I wrote this in June, during the NFT’s awesome Antonioni season. Anyhoo, it makes no sense at all now that ‘The Passenger’ is getting a re-release, but maybe I don’t want Antonioni’s film to become another ‘Big Red One’, a monument to the Good Old Days, so I post it here anyway.
Being radically subversive of the unified self (or insert other ’70s buzz-phrases, I have no idea), there’s something amusing about a ‘director’s cut’ of the film, but as far as I’m concerned, the more footage the better, so yay! for the extended versh.
If you could get past the insane suggestion that the Modern Review was the first publication in the history of the world to ‘take popular culture seriously’, the BBC4 doc ‘When Toby Met Julie’ did provide, possibly unwittingly, some insight into How British Middle-to-High Culture Works amid what was essentially one of those five ‘The Dirt on Kate Moss’ docs, only without actual famous or glamorous people.
In the mid ’70s, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Ian McEwan, James Fenton and other Oxbridge graduates, writing in the New Review, with the backing of Ian Hamilton, took aim at the Hampstead cosiness of the preceding literary generation.
CUT TO: the late ’80s. Toby Young, and his band of courageous Oxbridge graduates, writing in the Modern Review, with the backing of Peter York, took aim at the cosiness of the preceding literary generation. And who might they be? Amis, Hitchens, et al… Nothing really changes here. The show almost let in a note of criticism from Jon Savage, who seemed entirely OTM in pointing out that having a Cambridge professor of music reviewing Jesus Jones (or whatever) was hardly the class-boundary-demolishing power-move being marketed. It doesn’t bode mega-well for tomorrow’s history of der NME, which *something tells me* won’t quite meet the standards of ILM.
PS I have a blog now, in which I will take aim at Peter Bradshaw from time to time.
I had a sublime experience watching Primal Scream at Glastonbury a few years ago. There. I. Said. It. They popped up on BBC3 yesterday with ColinandEdith, and it was a… ridiculous experience. Booby Gillespie’s (real typo, kids) ‘I am a 45-year-old junkie’ act was the very definition of sad-sack punker rockism. At 17, I probably would have loved it: “OMG! Someone just said ‘techno Jerry Lee Lewis'”. Twat. And they slagged off Basement Jaxx.
In general though, having up to five channels covering Glasto was awesome fuckin’ welles. I still haven’t lost the habit of looking for people I know in the crowd. The music was a bit pish overall, but any TV Glasto vet will tell you that’s, like, beside the point: it’s the experience that counts.
‘No one in France had been taking film seriously. Then people were saying you had to […] that was the the thing we had to do first: force it on people that there was “work,” even if you have to tell them now that they’ve got to go a little bit further in their thinking. In the same way, I’ll say too that there is no such thing as an “author”. But to get people to understand in what sense you can say that, you have to tell them over and over again, first, that there’s such a thing as an “author.” Because their reasons for thinking there weren’t weren’t the right ones. It’s a question of tactics…’
Jean-Luc Godard, 1967
This is a real blog entry right here, folks: ace critic Raymond Durgnat takes on Sight and Sound, the BFI, Hoggart, Leavis, the Free Cinema etc etc, forty years ago. (Later he made up with Anderson, a bit.)
Until it was posted, this piece was rare as hen’s teeth; elsewhere on the site there’s a round-table discussion between Durgnat, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and his mate David Ehrenstein from 1978. Rosenbaum remains a staunch Durgnat champion.
When ‘Standing Up For Jesus’ was written, S&S had just called out the young, pro-Cahiers critics of Oxford Opinion and Movie (Robin Wood, VF Perkins, Charles Barr, Ian Cameron) for being ‘hungry for kicks’ and determined that cinema was about ‘human situations, not spatial relationships’. For reasons I can’t go into right now, it all begins here, full stop. Hit it!
Cinema: Still Dying After All These Years
“Cinema’s 100 years seem to have the shape of a life cycle: an inevitable birth, the steady accumulation of glories and the onset in the last decade of an ignominious, irreversible decline. It’s not that you can’t look forward anymore to new films that you can admire. But such films not only have to be exceptions — that’s true of great achievements in any art. They have to be actual violations of the norms and practices that now govern movie making everywhere in the capitalist and would-be capitalist world — which is to say, everywhere. And ordinary films, films made purely for entertainment (that is, commercial) purposes, are astonishingly witless; the vast majority fail resoundingly to appeal to their cynically targeted audiences. While the point of a great film is now, more than ever, to be a one-of-a-kind achievement, the commercial cinema has settled for a policy of bloated, derivative film-making, a brazen combinatory or recombinatory art, in the hope of reproducing past successes. Cinema, once heralded as the art of the 20th century, seems now, as the century closes numerically, to be a decadent art.”
Susan Sontag, 1996
“The cinema then as represented by Hollywood faces the turn of its first half-century in the lowest possible condition of creative energy. Let us be comforted that it can descend no farther. The artist has been so humiliated, hectored and bedevilled by Big Business that the poor degraded hack must be revitalised, nourished, cherished, respected and allowed to create again, for however much they may pretend to the contrary, the film cannot live without ideas from men with creative imagination.”
Richard Winnington, The Penguin Film Review, 1946
You Won’t Find Me in the Matinee
Far more than attitues to on-screen sex, the 9 Songs saga has shown up reviewers’ difficulties with music. The issue is key in 9 Songs because in some ways it’s a concert film. Some reviews have attempted to relate the songs to the rest of the film, making the live tracks diegetic, but I don’t think that line will fly, partly because the tracks are so instantly forgettable. The other problem is the music itself. While critics see no problems in pointing out a bad script or poor performance, soundtracks get a relatively easy ride. Here most of them seem to have accepted the film’s own propaganda, thus Super Furry Animals, according to Sight & Sound, belong to “the cream of the contemporary music scene”.
The real failings of the film follow from the increasingly bizarre MO of director Michael Winterbottom. This, from an interview with leading man Kieran O’Brien in the Telegraph, explains a lot: “Michael would say ‘Just talk to each other’. So you would think you were doing nothing and the take could last half an hour. You’d think ‘oh I didn’t do any good work there’ and Michael would say ‘excellent’ and we’d move on.” Indeed.
Our friend SS has defended the dialogue against “critics who we can safely assume don’t recite passages from Chekhov in their own bedrooms,” but his own comparison, Before Sunset, demonstrates how effective and affecting seemingly improvised non-theatrical dialogue can be. 9 Songs just isn’t in that class.
The sex itself? Here’s the Guardian‘s reliably wrong Peter Bradshaw: “9 Songs will undoubtedly have a chorus of pundits ostentatiously stifling their yawns in print. To which I can only say – boring? Gosh, really? Is that why all those male journalists in the audience were gulping and surreptitiously recrossing their legs? Because they thought it was boring?” Interesting he should have mentioned only the “male” journalists, but at the screening I attended there was none of this kind of thing, although the use of Michael Nyman’s music over the sex scenes provoked the odd titter.
Kill yr idols, right? I can’t face this book, don’t want to. This is probably not the first time I’ve bashed David Thomson here, and I’ve not got round to the long and hard work of finding what’s gone wrong and how, but even positive reviews of this book aren’t going to bring me round, this time. What would have struck me as elegant — key quotation: it’s “not just the history of American movies, but the history of America in the time of movies” — now strike me as dumb. Is his book really a history of the States 1895-2005?
There’s something odd about being ‘the world’s greatest movie critic’ — no-one ever makes that kind of claim for literary critics — and perhaps it’s this I find wearisome. It’s not exactly the pessimism Thomson has about Hollywood that I find grinding, more the self-satisfaction that accompanies it.
If cinema really is dead (and it is, kind of), then we ought to be dancing on its grave, not cursing it for its lapses. Recently I used a digital camera for the first time — it cost about £60 and has a moving-image function. I don’t want to sound Lutheran, but there is something last-ditch and scorched-earth about Thomson’s decision to give up on the movies at the very point when they’re going to get interesting.
In the offending Torygraph article, Charles Moore, in describing a Channel 4 advertorial for a Christmas comedy show, makes the following point:
The tableau is presented (sub-Bunuel) as a parody of the Last Supper… The first page shows a line of yobs — mimicking the Apostles — beginning their meal in reasonably good order. The second depicts them towards its end, violent and drunk. The ‘Jesus’ figure is lurching forward, halo awry, beer can in one hand and cigarette in the other.
The natural inclination of Christians in the face of such affronts is anger. But would it really be a better society in which silly, urinating Mr Abbott could go to prison for such a thing, and perhaps the bosses of Channel 4 with him? Before lots of respectable readers shriek ‘Yes!’, think what it means.
And thinking about what it means, the prospect of a banned Bunuel is exciting. As an experiment. As Mark S pointed out t’other day, much avant-garde work is designed to bite the hand that feeds — but, as is well known, it takes more than a Christ smeared in shit to shock people these days. Wouldn’t these once-outrageous endlessly available artified artefacts grow in savagery if our own Chiappes in power followed the logic of their thought to its illiberal conclusions?
From the front line: you probably won’t notice the cuts in the Arts Council budget, and the furore over them masks the fact that ‘the arts’ are, not to put too fine a point on it, fucked, whatever the measly sum given them by New Labour. The Guardian‘s idea that ‘A series of above-inflation funding settlements since Labour came to power has released a flowering of fertile talent in arts organisations around the country’ is miserable cant: ‘the arts’ are kept going by volunteers and the government has maintained a veritable Speenhamland system of non-funding, just about keeping ‘them’ going but certainly not permitting any kind of ‘break-out’.
Why all the quote-marks? Mainly because I don’t know what ‘the arts’ are, but I do know about minority film culture, and this gets by on will, dedication, self-negation, and lots of other values ilx-popism hasn’t quite eradicated from my book of Good Things. Three of the key film organizations reside all in one location, the third floor of a warehouse in Dalston: the magazine Vertigo, the Wallflower Press, and probably most importantly the quondam Other Cinema’s film library. The department imposing these pointless and divisive cuts is the same that’s going to be bringing big tax gains for the Treasury by ‘liberalizing’ gambling. It’ll probably make a profit.
The de Gaulle government’s vandalization of cinema culture in France led to the Langlois affair of February 1968 — widely seen as a contributory factor to the events of May. Just saying.