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VIDEODROME directed by David Cronenberg (Canada, 1983)

David Cronberg is commonly regarded as (delete as appropriate) sick / inspired/ depraved /visionary /crazy. It’s probably safest to say he can be all of these things.

Videodrome is widely regarded as a defining work of his early, low-budget period.

Like the majority of Sci-Fi yarns for TV or cinema in the 70s & 80s, technological progress is represented in terms of large unwieldly machinery with a plethora of flashing lights and switches. So while Cronenberg’s virtual reality is clunkier than the mobile gadgetry we now take for granted, the movie’s concepts do not seen so dated.

His depiction of mankind enthralled by, and quite literally absorbed in, the TV screen looks an accurate summation of how our image-dominated culture craves harder and more extreme replications of the real world.

Maverick TV producer Max Renn (James Woods) wants something tougher and more disturbing than soft porn and simulated violence his channels currently broadcast. His search for more sensational, audience-grabbing material leads him into the sleazy world of S & M and snuff movies. His surreal hallucinations come to mirror the violence and degradation he is exposed to.

Inside Videodrome's body horror.

Inside Videodrome’s body horror.

Cronenberg’s so called ‘body horror’ movies revel in the gory detail which makes them off -putting to the casual viewer but it is the psychological distortions which are more disturbing than the graphic blood and guts detail.

His films are part of, and in many ways define, the sub-genre of Mindfuck movies in which nightmare worlds are a little too close for comfort to everyday life.

The increasingly imbedded technologies of the modern world mean that the notion of brains becoming rewired by computers is no longer the stuff of fantasy.

As time goes by, Cronenberg’s dark visions look more and more like social realism. Now that’s scary!

VINYLMANIA:WHEN LIFE RUNS AT 33 REVOLUTIONS A MINUTE directed by Paolo Campania (Italy, 2012)

vinylmaniavinylVinylmania is a lively, good-humoured documentary  which was chosen as the official Record Store Day film in 2012 and is also being shown at many stores this year. When it comes to music, Italian director Paolo Campana passionately believes that there is no substitute for the analogue sounds of vinyl. At the beginning of this 75 minute documentary he rejects the digital alternative saying “a click is not enough”. CDs were originally marketed as offering a superior sound to the established format, something that even non-audiophiles now recognise as baloney. London-based DJ Eddie Piller puts the case in simple terms : “nothing sounds better than vinyl”. View full article »

Above - Steve Coogan and Judi Dench  Below - the real Martin Sixsmith & Philomena Lee

Above – Steve Coogan and Judi Dench
Below – the real Martin Sixsmith & Philomena Lee

PHILOMENA – directed by Stephen Frears (UK, 2013)

There’s one reference to the clitoris and a few ‘fucks’ but otherwise this is the kind of film you could watch with your mom without fear of embarrassment.

The presence of Dame Judi Dench in the title role adds a further weight of respectability to proceedings.

Peter Mullen’s The Magdalene Sisters touches on similar themes of vindictive nuns doing bad things to  ‘fallen’ women in Ireland but that movie was much fiercer.

The rage in Philomena comes not from the wronged woman but from Alex Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), the BBC journalist who helps her trace the long lost son who was sold to a wealthy American couple 50 years before.

The human interest story of   Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) and Philomena means that is not simply a rant against religious hypocrisy although we are left in no doubt about Sixsmith’s views on Catholicism! The film is based on a true story but since Philomena never actually travelled to the U.S. with Sixsmith many parts have obviously been made up for dramatic effect.

Ultimately, it’s a cosy buddy movie with a message and, paradoxically, the gentle, warm-hearted tone is probably more effective than Mullen’s film in highlighting the injustice done to Philomena and many other women like her.

Related link:

The real story of Philomena Lee (Daily Mail)

THE CASUAL VACANCY by J.K. Rowling

Drug addiction, sex, rape, power, corruption and lies. This ‘adult’ novel seems a long way from the world of Hogwarts.

On the surface Pagford is a safe and sedate town; a place where buses “trundle” and where the delicatessen is “run with the ritual and regularity of a temple”.

However, beneath this veneer of respectability lies a festering, dog eat dog world of spiteful social climbers. Rowling revels in her mockery of the airs and graces, petty rivalries and back-stabbing. At the same time she shows a compassion for underdogs and contempt for bullies and braggarts.

As a biting satire of middle class aspirations it is often reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s 1977 stage play ‘Abigail’s Party‘.

This fictional West Country town symbolises a Daily Mail culture of smug NIMBY conservatism. Its self-centred “moral radiance” contrasts with the nearby town of Yarvil where the children are portrayed as “sinister, hooded, spray-painting offspring”. View full article »

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK directed by Charlie Kaufman (USA, 2008)

This is a movie about life and dreams but mainly it’s about death.

We all have dreams, both big and small. Some of them are realized, most are not.

What gives us the impetus to work through our personal bucket lists is the transience of existence and the knowledge that someday we will die, as will everyone we know.

Theatre director Coden Cotard has a big dream. He wants to stage a play about everything: birth, dating, family and death. Particularly the last of these since, as he puts it bluntly yet accurately, “we are all hurtling towards death, but here we are for the moment, alive”.

Cotard wants his production to stand as his legacy and demands that there must be no compromises. It should tell the brutal truth, warts and all – no limits, no filters. He prepares post it notes for each participant, a single fact that the actors must build upon to create a character. Quickly you get the impression that the concept is so vast that it is unworkable. View full article »

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