Criterion Corner: High and Low (#24)

I’ve seen seven or eight films by Akira Kurosawa, but other than Ikiru and Dreams, the latter of which I saw about twenty years ago and don’t remember particularly well, it’s all been the Jidaigeki films, i.e. period dramas set during the Edo period (more or less) and featuring samurai, ronin and the like. Even Ikiru, which isn’t clearly set in the past, feels like it is about the past to some extent, as it is the story of an old man looking back at his life.

High and Low immediately makes for a striking contrast: it is set in the present day in a big city, its protagonists are businessmen and police detectives. More than that, while the film was released in 1963, there are many elements that would easily translate into our present day, and while High and Low comments on class in specifically Japanese contexts, much of its commentary could work equally well outside Japan. All of this comes together to make High and Low feel modern, in terms of the story, characters and the filmmaking itself – even almost sixty years after its release.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #51: Elvis Costello’s I Want You (1986)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I want to say that Elvis Costello’s 1986 song I Want You is a love song, but it’s like saying a volcanic eruption is about elevated temperatures. It’s so much a misnomer it is almost a lie. Let’s say that the first few seconds, oh my baby, baby, are some sort of spectacularly failed attempt at a love song, and then the egg shell breaks from the inside, and all the pathos, all the jealousy and obsession of a relationship gone south, burst out, red-hot and seething. Please excuse my French, but that song is a fucking hand-grenade of self-pity.

It’s taken from Blood & Chocolate, one of Costello’s best albums if you ask me, but it’s telling that his band, the Attractions, would not make another album with Costello for the next eight years. It’s not just because of this song, but relationships in the band had soured before that. I don’t know how much of those internal problems have found their way into recording I Want You, but creative adversity might have added to the atmosphere of something having come to a painful close. If you listen to the song on your stereo, Costello’s voice, sometimes jarring, sometimes painfully intimate, sounds like it will spill out of the loudspeakers and make small puddles of poisoned honey on your living-room floor.

Since I Want You is not a duet, we only have the male I’s point of view, and none of the woman’s. According to him, she has betrayed him, which, in a heterosexual context, means that she has slept with another man. Is he just jealous that she has found another guy after their breakup, or has she cheated on him? To some men (lesser men at that), this is the same thing, oh no, my darling, not with that clown, because the other guy, in some men’s self-estimation, is always the worse choice, no-one who wants you could want you more. Yeah, I’m the guy for you, can’t you see? But if the song would not be from the I’s point of view, it would not be nearly as good, or as revealing. It’s a six and a half minute whopper of a song; no wonder Michael Winterbottom could make a whole movie out of it.

Costello does not mince words here, but if you have ever read or watched any of his interviews, it cannot come as a surprise to you that Mr McManus does say exactly what he means – even if he means it only in the moment he is saying it. But it is exactly that quality that the song needs: It’s the thought of you undressing him, or you undressing. Apart from the fact that we can only guess what happened between the two, he must lie awake, gnashing his teeth, or smoking and drinking, trying in vain to delete the images of what he thinks has happened – and what he thinks has happened is always stronger of what has really happened. His guesses are probably all wrong (it’s knowing that he knows you now after only guessing), but how would that help? The images cannot be unseen, or uncreated. Oh boy, oh boy, us males are so good at feeding our inferiority complexes while maintaining that we are actually caring, considerate and tender when we are not.

I’ll say this for the song: it does not spare the male I any more than it does spare the departed female lover, but since the self-revelation on the side of the male I is so much more telling, it says much more about him than it says about the woman he is addressing, since his view of her is skewered and biased and uttered with the pain of departure at best and vitriolic hatred at worst. Talk about toxic masculinity. Musically, the song stays with you, because it is so slow and contains an absolute joke of a guitar solo while putting all its sensuality in its melody. The music already knows that all is over, while the lyrics still cling to the last vestiges of a relationship that is so over.

I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Magic, mayhem, artificial colouring

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

Sadly, this week started with Matt not particularly enjoying Ingmar Bergman’s The Rite, a TV adaptation of a stage play that is at the same time bitter and tacky. Sorry, Ingmar, that’s not a combination that many people could pull off, even if they’re as talented as you and your cast, consisting of Gunnar Björnstrand, Ingrid Thulin and Anders Ek. Also, for the purpose of the Sunday trailer post, there doesn’t seem to be a trailer of The Rite available on YouTube – so here’s something else about rituals and masques and the like. Enjoy this trailer of the film adaptation of John Fowles’ The Magus! (Is that something of a tenuous link? Probably!)

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #50 – The “True” Story of Lina Lamont

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

They can’t make a fool out of Lina Lamont. They can’t make a laughing stock out of Lina Lamont.

There’s one important lesson that needs to be learnt by any student of Hollywood history: don’t believe the hype. Don’t buy into the spin. And certainly don’t be fooled by popular tales that demonise and blame those that dared to challenge the system.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: A PTA meeting to look forward to

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

What do you get if you put together revenge, toxic masculinity and probability mathematics? Add some Mads Mikkelsen, season generously with action and black comedy, and you might end up with Anders Thomas Jensen’s Riders of Justice, which Matt wrote about last week.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #49 – Three generations of songs in A Star is Born

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

To me, Julie’s fascinating comparison of the earlier variations of what came to be A Star is Born triggered many a musical memory and it made me wonder how besides plot, characters and settings the musical flavours of this often-remade screenplay had changed over time. Specifically, what would the three Oscar-recognised songs from the Judy Garland version (“The Man that Got Away”, 1955), the Streisand remake (“Evergreen”, 1976) and the recent Lady Gaga iteration (“In the Shallows”, 2018) tell us about each moment this star-making (or -breaking) story hit the big screen?

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Men & Algorithms: Riders of Justice (2020)

What is the probability of a Danish soldier joining forces with a bunch of grown-up nerds to wage war on a biker gang in order to exact revenge for the death of the soldier’s wife? And what’s the likelihood of that plot resulting in a film that manages to be both funny and poignant? Mathematically speaking, the likelihood increases if the film in question stars Mads Mikkelsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas and is written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, whose earlier film Adam’s Apples (about a pathologically optimistic priest trying to reform a bunch of Neo-Nazis and other deplorables) was an unlikely hit.

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: My god, it’s full of stars!

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

While 2020 and 2021 weren’t exactly great years for cinemas, they were pretty good for cinema. Plenty of good, interesting films came out – if not always in the preferred format – during the ongoing pandemic, and one of those found a grateful audience in Mege: Miranda July’s Kajillionaire.

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Footnotes: The Music Makers

We thought long and hard about whether we wanted to put musical excerpts in our podcast episode on movie soundtracks, but in the end we decided against it – not least because these pieces should be heard in their entirety, and they tend to work best when you listen to them along to the respective scenes from the films they’re from. So, below you’ll find our picks and some more of our thoughts about these wonderful tunes and composers.

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