Thoughts On: February 2018

27/02/2018

The Wind Rises - Dreams On Windswept Earth

Thoughts On: The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ, 2013)


The fictionalised life of aircraft designer, Jiro Horikoshi.


Miyazaki reaches into his depths with The Wind Rises, producing one of his most genuine, imaginative and earnest films. Intimately realised, gently composed, beautifully orchestrated, The Wind Rises mythologises the life of Jiro Horikoshi. Seen as a historical film, this is then incredibly inaccurate and absurdly elliptical. Somewhat symptomatic of the approach to structure and truth, there is some controversy around this film in regards to Miyazaki's own politics and his presentation of history. An article that collects many quotes from Miyazaki can be found here.

In my view, it is best to not see The Wind Rises as a historical picture. Instead, this is Miyazaki's impression of history. And so, to Miyazaki, Jiro "wasn't thinking about weapons - really all he desired was to make exquisite planes". It seems that Ghibli wanted to capture this sentiment as to express the manner in which Jiro built and encapsulated Japan's dreams of the time - and to say they do a stunning job would be a huge understatement. The symbols of this grand dream are Jiro's Mitsubishi A5M...


... and the A6M Zero...


For Miyazaki the AM6 Zero "represented one of the few things we Japanese could be proud of". And this is, of course, in spite of the fact that Japan fought on the side of the Axis powers during WWII.

It is here that we find the crux of The Wind Rises. Just like Miyazaki quickly moves beyond the horrific facts of WWII, he entirely reworks the facts of Jiro's life: his wife never had tuberculosis. He blinds himself to reality to both alleviate and contrive tragedy as to fortify poetic melancholy. There is certainly an ethical question to be held above Miyazaki's intentional misrepresentation/lack of representation of WWII and Japan's role as allies to Nazi Germany. However, it is simultaneously obvious exactly what it is that Miyazaki is trying to achieve. It is because I see no harmful outcomes of the lack of recognition that I fail to see him creating poisonous, revisionist propaganda with The Wind Rises. And so, though he doesn't consistently critique Japan's history, he also never shines undue positive light upon it. Whilst the planes and Jiro's creativity are revered, there is then a central inner-conflict present throughout the narrative, one pertaining to dreams being placed upon earth.

With some of the most poignant and beautiful integrations of surrealism into a classical narrative, Miyazaki shows us two dreams. The first is aeronautic and the second is romantic. A young Jiro dreams of making planes, but the only way he will ever be able to make them is for a war machine. An older Jiro dreams of a girl he loves, but they will ever be able to be together as she withers away. These two separate instances of irony are bound by one greater irony that is mentioned in the film; a man can only work hard when a family waits at home.

The Wind Rises is full of these subtly ironic dichotomies, all of which are based upon dreams meeting reality. If a country is to prosper, they must out-compete others. If a company is to experiment, they must also succeed. If a man is to keep his family together, he must love and leave them for work. It is a dream that propels life forward in these instances, but sacrifice that keeps the dreamer on the tracks. Fate, however, seems to be carried on wind that threatens blow the dream off course or onto entirely new tracks.

In showing the bitter-sweetness of life in such a poetic manner, Miyazaki evokes such a powerful sense of melancholy fulfilment. With irony, with genuity, with honesty, with misrepresentation, Miyazaki somehow crafts a near-masterpiece that plays upon the senses as much as it does the mind and emotions. I find it hard to muster words that do this narrative much justice, but I can easily say that this is one of Ghibli's best.


Before I end this post, I have to mention that we are now only two more films away from concluding the series. We have not delved into My Neighbour Totoro in much depth, and there are a few Ghibli co-productions (such as The Red Turtle) that I would be interested in tagging into the series once it is over. Nonetheless, we are nearing the end of our look at all of the Ghibli films. I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing and watching. But, let's not get too sentimental, we've still got more to do. That said, however, thanks to all of those who have followed the series this far.

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Blue Eyes Of Yonta - Struggle On For Change

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26/02/2018

Blue Eyes Of Yonta - Struggle On For Change

Quick Thoughts: Blue Eyes Of Yonta (Udju Azul di Yonta, 1992)


Made by Flora Gomes, this is the Guinea-Bissauan film of the series.


Blue Eyes Of Yonta is a film by one of the key faces of Guinea-Bissauan filmmaking: Flora Gomes. Gomes directed the second feature-length film made in Guinea-Bissau, Mortu Nega, in 1988. Blue Eyes Of Yonta is his second feature-length picture that, like many of his other films, deals with the state of post-colonial, independent Guinea-Bissau.

Whilst characterisation is this film's weak point - which makes it difficult to engage with the narrative - its strengths lie in its endeavour to represent Guinea-Bissau. Depicting a continual struggle to secure a future, both financially and socially, in numerous characters, Gomes highlights a question of change throughout this narrative. One of the most striking lines is:

"First I loaded creates from the Portuguese. I was overjoyed at Independence. I thought my life would change. But, these crates and sacks are just as heavy as Portuguese ones"

This one line encapsulates much of what Blue Eyes Of Yonta is about. Whilst independence was an important change for Guinea-Bissau, the real struggle of any revolution is not the initial revolt, but the nurturing of continual, positive change. This line does not suggest, much like the film more broadly does not, that there was no point in achieving independence. Rather, with touches of comedy and absurdism, Blue Eyes Of Yonta simply highlights the reality of a post-colonial struggle. And it is with a light touch that Gomes seems to hope for the betterment of his country and wishes the upcoming generations the best of luck and the will to focus on what matters.

Due to its thematic coherency and strong ending, I'd have to recommend this film. But, if you've seen it already, what are you thoughts?


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25/02/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #46



Today's shorts: Bicycle Thieves (1948), To Sir, With Love (1967), Last Men Of Aleppo (2017), Stop Making Sense (1984), Richard Jeni: A Big Steaming Pile Of Me (2005), If.... (1968), Time Clock Piece (1980-81), Man With A Movie Camera (1973)



A true, undeniable masterpiece. No matter how many times I see this, the ending still punches hard and there is still more discovered. 
Just as much a film depicting the dishevelled state of society in post-war Italy as this is an allegorical journey towards reason, Bicycle Thieves is all about faith (fides, the make of Antonio's bike), or rather, its illusory nature. This then proposes a vast set of questions. How does one go on in a world of inertia and disrepair? What is suppose to motivate the hopeless? Who is to hear one man's cries in a sea of woe? Where is one supposed to set ones sights when tomorrow, the next few hours, the next few minutes, cannot be predicted? 
Feeling all of these questions at once, and dared to feel hopeful, to think we have a solution, we then watch our main characters enter the screen and fade off of it. The pain sets in, however, when we realise that this may as well be a real story, and though we know it, we are helpless to change it as it goes on without us.



To Sir, With Love is pretty brilliant. We've seen this re-worked many times, but looking past that fact, this holds some weight as a film about the education system and how it so often fails to teach children that they can be adults, that they should have self-respect and that they can be self-aware. Articulating these ideas quite well - certainly better than most 'teacher changes student's lives' stories - the strengths of To Sir, With Love lie in its ability to project and manage group and individual psychology with some direct and poignant cinematic language. 
If I were to point to faults, I'd have to say that this is a little contrived and, less timeless, very much so a product of the late 60s. On top of this, the emotional intensity of the third act did cause this rather brittle viewer to cringe quite a bit. Nonetheless, I believe that this is a genuine film, one worth watching.



As harrowing as some of the images in this documentary are, as shocking and confounding as the facts of this documentary are, Last Men In Aleppo feels... off. 
I don't really want to criticise this, but it is contrived to the point that I had to remind myself I was watching a documentary at many points. With the vast majority of the film so clearly staged - or at least written up - this feels more like reality T.V than it does a documentary. The camera work, the cinematography, the conversations, the editing, all seem to want to capture Hollywood spectacle. The most truthful moment of the film comes when someone questions themselves, thinking that they were showing off. The rest feels like a half truth. There is indeed undeniable truth captured by Last Men In Aleppo, but it is entirely overshadowed by contrivance. Unfortunate, but true.



I'm not a Talking Heads fan (to be honest, I've never heard of them, but some songs seemed familiar). This is, however, often said to be one of the best 'concert films' ever made - and it's quite apparent why. 
Directed brilliantly, with clear thought and intention, Stop Making Sense isn't merely comprised of a selection of wide shots and close-ups. With so much of the choreography designed around the camera, and the camera work designed around all else, the image means something and isn't entirely subservient to the sound. As cinematic as it is musical, this is then significant for a couple of reasons. Not only is this one of the few documentations of a concert that draws the eye, but it was also one of the first films to utilise digital audio. If you're in the mood for some nutty rocky and a touch of horrible dancing from an awkward guitarist, why not give this a go.



A few degrees above lukewarm. 
A Big Steaming Pile of Me has a few ingenious jokes within (I really liked the loan shark bit), and there are many laughs to be had. However, whilst there are touches of brilliant comedy within, much of this - especially the first half - is quite drab and unimaginative. The four or five hilarious bits in the back end unfortunately do not manage to completely reverse this. Beyond the jokes themselves, I found Jeni's stage persona to be, again, lukewarm. For the first 40 minutes, I enjoyed this more when I wasn't looking at the screen as he projects a seemingly contrived energy and carries himself in a way that you can very clearly see is calculated, and in quite a hackneyed and trite way. Having said that, I'm walking away thinking of the best jokes and having had an all right time.



Wow... what can be said about this? 
If.... is a blurry and surreal (more Buñuel than Vigo in my view) montage film, one that blasts through insanely provocative sequences and images without a care for understanding and one clear aim: impact. I went in without a clue, initially thinking this was just a film about an English boarding school. As it devolves into chaos and anarchy, I started to get the sense that maybe I was wrong. 
I can't say I gathered anything particularly coherent from this first watch, but the enraged rebellion and dissension maybe doesn't need to be made sense of. Tradition, decency, religion, education, morality, life, none of it is safe, and nor does it seem to matter. 1960s counterculture screams out at you without pretence, just nihilism, and the spectacle is certainly impressive. Recommended.



Welcome to the 'cinema' of a deranged artist. 
Tehching Hsieh, in 1980, decided to punch a clock every hour, on the hour, for one entire year. This means that he went to his studio at every single hour of the day - he woke up all through the night - to expose a frame of him standing next to a clock in the same overalls with the exact same blank expression. All that we see happen is his patchy head sprout a full head of hair. You can also see him shrink ever so slightly as each second passes due to his spine compressing over the course of a day. Beyond this, nothing but time is wasted. And such seems to be Hsieh's philosophy of art. You watch him waste away, and he appreciates you for joining in I suppose. Whilst this isn't the most insane thing Hsieh has done (he stayed outside for a whole entire year once), I'd certainly recommend giving this a watch if you can find a copy.



Crosswaite's Man With A Movie Camera is a Structuralist film that questions the function of focus and reflection in cinema. 
By racking focusing before and beyond a mirror that reflects the camera recording, this bears a strange illusion, one that has you ponder upon the role that depth-of-field plays in manipulating a three-dimensional space. The mirror itself extends the basic space of a room and the focus shortens it. Looking into the mirror through shallow focus has the reflection feel like a visual worm-hole of sorts. Maybe this is a study in mise-en-abyme too? 
If this peaks your interest it's currently available for free on the BFI player.








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Black Panther - Collective(s)

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24/02/2018

Black Panther - Collective(s)

Thoughts On: Black Panther (2017)

Prince T'Challa ascends to the throne following his father's death, and ghosts of the past rise with him.


Pandora's Box was opened when the very first person woke up and thought "I...", looked down at their hands and thought "mine..." and then looked at the person next to them and thought "you...". We are all born with the ability to recognise ourselves as a thing, an I, a self, and with the belief that other life forms around us, people, not only have their own self, but an essence that is bound to, and quite like, ours (which makes the idea of us, our and we possibility). Despite the fact that we are born with this ability and belief, the phenomena of being is an incredibly complicated one that we will all struggle with on a personal level for our whole lives and also on a societal level for as long as civilisation stands.

What do you want to do with your life? A question that we must all confront. Or, maybe, a question that confronts us all. To rise up to this question, you must build a new you: a persona. This persona, this thing that you start to walk and talk about as, is tied to your ego - your personal idea of who you want to be and who you think you are. As you grow up - or rather, if you grow up correctly - the persona will legitimise itself and you will become a 'real person'. Becoming a real person involves being seen as a real person by your peers. And so, this 'real person' isn't really you, it isn't really yours. Rather it is an entity which you have shaped with the aid of, in relative to, and for, other people. To what degree this is true will always vary. Nonetheless, it is because the building of the 'real you' takes a journey through the 'real world' that the question "What do you want to do with your life?" is such a hard one. Not only do we not know what we want, but we don't know what we're supposed to want, what other people want, how to get what we want, where to get what we want, if we'll be allowed to get what we want and how long what we want will even last. Life is scary. Life sucks. Life is a bitch. But, that's life.

Just like you must ask yourself what you want from your life, so must groups of people. We then work together to get places, and all by finding a place on a map and setting off together. This group, whether it be a family, a community, a city, a country or the entirety of human kind, faces questions such as, "what do we want?", "what are we supposed to want?" and "why do we want?" in an incredibly complex way. One of the fundamental elements of this complexity is the fact that 'we' is made up of individual selves. And if we find it hard to answer these questions alone, how will it even be possible to answer them collectively?

Black Panther is a film, like many other films, about exactly this. In brilliantly constructing an archetypal tale about the relationship between ideals, kingdoms, families, fathers and sons, Black Panther asks its characters who they are, who they identify with, and what they're going to do about it. It is the manner in which individuals are characterised and collective ideals are detailed that makes this such a brilliant film. In one sense, Black Panther is then about radicalised pan-Africanism (all Africans, in and out of the continent, politically binding together) confronting cautionary humanism. Looking back into the past to see how this battle came to be, and trying to find a path into the future that settles this conflict, is the journey that T'Challa must take. Seeing him make these strides like no other Marvel superhero yet has is near-awe-inspiring.

Without wanting to be too specific and delve into spoilers, I have to highly recommend that, if you have not seen Black Panther, you go see it. If you have, a re-watch is also a great idea. Though a second viewing revealed some of the more clunky technical elements (snippets of acting in the intro, cinematography that leaves you blind to action and CGI that's a little bit off), I enjoyed this just about as much as the first watch. Still, in my view, one of the very best Marvel movies. But, those are just my thoughts? What do you think of Black Panther?







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Transformers - Elements Of Bastard Cinema: Image, Narrative, Character

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23/02/2018

Transformers - Elements Of Bastard Cinema: Image, Narrative, Character

Thoughts On: Transformers (2007)


An identification and exploration of three basic elements of Michael Bay's Transformer films.


In the introductory post to this series, we dove into the idea that Michael Bay's cinema is one that we shall be taking seriously in an attempt to legitimise it. In legitimising the Transformer series we will be recognising the role that symbols and archetypes play in the construction of narrative meaning. As we touched on previously, however, Bay does not provide many profound answers through this series of films. He does, however, present sets of ideas which, themselves, bear depth and in turn grip my (and any engaged audience's) attention. This is not to suggest that everyone who enjoys Bay's films sees them in the way in which we will describe. I nonetheless believe that it is because of some of the details and ideas that we will explore that his cinema works at all.

There is a common idea of 'telling the right story' or telling a story 'in the right way'. This implies that we all yearn for specific messages, or truths, unconsciously. Great narratives encapusllate and manipulate these truths. And this, in my belief, is what Bay's cinema manages to some degree. But, again, whilst we aim to understand how Bay is telling the right stories, I don't believe he is telling the best stories - and probably not in the best way. Before we jump into the major elements of the first Transformer movie today, I then want to outline the bounds of this series.

The Bastard Cinema series, whilst it means to legitimise Bay's cinema, does not want to suggest that the Transformer movies are narrative masterpieces in the same realm as Kubrick pictures. Moreover, it does not want to suggest that Bay's films are free from criticism. As we picked up on previously, I think that the Transformer films are often critiqued too readily and quite weakly. There are, however, a set of arguments against Bay's films that are quite strong. A series that presents a good set of these arguments is called The Whole Plate: Film Studies Through A Lens Of Transformers. Whilst I think there is more to the Transformers films that complexifies and rebuts some of the arguments presented here, this series is an example of some solid criticism of the Transformer films unlike that which we critiqued previously - which has much to do with just recognising the conventions of Bay's cinema and leaving things at that.

Though we shall pick up on the weaknesses of Bastard Cinema as we move through these films, the main point of this series is to assume the viewpoint of the initial post. In such, we shall search for valid ways to install and reveal meaning in the Transformer films so that we understand its affecting qualities. As we then move forward with what will be a generally positive, or rather an active, view of Bay's films, the positivity and the search for addition from within (story analysis) rather than exterior subtraction (cultural criticism) of this series shouldn't be misconstrued for blindness. In recognising a solid set of arguments against Bay's cinema now, and in referencing them when necessary, I hope this remains self-evident.

Jumping straight into the first Transformer film, it is crucial to recognise that the nature of Bastard Cinema, as much as it emphasises details and spectacles, also short-hands them rather brutally. With the intro, for example...


... we are given a crucial symbol that plays a significant role in the narrative, but not a clear one. This would open us up to the discussion of bastard plots/narratives. But, bastard plots, narratives, characters, symbols and meanings are all subservient to the bastard image:


This is the quintessential Bay image: a helicopter in the sun. As we will unravel more as we move forward, light is one of Bay's key storytelling devices in that it is used to communicate prowess, power, sustenance, desperation, angelicism and more, and is also there to focus and dazzle the eye. The helicopter is a symbol of the military - one of Bay's most unambiguously revered entities. With the helicopter in the sun, we clearly have a call to a transcendent being projected; soldiers of God have taken flight.

The sun is often represented by mythology as sight and/or goodness, but also power and wrath - Horus, whose right eye was considered to be the sun, as well as Ra, who was a god associated with high noon and had the vision of a hawk, from Egyptian mythology are expressive examples of this.


With the sun as a god or goddess, or at least their embodiment, our star has come to be a symbol of omnipotence - or rather, its perceived omnipotence has catalysed its movement into mythology. Moreover, where the moon guides, the sun judges - it can be harsh, but, with Bay, it often sheds approval. With the sun's rays bathing the military helicopter - which is one of the most complex machines ever constructed; military helicopters often require around 20 hours or more of maintenance per hour of flight- we have... a cool image.


Why is this image cool? In essence, it is because we are seeing a symbol of achievement and great complexity, a military helicopter, which itself is being projected as a saviour, or vessel of saviours (this contrast greatly with the perspective of helicopters during the Vietnam War), being, quite literally, embraced and illuminated by the seemingly approving eye of a sun god. Feeling this harmony, we then inherently sense that we are looking at something... cool.

I push to this level of analysis because this kind of shot will be seen throughout the Transformer films, and often with similar implications. Bastard images of this kind scream by at a constant rate, and though we feel their impact, we often only understand their meaning subconsciously. But, with the bastard image being everything in Bastard Cinema, we have to understand that Bay is always searching for the coolest shot possible before anything else. He often breaks continuity completely, which is not too important in Bay's films, just to get to the end of a day and a nice sunset. For example, here is one shot...


... and here is one from a few seconds later...


There is no point in debating if these two shots are meant to be from the same time of day, just like there is no point trying to sort out Eisensteinian montage. You feel the impact and the intellectual weight of the different kinds of montage by Eistenstein; his manipulation of space and time are always subservient to this, and so the viewer is to put aside his deconstruction of time and continuity as to understand his editing. The same, we shall find out, occurs in Bay's montage. He cuts to the money shot, often binding estranged spaces together through sound - an ongoing conversation for example - to provide a bastard, impactful image.

So, it is after finding the coolest shot that Bay will find the coolest, most compelling subjects - beautiful women, shining metal, giant swords - to clash and explode with ultimate teenage ecstasy. We can get into more details of what all of these entities are later, but I mention this before all other analysis because there is such a distinct hierarchy of bastardisation in Bay's films. We must then feel images and their meaning - especially those that jump out at us as particularly Bayish - before reading scenes around them. Or, we must see characters and plots as building blocks of Bay's bastard images - which, as we will know from the previous post, essentially takes grand, archetypal symbols and present them with maximum effect so that they appear illegitimate.

Illegitimacy, as we are already seeing, is then Bay's main tool for affection. And this itself reflects a society that disavows their dreams, that knows of no sun god or goddess and certainly doesn't take them seriously, but nonetheless perceives things flying in the sun to hold power. From this contrast between screaming archetypes and deaf audiences comes little dialogue, just a spectacle that maybe hopes to spark something.

Putting aside the bastard image for a moment, we have to come back to...


... The Cube. If we are to understand the narrative of the first Transformer movie, and Bastard Cinema in general, we will have to recognise and then toy with the bastard hierarchy. In such, though everything comes back to the image - which is given all the time and focus - we have to be able to cite the significance of what are generally bigger moving parts of narratives. With The Cube as a major plot point and a bearer of most of the meaning in this film, we have to hold onto it despite the fact that Bay cites the entity and then quickly dismisses it.

The story that we are told over the above image is one that we have all heard, and that has been told and played out, countless times: the fall of a kingdom via corruption. In essence, the major rift between Decepticons and Autobots is their view of life. The Decepticons only value their own lives. The Autobots value all life.

Humans have struggled to learn and instil into societies the idea that, in essence, the Autobots are correct. Many religions then describe the human body and soul as a temple of god, and often all life as sacred. With life as sacred, but death being apart of all life - we must, for example, kill and destroy to eat, we must hunt, we must pull vegetables from the earth and fruits from the trees - the worship of life itself is paramount with its destruction being minimised where possible by necessity. Because we are then alive, we must not just treat one another with the respect this doctrine suggests, but elevate one anothers' lives. Because we must take forms of life to live, we must appreciate and pay respects to the process of exchange - this is what something such as a prayer for a hunted animal, or a grace at a dinner table, is supposed to symbolise. Both of these mechanisms are meant to prevent societies from becoming the descendants of Cain; anarchists who destroy the world with their selfishness. The Decepticons follow in the footsteps of the apocalyptically selfish. The Autobots are the great saviours. The Cube, or the collective soul of the Transformers, the AllSpark, is life itself.


The first Transformers movie is entirely focused on the AllSpark as the giver of life; what's more, the AllSpark as the essence of a society. And so what this film attempts to be about is humanity coming into contact with another alien culture and learning from its history by aligning with, and supporting, its good side; the side that understands the value of life. This is then why the Decepticons want to take over all human technology with the AllSpark - but, this is a powerful and deeply intriguing idea that we will return to in another post.

Before pushing on in the narrative, you will notice that Bay mentions this deeply archetypal story and The Cube with Optimus Prime's opening exposition. But, because this is apart of the bastard plot, it isn't given much screen time. Why?

The sequence of narratives, their plot and how they interact with theme and character, are the most obvious tools through which meaning is expressed. The image, on the other hand, is a powerful tool, but is also the most complex element of cinema to break down step-by-step as the story is given to us as images are often minor citations; cinema doesn't really have the time or patience to be 24 paintings a second. Bay wants all story to be cited, he doesn't want it told, so that he can elevate his imagery to the highest level possible. Why? Because Bay's images almost are 24 paintings a second; each and every frame of CG is its own construction. Whilst he knows we can never appreciate this, part of his directorial strategy is to have us recognise his images as great spectacle. On top of this, Bay's films then seemingly are a reaction to something we discussed previously. All stories have been told before. Why does Bay need to delve deeply into the archetypal story above when he could just cite it, and we could feel its presence in the form of emotion derived from an abstract recognition of importance in the opening? Bay has us believe that the AllSpark is important and that is enough; he has pretty much done his job with this image alone...


... and so he moves on. This is a statement, one that suggests that this is an illegitimate story; this is not trying to be a true and pure son of, for example, biblical tales. Why would it try to be when, arguably, so few people in modern society do?

In a strange respect, Bay's cinema is very much so a modernist phenomena as, like the works of Joyce or Beckett, it centralises intertextuality of some kind as a narrative technique. Bay is then somewhat like Joyce because, to understand Joyce, you seemingly have to have read and heard about everything that Joyce has (this is why I've never got past the first chapter of Ulysses - that, and I'm weak inside). It seems that maybe Joyce was a little more intellectual than Bay, but, they nonetheless work in a similar manner. Bay, like Joyce, references another text as a means to invite (or appropriate) all of its meaning into his own text. This is exactly what he does with the opening above. Bay and Joyce are also seemingly connected by their fascination with the unconscious. This is where they seem to be entirely distant, too. Bay seems to be fascinated with unconscious meaning, unconsciously. Joyce, one the other hand, seems to be fascinated with unconscious meaning, consciously. Such is a key, underlying characteristic of Bastard Cinema and the reason why narrative, symbols and meaning are hidden by the shadow of bastard imagery; Bay wants his meaning kept in the dark, just like so many cinema-goers do.

The next key element of Bay's cinema that we come across is character...


Sam... how do you describe Sam? Sam is, in essence, Shia LaBeouf before his ventures into art house films, before the "Just Do It!" thing and before all the other performance art stuff; he's the kid from Evens Stevens that has grown up just a little bit. Bay inserts this hyper-glitchy man-child into his narrative and dares him to take a hero arc. Sam is also the 13-year-old kids that are suppose to make up the core audience of this film put into the body of a young adult; he is us, the audience. It is then Sam who characterises what we have called the 'bastard audience' (ourselves). We shall return to this idea, however.

As we all know, Sam doesn't last too long in the Transformer series, and nor does Mikaela. When we look at the first Transformer film, we can imagine that Sam is being set up to change gradually over many films. This would explain why his arc is quite flat. However, the third movie completely messes up all character arcs established in the first two films before seeing them stopped dead. This is both a positive and negative. What we lose during the hard cut between the second, third and fourth films is the potential for unfolding bastard characters who could carry meaning continuously. What we gain, however, is an insight into how little Bay actually thinks of characters. For Bay, it seems that characters and actors are at the very bottom of the pile. Bresson didn't let his actors act. Bay let's his actors think they're acting. But, the truth is, characters are objects inside of a frame that help build bastard narratives and, more importantly, bastard images for Bay. (A rather demoralising realisation for Megan Fox we can imagine). Most characters, especially the male and female leads, are then entirely interchangeable. The men are man-children, the females refuse to be their mothers, and that just about sums it up. The question brought into all of the Transformer films is then: How do you become a man? We shall later discover if this question ever bears any fruits.

Because I mentioned objects previously, I have to take a step back and note that, when I speak of 'objectification', I am not always criticising a film. In a separate set of posts, I have delved into 'objective impressionism'. To simplify, this is the idea that objects can be affecting agents in a film. Characters, when objectified, can become tantamount to MacGuffins; things that simply trigger a plot point or spectacle. Many of Bay's minor characters are MacGuffins of this kind. However, his centralised characters form a pantheon of object-archetypes. This means that we're never made to feel their subjectivity and individuality as true characters, or even subject-archetypes, instead they are pawns; illegitimate incarnations of a set of archetypes we have seen many times before. And this isn't necessarily a terrible thing.

The game Bay plays in his Bastard Cinema is comprised mostly of good guys, bad guys and fools. He determines who is good, who is bad, and who is some place in between with sacrifice as a measuring tool. Such an idea has been embedded profoundly deep into Western society by the domination of Judeo-Christian mythology. We need to only think of Christ as the archetypal tragic hero of the bible to see that sacrifice is pretty much the core of the biblical philosophy. Though an endless amount of books can be, and have been, written about this (in both a positive and negative light), the crucial takeaway from this broad philosophy seems to be that meaning is found in sacrifice. To sacrifice yourself to something and someone worthwhile and greater than yourself is to admit that you, as great as you can possibly become, mean very little as a singular unit. It is only by giving what makes you great away that you can induce a positive feedback loop that may one day find its way beyond the firmament. And, in such, we have the evocation of the transcendent; ultimate meaning and truth.

The ultimate good guy who guides people towards ultimate meaning and truth is the sacrificial saviour because they essentially want to raise everyone up before giving them their last breath so that they can be propelled further up. The ultimate bad guy is the nihilistic destroyer who wants to bring absolutely everyone down before destroying themselves and any possibility of positive change; they mean to annihilate the lie of ultimate meaning and truth. As you could piece together, the Autobots are all trying to be sacrificial saviours of the greatest degree. The Decepticons, on the other hand, want the annihilation of everything but themselves. The closer to defeat they come, however, the more likely it is that they will try to destroy everything--including themselves.

Fools follow either of the mentioned parties with the hope that they will one day gain access to, or learn the truth about, ultimate meaning and truth. Fools with their heads screwed on straight, fools like Sam, follow the good and attempt to live up to it. Corrupted fools, on the other hand, are more likely to follow the Decepeticons or inadvertently aid them. And such defines the four major categories of object-archetypes in Bay's Transformer films. There are the good guys: the sacrificial saviours, the Autobots. There are the bad guys: the nihilistic destroyers, the Decepticons. There are good fools: humans who help the Autobots and/or oppose the Decepticons. And then there are corrupt fools: those who help the Decepticons and/or oppose the Autobots.

With these four character types, Bay doesn't ever need character arcs - at least, not strong ones. Fools always seem to be fools in the Transformer films in particular. Sometimes the status of good guys and bad guys is questioned, but characters are pretty stagnant elements of Bastard Cinema. And this seems to reflect one of its major principals: Bastard Cinema is for bastard audiences. Why should characters, especially the fools that represent us, change when, we, the audience, have disavowed our dreams? Whilst our idols and demons struggle for legitimacy, Bay has our own projections of self wander quite aimlessly; they leave as they come into narratives, quite like audience members leave as they come into the Transformer films.

However, by witnessing the subtle struggle of Bay's object-archetypes, we can see them, and ourselves, change. Understanding can lead to legitimisation. And so this is what we will continue to strive after in the next part on the first Transformer film where we will (hopefully) take what we have established in this post and see it play out across the entire film.

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From Up On Poppy Hill - Genre vs. Story

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22/02/2018

From Up On Poppy Hill - Genre vs. Story

Thoughts On: From Up On Poppy Hill (コクリコ坂から, 2011)


Two students, both of which have lost a parent, fall for one another during a student uprising.


Gorō Miyazaki makes his return to Ghibli with From Up On Poppy Hill, but, this time, with his father working on the script with co-writer of Tales From Earthsea and Arriety, Keiko Niwa. The outcome of Gorō's second effort is, unfortunately, almost as polarising as Tales From Earthsea - but, in a different way. Whilst the character-work and dialogue in Tales From Earthsea is quite poor, leaving a story with potential left unfulfilled, the character-work is quite strong in From Up On Poppy Hill, but the story is the problem.

There are minor and nagging faults within From Up On Poppy Hill pertaining to the sound track and tone in general. Starting off on a bad foot, Poppy Hill uses music that simply does not speak well with the imagery. During the introduction, for example, the song is too cheerful and energetic for the imagery, which is attempting to be far more subdued and quiet in its study of our main character, Umi. And such remains a grating motif of the entire film; the animators - who aren't on their best form - are seemingly attempting to tell a story quite different to that which the editor, director and sound people are. Added to this, however, is a naively obnoxious tone, the kind that can only be summed up as such: ugh...

Any time a story attempts to deal with teenagers and romance, it will be trying to skate a line between mushy, sentimental melodrama and contrived, arrogant drama. In not only containing a teen-romance, but also politics and a touch of existentialism, Poppy Hill adds other, complexifying dimensions to this tight rope walk. And it certainly doesn't walk the thin line well. Sometimes pushing too far into melodrama, and too often spending time with, to put it straight, stupid, annoying kids, a tonal sweet spot is never hit in Poppy Hill. Looking to the majority of Ghibli's filmography you will find that tone is so masterfully established and sustained that it need not be mentioned. Here, off and changing tones make it very difficult to appreciate the story and characters. And let it be emphasised that Umi is a pretty wonderful character. It is the minor characters, or rather, the role that groups of school kids collectively play, that becomes annoying.

This seems to be the paradigm of faults within this film; something beautiful is established - a setting, characters and a relationship - but soon spoiled because there is no real direction or strong tone given to the story.

Leading on to the primary problem with Poppy Hill, we have to discuss story. The major emotional conflict of this narrative is two kids falling in love and then finding out that they may be siblings. This immediately struck me as questionable, but I gave the film a chance, thinking that the two would realise that they were in search of a brother and sister all along and develop a relationship around that. The opposite occurs. The film seemingly wants us to root for the two young kids to not be siblings so that they could get together. I cannot see the moral point in this. Maybe this isn't amoral, but, it is certainly weird - especially as it is presented to us.

It is quite easy to imagine a comedy based around a guy and a girl falling for one another and then finding out that they're related in some way. It is also quite easy to think of a tragedy in which fate has two unknown family members fall in love - and maybe worse. Oedipus Rex is the archetypal example here. However, a melodramatic teen-romance based around the possibility of incest is, certainly for me, hard to swallow. I doubt I am alone in thinking this. It simply seems that Poppy Hill is trying to integrate the more ridiculous, though very common, elements of anime (more specifically, hentai and other pornographic sub-genres) into itself with the play on incest.

Beyond the ethical questions, the real issue here is not just that the genre and tone of the story don't resonate with this theme of incest, but that the general narrative doesn't justify its existence. From Up On Poppy Hill is, in essence, a film about aligning oneself with cultural, familial and individual history. What one earth does potential incest have to do with this?

Jung, when describing the stages of life, suggests that a significant step in growing up is moving into a dualistic stage, one that follows childhood and early adult hood, and is managed through recognising a set of 'also Is'. In recognising that you are both a screwed up child and the adult who rebelled against and quashed that person, you can confront your Shadow - that screwed up little child that, despite your efforts, is still within you. In recognising that you are both a present you and a past you, you can become a new you one that is better suited to face life. This new you can accept and deal with itself as both faulted and fixed; as a good child turned messed up adult, or a messed up child turned good adult, for example. Such is so important as you will come to terms with your own weaknesses and strengths. This gives you the ability to stay clear of the dark you and close to the better you. Recognising potential and limitation with yourself can be thought of as aligning yourself with the many dualities of life; the good, the bad, the up, the down, the wrong the right. Like so much of Jung's psychology/philosophy, this theory is then based around dualism being an inherent factor of life that must be accepted and managed as one whole.

We shall not dwell on Jung as we have been referencing him quite a lot recently. However, we can take this concept of 'also I' and map it onto Poppy Hill. Not only is this a film, like a vast many other films, about generational gaps, but this is also about a gap between childhood and adulthood. We can understand the generational gap just like we can understand the gap between childhood and adulthood. To become an adult, you have to not just change who you are, but come to terms with your 'inner child' (an idea that has its origins in Jung, but was popularised by Hugh Missildine). For a society to progress, it cannot destroy what the previous generation built and start again. Ruins are never a good foundation to build from. This is seemingly so because the past is something that can never be eradicated. It can be masked over and ignored, but, from the darkness, are sure to emerge some demons that you have blinded yourself to. Societies, too, must realise their 'also Is' so that they can not just learn from the mistakes of the past, but also inherit the good (which is all too easy to take for granted).

These ideas of the individual and the societal 'also I' are attempted to be presented by Poppy Hill with multiple illusions to the Korean War and Japan's overlooked involvement in it that saw an undisclosed numbers of Japanese sailors and labourers (not soldiers) killed. This involvement in the war had much to do with the American government in the aftermath of WWII, and, in addition to this, there is a general allusion to Japan's relationship with other countries through the Olympics. These allusions could be a means of critique, but, the social-historical context of this film does not seem to have been integrated into the story at all well. We are then left questioning the purpose of referencing the Olympics and Korean War. And this is true in regards to the reference to student protests, too. Whilst uprisings are presented as, on one level, bringing society together, this event also brings together two young kids who are given the opportunity to reconcile with the loss of their parents. There is a clear attempt here to say something about the Jungian 'also I' stage of development for individuals and collectives, but, I can't see this going anywhere. And, I repeat, what on earth does potential incest have to do with any of this?

The core problem with Poppy Hill is concerned with the building of a narrative without clear meaning and direction. If a film is going to consciously try and say something specific, themes cannot merely be alluded to, and genre must not be allowed to become the primary motivation for the story. If we consider something such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, we have a perfect example of a film that is, of course, science fiction, but doesn't feel very sci-fi. This is true of many art-house or non-mainstream films. They don't seem to have a proper genre. Why? Because, in these films, the style of storytelling matters less than what a story says. With films such as Rust & Bone or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, we have a seeming character studies that actually don't have very obvious character arcs of journeys; we lose sight of the characters slightly. Why? Because characters are used as receptacles for meaning and voices for subtext. In films that are simply 'their own thing', story is often everything. And story can be everything only when it has direction and is given meaning.

In a film such as Princess Mononoke, there are distinct characters, and there is a distinct form/style, but the film is held together by its meaning - by the direction of story. Here we have an example of a film that doesn't think story is absolutely everything, but nonetheless puts it highest on the hierarchy. Poppy Hill should have followed in Princess Mononoke's footsteps if it was to try and be, in part, a genre film - and this, in my opinion, means getting rid of the pointless incest element and focusing on the 'also I' theme. In realised that romantic tropes aren't everything, and that the set of characters constructed are strong enough to carry the film alone, the writers should have focused on what the story itself could say rather than trying to inject conflict and resolution into character arcs. In focusing on character conflict, genre was turned to, and thus we have a romance cliche - realising that the person that you have fallen in love with isn't actually the person you thought they were - manipulated into absurdity through the whole subplot of potential incest.

In Poppy Hill, genre has clashed with story and the writers have chosen to let genre win. A terrible blunder that leads to an awkward and rather insubstantial film. I knew that the Ghibli Series would certainly look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the company, but I didn't foresee this much ugliness finding itself in the series. Alas, what are your thoughts on From Up On Poppy Hill and all we've covered today?

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Letter From An Unknown Woman - Anima Possession

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21/02/2018

Letter From An Unknown Woman - Anima Possession

Thoughts On: Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948)

A young girl falls hopelessly for a talented pianist who does not know a thing about her.


Letter From An Unknown Woman is, stylistically, a truly beautiful classical Hollywood film. The black and white cinematography, the sweeping camera movement, the intimate mise en scène - all wonderfully executed. Fontaine has a particularly striking screen presence in this picture. Her body language is so often subdued and meek, yet, her voice rings with a true, untrembling strength. So, though she becomes, in essence, a flower that is stepped on, it is made sure that we do not perceive her as merely weak and pathetic. Such leaves Letter From An Unknown Woman, arguably, a solid example of how to allow tragedy to flow through a story, instead of pressing it upon characters and moulding them around it. Feeling the hands of the makers within this genre is a signifier of incompetence. Call it fate, destiny or something else, but it is this that should fuel the tragedy. When a character is to blame, we have a hero/villain narrative. When there is no one we can easily point to, we have a tragedy. When we can point to the writer and say it is they who caused the tragedy, we have a deeply faulted film.

Whilst I think Letter From An Unknown Woman does overcome this hurdle in formulating a tragedy, it is difficult to commit to an opinion due to one crucial sequence. The dramatic hinge of this narrative is our main character finding the love of his life, spending a night with her, and then forgetting all about her in a tidy of sum of fourteen days - or less. And he does not just spend a night with her, he spends a night with her, meaning, CUT TO: 9 Months Later.

This is a rather ridiculously melodramatic plot point to centre an entire narrative on. You can see it approaching, and you assume that tragedy may intervene. If not, maybe mere circumstance would intervene as it does in between Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. The two lovers who meet and spend a night with one another in these films know that they only have one night and that's all. At the last minute, however, they make an agreement to never call one another, to never send a letter, instead, just meet up a few months later. As we find out in the sequel, this meeting never happens. Though each person assumes the other just forgot about them, it turns out that one person's grandmother died and the other actually did show up. This sounds like a convenient writer's device, but, the way in which this information is integrated into the narrative is smooth and believable. Letter From An Unknown Woman shares a similar plot point, but, there is no explanation, no circumstance, no tragedy, no verisimilitude, no smoothness.

This major beat has you question the entirety of the narrative as, without reason, it becomes clear that the man who just forgets the potential love of his life is a pure dickhead. We have been made to believe the complete opposite, however, and so has the girl. But, the forgetful pianist who erased the girl from his memory is never presented as the asshole he clearly is, not before, and not after this event. Not really. Not convincingly. Why? Do the writer's agree with what he did? Can they overlook it so easily? Does it not matter?

These questions make one thing clear, yet leave two pathways open to the viewer. The one thing that becomes clear is that this film is attached to the idea of 'anima possession'. The two pathways that this concept opens up are tied to the audience viewing the featuring of anima possession as conscious or inadvertent.

Anima possession is a concept of Carl Jung's that was expanded upon and rethought by many after him, one prominent figure being Marie Louise von Franz. The anima is, in the simplest terms, the female element within every single man. The concept reaches further than this, however, to suggest that the anima is the female archetype in the male psyche. This archetype is, from one perspective, inherent to the self. From another perspective, the anima is created and moulded by the self; it is a man's conception of the ideal female. This ideal female can be informed by a man's mother, a distinctly Freudian touch of Jung's theory, and so, just like Freud's conception of the mother-son relationship, it can have some seriously negative outcomes.

To combine both Freudian and Jungian terminology, anima possession is the idealisation of the archetypal Oedipal mother. To separate Jung from Freud, however, anima possession doesn't have to be a psychosexual phenomena. Instead, anima possession can be temperamental; it can turn a man into a wimp.

Anima possession weakening a man does not suggest - at least, not entirely - that a man embracing his femininity makes him a frail princess. Anima possession isn't a concept meant to degrade femininity and women. It is the corruption and the building of a false female archetype that weakens a man. It is thus his inability to individuate (grow up) and see a woman as a woman, a human being, that reduces him to a spineless mouse. This mouse projects his animus onto the world, seeing all women through Eros, the Greek god of sexual attraction that Jung uses to encapsulate the essence of femininity as a great binder and loosener. With all painted by Eros, the man becomes deeply and more profoundly anal retentive** than Freud's language and conception would suggest. He wants the whole world around himself to be in balance and in (his) control, all ends attracted and met. The world is plugged in to the matrix of his pathetic ego.

**This is where Freud's language becomes polarising and, admittedly, quite strange. Anal retentive describes the outcomes of a child between 18 months and 3-years-old becoming fixated by their anus as the primary erogenous zone of their body. If they then enjoy holding in their poop or pee, they're going to be obsessively clean and respectful of authority. And the blame, of course, lands on the parents.

Without delving much deeper into this subject matter, if we turn back to the concept of tragedy, we can begin exploring our two paths. If we interpret the major plot point of Letter from An Unknown Woman as bad writing that signifies that the writers are pressing tragedy onto characters, then we can argue that they, themselves, are, to some degree, anima possessed. As said, anima possession is often characterised by temperament: a man being indecisive, but also impulsive, brutish, but also childish, and all at the worst of times. However, we can consider the concept manifesting in terms of just projection: a man thinking of and representing females, and their own persona, through the corrupt scope of anima possesion. We may imagine such a phenomena looking like Letter From A Unknown Woman.

Herein, a young woman is shown to be obsessed with a man - unbeknownst to him. She adores him for who he is, for the music he makes and with no real reason to point to beyond the idea of true love. She is also quiet, sacrificial, kind and so likeable that she is almost infallible to criticism. Meanwhile, he is conservative and somewhat quiet - he lets his piano do the talking. However, once the music has made its calls, he has no qualms about accepting the other young girls that come his way and no qualms about talking them into his piano room. We can suppose that he's just got magnetism in that way.

This man one day finds the muse he's always been looking for, and she is swept away upon a cloud of dreams. She is getting what she has so long yearned for, and what we, the audience, thinks she deserves. However, whilst she turns out to have truly been in love, he turns out to have just wanted her for a night. Years pass, and she does not stop being sacrificial. As much as she tells herself she is happy, her sacrificial nature eats away at her. And eating away at the man, too, is the muse shaped hole in his heart. His piano no longer does the talking, though, the search for a new muse continues.

We can stop the narrative here and very clearly see that the writers seem to be telling a tale of a perfect woman and an imperfect man; a woman that remains perfect and a man who remains a knob. In the end, she dies, and hearing of her tragic life, he decides to confront death, too. We're then sure that he dies--if he dies at all--a great man when he is called into a duel. The tale of Judas and Juliette with a slight twist in the end and some hope for Judas.

Some would suggest that this satisfies the male gaze - which, as the story is presented, certainly does. However, it is also a projection of animus possession; the writers being uncontrollably obsessed with the perfect female that they desire and the broken man they can't stop being, yet still finding a way towards self-gratification and, whilst they're at it, taking a fatal dig at women.

There's a part of me that doesn't like this story, and this is the reason why. It feels simultaneously weak and brutish, unenlightened and obnoxious. There is another part of me, however, that is willing to accommodate this film and its story. Before we go on to to explore this second avenue, however, let it be noted that the fact that I am unsure certainly decreases the quality of this narrative. Nonetheless, let us continue.

If anima possession is a feature of the male character of this film, and not the writers, and if this is a genuine tragedy, we can suggest that the pianist is certainly to be seen as the villain of this story--a tragic villain. Having been given talent and magnetism, never having learnt how to properly control his impulses, never having asked for fame and fortune, and never having asked for a young girl to fall in love with him, we can see the young pianist as in over his head. So, though he is anima possessed and in constant search of a muse, it seems that this is a cross he has just got to carry.

It may be because of this cross, the fact that he was swept away to work, put under stress, constantly approached by other women and some other (admittedly weak) excuses, that he may have forgotten about the girl. After all, whilst she had a wonderful night, he got to know nothing of the girl despite all his questions; he was only allowed to, quite literally, stare at her. How was he to remember her by anything other than sight? And maybe her memories of their night together - those which we are shown - do not match reality. We cannot know, but this would certainly paint a different picture of him.

So, though his neglect makes for a foolish and rather pig-headed mistake, he is young and she never tries to reach out to him. Is this her sacrificial nature and hesitance taking the better of her; has she not learnt to strengthen herself and take up arms? We certainly can't blame her entirely, but, maybe the fault lies somewhere between them?

The man didn't ask for his predicament, nor did she. Both are faulted individuals, and fate seems to have torn them apart. In being torn apart, their faults intensify; she becomes more sacrificial and he more of an exploitative fool. However, in meeting again, they each find a chance for redemption. She finds a chance to stop sacrificing her own will towards fulfilment. She decides to try and confront, to take, the man who she - for reasons out of her control - has loved her whole life. Memory fails the man, however. Though he tries, he cannot remember her, and thus he is not given the jump start towards redemption. Their clocks of fate are out of sync. This demoralises the woman, leaving her to the arms of tragic chaos. She dies. Upon realising who she was and what his mistake was too late, he comes upon his chance for redemption; to confront his mistakes and the one man who was actually good to the girl despite not being the man of her dreams. He drops his anima possession, his muse has died a human, and he shall confront death as the weak and terrible man that he is. Will he even bother to fend off his doom?

Seen as such, Letter From n Unknown Woman is a tragedy about anima possession. However, there remains doubt in my mind. I lean more towards seeing this film in a favourable light (my bias towards wanting to see and appreciate the best in cinema), but I certainly see much potential for criticism. I'll then leave things open. Have you seen Letter From An Unknown Woman? Is this a good or a bad film, and why?







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20/02/2018

Allah Tantou - The Exploited

Quick Thoughts: Allah Tantou (God's Will, 1992)


Made by David Marof, this is the Guinean film of the series.


Allah Tantou, or God's Will, is a documentary centred around the reconstruction of Achkar Marof's, Guinea's UN Representative from 1964 to 1968, imprisonment. Made by his son, David Marof, with letters from his father, sent while he was in prison, this bears weight as we grow to come to terms with the fact that this is a true story. I do not believe that the manner in which reconstruction is managed and brought to the screen was the best decision for this film, however. Instead of feeling that you are witnessing reality, you have to remind yourself of this consistently. Without a real human presence, rather the presence of actors, letters and newsreels, it is difficult to emotional engage with the film in a manner that does not feel at surface level. It is always difficult to tell the stories of the lost. The Act Of Killing masterfully manages these difficulties, but, such a film is a rarity and one that, whilst I would like to have seen Allah Tantou reflect, was not brought to the screen by Marof.

Allah Tantou is nonetheless an important film for Guinea, African cinema and Africa more generally. This is because it was one of the first African films to directly and convincingly confront Human Rights abuses. There are many African films such as The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, Black and White In Colour and Xala that all deal with corruption and Human Rights abuses that predate Allah Tantou. These narrative films are very different; The Rise and Fall Of Idi Amin is considered an exploitation film that, with an abundance of absurdity and comedy, deals with African dictatorship; Black and White In Colour is a French-Ivorian (emphasis on the French) film that deals with war and colonialism through satire; Xala deals with state corruption in post-colonial Africa with hints of political satire embedded within drama. Whilst these films and Allah Tantou have similar subject matter - exploitation - the manner in which exploitation is handled by each film is radically different. Allah Tantou attempts to deal with real life, without many illusions or much fiction. Whilst its success in these terms can be debated, its distance from something such as The Rise and Fall Of Idi Amin cannot. The importance of Allah Tantou then lies in its directness, serious approach and attempts to humanise and impressionistically empathise with the presented figures. Such is not really achieved, in my opinion, with any of the mentioned films.

As a significant film about tragic irony, I'd recommend Allah Tantou. You can read more about the subject matter of the film and Camp Boiro (which is where Marof was imprisoned) at campboiro.org. You can even watch this film in its entirety on the site.

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End Of The Week Shorts #45

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18/02/2018

End Of The Week Shorts #45



Today's shorts: I, Tonya (2017), The Shape of Water (2017), Zatôichi’s Cane Sword (1967), Downsizing (2017), The Black Cat (1934), Salaam Bombay! (1988), Black Panther (2018), Ten (2002)



I, Tonya is a powerful, seemingly quintessentially American, story. Much like all the great gangster movies, this poses a question to its main character: What matters more, success and purpose, or substance and meaning? What makes these narratives so powerful is the fact that the characters are not given the tools or means to properly confront this question. Rather, they fight against the world, paying dearly for their shortcomings whilst trying to formulate a response to their struggles that leaves them a hero. Such, however, seems to be a mere dream. The American Dream then seems to have been modified by gangster films (since the 30s) and now films such as I, Tonya. They argue that the dream is a lie you tell yourself whilst fighting for tangible truth; and this truth is ultimately blood on the floor that you can only try to dance around. 
A brilliant story put to the screen quite well, I, Tonya is really worth the watch.



A re-watch didn't brighten my view of The Shape Of Water, but, I still think that it is pretty good. The story, whilst it holds some poetic qualities in connection to water as a body that holds innocence and preserves good, is nice and engaging, but feels like it lacks substance. The same is quite true in the character department. What I appreciate most about The Shape Of Water, however, is that it is one of the somewhat rare modern films that takes time to develop its antagonist. In fact, Michael Shannon as Strickland is, in my view, the best part of this film. Not only is he written as a round and distinct person, but he is evil in a manner that makes sense; he isn't a caricature or a stock figure like most of the other characters in this film are to varying degrees. 
In the end, this isn't a game changer, but it is a solid film. Worth the watch.



Think we get a lot of sequels, prequels and so on these days? Zatôichi’s Cane Sword is the 15th film of a series of 26 feature-length chambara (samurai) pictures that preceded a 100 episode long T.V show. 
I haven't seen any other Zatôichi film and stumbled upon this one, watching it completely blind to the fact that this was part of a series. So, whilst you do sense that there is history and more story around this film as you watch it, I must say that it stands alone really well, providing a strong story about patience and choosing the right moment. I can't say how this would compare to any other Zatôichi film, and so feel wary about giving an opinion on this, but I had a good time with Zatôichi’s Cane Sword. The dialogue and comedy could have been better, but the story and fight choreography shine. If you're intrigued, why not give this a go?



Though it's just a little bit pompous, Downsizing is a truly brilliant movie. As much as it is about pollution, the environment, class divides and so on, this is a very simple film. With all the grand political themes taking a real backseat, Downsizing is just about a guy who is lost in the world. He doesn't know how to make the people around him happy, he doesn't know how to make the world better and he doesn't know what to do with his life. Following a cliched and trope-ridden journey with a child's eyes, our main character learns a poignant lesson that is, itself, not incredibly profound, but is certainly uplifting to see come together. 
This is existential sci-fi executed brilliantly and with some really nice shades of comedy. I highly recommend this one.



The Black Cat is one of those movies that I just can't read. I don't know whether this is just awkward 30s nonsense, or if there's sense and meaning buried beneath the intermittently expressive mise en scène, the rigid acting, the strangely disjointed structure of scenes and the queer editing, but I do know that I'm confused. 
What struck me on this re-watch is how little Julie Bishop's feet are on the ground. It's far from uncommon to see a woman draped across a man's (robot's, vampire's, sea creature's or monster's) arms on an Old Hollywood poster, but it's even less common for the poster to actually be reflective of the film. And, beyond the fact that this was one of the earliest films to have a continuous score throughout, I think that is the most unique thing about The Black Cat.



Salaam Bombay is a powerful film, one that explores the streets of Bombay and the lives of the underclass that live on and off of them. Following a set of homeless children, prostitutes, drug addicts and more, Salaam Bombay pulls few punches in depicting the overwhelming futility of poverty. This then poses a question with its final sequence, one that features a parade in honour of Ganesha who is, among other things, considered the remover of obstacles: Why have so many seemingly insurmountable objects been placed in front of so many people, whose main crime seems to be of naivety, and when--if ever--will they ever be removed? 
Though the structure of Salaam Bombay doesn't build towards this question perfectly, this is a poignant film, one I'd recommend.



This is not a superhero movie. This is not a Marvel movie... at least, I struggle to see it as such. Black Panther is the best Marvel movie I've ever seen - it's certainly one of my favourites (looking past Spiderman 2, which isn't really apart of the MCU). It simply has such a complete and compelling story and a many of rich, fully rounded characters. These are things that I don't see any other Marvel movie even coming close to rivaling Black Panther on. On top of this, however, Black Panther has some of the best comedic sensibilities of any superhero movie ever - and it's often not even trying to be that funny. 
I won't say that this is perfect, however. The cinematography... so many scenes simply aren't bright enough. You can't tell what's going on. Despite this one glaring flaw, I have to say that this is an incredible movie. I'll be seeing this again soon and writing about it more extensively.



Ten is a masterful character study, one of the most true and intricate I've ever come into contact with. 
Kiarostami pushes the Iranian docu-drama far beyond an illusion with Ten, not only capturing seeming reality, but transcending it, leaving the audience entirely disinterested in what is fact and what is fiction. This is how convincing and brilliantly constructed his narrative truths are. Similarly, it does not matter who is right and who is wrong in each and every exchange. With the conversation presented as a form of therapeutic analysis for both spectators and characters, what matters is the space between and beyond characters: their lives and their society. I cannot recommend this more. You're doing yourself a disservice if you've not seen this.






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