strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I'm woefully behind with both film and book blogging, and it's really weighing on me and stopping me from getting on with other things I want to do. So I'm determined today to get caught up, at least on the films. I'm sure at one point I could have said more on all which follow below, but since we are literally going back to July for these ones, I have inevitably forgotten much of my initial reaction - which for catch-up purposes is probably a good thing. The watch-words here are key points and light touch - not exhaustive detail.

17. Qu'est-ce qu'on a fait au Bon Dieu? (2014), dir. Philippe de Chauveron

I saw this on DVD with my sister and Nicolas while I was in the Midlands for Christophe's first birthday. It's a French comedy about families, religion and racism - quite a cocktail of topics to take on, but it does work really well.

The basic set-up is that a traditional wealthy Catholic family in possession of a moderately-sized ch√Ęteau has four daughters, three of whom have already married husbands of varied religious and ethnic backgrounds - specifically, a Muslim, a Jew and a Chinese man. The parents have stoically accepted their choices so far, but have pinned their hopes on their fourth and final daughter choosing a Catholic husband. Great news! She does. The only problem is that he's a black immigrant from the Ivory Coast. Inevitably, the rest of the film from the moment when they find this out follows their journey (and that of the husband-to-be's family too) from initial shock and horror, through a fragile attempt to behave reasonably about it, a dramatic blow-up and finally discovering that they all had more in common than they had ever realised and becoming bosom buddies.

While checking that I had remembered the title of the film correctly, I came across this article in the Telegraph, claiming that it didn't get a release here as distributors judged it was too racist for British viewers. But in my view this entirely misses the point of the film. All of the racism expressed in it is the butt of a joke, and very explicitly coded as a bad and problematic thing which needs to be dealt with so that everyone can be happier - which is exactly what happens at the end of the film. In fact, it seems to me that the judgement made by the distributors here is a sad reflection of a fear culture which we've managed to create around potentially-controversial material. Rather than attempt to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful portrayals of racism, cautious distributors just Won't Go There at all - which of course only leads to silence and erasure and lots of stories which act like racism doesn't exist. It does, and I think it's better to acknowledge that up-front than pretend otherwise. So well done France for that.

There is more of a case for saying that a film which shows, as this one does, that racism can easily be overcome by just getting drunk together and bonding trivialises the structural and pervasive nature of actual racism. But this is a comedy. Its treatment of racism is pretty far-reaching in spite of that, but the genre does ultimately depend on light-hearted simplicity. Besides, any film with a happy ending gives a rather false impression of how easily life's many complexities and problems can be solved. So I'm happy with this one as an enjoyable watch and a very human story, and am only sorry it won't be widely seen outside of France.

18. Scream Blacula, Scream! (1973), dir. Bob Kelljan

Watched with [ profile] ms_siobhan in July, this is a sequel to Blacula, which was rushed out the following year to capitalise on its success after it proved so popular. It's very much what you would expect given those circumstances - definitely enjoyable in many of the same ways as the first one, but also feelings like a re-tread of the same ground with a lower budget and generally more limited horizons.

William Marshall returns as Mamuwalde, having been resurrected in a voodoo ritual, but while he puts in a strong performance, there's a sense that his characterisation hasn't entirely been thought through at script level. On the one hand, he wants to be freed of his vampire curse and asks a voodoo practitioner to conduct a ritual which will exorcise him - but on the other, he doesn't actually seem to show any real conflict or anguish about going round biting people the rest of the time. Elsewhere, we have some good characters, including plenty of strong and self-assured women, some excellent funky party scenes and some truly enormous shirt-collars. But the plot never achieves very much sense of momentum, and overall, it feels like a classic case of attempting to replicate a successful movie without quite understanding what it was that made the first one so good.

There's still a bit of conscious social commentary in this one - particularly when Mamuwalde encounters a black prostitute, and upbraids the also-black pimps who are controlling her for making a slave of their sister in that way. [ profile] ms_siobhan also very rightly noted a careful coding in the characters' hair-styles - that the good guys (and gals) all had more 'natural' Afros, and could thus be read as at ease with their Afro-Caribbean heritage, whereas the power-hungry or selfish characters (again both male and female) generally had straightened hair or weaves, signalling a greater adherence to western ideals of beauty. So, like the first film, there is plenty in this too which boils down to black producers, writers, directors and actors articulating their own realities of being black in 1970s America, and that makes for interesting viewing. But it was all just embedded in a stronger drama the first time around.

19. The Third Man (1949), dir. Carol Reed

Still in July here - I watched this one late in that month with [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy at the Hyde Park Picture House. Obviously it is a massive classic, and with extremely good reason. I hadn't seen it before, but am glad now to understand at last the many iconic images and quotable lines from it which I have come across before without ever quite 'getting' them. It's well-plotted, beautifully shot, fantastically well-acted, and captures the fragile world of a Europe just starting to rebuild after the war very powerfully. And it is so very Grahame Greene, especially I think in the essentially isolated nature of the characters. Of course Anna Schmidt and Holly Martins don't get together at the end, because there are unsurmountable barriers between them and Greene has spend the whole film showing us that. No unthinking happy endings here.

I particularly appreciated the huge amounts of effort which had obviously been poured into getting the fine details of every scene just right in order to tell the story being conveyed - like the autumn leaves slowly falling in the last scene, which certainly weren't falling from the trees we can see as they are already bare, and must therefore have been dropped by an unseen stage-crew just above the camera's field of vision. Or the fact that Martins and Lime agree to meet in a cafe called the Marc Aurel, which acknowledges that Marcus Aurelius died in Vienna (then the frontier fortress of Vindobona), and I think actively adds to the story by evoking the wars which dogged Europe during his reign too, as well as perhaps a sense of tragedy around the passing of the last of the Five Good Emperors and the accession of Commodus.

It was nice, too, to see it relatively soon after my own trip to Vienna last September, especially since on the final day of that trip I walked up to the Danube from where we were staying, and as it happened my route took me right past the enormous ferris wheel, properly known as the Wiener Riesenrad in which Holly Martins and Harry Lime first confront one another. I had no idea what it was as I walked past it that day , and certainly no idea that it dates right back to 1897. But I do remember feeling (on what was anyway a rather overcast day with few people around) that the ferris wheel itself and the amusement park it stands in had an air of bleak desolation about them which has now transferred very nicely into my experience of this film.

Right - that's three done out of six which needed it. I'm having a break for dinner now, and hopefully will get the remaining three done this evening.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.

strange_complex: (Howie disapproving)
IMDb page here. Watched as a follow-up to reading the book in the summer, and because the DVD was only a fiver in HMV.

The main thing you notice about this film if you watch it so soon after reading the book is how very pared down it is. It's only an hour and a half long, but I must say the editing is some of the most impressive I've ever seen. Scenes are contracted, simplified, or omitted altogether, but all the important stuff is there, and both the complexity and the characterisation still comes across very clearly - if not with quite the same depth and texture as Greene manages in the book.

I don't think I have a great deal more to say about the film than I already did about the book, but it was interesting to notice that despite only 9 years passing between the publication of the book and the production of the film, the latter opens with a scrolling text which explicitly states that before the war, Brighton had been a pretty shady place, but it's now all jolly and lovely and not like that any more at all - no guv! I suppose partly this springs from a general desire to leave the past behind in the wake of the war - but I can't help but wonder if the producers were also under a contractual obligation to the Brighton tourist board in exchange for being allowed to film there.

Of course I knew Richard Attenborough was in it as Pinkie, because his picture is prominent on the front of the box. But as the opening credits began rolling, there were some other surprises. Dallow, Pinkie's most loyal henchman, was none other than a sprightly young William Hartnell, while Rose was Carol Marsh - admittedly not a household name these days, but a face I am very, very familiar with after repeated childhood viewings of Hammer's 1958 Dracula, in which she is Lucy 'Holmwood'. The cinematography was also the work of Harry Waxman, later of The Wicker Man, which goes a long way towards explaining why both are so effectively shot.

Definitely deserves its reputation as a cinematic classic - but if you could only fit in one out of watching this and reading the book, I'd say go for the book.

strange_complex: (Rick's Cafe)
I interrupted reading this book in July to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in preparation for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and then interrupted Half-Blood Prince in turn when I still hadn't quite finished it on release night. So for a while there, I had three books on the go at once, nested within each other - not something I normally do. I also actually finished reading it before going on our canal holiday, but just haven't had time to write it up before now.

Despite the interruptions, though, I enjoyed it very much, and didn't have any problem slotting straight back into the world of the novel when I returned to it. Greene manages to write with such compelling and convincing detail that the reader not only sees everything he describes, but feels it all as well. I'm sure I would recognise any of the characters from this novel if I met them in the street - and not only that, but I would feel as though I knew them intimately too.

I think my favourite aspect of his writing is the way his language manages to be fresh and unpredictable without getting pretentious or over-the-top. Here's a good example of what I mean:
Nine o'clock in the morning: he came furiously out into the passage; the morning sun trickled in over the top of the door below, staining the telephone.
There, the word 'staining' is surprising enough to make you notice it and think about it - but it's not intrusive or forced, because it also instantly makes you think "Yes. Yes of course, that's so right - that is what light does as it touches a dusty, half-shadowed surface." Plus it picks up beautifully on the themes of innocence and sin, shadowiness and scrutiny which run through the course of the novel. Incredible stuff.

I've yet to read a Greene novel I haven't liked, and will continue to work my way through his oeuvre as time goes on. To that end, I list here all of his novels which I've read so far, in the approximate order I read them, so that I can check back against it if necessary:
  • The Power and the Glory
  • The Human Factor
  • A Burnt-Out Case
  • Stamboul Train
  • The End of the Affair
  • A Gun for Sale
  • Brighton Rock
Still plenty to go, though!


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