in sometimes mere facial expression and the economy with which Nolan employs the classic close up. And in small acts of heroism characters occasionally perform, the film explodes with such unexpected emotion that it occasionally reaches the cinematic heights of the transcendental. The last twenty minutes of Dunkirk (2017) are among some of the most prolongedly intense in modern cinema, hope (and home) the against-all-odds outcome. Masterpiece.

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.historytoday.com/patrick-wilson/dunkirk-victory-or-defeat

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/23/dunkirk-review-terrifyingly-immersive-christopher-nolan

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Locke (2013) – one man *in* his car.

Locke (2013) is a high concept movie without the Bayhem explosions, like Phone Booth (2002) in its situational drama but set in our everyday more altogether maudlin and depressing British existence ….

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One man, one car, one mobile phone with hands-free kit, one 90-minute journey. Seldom do we see a ‘travel’ movie in which the visual exterior landscape is totally irrelevant to the protagonist’s crumbling world. It’s a film as much about sound as the image. And it makes a concrete pour seem quite the arresting topic. A must see.

 

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Iconoclasm and ‘truth’ – challenging the official narrative.

Iconic moments of recent history are inseparable from the defining image which catapults them into popular consciousness – the Moon Landing, ‘Tank Man’ at Tiananmen Square, that famous kiss on VJ Day.

It’s only through viewing other photographic sources that we can escape the prism of these force-fed yarns and experience events three-dimensionally.

 

I see some accompanying images of articles and do wonder why, time and time again, the same stock image is used. It’s as if the rest have been erased and this one is the last Malteser in the box.

Every single piece I’ve ever read about the JFK Assassination is accompanied by stills of the Zapruder film, which has served as the basis for conspiracy theorising and debunking. No one denies its value, but it has to a large extent conveniently encapsulated and simplified the entire discourse (the ‘death’ of the American Dream, the dawn of cynicism) into a singular artefact.

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It’s in our nature to seek easy explanations. What happened immediately before and after the event has been sidelined (with the causal factors and consequences), the icon seemingly enough to digest. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s the problem. There’s only one picture doing the rounds.

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Whicker’s War.

Alan Whicker, that mustachioed gentleman traveller, the original dapper vagabond. It was in the last great daring crusade that he honed his craft as the director of cameramen of the Army Film and Photo Unit (AFPU), or the “Army Film and Punishment Unit”. This two-part documentary is cracking. We seldom get the filmmakers as subject matter, the images of war taken for granted (our YouTube pleasures). Their sole purpose was to document. It’s our record of that struggle, the spearhead evidence offered to new generations. Their weapons were film reel.

Whicker talks of the danger of seeking that ‘perfect shot’. You may get it, but that entails being up close. And then you’re dead. Only Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) comes to mind here, *the* photojournalism masterwork.

N.B. More than half of Whicker’s team were killed or wounded.

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Under the Skin (2013) – unexpected chuckles.

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A truly mesmerising and disturbing picture, Under the Skin (2013) is film as art, an elusive, visually stunning meditation on identity and immigration. It’s also one of the few films set in Scotland that doesn’t wallow in hooligans or smack. There is one scene in it, though, that made me piss myself. Scarlett Johansson’s alien character meets a bloke in the Highlands. He cooks her a microwaved ready meal, a.k.a. a TV dinner. Scarlett Johansson – a READY MEAL.

That’s how the charming Scots treat their women. Romeos.

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Begbie’s crib.

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The infamous ‘Banana flats’ on Gorgie Road. This is where Begbie stays in T2 Trainspotting. I went to a house party in there a few years ago. Everyone present was a chav and they were all off their tits on Daz washing detergent. I quietly left and went home for a wank.

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Titanic: Part II.

The unsinkable ship, iceberg right ahead, Jack and Rose, Billy Zane, Celine Dion, John Jacob Astor, brandies and cigars before the descent. RMS Titanic is the most often told, popularly celebrated of all maritime disasters, continuing to fascinate new generations through the sheer fatalism of its first and only voyage. Now weve got this replica cruise in the works. 3458-titanic-ii

Why bother reading history when you can live it, or even remake it? Its like we have to go one better and prove that were smarter than our doomed ancestry. Whats next? A Hindenburg re-enactment? The Challenger shuttle Mark II? I might start doing Omaha Beach tributes at Portobello. If you book it they will come.

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Further reading:

http://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/titanic-replica-ship-clive-palmer-10903118

http://www.titanic2ship.com/

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Lunch atop a Skyscraper, 1932.

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam

For about a decade I thought this image was a shot of construction workers enjoying a lunch-time nibble on the Empire State Building. Only last year was I told the building wasn’t the site of King Kong’s last hurrah but 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or 30 Rock for short (now recently renamed the Comcast Building).

Weirdly, Sir Alex Ferguson brought me here. In a TV interview with Fabien Barthez, Fergie explained to his old goalkeeper the importance of the photograph (it adorned his office wall), that it encapsulated with its 11 men dangling on the 840-foot girder classic themes of sacrifice and teamwork, and of realising the impossible. A cultured chap for a football manager, one would of course expect this kind of art on his wall, and not Vinnie Jones crunching Gazza’s testicles.

Widely credited to Charles C. Ebbets, the snap has a staged, advertising feel to it, but is nonetheless quietly subversive in its details. This is the Prohibition era, yet the bloke on the far right is hogging a bottle of whiskey (fuck the system!). Researchers have identified him as Gustáv (Gusti) Popovič, a lumberjack and carpenter from Slovakia, who would at the end of WWII be killed by a grenade. He even sent his wife this photograph, on which he wrote, ‘Don’t you worry, my dear Mariska, as you can see I’m still with bottle. Your Gusti.’

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Immigrants building the future, eh. Many photographs are considered great merely on the basis of their functional quality (a photo is a photo is a photo), others also have an accompanying historical value which enriches them, surface components opening up human dramas outwith the artefact.

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