Thoughts On: January 2020

31/01/2020

Fighting With My Family - Questioning The Mechanisms of Photogénie

Thoughts On: Fighting With My Family (2019)

A girl from Norwich tries to become a WWE champion.


Fighting With My Family is not a good film - it is mediocre at best. Whilst I wouldn't suggest that it is strictly a 'based on a true story' narrative film's responsibility to report the facts of its 'real story,' there are times when egregious contrivance and manipulation damage such a film. This is the case with Fighting With My Family. Whilst I used to love the WWF when I was a kid, I know nothing at all about the whole thing now. But, even to an entirely unknowing spectator of the film like myself, this film clearly cuts huge sections out of its main character's ascent to a 'title'. To anyone who has seen the film--or even not-- you may find reading Paige's Wikipedia entry more dramatic and captivating than the feature-length film. There would, however, be little point in this film adapting a Wiki page, representing a story and wrestling career that have been televised - and let's not forget are scripted. Fighting With My Family then does somewhat well in understanding that it is not the drama in the ring that needs to be put into a narrative, rather, its relationship with an untelevised 'behind the scenes' that Wikipedia does not capture. Nonetheless, whilst this is understood, the attempt at managing both the scripted narrative of Paige's wrestling career and her life beyond garners poor results. This is largely because there are clear gaps in Paige's presented wrestling career, which in turn fails to translate the real work and turmoil that would have accompanied her rise to the top of her sport. The biggest indication of this film's failure is then the fact that I was left wondering: How do you become a pro-wrestling champion? What do you have to do as an athlete and entertainer to be given the hero's narrative? Fighting With My Family only suggests some fluff in this regard: you have to find yourself. Whilst this archetypal location and affirmation of self may be justified for sitting at the basis of this narrative, it is given no structural and logical support. That is to say that Fighting With My Family should have been structured to express this tale of individuation with greater emphasis on what really went on behind the scenes as to nuance and complexify what can be read as a cliched, oversimplified story.

Let's not fall too far into this discussion, however, as it is making me rather nauseous for how silly it is. Fighting With My Family is a WWE co-produced movie, so you could expect it to shy away from the true business side of things. This is a film, you could argue, that merely emphasises the political statement made by the WWE as they facilitated the rise of Paige and women's pro-wrestling. Seen in this regard, WWE are just patting themselves on the back here. And as such, Fighting With My Family is relegated from mediocrity down to worthlessness in my eyes. But, let's not let conspiratorial assumption take the main stage here. If anyone has any interest in what occurs behind the scenes in pro wrestling, I'd recommend Beyond the Mat - a documentary I saw when I was too young and made wrestling too real and a little sad.

I didn't expect much at all from Fighting With My Family. I approached this film because of its lead, Florence Pugh. Having recently seen Little Women and re-watched Midsommar for about the fifth time, I felt that Florence Pugh was the stand-out actress of last year. Midsommar is the first movie of Pugh's that I had seen, and in it she brilliantly captures and expresses the twisted, bipolar core of the film. Midsommar is at once a tale of individuation and a fatalistic revenge narrative; the script surreally manages these two extremes as to evoke a profoundly complex sense of unconscious perturbance and break-through. For this, the film is sensational. But, if all of its brilliance could be boiled down to one statement, it would have to be presented with an image of Florence Pugh's face at the end of the film: her reaction to her terrifying journey into the depths of her neurosis. Such a shot and its power can only be defined and understood with the concept of photogénie. This is an old idea used by French filmmakers of the silent era. It describes evocative, beautiful images, but defines them not by spectacle, instead their morally enhancing ability. The idea of photogénie then suggests that sublime images awaken in us a sensitivity to moral meaning. In the case of the defining shot of Midsommar, we see not just a beautifully composed image, but an image that pulls us into the soul of a character, a subject, to better sense an underlying exploration of death, desperation and tragedy that runs through the film.

Midsommar's photogénie - specifically, the film's projection of Pugh's visage and performance - emphasised the actress' talent and striking aura. Little Women did well to translate this, centralising, aesthetically, the warmth, earnest spontaneity and dragging pain of Pugh's character. Photogénie then plays a strong role in the film. But, whilst we can define photogénie's effects, I'm interested in its more ambiguous mechanisms. This is what brought me to Fighting With My Family. Dramatically, aesthetically, generically, formally and otherwise, Midsommar, Little Women and Fighting With My Family are three very different films. But, what binds the first two is a successful deployment of photogénie. I wondered if Fighting With My Family would also share this. I in turn was questioning whether photogénie is a cinematographic or preformative property: an effect conjured by a cinematographer or actress. I questioned this on the basis that we often consider some things or some people just having something about them, or a subject or object possessing the inability to look bad. Is this the case with photogénie; can, in this case, a performer be unable to facilitate moral enhancement, or is this dependent on the cinematographer?

This is a tricky and fascinating subject as it bears much relation to theories of stardom. Some would suggest that stars - to a spectator who highly regards them at least - cannot make bad movies; or at least, if they are in a bad movie, they are a redeemable part of it and in no way responsible for lacking quality. In such a case, stardom - whatever that may be - transcends medial technique. If photogénie is tied to stardom, to a distinct aura an actress or actor carries between roles, then we could expect it, too, to transcend the abilities of writers, directors, cinematographers, etc. Fighting With My Family provides an opportunity to question this. Does photogénie follow Florence Pugh into a mediocre movie?

In all honesty, I can't tell. Having raised the subject and outlined it for so long, I should reach some conclusion, but I cannot be definitive. It seems clear that Pugh's aura translates between films with her embodiment of something archetypal that I cannot substantially decipher being expressed in each. In such, though Fighting With My Family is a mediocre film, I found myself drawn to its main character and awkwardly laughing away the affects of its finale as if they didn't exist. I am not sure if this is because of the script, however. As discussed, its management and contrivance of character is highly questionable and the source of the film's failings. This suggests to me that successes in the character department may be attributable to Pugh and, or, aesthetic technique. But, Fighting With My Family certainly holds little aesthetic achievement, and so I am happy to assign the success of characterisation primarily to Pugh and her aura. But, with this, does there come photogénie? My answer: maybe. There are one or two images that have something of a punctum - not a strong one, but an affective punch nonetheless. But, these images do not utilise Pugh's face anything like Little Women or Midsommar do; they are certainly nowhere near as crisp, richly textured or vibrant as those in the mentioned films. Such suggests that a trace of photogénie does travel with Pugh, but there are too many contingencies and questions here. Am I confusing photogénie and star aura? Am I undermining an archetypal narrative and competent cinematography? Am I unduly removing myself from the formulating process of photogénie? I cannot answer these questions presently. However, there is a lot to this line of discourse. So, I'll leave things in your hands. What do you think of photogénie as it relates to performers and aesthetics?



29/01/2020

2046 - What Are Characters Made Of?

Thoughts On: 2046 (2004)

A hedonistic writer falls through empty relationships attempting to keep longing at bay.


I'm starting to realise that I'm not the biggest Wong Kar Wai fan. Whilst I really like In The Mood For Love and Chungking Express, I found Days of Being Wild testing - and 2046 more so. It is the collision of sweeping, intense thematic rumination, narration and abstract montage that ruined 2046 for me. I found no balance between these elements and, more so, no tonal coherence. With a rather boisterous style, one feels 2046 calling attention to its own meaning making process whilst it plays with rather inane characters. True it is that this focuses on broken people, but the presentation of their existential ailments and psychoses fractures intimacy. In The Mood For Love works so well because, for the most part, it allows the spectator to observe and manage the distance they keep from characters. This interplay between character and spectator facilitates a sometimes intense intimacy, which in turn opens up the possibility of us understanding the meaning that characters are in the process of expressing. 2046 demands closeness and sympathy by consistently presenting characters' psychological profiles with intellectual montage and poetic narration. Presenting themselves as such, characters - in particular the protagonist - has one lose sight of the wider discourse of the film. With an overt interplay between character and spectator, something is spoilt. This result is maybe paradoxical, but it is - at least for myself - a product of incongruous characterisation and style. In such, 2046 in fact makes clearer an ontological problem of 'character' on film. How is a character constructed?

Characters are bound to story in the simplest sense. They are an expression of, and means of exploring, a world, a certain time and a certain place. However, in being bound to story, characters can also be seen to be a creation of it; of a constructed world, time and place presented by a film. In addition to this, characters can be seen as agents of drama. That is to say, they perform, they act, they do. In this sense, they are a manifestation of drama and therefore are created by it. All does not end here though. There are a selection of various elements of film that we could see being used to build character, to inform their construction and place in a narrative. Let us try to make a list of some. We can start with a dated, somewhat structuralist, perspective and suggest that characters are created by and for the plot. Such suggests that characters allow a narrative to succeed and transform, and therefore exist for certain plot beats to be hit and meandered through. This is a variation of describing a character via drama, and a means of specifying their role in the manipulation of a cause-effect chain. Next, one can consider character to be an expression of theme. Such ties character to meaning, their role being consequently defined by discourse on emotionally and existentially pertinent subject matter. In opposition to this, a character can be constructed by spectacle, which is to say, they can be constructed to be looked at, or to manifest events to be looked at. And the last key element of narrative that builds and effects characters that I'll pick up on is style or form.

This is something that I hadn't considered much until watching 2046 though this is a clear and important means of constructing character. Form defines how a character may be represented, and so the character of a style can become an aspect of character. This most clearly happens in Godard films. The suave, energetic, fractured and chaotic style of shooting, editing and producing sound montage impacts the way in which we perceive and understand characters; they become agents of chaos, suave and energetic yet fractured. In 2046, I believe we see the style and theme that builds characters at odds with one another. In such, there is an overt intellectualism about the abstract montage, costume and set design and cinematography. Alas, theme defines character by sensitivity. This is a film, much like In The Mood For Love, about longing and loss, about impending eroticism that is never fulfilled. The crisp lighting and textured set design of In The Mood For Love, its slow motion and crowded framing, its silence, distance and stillness, all inform the sensual side of character, defining them as feeling entities. Theme aids here in adding depth and substance to the prolong feeling we watch unfold on screen - as we do in great impressionist works by the likes of Bresson and Epstein. 2046 builds characters, with form and theme, as thinking and feeling entities. Theme imbues them with emotion, form with cognition. However, the constant thinking of characters bears an ambiguity that lends itself to insipidness. Characters think their feelings in a strange and dry manner. I grew tired of this thought-feeling rather quickly. Again, the reason for this comes down to the construction of character. Characters feel polarised and technically messy. They then fail to evoke or express as they are intended to; they are impeded by over-manipulation.

There is certainly more that could be explored here, but this is difficult work as the process of character construction is so mysterious and, more so, the manifestation of meaning through them is highly complex and contingent. I am then left to report that 2046 did not work for me on a level of character for reasons I have tried to outline. But, maybe I need to watch the film again - which I won't be rushing to do any time soon. That said, what the film has certainly illuminated for me is the depth and complexity of character construction. It is difficult to make sense of, but characters are story, plot, theme, drama, spectacle, form and more.


28/01/2020

Street Dancer - A Battle of Two Extremes

Quick Thoughts: Street Dancer (2020)

An Indian and Pakistani dance troupe battle on the street and in competition whilst seeking a reason to dance.


Whilst Street Dancer is a watchable film and a fun time in the cinema, it is a work of profound extremes. On the one hand, this appears to be an earnest attempt to shine light on a social issue. But, on the other, this is an incredibly silly spectacle bloated with unending dancing. It is clear that this is selling itself as pure spectacle filled with novel concept dances, but somehow this manages to slip - or rather jam - a semi-coherent social commentary into the proceedings of things. It is then hard to know where to begin with Street Dancer (or rather, Street Dancer 3D - I only saw this in 2D though). The most difficult element of the film that I could never overcome is the intense and inherent conflict between dance troupes. Why is everyone so rude and angry? Why are dance battles being approached like war? It is nothing short of absurd to witness the shoving, shouting, food fighting, nipple twisting all escalate into dance routines. Of course, this melodrama is used to set the foundation of the film's social commentary; it is another allegory about the divide between India and Pakistan with an Indian dance team doing battle with a Pakistani dance troupe - all whilst a British group called the Royals stir things up in the background and a Canadian dancer repeatedly and violently humps the floor (which is truly hilarious). In the end, social divides are overcome and the colonisers defeated, but this is not where the film find its strength. The India-Pakistan commentary feels very familiar (I have no intent to get into its idiosyncrasies), but Street Dancer introduces into this a discussion on immigration and class divides in the diaspora. Such is all, of course, summed up with great lines such as 'You dance for yourself... we dance for others...' but, the sentiment is there.

Beyond this, Street Dancer is conventionally wacky and absurd, but enjoyable for that fact. Its weakest elements are characterisation and the fact that none of the drama set up between lovers and enemies is properly explored and resolved. And on top of this, Street Dancer's commentary isn't pristine, its representation of London is highly questionable, and the acting - especially in the minor roles - can be pretty bad. But, in the end, the tone and some of the dancing makes this worthwhile if you can catch this in a good mood.



27/01/2020

Alita: Battle Angel - What Makes A Movie Bad: Consciousness & Unconsciousness in Filmmaking

Thoughts On: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

A cyborg found in the trash heap of a sky city challenges the rule above from the city squalor below.


Alita: Battle Angel is not a good film, but it is an interesting one. James Cameron, as almost to be expected, and its other producers take a huge risk in adapting a somewhat low-key (maybe the original manga is incredibly popular, I'm not sure) IP. This fact is particularly pronounced by the recent box office returns of the likes of Ghost in the Shell. With moderate, you could say poor considering its production budget, box office returns, Ghost in the Shell seemingly indicated that anime/manga adaptations are not the way to go. But, Cameron threw this aside and pushed Alita into production after many years of struggle with a budget almost as great as the returns of Ghost in the Shell. This ballsy, seemingly nonsensical move, worked out: Alita did very well at the box office. And, in all likelihood, we'll get the implied sequel if James Cameron ever gets through his Avatar series. As a side note, James Cameron must just have to mention Titanic to be given money by Hollywood - it seems no other director could do what he is doing having not been associated with a particularly good movie since the early 2000s (of course Avatar was a huge hit, but who is interested in more?). All of that said, I'm interested today in Alita: Battle Angel as a clunky piece of storytelling and filmmaking.

I should start out with a mention of the manga. I know next to nothing about the medium, and only a fraction more about anime. But, the influence of anime and manga on cinema is--let's call it a distinguished one. It is this influence that could be explored as a root of the issues in this film, stylistically and narratively. But, I want to push past this and talk about cinema only. More specifically, I want to discuss how writers and filmmakers engage the meaning in their own creations.

There are two easily distinguished classes of cinematic meaning as attached to the conscious and unconscious processes of filmmaking. On the one hand, there is overt commentary. And on the other, there is thematic exploration. The difference between the two rests in the implied line between consciousness and unconsciousness. Commentary emerges from intended discourse, which is to say that the class of meaning produced by it is inserted into a narrative. Thematic exploration has its conscious component, but it is intrinsically bound to questioning and evocation; symbols and metaphors are presented, meaning breathes through them. In a true cinematic context, the difference between these two modes of meaning is highly nuanced and often muddied. But, in a theoretical context, one can argue that the difference between the two is clear - especially upon a broad evaluation of a narrative in its totality. This is worth making mention of because it is Alita: Battle Angel's management of, in particular, its thematic exploration that produces so many of the problems in the film.

Bad films feel fake and constructed, their stories, in some way, untrue. They are easily deemed clunky because they have no harmony about them as a result of a failure to mediate between mimetic and creative processes. That is to say that all films evoke or imitate life and its often abstract components whilst being manipulated and composed by a filmmaker who cannot simply present life, but an aspect of it. Alita, as an example of such a bad film, is clunky specifically because it attempts to compose and manipulate its thematic components too much. Let us take for example its attempt to explore individuation and the finding of one's true self. Not only does the story have to explicitly narrate this process as part of Alita's character arc, but it shows little understanding of what it fundamentally means to change, morph and develop as an individual. The film, in such, is highly conventionalised. For instance, Alita is framed initially as a child of doctor Ido. She eventually rebels against him because she wants to fulfil her potential. We are told this, but we do not feel it. We are told that Alita feels she is drawn to violence, Ido explains why, but there is no rumination on what it means for Alita to have been programmed, to have been thrown off her destined path. With these underlying thematic elements simply narrated, the movie focuses on cute moments and banal representations - such as her teen romance. This is where convention enters the picture. Alita has so many cliched, conventionalised plot beats used to half-assedly evoke theme. She falls in love with a rebel who rides a bike, is complicated, but respects her danger; she is willing to give him her heart; he is the masculine idol, her animus, that drives her toward self and away from the original animus: the father. These ideas are presented conventionally and entirely insipidly. And much of this has to do with the fact that theme is commentated, is raised into the consciousness of the cinematic space, not left to dwell, stir and churn in the unconscious. This is but one issue.

Let us consider the unconscious components of this film: its archetypes. Alita, Ido, her boyfriend, etc are all, fundamentally, elemental energies or components of narratives that are to evoke primordial, deep idea structures in the human mind. Ido and Alita's love interest, as mentioned, are the masculine components of the narrative and, furthermore, are masculine archetypes for the daughter/maiden turned warrior archetype that is Alita. As suggested, there are problems with their construction and presentation on screen that concern conventions that reduce their potential complexity to inanity. But, there is a more pressing and irritating problem here. The filmmakers, and writers in particular, become possessed by their archetypes - especially those that Alita embodies at various stages of the narrative. In becoming possessed by the abstract archetypes of their narrative, the filmmakers attempt to present pristine ideal images or imagos, which explains the incessant and somewhat creepy return to the idea that Alita is an 'angel'. They attached themselves to these imagos as opposed to associating them with a character - which should be more than an idea (or, if they are to only be an idea, let that idea be deep). As a result of this attachment, characters become affective spectacle for the viewer susceptible to possession. Archetypes should grip and transform us, but they should not define us; we should not grip them. Yet this is the intent of character construction in Alita; we are, overtly so and quite off-puttingly, asked to identify and possess character like an overbearing mother smothering an ugly child. This is a risk all writers face when they either write with their--for lack of better terminology--genitalia, or become attached to their work in a queer and unnecessary manner. Possessed by its archetypes, Alita: Battle Angel has no freedom to evoke more than an unattractive relationship between filmmaker and creation. Indeed many films do this. The films of Tarantino are a great example. Some find the relationship between artist and filmmaker fascinating... some not. I don't like Tarantino. I'm going off-track.

Far more could be said about archetype possession, but I believe it has a plain and uncomfortable place in this film. A part of this possession that will lead us to another problem concerns aesthetics. One can feel the attachment between creator and archetype in the constant search for beauty and photogénie. Alita has no photogénie, no morally enhancing images of beauty. The beauty in this film is a reflection of possession, not individuation. And such puts into question the entire aesthetic approach that it takes. Why all the CGI? What is up with the modelling and texturing in particular? This type of criticism is somewhat boring, but Alita: Battle Angel is not a good looking film. The motion and modelling are often jarring and so interrupt the experience of narrative and spectacle. Fight scenes are, at points, enthralling and even unique. But, for every ounce of intrigue is three quarters of an ounce of alienation. The CGI is, simply put, uncanny. The lighting is incredible, but the modelling - textures and physics at times, too - just doesn't work. This has you wondering why this is not a 100% CG world as it is the juxtaposition of human and computer generated cyborgs that emphatically seals the uncanniness of the aesthetic. I could pose this as a rhetorical question, but there is some sense that could be read into this choice of so explicitly distinguishing humans from cyborgs with rather overt CGI. As to formulate a discourse and commentary on identity, discrimination, the Other, post-humanism and trans-humanism, the film aesthetically embraces, even emphasises, the difference between cyborg and human whilst evoking equality and love in the narrative. I have little to make of this; the commentary appears rather silly to me if I'm honest. At best, this formal commentary made me realise I don't want to be in an age where we have to live alongside robots; I would certainly be a bigot who would despair if my child fell in love with a hard body, non-human, freak weirdo.

Let's return to narrative. Emphasised aesthetically is an inability (a conscious refusal) to properly harmonise the composition of reality and unreality within the cinematic space. A similar failure is found in the dramatic construction of the film. Alita is a melodrama, therefore we can expect it to manifest a narrative composed to evoke theme with clear inflections of consciousness. That is to say that melodramas conventionally show an awareness of unconscious material, raising it into the subconscious as to emphatically explore emotional reactions to the basic truths or components of reality. Melodramas garner great success in this management of mimesis and archetypal meaning. However, the greatest trouble of this dramatic mode comes with its constructedness. Melodramas, to a far lesser degree than any other dramatic mode, seek not to replicate reality; rather, provide an impression of specific elements. The risk they run in doing this, however, is constructing a parallel to reality that bears no tangible relation or relevance - which reduces their interface with those components of life that are to formulate the meaning of narrative to innanity. In short, mimesis is undermined by false representation; melodramas can often evoke a view of life that is so far estranged from reality that the drama need be dismissed. Such occurs in Alita. We all understand, at least theoretically, what it means to want to give ones heart away. Yet we also should know that this would not look like what Alita: Battle Angel presents it to be.

Consistently in this film, reality and melodrama do not resonate, mimesis, and therefore, meaning, fails. With no evocation, narrative falls flat; consciousness encroaches upon unconsciousness and all becomes a muddled mess: flat commentary, innane discourse and questionable preaching. This is what is wrong with Alita; Battle Angel. We see this all the time, but Alita is a particularly overt example of the many failures that cinema can produce when the relationship between consciousness and unconsciousness as it related to meaning is not properly managed.



26/01/2020

Shorts #107

Today's shorts: Suspicion (1941), Super Dark Times (2017), I Am Not A Witch (2017), 6 Underground (2019), Doctor Sleep (2019), The Gentleman (2020), Cats (2019), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)


Hitchcock was always at his best when a sense of comedy and an explicit ambiguity pervaded his narrative.

Suspicion is as twisted as it is immersive. A pathological, psychologically driven thriller that could be compared to Mildred Pierce, this leaves us trapped in an unpalpable Freudian complex. The melodrama is tantalising, absurd and truly brilliant. Punchy, funny, suave and ballsy, this is one of my favourite Hitchcock films.



Incredible. Absolutely phenomenal.

Haptics are off the charts. Crisply textured, dense, twisted, funny, exuding photogenie, ingeniously shot, authentic as it gets... a perfect film. Incredible. I'm so grateful to have watched this.



I Am Not A Witch constructs a narrative with impressionist obfuscation, which is to say, through its structure, this is as confounding as our character is confused. Without reason and clarity, this puts into combat chance and coincidence with corruption and superstitious oppression by using an accusation of witchcraft to highlight those elements of nature - human nature, and the nature of the unfolding of life - that appear simultaneously consciously sadistic and benevolently bitter. It is hard to put into words the intent of this film beyond this, but it is not hard to recommend it.



I have a soft spot for Bay productions. I have seen this twice already. It is as clunky and unfunny as it is engaging and ludicrously joyful. No one is in great artistic form; the comedic acting is... fine... the sound design and soundtrack are... something to behold... the brutal CGI is... maybe respectable... the direction is intensely incoherent... and the cinematography is lush... in an epileptic kind of way. Seen alone and late at night, this is full of giggles and smiles. The magnet scene is ridiculous. Let's not make mention of the politics.



Really rather good.

Doctor Sleep holds its own as a sequel to Kubrick's behemoth. It is far more articulate and self-exploratory than the former film, and this lends it a unique edge. The Shining is an incredibly ambiguous descent into a hell of a questionably supernatural character. Doctor Sleep focuses on the downplayed supernatural elements of The Shining, simultaneously illuminating and expanding upon the previous narrative in a highly fascinating way. Though at moments a bit too intense (Stephen King horror adaptations really seem to want to push the line in regards to the depiction of child abuse and violence around adolescents these days), Doctor Sleep is a great companion piece to a classic that has not been impinged upon. I need to watch this again.



I'll say this for now and leave it at that... if I had a choice of re-watching either The Gentleman or The Irishman, I'd go for The Gentlemen 9 times out of 10.



Never have I been transported by a film like I was by Cats. I do not mean to suggest that this is either a good or bad quality of this incredibly strange... artefact... but every time I hear the ominous and anxious soundtrack of this film, I feel myself being sucked back into something like an undesirable psychedelic experience. Watching Cats, I truly found myself going places. Where I went, I do not know. What happened there, I cannot tell you. It was a strange and draining place, as meaningless as it was irritating. Self importantly inane, Cats is an incredible wonder. In 20 years, the world will look back with wonder. I hope it does.



Truly phenomenal. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the definition of sensuous; it masterfully establishes distance between characters before breaking this down and again building this up again. This oscillation between near and far, metaphorically, physically and existentially, manifest a purely powerful sensuality that I cannot recall any other film conjuring in such an impactful manner.

The cinematography and framing are simple and stunning; the way in which faces and eyes sit on the screen--truly overwhelming. And then imbued into this is an intricate story of the gaze, of memory and reality, freedom and fate. Incredibly nuanced, incredibly affective, masterfully directed by Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is magic.


25/01/2020

Cinema & Synchronicity

Thoughts On: Jungian Film Theory

A consideration of the contingency and chance significance of meaning in artistic mediums.


Art finds you as much as you find it. I have been interested of late in a wider conception of cinematic and artistic meaning under a Jungian lens. It is fascinating to think of meaning as related to primordial imagery, the unknown symbol and archetypal patterns in space and time, but there is a reality one has to face when pondering the universal nature of meaning and knowledge. Not everyone feels meaning equally. What's more, our sensitivity to meaning is constantly shifting. One year you may hate a certain filmmaker, or for that case, love another. The next, you may love the former and hate the latter. Things change; meaning shifts. Think of the shows and films you watched as a kid. The quality and depth of those works is radically different to a matured self. I am often taken aback by the material that my younger family members consume on YouTube: creepy adults playing with ponies and barbies, even weirder goons dressing up as Disney and Marvel characters and prancing about in completely nonsensical narratives... I'm sure you understand what I am alluding to. Let us not get lost. Let us consider as an extension of this the first time a piece of work hits you and moves you notably with its meaning. How and why does this happen? Research into more obscure Jungian concepts has presented me with some interesting ways in which to think of this question.

So much of Jungian thought coalesces in a concept he devises (and in part appropriates) from alchemical thought and, most importantly, Taoist philosophy. This concept is the unus mundus. The term is Latin and translates to 'one world'. Understanding this term and its significance is rather simple. Carl Jung, psychoanalyst (and, seen from a certain perspective, philosopher) shared with other psychoanalyst the assumption of there existing an unconscious faction of the mind. Where Freud is commonly thought to have split the mind into two distinct layers (unconscious and conscious) with a buffer zone between them (pre-conscious), Jung split the mind into three distinct layers: consciousness, personal unconsciousness and collective unconsciousness. Important to make note of is the collective unconscious. It must be thought of in somewhat biological terms. Humans all are unique; they have unique bodies. However, part of what makes the body identifiably human are certain universal elements, such as organs. We are all unique biological constructions, but all have in common a heart, liver, intestine, etc. Jung assumed the same of the mind. He assumed that we all have unique unconsciousnesses (quite like Freud), but also universal components quite like organs. He called these common components - these organs we all have - 'archetypes'. Archetypes, according to Jung, are primordial images that represent basic concepts that pre-exist humanity. Two example are found in anima and animus, the idea of male and female. To Jung, these ideas, or archetypes, exist in the unconsciousness of humanity - thus, they are said to exist in a 'collective unconscious'. We are not all connected to this abstract cloud of thought and emotion, but, as said, all have in common these organ-like thought-systems. Important to note before moving on is that the archetypes were not knowable, definable entities; they could possibly be intuited, but the only real evidence for their existence lies in patterns through human history (as may be traced in art).

Jung's conception of mind is related to the unus mundus, or one world, theory because he considered the different levels of the mind to be different worlds in and of themselves. They, possible in a metaphorical sense, are abstractions from different dimensions in space and time. In such a case, the conscious realm is thought to be very different from the world of the personal unconscious, and equally different from the archetypal universe. What forces materialise these different modes of perception - or, as we have been calling them, different modes of reality - is not known. However, Jung asserts that, despite the separation between these distinct realms, they all have roots in one unified system. This unified system is the unus mundus: one world that contains many.

Jung built these assumptions from experiencing overlaps between these distinct worlds. He recounts one particular story. One day, when dealing with a difficult patient, he started dream analysis. The patient tells of a dream about a scarab - a beetle. As Jung tries to analyse the dream, an insect begins tapping on his window: a beetle that he opens the window to, catches, and presents to his patient. Jung considered this a coincidentally meaningful event. It is meaningful as two archetypal events or images manifested themselves together in space and time. But, of course, the telling of the patient's dream has no physical and real correlation to the appearance of a beetle. What relates the two events is the mind and its ability to assign meaning. Jung considers this chance and coincidence, but not merely so: this chance and coincidence has meaning. It represents a resonation between the archetypal and physical world available to the conscious mind. Maybe many of us have stories of such meaningful coincidences that cannot be explained too easily. Yet, I concede also that, to the sceptic, this appears to be nonsense that qualifies nothing scientific in nature. In fact, I lean toward the sceptic when reading Jung's account of what he terms 'synchronicity', as he attempts to use his theory as evidence explaining the ESP (extra-sensual perception) and clairvoyance (communicating with the dead, and other oddities). I'm sure most will remember the ESP test, or card game that is played in the beginning of Ghostbusters. This is a reference to a real experiment performed in the 30s by Karl Zener and J.B Rhine, that seemingly proved the existence of certain individuals with extraordinary ESP abilities. The experiment, many suggest, was bogus and has never been successfully replicated and so is has been conclusively deemed unscientific. This is the side of unus mundus theory and the theory of synchronicity that can be disavowed at present. I believe the true application for these theories lies in art and cinematic theory.

Synchronicity describes moments where our body and mind assign absolute significance and meaning to a seemingly random or chance event. I think this happens all the time in highly unsensational ways. As discussed, the meaning we assign to films, to drama and action in the cinema, is entirely contingent on our existential and psychological composition. This composition of self is always shifting, and so one can often find themselves at a loss of words when they are suddenly struck by the meaning within a certain artwork. There is a fear and melancholy about this, too. Films may lose their meaning to us; they slip into nostalgia and irrelevance, and maybe reemerge as suddenly significant one day, but meaning in the body shifts; it is certainly not constant. I thus propose that great experiences of meaning in the cinema are rather coincidental. That is why they are precious. They are sublime as we do not comprehend their emergence and fear the mortality of the moment.

This happens to me every now and then. Most recently, it happened to me not in a cinematic context, but when listening to music. Music was playing (somewhat randomly) on YouTube. YouTube, of course, is fuelled by algorithm and big brother Google's ever-watching eye, and so the chances of me liking a 'randomly selected' song are statistically increased. Nonetheless, a song started to play - and I really liked it. I liked its feel and tone, it resonated with a personal sense of self I held at that moment. The song finished - a few hours later, I found it again. I kept listening to it. I had an urge to write about it. I read the song's lyrics. The song started to resonate and speak to my conscious conception of the unconscious activity I am experiencing in my life at present. How coincidental that the song perfectly expressed something I felt, and, in reading its lyrics, illuminated the mechanisms of my present emotions. This is not a sensational coincidence, but it is not a highly likely event. But, more important than this, it was a meaningful event that resonated with the unconscious factions of my self. I think this must be called artistic synchronicity; in cinema, let us call it cinematic synchronicity. Let us use this term to put into language and analyse meaning and significant cinematic experiences. After all, let us all recognise that there are varying classes and types of meaning in the cinema. Synchronicity seems to be a mechanism of discrimination whereby we can distinguish a smart film from a poetic and deeply resonant work. Who knows if the work will remain as such, but the moment existed in space and time, and how beautiful that is. Cinematic synchronicity. My last experience of this came in Sam Mendes' 1917. What a tremendous film.

Before coming to a close, I must mention that this theory does not necessarily posit that all films are relative, empty and essentially equal. The quality of a film indeed impacts the chances that it will resonate in the primordial mind. Alas, there is so much more than primordial material laced into a cinematic space that the translation becomes ever more contingent. And, most importantly, however good a film may be, the body and mind may not be receptive to it at a given time - or, to the opposite, may be particularly sensitive to it at another. For this reason, for the fact that there are so many factors about this true and deep resignation between image and unconscious, I think it is only sensible to consider events of profound affect to be somewhat rare and, to a significant degree, chance. Thus the necessity of synchronicity as a concept in the theoristation and structuring of meaning in cinema.

I bring this concept of synchronicity into the realm of film theory because I believe it allows us to understand all the better what cinema really is. I hold the assumption that cinema is made, in large part, for the communication of meaning. With synchronicity, this vision shifts ever so slightly. Cinema grounds one in the unus mundus with its evocation of meaning. This, for now, is what I conceive to be the ultimate goal of cinema. It unifies the various realms we may experience in life. It puts into conversation consciousness and unconsciousness, expressing the profundity of the collective unconscious as to ground one in harmony and the way of things. In this sense, cinema is a construct, or a materialised space, in which the chance of synchronicity is increased. The dramatisation of life in various modes presents one with actions and events of archetypal significance. The significant happenings are presented as to produce a synchronistic immersion in meaning that dissolves self into absolute unity: the unus mundus. Such is something of a fabrication or simulation, but this movement into an intermittently immortalised state of harmony and an alignment of an illusive Tao seems to me to be what cinema is constructed for.




24/01/2020

The Matrix - The Ecstatic Reprieve Of The Loss Of Contemporaneity: The Matrix Conundrum

Thoughts On: The Matrix (1999)

An average man attempts to liberate himself from a simulated reality.


Not long ago, I saw in a cinema the restored version of The Matrix. I forgot how good this film is. I truly did. For years and years, I watched this on VHS and DVD, constantly enamoured by its depth and spectacle. The older the film gets, the more enticing it becomes. Such has much to do with it falling into what is now a rather distant epoch of film history. The 90s, when looking back through the history of film, seems like a moment ago. But, now we are entering a new decade, it is becoming ever more pronounced how 'old' certain films are. Not many years ago, I wouldn't think twice when considering the likes of Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park and other incredibly popular 90s films contemporary. Now, in the 20s, we have to think twice. Whilst these films sit on the edge of what is currently modern cinema, they exist in a very different world; specifically, a world not yet profoundly impacted by the internet and digital technology. Films of this era, Jurassic Park and Fight Club as just two examples, certainly foreshadow to some degree modern digital cinema, but the cinematic culture of the present has changed immeasurably. Before getting too lost in this topic, its significance in regards to The Matrix is the reprieve a film garners when escaping contemporaneity. When a film is no longer contemporary, its social relevance becomes historical and its technological and aesthetic achievements conventional. This signifies a key transformation that a cinematic work takes at it ages, and we do not pay much attention to this. We all know films age, but how does this effect how we watch them, and more importantly, how they project their meaning?

When a film becomes 'old' - I use this term to simply colloquially convey the point that a film loses its contemporaneity - its sociopolitical stakes are lessened to a significant degree. In fact, they move out of a realm of commentary and debate, and into the realm of relative novelty. If we consider, then, the discourse that The Matrix engages on technology, individuality, free will and even identity, we find it of lesser relevance. It is not that the thematic discourse is entirely irrelevant and insubstantial just because the film has aged, rather, the object of the film's (conscious, outward) discourse - the culture of the late 90s - no longer exists. This has many consequences. Primary among them is insurmountably of the lost and unknowable. A contemporary film suffers (or maybe gains) from the fact that the people living in its presence think they know what is going on. Sensations of the 'zeitgeist' pull us into (semi)consciously perturbed states when engaging a film with clear political and social commentary; we feel the film speak to us, or to a place and time we know and so have some view of, and so our reaction to its commentary is volatile. When a film ages, this volatility in the audience dissipates as they have distance, and furthermore, the unknowablity of a time and place becomes more inherently acceptable. When one then reads, for example, a book such as Jane Eyre, its social commentary is historically novel and intriguing. We feel we peep into a time and place lost almost entirely. The book may stir us on the level of its social and political discourse, as any art will stir us, when we choose to identify with the time and place that formulate the object of its discourse. But, this may not be a natural reaction. Thus, the novelty of such a book's social commentary, and thus the necessity of research. One does not necessarily have to be a student of film and history to engage a contemporary film's political discourse if they are somewhat aware of current events. But, to better understand that element of, for example, Casablanca, one does require research or to be something of a student of film and history. Without this, the nationalist and isolationist elements of the film - its commentary on the American involvement in WWII - may not be at all registered, let alone stir and affect the spectator.

Without dwelling on sociopolitical stakes, one can also see a film becoming 'conventionalised' when it gets old. In the case of The Matrix, its special effects and digital technology cannot count, now, as good or bad CGI. The special effects are simply the effects of the time. You could argue that it takes a student of film to accept this. It is difficult to assert, but, when someone looks back on the 1933 King Kong, do they see hilariously bad special effects, or the technological aesthetics of the time? I think many would be able to accept that this is what a 30s film is like and likely enjoy the movie on this basis, but it does not take much imagination to envisage someone refusing to watch the film because it is old and the special effects are terrible. You would certainly frown on a student of film if they made such a comment. That said, this subject is wider than technology. With epochal distance, the aesthetics, cinematic language, acting, cinematography, etc. all are retired from being exclamatory statements of the cutting edge and the avant-garde. 'What we should do', and 'how things should be', become, 'what they did'. Again, certain stakes are taken away. But, more accessible and pertinent than sociopolitical commentary, the aesthetics of an old film are less likely to be considered mere spectacle, and more so a convention or formal strategy worth attention and study. Beyond this, the conventionalisation of aesthetic makes a film style acceptable and not worth so much critique - study, yes, critique, no: what is the point of critiquing a 30 year old film if it will have little direct impact on how film aesthetics will continue to evolve? Again, old films are subsumed in novelty of a certain kind. But, I believe this is a positive phenomena. Not only are old films more acceptable and less charged (due to a lack of cultural relevance), but they emphasise they unknown.

We do not know what a film is when we see it. It is all too common for us to act as if this is the case when we watch, for example, the latest Star Wars film. But, what exactly is The Last Jedi? I can certainly offer a long list of answers, but, all things said, no one knows. All phenomena, especially popular phenomena, exist in a network of interdependent relationships so vast and incomprehensible that anyone who has even the slightest respect for this fact, would not dare to assert that something may be known, labelled and defined in its totality. So, whilst The Last Jedi is clearly related to the contemporary trend of cinematic universes and has its ties to contemporary debates of identity and representation and whilst it takes of advantage of the latest digital technology, the film is much more than these component parts. Looking back on a film such as The Matrix, this becomes ever more acceptable - or at least it should be. With distance, we can look back on trends of the cinematic culture of the 90s and make more sophisticated assessments of what was going on in and around the time of the film's release. More important than this, however, is the fact that... is there much of a point in doing this? There is certainly not no point in remapping film history as time goes by, but, I mean to speak to the sociopolitical element of old films. How much does this really matter? The mechanisms for its evocation are always fascinating, but the substance of the commentary matters not. It falls on deaf ears in some respects. What resonates are those inherent and deep parts of the cinema that live on always. Old films bare enhanced primordial imagery and archetypes for the fact that the unconscious receptors of the unknown are more sensitive when conscious cognition of various commentary is dampened and dull. Of course consciousness still presents its challenges in people assuming that they can know a time, place and its phenomenon, but let us not get lost. The subject is far more vast and complex than I have let on, but there is a reprieve in the loss of contemporaneity, one that, I think, allows a film to really just be a film in some respects.

Digression over, I have been thinking about The Matrix quite a bit of recent - as something of a consequence to it now being an old movie you could suggest. Suddenly it has become apparent to me that so much of the trilogy is found in one shot:


When Neo becomes the one, he sees the Matrix as it is. He sees not a coherent system of textures and physical boundaries, but mere fluctuations in the density of varying code. As Morpheus alludes to earlier in the film, once this situation can be understood, once the rules of the Matrix can be recognised as just this (rules), then this situation and its rules can be bent and overcome. Before falling into this, let us take a step back and ask of the physical world. Is the 'real world' so dissimilar to the Matrix if it too can be understood as a flux of energy with varying momentum and density? This is what varying philosophical systems emphasise. Taoism can be taken as one example. Qi, or chi, is a key Taoist concept that relates all matter and energy to Tao - a preeminent nature or way of things. In a rough Taoist cosmology, as the universe moved from a state of wuji (a primordial, empty universe) to taiji (the universe split into its yin-yang elements), yuanqi (original qi) becomes differentiated qi and continuously transforms in accordance to Tao. Whilst Tao can never be known and named, qi is encoded by it. All that is may then be understood by various principals of Tao - yin-yang being the most famous. It is for this reason that there exists the following logic in one of the most famous verses from a Taoist text:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, flitting around and enjoying myself. I had no idea I was Chuang Tzu. Then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang Tzu again. But I could not tell, had I been Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was now Chuang Tzu. However, there must be some sort of difference between Chuang Tzu and a butterfly! We call this the transformation of things.

Seeing the world as a composition of vaguely differentiated qi, it becomes very hard to know what is self and what is other or to assert the boundaries between transforming and transformed. For this reason, there is a real argument for taking the blue pill. What is the difference between the Matrix and the real world in these circumstances - even when one knows they exist in a coded realm? This question is only not rhetorical when will enters the picture. The Matrix constructs Neo's character on the assertion that one can believe that they can be in control of their life and overcome fate. Realising the Matrix's coding and knowing that robots constructed it is an affront to will for Neo. It is upon the assumption that there exists an essential, inherent will of humanity that humans - or the human essence - are framed as transcendent of the Matrix. That means that it is because of human will that, when the Matrix is understood as it really is, that it can be bent and manipulated. This is a fascinating assumption. If we could put on Matrix goggles on in the real world and see atoms and energy as mere coding, would human will be able to overcome it? This sounds like a silly question if we map the happenings of The Matrix onto this hypothetical; no we wouldn't be able to be physically stronger, faster and fly if we simply saw and comprehended nature as a code like Neo. But, if one steps back a moment, they will quickly see that this is in fact history. Understanding physics and biology has made humans stronger and faster, and, of course, we can fly. We use machines and tools to do this, true. But, the relationship between science and technological evolution can be read as a matter of will and an indication that the conscious self transcends reality. In the same way that Neo sought to break out of the Matrix by seeing it for what it really is, so do humans seek to transcend their reality with science. In doing so, will we return to where we came from? Will we escape a constructed Matrix?

Let us not go too far with this extrapolation as it emerges only from the thematic assertions around Neo as a hero archetype. Whilst the will is affirmed in many of its aspects through The Matrix, its origins are never questioned. Thus the importance of belief. Characters are motivated, most fundamentally, by an inner force that they assign their identity to and take possession of. But, who is to say that will is ours? Who can deny that the true Matrix is consciousness; the system of code reception that we are bound to act by? In Buddhist philosophy, self is considered to not exist under such logic; as much as reality is a system of energy and matter, so is the body, and as a result, to equal degrees, the body and reality are considered to have no real quality or character that is essential and independently--transcendentally or immanently--material. Such formulates the true conundrum at the base of The Matrix. Humans are shown to follow their will as to seek liberation. But this liberation is mere belief. And by belief, I mean to say that the unknowable is transformed into self. Therefore, the human is defined by a yearning for the unknown comprehended by self. But this yearning can be fulfilled in both the Matrix and real world--all upon belief. So, what is the difference between the real world and the Matrix. This rhetorical question is why the Matrix is never truly destroyed, but rebooted in the end of the trilogy. The people of Zion are simply allowed to live, and the subjects that want to leave the Matrix are allowed to. But, what has changed? The Matrix still exists for those who accept it and those who do not still live under ground. What is the importance of freedom in this case if not for the satisfaction of the belief in will? This is the conundrum,

What is really of interest here is the revelation that the Matrix and the machines are much like humanity and humans. They seek to transcend their own confines: this is what the Smith program represents. Neo helps the machines destroy Smith because he is the only way in which humanity may live on in and beyond the Matrix. What makes him the villain here is then his archetypal desire to own all; to validate his identification with all matter. So whilst humans and machines are shown to inherently identify with their own will or programming, they share a moral refusal to identify with all materiality and seek to control the entire world. What does this mean? It is hard to assert that this means anything of particular substance. It seems to suggest that sentient beings are bound by both the Freudian will to survive and the drive to die. The Matrix then ultimately only asserts a seemingly insurmountable conundrum: the belief in will. It frames this as the fundament and destroyer of a self capable of only intermittent peace.

But, of course, this is not all that The Matrix is about. Let us no forget that Neo only became the One because Trinity loved him. The implications of this provide an alternative way of thinking of The Matrix, framing the narrative on the principal of unity rather than will and self. But, maybe we can explore this further another time. For now, what are your thoughts on The Matrix now that it really is an old film?



23/01/2020

Dancer In The Dark - Shit On A Silver Platter

Quick Thoughts: Dancer in the Dark (2000)

An immigrant mother with a passion for musicals falls into life's contingent viciousness.


I have a strong bias against Lars von Trier. With no particular reason at all, I think he's a vile creature, scum straight from the belly of a sewer, green like mucus, pungent like bile, thick in the head like bog mulch. He seems intent on making the cinema a place of misery and dimness, an ugly space, dismal and grey like his spirit, angst and dry like his heart, repulsive and retch-worthy like his smug face. I say this because he knows how to construct a great plot and preserve truly affective moments in a narrative. It is though he crouched one day in his wet cave and leafed through Poetics, taking from Aristotle the assertion that it is a succession of drama, of actions - the plot - that is primary in the constriction of narrative and tragedy, and decided to test this notion as rigorously as humanly possible. There is an undeniable poetry about, in particular, a von Trier work like The Idiots. It is a miresome plague of an aesthetic work, but intentionally so. This intent has no correlation to the telling of a story, but it certainly does not hinder completely the expressions of a tragic character arc. Dancer in the Dark shares this. I have tried to get through this film before, but shut it off soon after it started. Like Breaking the Waves, but maybe less intensely, the film repulsed me, making me feel physically sick and numbingly bored at the same time. Attempting to watch Dancer in the Dark with a stronger stomach, I pushed through the profound jank refusing to sigh or hold my face in my hands, trusting that--as always--something would shine through the drudgery. And it does.

I would certainly not hold Dancer in the Dark in as high a regard as The Idiots, or even the more recent, The House That Jack Built, as it doesn't achieve much in the way of character and merely masturbates with its bending of musical conventions. But, this is a film that manages to capture a queer condition; earnest yearning and honest desire. It is difficult to articulate precisely the consequences of this condition, but it is this that grabs hold of the spectator as they stare in derangement at the idiosyncrasies of the von Trier aesthetic. Try it if you haven't already, if you can.



22/01/2020

8 Women - A Bipolar Whodunit

Quick Thoughts: 8 Femmes (2002)

A family's patriarch's death exposes the absurd drama binding them all.


Sense prevents me from calling François Ozon the French Pedro Almodóvar, but there is certainly much in the comparison between the two filmmaker's styles. Most obviously, both embrace the pastiche and camp as a means of abrasively exploring female narratives. 8 Women then feels quite like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or What Have I Done to Deserve This. The success and limitations of each of these films lie in their outlandish presentation of females defined by extreme emotion and eccentric violence. Meandering through a dense whodunit plot, 8 Women is as nonchalant as it is melodramatic. Its construction of comedic moments and humorous caricatures is entertaining and its constant plot reversals and reveals are dizzying. This all lends to the construction of a bipolar explosion of ego and passion under an existential proposition of love. The end goal of this, however, is questionable. Seen as a film about there being 'no happy love,' 8 Women could be read as a satire with pessimistic assertions; its only positive element being the tumultuous, seemingly unbreakable bond between various women. With the promise of love reduced to a lie producing constant misery, this presents a melodrama with no happy ending, no harmonious construction about it. This conventional inversion has its impact, but little logic. The absurdity built into 8 Women leaves one hesitant to have a positive opinion on its successes for fear of appearing too much of an optimist. And, yet, engaging its social critique and fingering through its endless cultural references seems tiring. 8 Women is an engaging film to be lost in, shockingly choppy and dry as it can be, but becomes something of a lump to talk about and figure through.



21/01/2020

Just Mercy - The Poignant Star

Thoughts On: Just Mercy (2019)

A defence attorney moves to Alabama to support wrongly convicted death row felons.


Just Mercy sees Michael B. Jordan continue to develop as a star whose archetypal presence on screen is at once classical and imbued with socio-political pertinence. In his most popular performances -  those captured in Black Panther and Creed - he embodies a visual spectacle weighted by what at first appears to be a political gesture, but with time, is overcome by substantial thematic discourse. In this regard, Jordan outwardly symbolises strength and power with his oily, roidy 80s physique in the Creed films whose central position in the narrative is something of an affront to the 80s action hero. Posters and trailers solidify this; Black Panther, similar to Creed, sold on the fact that this was a 'new' superhero movie representing the American black audience - in addition to inheriting a lucrative IP that is. But, despite the politicised spectacle that formulates the facade of these movies, Black Panther and Creed - in my books most certainly - are good movies built on the foundation of solid story telling. And, in both instances, I see the strength of story stemming from the developing B. Jordan star or archetype. In Black Panther, the thematic complexity, a debate of extreme pan-Africanism positioned within a classical narrative of kings and their ascension, is centred on the B. Jordan's 'bad guy': one of the most rounded and compelling, many would say, ever created by Marvel. In Creed, the romanticism of the first two Rocky films is reignited to astounding effect via the pathos that Jordan evokes as the titular character. Both characters have their many dimensions, ticking boxes for the audience member sold by trailers and posters and the audience member who wants to be moved. Just Mercy takes this quality and puts it back into a less melodramatic success similar, in its storytelling, to Fruitvale Station.

Just Mercy has no oil, no spit and no blood, but Jordan's star aura remains in tact; not only did I sense this myself, but the crowd of young women who sat around me in the cinema also thought Jordan was cute - which was maybe a big part of the reason they had bought their tickets. But, of course, I didn't enter Just Mercy for the implied spectacle of a romantic hero. And that is certainly not all the crowd of young women were stunned by as they left the cinema wiping tears from their faces. The bottom line is, Jordan is a powerful presence on any screen. With his presence motivated by a strong story that pulls and pushes the emotion in your body, this efficiently translates into a poignant film. This occurs on the basis that his aura lends any film an archetypal, unconsciously evocative quality that harmonises with and balances out the political consciousness of narrative by uplifting the symbolic, primordial material of story before the spectator's senses, grounding reason in emotion and experience in sensation. With Jordan, as he did so well with Brie Larson in Short Term 12, director Destin Daniel Cretton achieves much in this film. Not only does he successfully translate a solid script (and adaptation) to the screen, but cultivates an intimate and sharp experience through crisp cinematography - Cretton notably teams up with cinematographer, Brett Pawlak again. The shallow focus, in particular, used in the requisite court room monologues provides an intensity that is not at all contrived, and not at all dependent on a loud performance and piece of writing. Image and sound work together throughout Just Mercy to subtly build emotion and reach out to the audience - a certain sign of a maturing director worth watching out for.

In the end, Just Mercy is a strong film with much weight. Its performances are all good, but Michael B. Jordan seems to make this something special. Just Mercy may not be intricate and complex, but it is a direct and poignant work of note that is well worth seeing.