Category Archives: Film

The Truman Show – 20 years on.

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The Truman Show (1998) didn’t capture the zeitgeist; it largely predicted it. Much like how Scarface (1983) birthed glorified Gangsta rap – present hip hop artists unaware that Montana was a satire laughing at the emergence of the culture – it was the Jim Carrey ‘serious role’ vehicle which presaged the Big-Brother-by-choice bantz we now have. The eponymous ‘reality’ TV show, a zillion other ‘hidden camera’ programmes populated by tarted-up bimbos (yes, including The Apprentice), the omniscience of social media, the shameless supervision from the NSA and GCHQ. It’s as if Truman is a summation of 20 years of snooping, willfully and not, but before it happened.

I can’t even count the number of times someone has said to me they feel like they’re living a real-life Truman Show, such has been the ridiculousness of their day. Well, if directed actors and MacGuffins aren’t out there to construct the drama, you can bet you’re being watched, often by choice – think of all the selfies at crime scenes, the Snapchatting of break-ins, check-ins at weddings/funerals.

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The Truman Show nailed the lot – the shallowness, the vanity, the essential neediness of modern society to not only feign happiness in its absence but inject meaning everywhere, to create a drama when none is needed.

And that Philip Glass score lifted from Powaqqatsi (1998) is quite the cracker:

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.vulture.com/2018/06/how-the-truman-show-predicted-the-future.html

http://www.thrillmesoftly.com/2017/07/truman-show-big-brother/

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Human Traffic – the dark side of nostalgia.

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If you mute a movie and it looks infinitely worse then it’s a bad film. I can’t recall who said this but it’s a reasonable proposition. Such is Human Traffic (1999), a truly garish and ugly remnant from the late nineties, a poor man’s Trainspotting (1996) that on a 2018 viewing comes across as a student film cobbled together over a weekend. Like any nostalgic longing, it’s best just consigning these matter to the past where they belong.

In 1999 I thought this was the shit; now it’s just shit, a pilotless, plotless, theme-less advertisement for ecstacy, executed with the craft and subtlety of a sledgehammer and featuring some of the most irritating and insipid ‘characters’ in a British movie ever. I’ll never handle a floppy disk again, and I’ll never watch Human Traffic (1999) again.

Good tunes, though.

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Forrest Gump wasn’t complete shite.

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Forrest Gump (1994) is without qualification the cheesiest, corniest, most simplistic depiction of the American Experience and the ‘everyman’ possibilities within the shebang, the movie a ’90s version of Being There (1979) without the wit and pathos. Gump has been labelled a conservative’s wet dream – live like Forrest, i.e., be respectful of authority, drug-free, don’t question your surroundings, and you’ll succeed despite your worryingly low IQ. Wander Uncle Sam’s peninsulas in the manner of his perpetual unrequited love Jenny, by all accounts a free-spirited hippie/druggie sex bomb, and you’ll kick the bucket. There’s something of the ’94 Republican Revolution going on here.

It does, however, work as an elementary and indeed extraordinary introduction to the second half of the 20th century. I knew literally nothing of even the existence of the following until I saw Forrest Gump in 1996 two years after its release: Presidents JFK, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the song San Francisco performed by Scott McKenzie, The Doors, Elvis, John Lennon, the Black Panthers, and the virus popularly known as Aids. True story. Primary School taught me none of these things, but I did memorise a lot about Henry VIII ….

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The movie has little commentary on any of its historical snippets, such is the processional structure and concentration on scope over depth. It does abridge, though, forty-odd years of American history in a running time of 2:22:09 minutes in a Zelig-like visual glossary. Without Forrest Gump, I would have had to watch five more ridiculous films. Thankfully, I didn’t.

It’s not that shite.

Cheers, Forrest.

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France, 1940 – debunking the ‘Halt Order’.

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Up until last year and the release of Dunkirk (2017), it was generally assumed by the layman and amateur historian that the successful evacuation of Dunkirk was due to the lax, complacent attitude of the German Army, this a direct order from Hitler to halt the armoured divisions as a benevolent peace offer to the British. Only now has consensus gathered amongst us part-time carnage bookworms that this is nothing but a fallacy. Myths are embedded within official military narrative and it happens because they are convenient, an easy answer to overwhelmingly complex logistical and political issues. The laziness, with exceptions, of the modern historian is so rampant that contemporary sources are taken as gospel, i.e., works by peers. It’s as if the archives don’t exist.

James Holland’s recent digging into this seemingly forever contentious event now appears to have silenced the Hitler apologists (that he didn’t want to intensify war with Britain, bla, bla). The order quite simply came from the frontline generals, and Hitler’s subsequent involvement was as an intervention between competing branches of the German military. For an in-depth anatomy of the whole mess, I highly recommend this piece on Holland’s own website: http://www.griffonmerlin.com/2016/07/17/dunkirk-1940-hitlers-halt-order/

Fittingly, the Russians just this past week let forensic experts analyse Hitler’s teeth, dispelling, one would hope, the belief that he fled to Argentina in a U-boat or emigrated to the Moon.

Further reading:

http://www.griffonmerlin.com/2016/07/17/dunkirk-1940-hitlers-halt-order/

https://skeptoid.com/blog/2013/04/15/no-hitler-did-not-let-the-british-escape-at-dunkirk/

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-07-24/why-the-germans-blew-it-at-dunkirk

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/06/the-war-in-the-west-review-james-holland

 

 

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Operation Market Garden – A Bridge Too Far.

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I first saw A Bridge Too Far (1977) on VHS in 1998 midway through a glorious summer mostly spent playing Mortal Kombat on a dilapidated SNES. I purchased the film with Dante’s Peak (1997) from an electronics store on Dalry Road, Edinburgh. The latter movie, some gibberish about a volcano starring James Bond and Sarah Connor, was garbage on tape. The former, featuring the first incarnation of James Bond and a who’s who of star names, was a revelation. It had carnage, a British-American Pro Bowl of acting talent, a surfeit of bridges, an addictive theme tune, and some thoroughly nasty Waffen SS units.

More so than El Alamein, the Battle of Arnhem was the last gritty swansong of the British Army, and nothing like it was seen until the Falklands War in 1982. The movie was one of the first to shed light upon the deficiencies in military leadership that plagued the later ‘successful’ campaigns of WWII, the myth of Montgomery as peerless grand master demolished here. It’s fitting the film was made in the late ’70s, that rotten era of excessive inflation, industrial action, uncollected garbage, and three-day work weeks. Britain was seemingly on its last legs, and it’s almost as if a splatter of tragic nostalgia was needed to top it all off.

Anyway, it’s online now and of decent quality:

Further reading/viewing:

https://www.historyextra.com/period/a-bridge-too-far/

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/bridge-far-true-story-behind-xxx-corps-market-garden.html

 

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Biblical Gorgie – Edinburgh’s lofty testimonial.

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Moses would have creamed his toga (is that what they wore or was it a Roman invention?) at such scenes. When the Red Sea was split into a peak John Woo movie did the bloke (Mr. Moses) ever witness a sky like this? Gorgie is an Old Testament in the present. I believe this scenic occasion was a riotous football game. History repeats itself and all that.

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Where Eagles Dare (1968) – Wehrmacht Stormtroopers.

Where Eagles Dare (1968) surely must have been watched on a loop by George Lucas as he was penning A New Hope (1977) and the expanded Star Wars universe.

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Fan art poster.

 

Hohenwerfen Castle is this movie’s Death Star, the German troops the most incompetent ever assembled in what is the peak Hollywood WWII turkey shoot; Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood mow the fuckers down like Stormtroopers. Reducing a complex military operation to the wits and whims of two ‘superhero’ protagonists, it’s this blasé depiction of war that has young lads all giddy (“chomping at the bit”) en route to army recruitment offices.

The Wehrmacht grunt here is a Stormtrooper sans the Arctic clobber, and by the end one could be forgiven for thinking that Messrs Burton and Eastwood casually take out an entire division.

It’s quite the escapist experience, and its influence is rampant – the Medal of Honor video game series, for example, is an unabridged adaptation of the movie’s aesthetic. In an ideal Pentagon monopoly on propaganda, the enemy is devoid of dimensions and the battle a cakewalk.

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War is no messy struggle when you’ve got personality pulling the trigger.

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Boris is not impressed.

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Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World (2018) is quite possibly the most boring film I’ve ever seen. I’d like to apologise to the cat for putting the traumatised creature through it.

Absolute shite. No characters, no drama, nothing to say, nothing to be seen. A film about nothing.

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Blockbuster Video was the highlight of the ’90s.

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The death of Blockbuster was the home video version of Francis Fukuyama’s End of History. Your standard Friday routine in the Glory Years consisted of rocking up to Blockbuster with a tenner of shrapnel cobbled together by pocket money and paper round wages, emerging from the Pearly Gates with Irn-Bru, Maltesers, and a VHS copy of Goldeneye (1995). The anticipation before the visit was usually better than the evening that followed – a bit like holidays. The YouTube/Netflix/Amazon era has nothing on the joyous grind that was hunting for ex-rentals in the bargain basket. Fuck the Spice Girls (not literally), Blockbuster was the Atlantis of the ’90s.

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Vertigo (1958) – a whirlpool of obsession.

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I first saw the unfathomable sensations of Vertigo (1958) on Boxing Day in 2001. I figured Hitchcock this go-to guy for cheap thrills, banal comedic interludes, nonsensical MacGuffins, crop dusters galore, and … trains. Vertigo spoke artistry, something deep and profound (so I heard) from the psyche. Looking at the physiognomy of the great master, one couldn’t help but think he’d spent a career pulling his plonker to his leading ladies; sources inform us, however, that he was no Mr. Miramax.

It’s a deeply unsettling picture, a compendium, in that Mad Men era, of the ‘Male Gaze‘. Novak’s ice-cold beauty is a kaleidoscope onto which John “Scottie” Ferguson projects his hysteria. She’s barely a character, and that’s the point.

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A mastery of pacing, understatement, camera placement, and the semiotics of colour, the movie is your psychoanalyst’s wet dream. A narrative so stilted and sedate just builds and builds, unearthing an unblinkered aggression in every facet of the frame. It helps that the most serenely pacific of cities, San Francisco, acts as the melting pot for James Stewart’s warped solipsistic frenzy.

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You watch Vertigo and witness every cinematic trope of the 50 years that followed. No Vertigo, no Brian De Palma. In 2012, Sight and Sound magazine voted Vertigo the greatest film ever made. It’s certainly more engaging than Grown Ups 2 (2013).

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-hitchcock-truffaut-interviews-20151204-story.html

http://www.openculture.com/2016/09/what-makes-vertigo-the-best-film-of-all-time.html

https://www.theguardian.com/film/1999/mar/05/martinscorsese

http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-does-the-male-gaze-mean-and-what-about-a-female-gaze-52486

Scorsese on Vertigo:

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