The Rear-View Mirror: Don’t Look Now (1973)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

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There are many mysteries and unforgettable images at the heart of Don’t Look Now. The recurring motifs of falling, broken glass and the colour red. Getting lost. Not understanding each other, not understanding what is happening. This is the way the supernatural might infringe on the every-day.

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Slow Night, Slow Fright

There is a point beyond which suspense does not increase. It’s a point that every filmmaker and editor should know, and avoid. In the words of a theatre director I once knew: “If you think your timing is just right, you are too slow.” He said this about most scenes, although maybe some scenes in horror movies are allowed to go on a little longer until the tension almost reaches tipping point, but even for horror flicks, there must be a limit to how long an audience is scared by ominous rumbling and blurry shadows moving in dark corners. It’s likely that horror movies depend more on suspenseful arcs than other genres. Obviously, writer and director Oz Perkins thought he would shoot his second feature I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House a tad too slow, because slightly slower means slightly scarier, right? Continue reading

The Adaptation Game

Wildlife, Paul Dano’s 2018 adaptation of the Richard Ford novel of the same name, is a strong directorial debut and a film featuring several strong performances, from Carey Mulligan’s Jeanette, a mother worn down by constantly needing to be the adult and pragmatic in her marriage, to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jerry, the insecure father who finds no other way to prove his self-worth than abandoning his family when they need him most, and Ed Oxenbould as Joe, the son through whose eyes we see everything unfolding. Dano’s direction is traditional and quiet but serves the material well, evoking a very specific 1960s America we don’t often see and allowing the performances to create a complex, layered emotional landscape. It is a faithful adaptation, but not a mere flattening out of the novel into overly literal illustrations of the literary material.

In doing so, however, Wildlife has ended up in a strange in-between state. It uses cinematic means to achieve what Ford did with his prose, but it does so in such an unassuming way that there’s not all that much point for anyone who has read the novel to see the film. For better or for worse, after seeing the film, my main thought was, “Yup, that’s Richard Ford’s Wildlife.” Can an adaptation be too faithful?

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The Rear-View Mirror: Philippe Petit (1974)

He is up there in the air, 417 meters above ground, a mere speck to his random audience, so you could easily mistake him for a plane or a bird. He might appear semi-abstract to you. Legend has it that, as a Parisian teenager, he had to go his dentist, but found a picture of the not-yet-built World Trade Center in New York in a magazine and drew a line between the two roofs. He left, his toothache all but forgotten, and he perfected his considerable talent as a tightrope walker and waited for the towers to be built. Until then, Philippe Petit worked his way up, from juggling and unicycling in Parisian streets to walking the tightrope between the two towers of Notre Dame, to doing the same thing between two towers of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And then the Twin Towers got built, and in 1974, Petit was ready for them. Or they were ready for him. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Tommy (1975)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Admittedly, I didn’t spend all that much time watching films, reading books or playing whatever games that were around in 1975. I had a good excuse: I was only born in June and thus missed half the year anyway, and  my reading, watching and, well, everything skills were decidedly underdeveloped at the time. Which is a shame, because 1975 was a great year, especially for cinema: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest! Barry Lyndon! Jaws! I’m sure even infant me would have found it in himself to coo appreciatively over John Alcott’s sublime cinematography or Robert Shaw’s USS Indianapolis speech.

But no, I’m afraid this installment of the Rear-View Mirror will be about… baked beans.

Ever since I was a young boy/I ate the orange bean/From Soho down to Brighton/I must have ate them all

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Mostly human

Michael Pierce’s feature debut Beast is less than the sum of its parts. It has very, very strong scenes, but just because the pearls are all beautiful doesn’t mean they belong on the same necklace. Here’s a list from memory: the moment when Moll (Jessie Buckley) runs away from her own birthday party to go dancing. The moment when she meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn) for the first time and is smitten with him, because he looks as wild as she wants to be, and he might be her ticket out of the stuffy surroundings of a small town on a small island called Jersey. The moment when Moll lies into the grave of a dead girl, pretending to be her. The well-meaning cruelty of her mother (Geraldine James). Moll’s apology to the girl she hurt back in school. The whole funeral sequence. Continue reading

A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #21: The Big Sleep

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our April episode, we’re revisiting a classic from Hollywood’s Golden Age, featuring one of American cinema’s golden couples: The Big Sleep, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Will you finally find out who killed the chauffeur? Now, that would be telling… In addition, Mege reports from a somewhat uncanny dancing school in 1970s Berlin after watching the recent Suspiria remake, Julie investigates the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films and Matt goes slightly cubist after visiting a nearby Pablo Picasso exhibition.

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The Rear-View Mirror: All the President’s Men (1976)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The Watergate scandal and its complexities holds many stories worth telling. The story of how Martha Mitchell tried to blow the whistle and got ridiculed, or the story of democratic candidate Edmund S. Muskie who was undermined by the Nixon administration and lost his cool. Or the story of the hilariously monikered whistle-blower “Deep Throat” – yes, after the Linda Lovelace porno – who was finally outed in 2005 as Mark Felt, FBI associate director. All the President’s Men is the story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), or “Woodstein”: two journalists who tried to make the public aware of the scope of Watergate, as if anyone at the time really cared. Later Gore Vidal would famously quip to Dick Cavett that he “…must get my Watergate fix each morning”.

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Here’s looking at you, and you – and you, Agnès

It’s a comical image: the gigantic works of art, plastered on the side of buildings and in one case even a towering stack of shipping container, and looking at them, the tiny, old woman with her white-and-red hair who helped bring these gargantuan images about and document them on film… though while she may be tiny and old, she most definitely isn’t frail. In fact, she stands as tall as anyone and anything in the film.

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Art vs. -ism

Reader, it’s not easy for me to describe why I like Never Look Away so much, so let me start with the title. The movie’s original title is Werk ohne Autor (Work without Author), which is much better, since it’s a movie about a fledgling painter who seems to see himself as a mere conduit for his paintings than an active artist. A title like Never Look Away suggests that it’s about the Holocaust, although that is not so wrong either. The movie was written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who also wrote and shot The Lives of Others, an excellent movie, and the slightly disappointing The Tourist. Werk ohne Autor is loosely based on the life of German painter Gerhard Richter, who has seen the movie and disapproves of it. Continue reading