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Sunday, 9 April 2017

The 6th Inductee Into The Thin White Dude's Hall Of Shame - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack Of The Clones (2002) - George Lucas

This is the part when some Star Wars fans are going to get some major butthurt, so if you are one of those people that gets overly sensitive and tetchy about that sort of thing, turn away now. Otherwise, let me wax lyrical and tell you why I feel that Attack Of The Clones is not just the worst film in the Star Wars franchise, but it is also one of the worst films ever made. No amount of self-justification among fans along the lines of “yeah, I don’t like it, but it’s not that bad” is going to convince me otherwise. Now I’ll admit I’ve had occasional gripes about Star Wars over the years, but I’m speaking from the heart as a kid who grew up watching that original trilogy and being blown away by the epic adventures, scale and spectacle. I’d never seen anything like it, and the one thing that could perhaps be said in defence of Attack Of The Clones is that it does have a credible mise-en-scene. However, in every other regard it is the epitome of everything that can go wrong with a Star Wars movie. This is supposed to be the dramatic meat of the prequel trilogy, the one that moves the larger story from that established in The Phantom Menace and into it’s natural conclusion with Revenge Of The Sith. Instead it’s an unholy mess of filler with plots upon subplots that go nowhere, poorly realised characters, horrendous dialogue that does nothing to benefit the actors’ performances; Ben Burtt may have edited the film, but at one hundred and forty-two minutes this thing, the longest film in the franchise, is too damn long. At the centre of this problem is George Lucas himself: at one time a creative visionary (I’m a big fan of THX 1138), Lucas had clearly lost objective self-awareness as regards his art. The best thing that has happened to Star Wars in a long time was getting new blood in with J.J. Abrams, because judging from this overlong, grossly-budgeted, greenscreen-flogging abomination, Lucas was past it with Star Wars.

The 5th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Films Beyond Definition - The Spirit Of The Beehive (1973) - Victor Erice

On the surface, Victor Erice’s 1973 film The Spirit Of The Beehive is a simple drama following the family life of six-year-old Ana in 1940s rural Spain. However, there is so much more going on in this picture that transcends the typical boundaries and enters into almost fantastical territory. Made at the tail end of the Francoist regime, Erice follows in the tradition of the likes of Luis Bunuel and creates a film richly steeped in symbolism, so much so that, despite subtly criticising the regime, and containing messages and themes that would have been considered inappropriate, it slipped by the censors completely uncut. The first viewing may not reveal this additional content, but the rich, poetic quality of the story will draw you back in time and time again. Mysterious and enigmatic, there’s a child-like sense of wonder as we follow Ana, magnificently played by Ana Torrent, through the course of the film’s events. It’s a gorgeous looking film with a painterly aspect to the visuals, shot by director of photography Luis Cuadrado, who at the time of shooting was going blind. The music in the film by Luis De Pablo, best known for his avant-garde work, combines these aesthetic leanings with elegant orchestrations featuring woodwind, piano and acoustic guitar, imbuing it with the rich tradition of Spanish folk music. At its heart, steering it in this direction is writer-director Erice. Clearly, this is the work of romanticism, a harkening back to a better time before the Spanish civil war. Indeed, many have read into the film’s symbolism as seeing the disintegration of the Spanish nation, its isolation, the lifeless order of society under Francoism, Ana as representative of the innocent young generation of Spain around 1940, while her sister Isabel’s deceit symbolises the Nationalists obsession with money and power; even James Whale’s Frankenstein plays an important part within the film’s narrative and wider symbolism. Erice, who can be seen in many ways as Spain equivalent to Terrence Malick in terms of his sparse output (he has only fourteen credits to his name since 1961, many of which are shorts or segments in collaborative anthology films), in his debut feature, made with this picture one of the great masterpieces of Spanish cinema.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The 6th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Short Film - Night And Fog (1956) - Alain Resnais

Released in 1956, barely a decade after the end of World War II, Night And Fog was one of the first films to deal with the subject of Nazi concentration camps. Although a short subject, the film had a troubling production and release. Initially, the premise came about from an exhibition by Henri Michel and Olga Wormser (Resistance, Liberation, Deportation), which opened on November 10th, 1954 at Institut Pedagogique National in Paris. On it’s opening day, public notice was given of a proposed film project. Although Michel was under pressure to make a film honoring the French resistance fighters, Wormser argued for a more scholarly, broad approach focusing on the concentration camps, and Michel saw that this would enable wider financing. As such, producers Anatole Dauman, Samy Halfton and Philippe Lifchitz were invited to the exhibit and felt a film should be made. Dauman contacting the initially reluctant Alain Resnais (who felt someone with direct experience should address the subject matter), who would later agree to direct on the basis that poet and novelist Jean Cayrol, himself a concentration camp survivor, be brought in as a collaborator. This is a key example of the collaborative approach Resnais took as a filmmaker, and Cayrol’s scripted dialogue, which became the narration read by actor Michel Bouquet is a crucial part to our intellectual understanding of the barbarisms the film explores. The film’s long tracking shots, by Ghislain Cloquet and Sacha Vierney of the large, open, empty spaces of the camps, capture a terrible, terrible beauty inside these places where unspeakable things occurred. The film is immaculately put together by Jasmine Chasney and Henri Colpi, whose multimodal collection includes the original footage shot in the camps, black-and-white archive stills, excepts from older French, Soviet and Polish newsreels, footage shot by detainees of the Westernbork internment camp, and from the Allies’ ‘clean-up’ operations. The film features contributions from Austrian composer Hanns Eisler, whose chilling score adds to the overall atmosphere of the piece. Indeed, the atmosphere during production created issues for many of the main players. Eisler felt under a lot of pressure to finish his work, Cayrol, feeling sick while scribing to the images, was aided by Chris Marker (an unsung hero on the project) in writing the film, and Resnais suffered nightmares during the preproduction and was upset through the editing process. Upon release, despite initial opposition from both French censores and the German embassy (producer Dauman, though proud to be a part of the film, guaranteed to Resnais that “It will never see a theatrical release,” and most notably, a local association of former deported prisoners insisted the film be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, threatening to occupy the screening room in their camp uniforms), it was widely acclaimed. Jacques Doniol-Valcroze of Cahiers du Cinema compared its power to the works of Franz Kafka and Francisco Goya, and his contemporary, the great writer-direction and critic Francois Truffaut, referred to it as the greatest film ever made. Today, it retains a strong legacy. Sight And Sound magazine named it in a 2014 poll the fourth greatest documentary of all time, it stands as one of the greatest works in the life and career of Alain Resnais, and one of the great testaments of the horrors of war and inhumanity.

The 11th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Directing - Alfred Hitchcock

To say that Alfred Hitchcock knew how to make thrillers is like saying Mozart knew how to compose; although both are open to personal interpretation, it is general consensus that they are both recognised for the excellence in their given fields. Hitch was a master filmmaker who understood to the fullest degree the power of cinematic storytelling. Through his meticulous preparation, no stone was left unturned. His works exhibit technical prowess well ahead of their time, understanding the psychological implications and effect that this would have upon his audiences. Also, as we can see from The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Shadow Of A Doubt, Notorious, Strangers On A Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, The Birds and many more, this wasn’t just some hack making cheap second-rate penny dreadfuls. Hitchcock, with his superior knowledge, penetrates our intellectual defences and provokes us with his rich tales of tension and suspense. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

The 7th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Documentary Film - Capturing The Friedmans (2003) - Andrew Jarecki

Since the turn of the 21st century, the medium of the documentary film has become with each year more and more widely accepted as a part of the mainstream arts culture. Andrew Jarecki’s 2003 film, Capturing The Friedmans, is one of the greatest examples of contemporary documentary cinema. Jarecki, initially making a short film, Just A Clown, about children’s birthday entertainers in New York, became acquainted with David Friedman, whose father Arnold and brother Jesse had pled guilty to child sexual abuse. The film follows the investigation of the scandal of the 1980s, and the wave of media coverage and hysteria that it caused in the local community. Not only does it cover the facts and evidence presented in the case, but it presents a well-balanced ambiguity. Jarecki refuses to pass judgment upon the guilt or innocence of Arnold and Jesse, instead presenting the full story and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions. This moral murkiness creates a strange relationship between us and the Friedmans: as the drama unfolds, we are no longer mere observers, our position and emotional feelings being complicit with their story. It is accentuated all the more so because we are invited, through the plethora of archived home movies (the Friedmans excessively documented their own lives, and this includes the tribulations of the family through the ongoing trials of Arnold and Jesse) and the frankness of the interviewees. Such a brilliant, multimodal mixture of storytelling techniques makes Capturing The Friedmans, for all of its troubling subject matter, a highly watchable and engrossing picture that displays a remarkable amount of dexterity, ensuring it can be looked at in many different ways. Winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it’s a really remarkable piece of work, and I defy anyone who remains indifferent to it, because I’d say it’s damn near impossible not to become in one or another emotionally invested. I know I did.

The 9th Hall Of Fame Inductee For Contribution To Producing - Andrew Macdonald

This year’s inductee for contribution to producing, Andrew Macdonald, made his name working with director Danny Boyle on several films, including Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine. It is a collaboration that continues to this day, as seen recently with the two bringing together T2: Trainspotting. Notwithstanding his background as an independent producer, Macdonald has also became an executive powerhouse, co-founding with Duncan Kenworthy DNA Films, one of the most successful production companies in the United Kingdom. Works under the DNA banner include The Parole Officer, Notes On A Scandal, The Last King Of Scotland, Never Let Me Go, Dredd, ex_machina and Far From The Madding Crowd. Never forgetting his independent roots and aesthetics, he allows the filmmakers he works with to each express their own individual vision. The sincerity of this approach endears filmmakers to work with him and DNA Films, and I think audiences can feel that through the quality of their artistic output.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The 8th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Action/Adventure Film - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - James Cameron

Seven years in the making, for James Cameron and co it was going to be pretty hard to follow The Terminator. However, this is James Cameron, and as many of you may know, James Cameron is no ordinary gentleman. Having made two big-budget features (Aliens and The Abyss), he was more than ready to apply these aesthetics to his first and arguably most beloved creation. If one really studies, you can see so many similarities between this and it’s predecessor that you can almost call it a remake of his breakout guerilla feature with more money and explosions, but that would be doing Terminator 2: Judgment Day a disservice. The massive scale of the spectacular action sequences (the stunts and special effects, then in 1991 cutting-edge, stand up to this day) is matched by that of the storytelling. Co-written with William Wisher, Cameron crafts a masterful structured story that reads like a textbook in action-film screenwriting. There is a brilliant, rushing sense of momentum, so much so that even with a long running time, it flies by as you are swept up by what’s going on. The characters are all well-developed and superbly realized, both on the page and onscreen. Linda Hamilton, who got herself into impressive physical condition, reprises her role as Sarah Connor, a far cry from the wide-eyed vulnerable waitress in the first film, now hard-edged determined mother to future resistance leader John Connor, terrifically played by the debuting Edward Furlong. Robert Patrick’s T1000 is a frightening villain that sends chills down your spine, while Joe Morton and Earl Boen round out the main supporting cast well with their strong performances as Miles Dyson and Dr. Peter Silberman respectively. It is also arguably the crowning moment in the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor. Already a legend in action cinema, Schwarzenegger had begun to further his talents by starring in comedies such as Twins, and here on display is the full extent of his acting palette. He has the look, the physical presence and the cold steel to play the Terminator, but he also draws on his sense of humour and even goes so far as to move us with his incredibly subtle depiction of the reprogrammed T-800, who slowly develops, with a deft character arc over the course of the film, an understanding of human emotions and a connection to the boy he has sworn to protect. The film is an absolute technical marvel, but what makes this last, for all of the brilliance of the action, is the powerful human story that James Cameron has created for us to enjoy.