BEFORE SUNRISE (1995), BEFORE SUNSET (2004)
+ BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013) directed by Richard Linklater
There’s a fundamental difference between being older and acting older. This came out strongly in Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ and is also a strong feature of the characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in the director’s consistently marvelous ‘before’ trilogy.
What makes this such a mighty cinematic achievement is the absence of what I would call Hollywood moments. You know those scenes where couples break up and make up during a freak downpour or in a public place where the emotional (melo)drama is absurdly heightened.
Hawke and Delpy are so completely in their roles that there is never the sense that we are watching stars pretending to be ordinary. There is a genuine lack of artifice which makes their love story both romantic and moving without ever being cloying or sentimental. You don’t feel manipulated into taking sides. Continue reading
CRUISING directed by William Friedkin (USA, 1980)
“Take your hand off my breast!”
Officer Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is selected for a high-risk undercover operation in New York gay clubs where a knife wielding serial killer is on the loose targeting homosexuals.
Burns is chosen because he physically resembles the victims and he accepts the mission as a fast-track route to promotion.
What is never clear is how Officer Burns is meant to ID the killer. There is no indication that he has any cunning plan. This is worrying since most of the leather-clad clubbers give him death stares and any one could be a prime suspect.
William ‘The Exorcist’ Friedkin’s direction is lazy and the plot so full of holes that any semblance of realism is soon compromised. The movie uses the gay bar scene as an exotic backdrop to add a voyeuristic element to an unconvincing drama. There are jock straps and blow/hand jobs aplenty with no signs that safe sex is an issue. A post-AIDS version would have been very different. Continue reading
WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys (First published by André Duetsch, 1966)
If you’re as geographically challenged as I am, you probably need to be told exactly where The Sargasso Sea is. A Google search will throw up maps locating the stretch of water in the North Atlantic near the West Indies. Further research identifies it as a kind of oceanic black hole into which many an unsuspecting voyager has disappeared.
Written late in life, Wide Sargasso Sea is widely viewed as Rhys’ masterpiece and it’s certainly her most famous work. Rhys chose the title as a metaphor for a great divide between the island of the West Indies and mainland Europe. Various forms of physical, emotional, cultural, racial and psychological separation make up the content of this rich yet challenging novel.
Jean Rhys’ father was a Welsh doctor and her mother was a white Creole. She was born in Domenica in 1890 and came to England when she was 16. She married twice and her relationships with men never ran smoothly. Her unusual background and resistance to bourgeois convention gave her an affinity for the exile and an innate sympathy for women who, in search of protection, are open to exploitation. Continue reading
CENSORED – The Story of Film Censorship in Britain by Tom Dewe Mathews (Chatto & Windus, first published 1994)
In a recent essay topic for my advanced English language students, I asked whether the amount of violence in movies and on TV has a negative impact on young people and society as a whole. Almost to a man (and woman!) they responded in the affirmative, going on to advocate strict parental supervision and recommend greater censorship.
I found the tone of their answers quite depressing. They were unanimous in the view that rigorous controls had to be in place to protect impressionable citizens from disturbing images. They seemed oblivious to the fact that this would also severely restrict what adults would be able to watch.
It is one thing to argue that impressionable adolescents need to be shielded from extreme violence or explicit sex but why should consenting adults be subject to the same safeguards?
Tom Dewe Mathews’ thorough, if at times dry, account of what he calls “the murky processes and opaque aims of Britain’s film censorship” is peppered with such ethical dilemmas.
Mathews states in the introduction that he is opposed to censorship on the grounds that “films should find their audience in the market-place without intervention, and subject only to the laws of the land. While these laws may not be to everyone’s liking, at least they are open to public debate”.
I would go further and say that it is one of the duties of cinema (and any art form for that matter) to challenge values rather than merely sustain them. The fact that murder is illegal doesn’t mean that acts of homicide cannot be shown. Paedophilia, rape and torture are all deplorable but ignoring such heinous crimes won’t make them go away. Continue reading
THIS BOY’S LIFE by Tobias Wolff (Picador 1990, first published 1989)
I picked this book up by chance in a second-hand store in Rimini. There was a copy of Wolff’s collected short stories too but I was more drawn to this autobiography or ‘memoir’ as he prefers to call it.
The cover promises something of the mythical America I know mainly from movies. The illustration by Irish painter Kenny McKendry shows a station wagon being filled up at a remote gas station and a young male figure standing apart in a cap and dungarees. It’s like an open air version of an Edward Hopper painting.
I also liked the author’s choice of epigraphs; one by Saul Alinsky (“He who fears corruption fears life”) and the other by Oscar Wilde: “The first duty in life is to assume a pose. What the second is, no one has yet discovered”. Both these quotations suggest an unconventional, yet worldly wisdom and humor.
I knew nothing of the writer nor that the book had been made into a movie starring Robert De Niro and a very young Leonardo DiCaprio. If you Google the book title, you get an image of these two A-list actors in Boy Scout uniforms.
I decided not to watch any trailers or clips so as not to be distracted or influenced by someone else’s views of the story. I habitually avoid synopses and reviews for the same reason; something that’s getting harder and harder to do in the age of information overload. I like coming to things with as blank a slate as possible so I can make my own mind up.
This Boy’s Life is a slight variant on Boy’s Life, the official scout magazine. Scouting is, fortunately, only one strand of the story which takes up the formative years of Wolff’s life from 1955, when he was 10, to the time when he has to choose between university or other options, I guess in his late teens. Continue reading