Thursday, December 5, 2013

AMERICAN HUSTLE

On the X Factor this year there was a contestant called Tamera Foster. Sixteen years old, blessed with  breathtaking beauty, confidence and passable pipes, Tamera was deemed early on to be a favourite to win the popular karaoke competition. And so it proved for a while: like the other contestants, she would come out on a Saturday in front of the four judges and warble her 'version' of a popular tune, and it seemed fine: she looked amazing, her vocals held up, she was classy and game, like a decent Beyoncé tribute act. But after a while, a weird frailty started creeping in: two weeks in a row, half way through a typically barnstorming performance of some hokey standard, Tamera completely forgot the words. It produced a strange effect, since an ordinary singer in a normal gig would either start again or sing a lalala to cover it up, or do something: but Tamera Foster was on prime-time TV on a Saturday night, and being judged on her performance, and she was an amateur and didn't know what to do. So she didn't do anything: what she didn't know, she left out. So there were weird silences in her songs, where words like 'love' or 'back to you' or 'tell my why' should have been: it made the songs sound like ghosts, and was oddly revealing of the fragility of the performer and the songs themselves.

I thought of Tamera Foster this morning as I was attempting to collect my thoughts on David O. Russell's AMERICAN HUSTLE (eurgh, that rhyme). The film plays like a bold, talented young upstart - full of vigour and brashness; it looks the part. But soon enough holes start appearing in its fabric: little gaps where it misses a comedy beat, or where a dramatic moment fizzles out because an editor didn't know how to end a scene. Russell appears to have seen a fair bit of middle-period Scorsese. All the surface elements are there: the tracking shots, the slow-mo, the freeze-frame, voice-over, the use of music, the heightened acting, Robert de Niro. However these tics do not add up to a classic film, and actually undermine any originality the film might have had. The effect is an odd one: you find yourself watching a film that constantly shouts at you that it is a romp and a blast, but which is actually overlong, a touch uncertain, and I'm afraid to say rather boring. 

The film is about two grifters who are also lovers, Irving and Sydney (played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams), who accidentally end up on a con job orchestrated by a cop (Bradley Cooper), designed to bring down corrupt politicians and mafiosi. Jennifer Lawrence plays the dumb wife yin to Amy Adams' brassy moll yang. From the outset, the film is highly stylised: the tone is knockabout comedy, as Christian Bale's character readies himself for a con, meticulously arranging his fantastical comb-over and putting on his gaudiest purple suit (one of many instances in the film in which 'the 70s!' is a joke in itself). Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper join him in their equivalent 70s finery, and the three trade some roustabout lines before entering the con-job: the camera films them in slow motion as they walk down a corridor to the sound of America's 'A Horse With No Name' (one of many instances in the film of musical-pictorial disconnect). The con goes wrong of course, and then the film heads off into a de rigueur 'how we got here' segment, complete with voice-over by Adams and Bale detailing how the two met and became lovers and co-racketeers. He was a fast-talking, lowly crook; she was a beautiful, unfulfilled fashion assistant looking for something better - of course they were. 

Bizarrely, the job that the film starts on isn't the crux of the film at all, but a fairly routine plot point beyond which the film carries on for another hour and a half. It's as if a by-the-numbers filmmaker (which Russell has never been until now) were ticking off a checklist and putting in a false start purely because it is part of the tradition to which he is paying homage. This rather tired narrative ploy in a film otherwise full of razzle-dazzle is matched by other weird-out combinations of success and failure: in particular, the way the actors struggle to get a handle on their characters, veering dangerously from exalted, out-there screaming and laughter to a much more subdued, even somnolent tone, often within the same scene. There is a scene between Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams that emphasises this: their characters are attracted to each other, and have promised to be honest with each other, and at some point to sleep together. Adams and Cooper at first play it larger-than-life, with some saucy pulling up of her gown on her part and a great deal of huffing and puffing on his - but then the tone shifts as she cries and reveals her actual identity; a suitable reaction from him is missing; the scene carries on regardless, sex is once more on the table, she hits him with a hard object - cut to him looking a little stunned, with only a couple of bruise marks. They have gone from lovers on the brink of sexy sex to devastated people who don't know each other - but all of the dramatic elements along the way have felt weak or contrived, and each narrative turn unbelievable. It feels like a scene that hasn't been properly blocked, where the actors have been left on their own, crucially under-directed and unable to find points of connection between each other, and between one moment and the next, as the scene develops. 

Another scene that isn't blocked properly: Jennifer Lawrence listening in on Irving as he conducts a shady business deal on the phone. Irving can hear her on the other receiver in their house and shouts at her to get off the phone: the camera instantly swerves to the other side of the house, to reveal... the huge gag that she is listening in merely a few metres away from him! And Jennifer Lawrence hangs up, saying, "What? I wasn't doing anything!" - so far so comedic. But Lawrence utters her line a full second after she should have, because the camera movement was so fast from one character to the other, resulting in a scene that ends in a sort of white noise, a puff of nothing. 

Everywhere this absence, this void is felt: it's there in the oddly lacking rhythm - the way a joke often fails to land; in the hokey characterisation - the way Jennifer Lawrence is signified by a particular brand of nail varnish; in scenes that tail off; in the constant and often clumsy use of music (at one point, David O. Russell uses merely the muted introduction of Ella Fitzgerald's 'It's De-Lovely', cutting the song off just before it gets to the spangly, brassy verses - which produces an odd sensation of petering out, where you might have thought the scene was gearing up to something). 

This isn't to say that the film doesn't have its moments - there are some good jokes, enjoyable outfits, some beautifully shot sequences and a couple of moments where the actors find something compelling in the rather hollow shells of their characters - but the film has a strange tone throughout, as if a robbery had been conducted in which burglars came into the film and stole some of its jokes, its sparkle and characterisation. 

At one point in the X Factor, Tamera Foster's mentor advised her to stop trying to sing like Beyoncé and be herself. Word to the wise, David O. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Gull - A Short Story

Jane was sitting on the terrace of the Italian villa that she and Bob had hired for the week. She was eating a combination of breakfast foods and lunch foods, at a time of the morning somewhere between the two meals.

She sighed and stretched her body out in her wicker chair as the sigh turned into a yawn. Morning sunlight glinted off the glass table, and she briefly caught the slightly acrid, sweet smell of the cypress trees nearby that were swaying gently in the breeze.

Bob was still in the shower; she could hear him singing a tasteful slowed-down version of the Macarena. He would come and join her later, or she would shower when he had finished. They would walk together down to the lake, through the pine forest.

Suddenly a massive gull landed on her breakfast table, making the coffee pot rattle. One of its talons, or is that just for eagles?, landed in her bowl of Mulino Bianco.

Jane shrieked, but not loud enough for Bob to hear her. "Heeey - Macarena, wah HAI", he trilled in the distance, blithely.

Jane was now sitting deep in her seat. She studied the bird, which looked right back at her with a 'Don't fuck with me' expression. It was very menacing, and reminded her a bit of her uncle Arthur. It hopped a little closer to her on the table, sliding a bit on the glass. Jane tried not to giggle. She didn't want to piss the gull off any more than it already was.

The gull kept staring at her. It had beady, stupid eyes with a glazed surface, and its beak was brown and curved downwards, all the better to shuck oysters with. She shifted in her chair, and extended a leg towards the French window leading back into the villa, tentatively trying to make a move away from the gull and its inquisitive face. Face? Not face. Maw? No. Anyway, she was trying to escape.

The gull looked at her again with its 1930s gangster expression. Very suddenly, it lunged at her and attempted to peck her right eye out. Jane quickly moved a hand up to protect her eye, and caught a sharp nip across her knuckles, which immediately began to bleed.

"What the fuck?" said Jane, out loud. The gull didn't say anything.

Jane's whole body was still shaking from the shock of having been lunged at by a massive bird, but she nevertheless steeled herself and tried to whoosh it away. She imagined the bird would get out of the way of her whooshing gesture, as pigeons do before oncoming cars, or if you run up to them at Trafalgar Square or in Piazza San Marco, or other great city concourses where pigeons congregate. But the bird was too slow and thick - or perhaps arrogant - and Jane's big shooing movement caught it right across the face. Face? Head.

The bird looked shocked and wounded. Upset, more than anything. It gazed at her with a now-disappointed expression, took a couple of steps back, u-turned, and flew away.

Jane shuddered. She went to drain her bowl of cereal at the kitchen sink. Bob emerged from the bathroom, still humming. He had a towel tied around his waist - a touchingly prudish gesture given that Jane had seen his penis and testicles well over a thousand times by now.

"Alright darling?" he said, and kissed her on the forehead.

"I'M NOT IN THE MOOD FOR SEX RIGHT NOW BOB," Jane screamed at him.

"Jesus! I was just asking!" said Bob.

"Well don't," said Jane. "You'll ruin the holiday."



Wednesday, October 9, 2013

MURDER BOX



MARIELLA FROSTRUP
(smiling)
Hello, and welcome to Murder Box.

(Camera pans round the studio, which is black and white with Jackson Pollock –effect blood stains and has a large wooden box in the middle designed to look like an ammunition crate from the Wild West. The audience cheers and claps and the camera returns to a still smiling Mariella Frostrup, who performs a mock shudder)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
You’ve heard the gossip, you’ve clicked on the thingies with your mousepads, but here at last is the actual programme, complete with real, live things in it, for you to watch on your television or at home. Today one person who has never killed before will enter the Murder Box –

(Camera frames her in chiaroscuro against the Box)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP (CONT’D)
-          and despatch a real, live human. They can use a weapon of their choice, or their own bare hands – it’s entirely up to them. Once the killing has been done, a red light will show up at the back of the box and they will come out to explain what it was like to finally take someone out!

(Audience applause)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
And please welcome our three panellists, all experts in murder, who will be on hand to probe these people on why they did it, how they did it, what it felt like, before we hand them over to the police to face a lifetime in jail. Our first expert is… Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen!

LAURENCE LLEWELYN-BOWEN
(Stirring a pot of crimson paint in a cut-away shot to him going about his daily life in his studio)
I know nothing whatsoever about murder, but I do think it’s interesting to consider it as one of those aspects of life that doesn’t really get enough press. For instance, I’ve often wanted to kill the postman, because he puts those things through my letterbox saying that he called while I was away, but I know for a fact that I was actually in because I never leave the house. But I would never really kill him because I find it icky and besides, I’d get found out because I’m so flouncy. So I’m really interested to hear some reactions, get an understanding of it, and a paycheque.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
And please welcome our second expert, Shami Chakrabarti!

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI
(Shown shuffling papers at work and advising a younger colleague on how to do a mail-out from an Excel spreadsheet.  She then speaks to camera in deadly earnest.)
People kill other people every day. It’s mostly women, it’s disgusting, and it has to stop. David Cameron is doing nothing about it, and I for one am not prepared to stand idly by while this culture goes KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL (she mimes beheading people with a machete) and do nothing about it like David Cameron and his self-interested, supine cabinet. I want to ask people, why are you doing this, what is it in you that makes you do it, and for goodness’ sake, stop!

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
And  finally our third guest, please give it up for the ghost of Jade Goody!

GHOST OF JADE GOODY
(Filmed relaxing poolside in heaven with a Mojito and a quarter-pounder)
Don’t know much about vis to be honest wiv ya but it’s really important to tell people about killing and that.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
And here they all are, with us in the studio!
(Camera pans to experts, sitting on stools decorated with tiny axes)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
So, what pushes someone to abandon their calm, happy life filled with lovely blonde girlfriends who brunch at Locanda Locatelli on a Sunday and give you cute advice about your column, and instead embark on a brutal killing spree in the food court of Westfield shopping centre? We don’t know – and it turns out the British public knows even less. We asked a few people hanging out by the bins in the back of Pinewood and this is what they had to say, take a look.

VOX POP #1
I dunno, is that the thing with knives?

VOX POP #2
… Pulp Fiction, Machete Kills, Kill Bill, all the James Bond films. Not to mention Crime and Punishment.

VOX POP #3
My husband sometimes throttles me for a laugh, going, “You dozy bint, you’ve overcooked the mash again and now it’s overworked and has gone rubbery, meaning the gravy splashes off of it instead of integrating with the spuds!” Is murder a bit like that?

VOX POP #4
Yeah, I killed someone once, for a dare. It was on my honeymoon, in the Scilly Islands, 1983 it was. I wouldn’t do it again though, tell you what, getting the guts and that off my hands was bloody murder.
 (Realises what he has said and bursts into laughter)

VOX POP #5
It’s the children I worry about, what with the internet and Ceefax on their mobiles. I just don’t like the sound of it at all.

 MARIELLA FROSTRUP
Some interesting opinions there. What did you think of that, panel?

THE GHOST OF JADE GOODY
Yeah, I dunno, I had a mate who died when I was growing up and it was just like, one minute she was there and literally the next minute she’s gone, I dunno, it’s weird.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI
(deadly serious)
The ghost of Jade Goody is actually making a very important point here. It’s about how we treat people in a civilised society, and it’s about the way we talk to our children about things like love, compassion, knives, video games and hardcore fisting.

THE GHOST OF JADE GOODY
Exactly. When I was murdered live on Big Brother twice, it was like, “HANG ON!”

LAURENCE LLEWELYN-BOWEN
(opens his mouth to speak)

 MARIELLA FROSTRUP
OK, well let’s meet today’s killer, please give the warmest of British welcomes to… Sarah! That’s right, you weren’t expecting a woman, were you!!

SARAH
(waves shyly to the audience)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
So Sarah, how does it feel to be the first person to kill someone live on television, in a completely soundproofed box without anyone watching?

SARAH
(shyly)
It feels pretty good, I guess?

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
Oh, she’s nervous. Don’t worry darling, it’s going to be fine. Just go in there, and do whatever it is, and then come out and we’ll have a talk about it. Tell me, is there anyone you’re hoping will be waiting to receive your death blows inside the box, or are you happy to slaughter just anyone?

SARAH
I was hoping it would be my mum, Rebecca.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
No, sadly you won’t be getting to off your mother today I’m afraid – it’s just some ugly rando one of our runners pulled at All Bar One last weekend.

SARAH
Oh well, you can’t have everything!

(Audience and Mariella laugh)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
Alright, well off you go then, good luck!

Sarah steps into the box and closes the door behind her. Mariella looks excitedly at the panellists, who smile back at her. Shami Chakrabarti crosses her fingers. The programme then cuts to 25 minutes later.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
(beaming)
Ah, well, there’s the sound of ‘Return of the Mack’ playing, which can mean only one thing: Sarah has successfully sent her victim hurtling into the netherworld! Let’s get ready to meet her!

(She walks up to the Box, whence Sarah emerges looking exactly the same as before)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
(excitably)
Well, you look like your heart is racing! And am I imagining things or is that a bit of matted blood in your eyelashes?!

(Sarah blushes)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
She’s puffed out! OK, get your breath back babe, and we’ll have a bit of a chat about it with our experts. I’m afraid Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen had to leave because he didn’t realise the programme was over twenty minutes long, so you’ll have to imagine questions coming from an empty chair and answer them to the best of your ability.

(Sarah sits down)

THE GHOST OF JADE GOODY
Well?!?!

(Audience laughs)

SARAH
Well…
(She shrugs)

(Audience laughs)

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI
Come on, walk us through it. What did you do? Was it fun? What did you get out of it? At the last moment, as the last essence of life disappeared from your victim and his or her animus departed, what were your feelings?

SARAH
Well, I went in, and I was a bit nervous, but then I thought, no, it’s fine, just go on, and then… well, then I just did the killing.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
Right…

SARAH
And, yeah, it was fine, it was nice. Yeah, I don’t know, it’s hard to describe.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI
Did you do it quickly, or was there torture involved? Did you use a weapon, or brute force? Was there any conflict in you or did you feel pretty equable about it all? You see, there are so many questions.

SARAH
I don’t know, it’s private, I don’t really want to talk about it.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
No, that is absolutely fair enough.

SARAH
It’s quite a private thing.

THE GHOST OF JADE GOODY
Yeah, but so, would you do it again?

SARAH
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, for sure.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
Is that seriously all we’re going to fucking get out of you? Did you come for the catering?

SARAH
It was a magical experience and one I would definitely repeat.

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
You odious little fucknugget, be sure that I will visit you every day in prison and talk to you endlessly about the new gelateria that’s just opened in Putney, I’ll make very sure you regret this for the rest of your miserable life.

(She turns to camera with a contrived grin)

MARIELLA FROSTRUP
Join us next week for another forensic, totally blind investigation into completely unseen taboo acts!


(The ghost of Jade Goody flies back to heaven, dispensing confetti over the audience)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Thoughts on Heaven's Gate

I wonder if anyone can have an untarnished, innocent view on Heaven's Gate, Michael Cimino's infamous flop from 1980. Getting new, virgin minds to see it and pronounce on its qualities one way or the other would surely be as hard as it must have been to put together an unbiased jury for the O.J. Simpson trial. It might be worth the effort, though, of travelling to the far corners of Outer Mongolia or the primary schools of Milton Keynes, to find a sample group of people who had never heard anything about the film's travails, about its hellish, expensive and overlong shooting period, its demolition by critics, its flopping at the box office to the extent that it sank United Artists, its gradual lauding by certain critics as an unrecognised masterpiece, its remastering. Perhaps we should get this imaginary cross-section of people - they would have to be well-versed in cinema in order to appreciate the film's merits as well as recognise its flaws, all the while having never heard of Heaven's Gate - to sit down and judge it purely on its qualities as they now stand. Perhaps then we could lay the subject to rest.

For my part, I finally saw the film yesterday evening in its newly restored state, on the big screen, as it is must be seen. I can't say I'm entirely a Heaven's Gate innocent, but the film nevertheless disarmed me from the start and washed away my prejudices and expectations, so that from an early point in the film I was watching it with something like a fresh mind, appreciating what the screen had to throw at me. The film does this by being imprinted from the get-go with a heartening immediacy in its framing of the action, as we see William Averill (Kris Kristofferson) running through the streets to join a marching procession: the camera on a crane picks him out at a distance and then trains itself in on him as he pegs it through the streets of Harvard - perfectly reconstructed in period detail - and follows him, along, so that we are watching him run from behind, as he finally turns round a wall papered over with leaflets for the event he is running to attend. The filmmaking is a little showy, but masterful too as it segues into a second shot of pure, exhilarating running along a street, with the sound of a marching band beginning to mesh into the track, and then a third shot where Averill joins the band and they march into the splendor of a hall filled with cheering graduates and back-lit with window upon window filling the hall with a silvery sheen. The crowd scene is overloaded: there is so much magnificence to gawp at, so much over-directing of flailing extras, so many intricately recreated costumes and so much décor, that the spectator is taken aback and a little flummoxed. This beginning encapsulates all the flaws of the film in a couple of minutes: namely, in its abandonment of the personal scale for the huge, in the way it rushes through the human in order to arrive at a bustling sense of grandeur, it sometimes loses track of its narrative. But the beginning also displays many of the film's stunning qualities: its devil-may-care attitude, its exquisite technical mastery and period recreation, its huge ambitions and its sheer cinematic beauty.

The gorgeousness of the film is a surprise. It was famously reviled on its release for its drab yellow and brown palette and its hazy film quality, but restored as it now is, the clarity and colour of some of its shots are almost too vibrant, making you nearly laugh out loud. Some scenes still retain the dusty, stained and grainy quality - particularly in close-ups of the actors - but the landscape photography is at times so stunning as to make you gasp. Cimino has said that he would wait for days for the sun to be in the right place, for the shadows to fall just so, before sending his cast out for a hurried shot in the perfect picture - and who can blame him, from an artistic point of view? So many scenes in the film are perfectly judged images, translating all the wonder of the American west and all its possibilities. Cimino is clearly knowledgeable about film: all you could hope for from a recreation of classic American cinema is here, from his shots of a steam train offloading its passengers to the classically late arrival of the cavalry in battle scenes. His sense of his characters in a landscape, of the way they are framed and influence by place, is second to none.

There is so much more to enjoy: the rich observation of small-town life (Cimino had the entire village of Casper, Wyoming recreated), the deftness of the screenplay at times (more on this later), the humanity and generosity of the story, which gives voice to the dispossessed and rehabilitates have-nots and immigrants as the true citizens of America. All of this gives the film its life, gives it a way of pulsating with dynamism. The technical brilliance draws all of this out, at times making perhaps too big a deal of itself, such as in battle scenes that go on too long and where every perspective is represented and all props and settings are used and then torn up, when in fact it would have been more judicious to give the battle a proper line conducting throughout it, following one or two people and going straight into the fight rather than attempting to capture every part of it: this leads to chaos, which ultimately loses the viewer.

The main problem of the film as I alluded to above is the way it messes up on two counts, and they are pretty big: its representation of small human concerns is poor, and Cimino's storytelling is way off beam. Time skips without any warning, people are presented with no introduction, whole events are repeated identically with half-hour intervals to the great surprise of everyone, and the dynamics between characters are absolutely not fleshed out in the ways that you need them to be in order to invest in the film emotionally. The actors are often left to work it out for themselves: Kris Kristofferson is horrifically under-directed and never registers as the hero of the film. He is the least active protagonist I can think of: the story carries on for about two hours without him doing anything, which as a law enforcer is hardly ideal. Isabelle Huppert does her best as Averill's lover but is also underdirected, left to trade on her beauty in early scenes (where she really is captured splendidly, with her complexion lit to great effect) and often not corrected on inexact line readings that muffle the dialogue. Christopher Walken comes out of it best as Nate Champion, the rogue enforcer with ambiguous morals who forms the third part of the love triangle, but because of the way the film stumbles over simple tenets of narrative, we never gather the bonds that link these protagonists, with the result that the action often seems to be happening in a psychological vacuum. It's a real shame because there are many beautiful things, so many adroitly scripted scenes where we get a glimpse of what the actors could have done if guided better, if reined in.

There's a wonderful scene, for instance, where Christopher Walken takes Isabelle Huppert to his shack. He announces that he has wallpapered it for her; in leading her there he means to show her how she could live there as his wife. It's a silent proposal. Indoors, we see that he has newspapered the walls: his shack is ramshackle but sweet; he is clearly well-intentioned. Huppert looks around, and begins to cry - you sense her sadness, that she might be signing herself over to him and not Kristofferson; Walken smiles, mistaking her tears for happiness perhaps, or perhaps reading her correctly and wanting to appease her; she smiles back through her tears to try and control herself. In this silent scene, shot perfectly from counter-perspectives to reveal character but also with the backdrop of the cabin always in evidence, its inner workings a reminder of her homely duties, we see that Cimino can write a brilliant, quiet scene that is revelatory and touching. The gnawing nuisance of the film is that this skill deserts him, time and time again, at key moments.

Bizarrely, despite these flaws, the film never stops being enthralling: it is consistently engaging throughout, a testament to the variety of its styles, to its scope and ambitions, to its technical accomplishment and its seizing of minutiae. I found it mostly to be, in words seen in the film as describing a showroom in town, 'a moral and exhilarating experience'.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A few thoughts on French teen cinema

I kindly got asked to join a panel celebrating teen film, where - had I been able to attend it - I would have been asked to select and comment on one or two extracts from teen films of my choosing. The event is Behind The Screen: The Great Teen Movie Debate, at Somerset House on 10th August, and hosted by dear friends of mine. Go to it, it'll be fun. Since I can't be speaking at the event, here are some thoughts on French film that I've been going over.

I grew up in France between 1987 and 1999. This is where I was a teenager - and a crap one, but we'll come back to that - and this is where I started to love film. Being English, I had access to a wider selection of teen films if I wanted, and watched The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Clueless. Alongside the American films that my friends and I watched, there was always the noble tradition of French cinema to deal with. Liking French cinema - liking the cinema of my country, damn it - meant liking grown-up cinema. It seemed quite clear to me from a young age, maybe 9 or 10, that French cinema was for grown-ups. The trick was to set out to like it from an early age, and finally to succeed after some hard graft, possibly ten years later. French film talked about marriages going wrong, about prostitution and the Revolution and small shop -owners. French film was not concerned - at least, as far as I understood it - with youth, or particularly with teenagers.

There are plenty of great French films about young people, from Truffaut's Les 400 Coups to Agnès Varda's Sans Toit Ni Loi, via L'effrontée by Claude Miller, as well as Eric Rohmer's 'seasons' quartet. But these films, at least as it seems to me now, are not what you would call teen films in the sense that they have a teenage perspective or modus operandi. Truffaut, out of these slightly haphazard selections, gets closest to the spirit of youth by seizing his hero right up close and capturing the brazen sort of hopelessness of childhood/adolescence. But there is always a problem in conveying the adolescent's own point of view: French film seemed to intellectualise adolescent experience, rob it of its particularity, its appeal, its banality also, by perceiving it as a mere step on the road to adulthood.

This is a problem from which British teen cinema suffers, too. American teen cinema rests on American teenagers having a degree of agency - being able to drive at 16, apparently having money - and going through a number of core institutions and rites of passage: the prom, your sweet sixteen (Sixteen Candles), detention (The Breakfast Club), bullying (Mean Girls), etc etc. There is also a tight structure reining all of this in: in American high school pupils are apparently swiftly aggregated into social groups (the jocks, the nerds, the bimbos, etc) and there is a ritualistic aspect to dating, with certain conventions regulating relations right down to sex, with the famous bases system. This means that American teen film comes almost pre-encoded with its own tropes, with its own language. British film struggles a little more to reproduce these patterns, and French film even more so, since - and I may be speaking a little personally about my own adolescence here - your teenage years, at least when I was growing up, were not considered to have any great importance, and were essentially seen as a slight blip on the step to grown-upness.

This is partly why in the 70s, 80s and 90s - even after the revolution of '68 which firmly created a new discontented generation - a firm staple of French 'youth' cinema would be the presence of a young ingenue (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vanessa Paradis, Julie Delpy) who, bored with the immaturity of her peers, discovers that, hang on, what she truly needs is the wise love of an older man. The man is often a teacher, but he could be a friend of her parents; he looks a little bedraggled, sometimes looks weirdly like the director of the film he's appearing in, and always projects an air of weary sagacity, a very sensual cynicism, which gets through finally to the passionate adult lying dormant within the girl. I said 'partly' above: the reason French teen cinema struggles is not just because it perceives adolescents as adults-in-waiting, but also because there is a problem about a rigid, patriarchal view of sexual relations, which sees young women as objects. This means that often, in a certain type of French cinema, the heroine is written as an unconvincing extension of directorial fantasy, a person who acts not from her inner impulsions but from a sort of shroud imposed upon her, which is the director's intent. Even recently, though French teen film has improved, a film such as Mia Hansen-Love's Un amour de jeunesse sees the heroine tire of childish things and take up with an older dude. This is of course a biographical extension of Hansen-Love's own relationship with Olivier Assayas, but it does betray the fact that the girl's youth is not really the object of the film, so much as her outcome as a woman.

I myself acted in French films a little, around the time I was starting to develop an interest. When I was ten, I appeared in a film called Le voleur d'enfants (The Child Thief). In it, an old man (Marcello Mastroianni) whose wife cannot conceive sets about stealing children from parks and foster homes, and adopting them as his own. A problem occurs when an old friend of his asks him to take care of his own daughter, who is troublesome. Mastroianni obliges, but the problem is, the girl (Virginie Ledoyen) is really hot, and a saucy minx! Will he be able to resist her advances? (Spoiler alert: no) Now, when I was ten and read the script for the film, bizarrely, I thought nothing of the film's undertones - a man stealing children, being tempted by a much younger woman. Hello? Alarm bells should have been ringing. Only later did I bother to look up Ledoyen's age at the time of filming: to me, being ten, she was just a much older girl, she smoked cigarettes and had breasts, that was the end of it. It turns out that she was fourteen at the time, and Mastroianni was 70-something. She had scenes where she was required to masturbate topless while calling his name.

All of this is a little by the by. The film is only a quarter-good and is largely forgotten now - but I wanted to get some of my ooginess at being involved in something so grubby off my chest. Mostly, it serves to illustrate my point that in France, this sort of conversation about childhood, about the place of adolescence, about an adult perspective on youth, was simply not happening while I was growing up. Later, I think as a somewhat prissy adolescent and a late-developer, I failed to recognise that some strands of French cinema were doing something like justice to the older adolescent perspective: André Téchiné's Les roseaux sauvages and Cedric Klapisch's Le peril jeune seem to me now to capture something true about rebellion, young crushes, sex - the sort of thing I didn't touch with a bargepole during my teen years and only later got a hell of a kick out of in my twenties.

In recent times I think French cinema has come round to the experience of adolescence more, and better: Sebastien Lifshitz's Presque Rien, Celine Sciamma's Water Lilies and this year's Cannes winner La vie d'Adèle by Abdellatif Kechiche all appear to me to engage honestly with the idea of youth, of seizing a different entity in their young heroes, of trying to get to the essence of the transformations at play - but these films are still highly stylised and intellectually rigorous works, in the mold of French auteur cinema, that do not have the stylistic partis-pris, the messy youthfulness of script and performance, the crucially self-centred perspective that we have come to regard as the hallmarks of teen film.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Amanda Palmer's New Kickstarter Project


Hi dear fans, friends, lovers, community. Dear people. Dear humans. This is your friend Amanda Palmer. Once again I am extending my hand to you and saying, “This gesture from me is a caress across your face, going deep into your soul, and ending up in your pockets” as once again I am forced to ask you for your help to realise my vision.

Not forced. I am not forced. I am Amanda Palmer. Forced is the anti-, forced is the monster. I repudiate the monster, I ask the beast to leave.  

Today I am once again asking you to lift me above you, to bear me aloft. Today I ask to be a cloud - I do not want to tread on the ground, I want to be raised above, held by you, a swaying crowd of my friends and fellow art lovers, lifting me as I sail through the sky. Your arms, lifting me, are dollars.

I need $17,500 for my new project, something which is very close to my pulsating heart, which I need to do. For this new artistic endeavour I require financial help, to complete my artistic mission.



The Story

I first got the inspiration for this project last year, as I was lying face up in the Adriatic, gazing at the stars. Swimming at night makes me who I am. Then I felt a greater force than me, all around me, and it wasn’t just the great mass of the body of water (!). I knew then that I wanted, needed, was required to do this.



What I need

6 eggs
250 grams flour
150 grams good dark chocolate
200 grams sugar
250 grams good quality butter



The project

Do you have experience of baking? You can help me make this chocolate cake, by mixing all the component parts of the work according to the instructions I have created, for $5000. To slice the cake into three parts, I require a person to create portions from the finished work - one slice (1/16) for the baker, one slice (1/16) for the cake-cutter and one (14/16) for myself and my millionaire husband, the artist and human Neil Gaiman. You can apply to be the cake-cutter for $1000 (please have experience of cutting things). For $20, I will send you a printed copy of the poem I have written about this cake (see below), signed by me, and a video of my team and me making the cake together, with music. For $5 I will send you a photograph of the cake that I have taken with my own camera and printed by hand on my computer.

ALL THE MONEY YOU PAY WILL GO TOWARDS BUYING THE INGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKE, AND OUTLAY COSTS SUCH AS ELECTRICITY.

Love and blessings always. Long live art!

Amanda Palmer x x x




A Cake

This food has travelled, this food is rich
In insights.
Cocoa flew here from Guatemala, picked by happy hands.
Eggs are life: six existences cut short
But in afterlife contributing
Always contributing
To make their mark as eggily they mix with

Grain - their cousin, grown on land
Tilled by happy hands.
Picked, unhusked, the grains are ground
Like the ground
From which they came.

A neighbouring cow gives generously,
Her female udders sloshing beautifully as she whiles her time on earth,
Her life-force gleaned in honest buckets
By happy hands
And churned

By a woman who knows the secret

Of the solidification of milk - the way the liquid can realise itself.

And the cane.
The cane is not forbidding, I do not fear the cane
For I know what canes contain
And how lovely is the grain
That renders sweet what once was plain

These friends in nature my happy hands conjoin
Within my grandmother’s old cracked bowl.
They are melded in the sanctum of the earth’s heated clay whence they first came
And I bring the mark of love - the heat of the flame - to bid my mixture

RISE

For you are ready now.
For now you are ready.
For ready, now you are.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

As Thatcher Lay Dying



Pollybee

I cant forgive her for the milk, no I cant. I will agree that for a woman to be dead and dying like her is a shame on this earth, but that she taken that milk from them children is nigh a disgrace and I said so and will always. It does seem a long time back now but well I remember and always will, the noise it made, the children crying and wailing and her not caring, unblinking and stoney in her hard-set face, she did it a-purpose and I daresay even it made her happy, there I said it.


Blair

I knew she was going, for ere I looked in her face and her not able to say a word she did always say with her eyes what was not spoke. Maggie my mother was a good woman and she would not unagree when I say she was a bold one too. I heard what she said. I heard what she asked for tho she didnt say it and I did what she asked for too and I am proud to say so. She was ere my mother.


Davameron

Him coming here sniffing her body saying mother dear like as if he owned her and her legacy on this earth was him not me, well he can believe it for all he wants, he durn't carry on for her like I said I would have did and do carry on to do. And he is not her son for him to act so high and mighty, all the while smelling her and rubbing against her dying body for warmth and for to take on her smell, I could kill him and it would not be a crime.


Pollybee

It is the money makes me sick, it could make me cry when I commence to think on it. Her dead barely a week and all the carry-on and fighting, you would reckon Blair and Gideon was married to her if it did not sound so disappealing. There was no money before she took to dying, barely money to feed anyone but now I am wanted to believe she will have a coffin for ten million. I told them I do not figure where a person is to find ten million, when men this ways have barely seventy and three to their name and them asked to swell the fund for the coffin of her who did not care for them and even hated them, she would be laughing now.


Gideon

I told them not no more than what I knowed and it was ten million I said, and I have it here and I will not suffer to see her in a coffin for less or I would rather see her in dirt like a poor whore woman such as I have used. Maggie my mother was a saint and as she said her funeral will cause them to scream well so be it I am prepared. I have my sums all done and it does work.


Davameron

Everyone does despise Gideon the poor fool and I believe my mother Maggie too would have if she had even stood to look upon him once. Him striding in always with his pencil and paper, he cannot even work out his own money but now for her because she is dead he is saying ten million a coffin, well, I was minded to laugh aloud, it is so foolish. I said alright and if you say ten million, ten million it will be, but know that everyone will curse you for it, but he didnt care, he is too occupied thinking about goats and such.


Blair

My mother is a Tory.


Mr Johnson

I have set the village bell to stop on that day she goes to earth, and I mean it to be so. In this life she did always as she did please and so it shall be when she goes and I will not countenance other-wise.


Maggie

And now I look upon them as they scrabble in the ground, poor worms that go and tend to earth not looking up but busying themselves with burrowing more and more. I laugh now because as I decided it would be it now is and this farmyard that I did inherit and have left is now as I had wanted. Poor Blair, he always did want for love. He could not see so far as his brother who I will allow is not so lively-minded but ere did pursue what he wanted to the end. Both, they do not see me now but they fight and they cry and they call upon theirselves to honour me more one than the other, while in the village people crawl to work and die for lack of bread. I laughed then and do now but louder.


Ed

I know that all will listen to me when I say I misliked her but she was a woman and I do not want to offend anyone and nor should nobody, and I will not suffer for singing on the day she goes to ground for it is a disgrace.


Davameron

I look at Ed and again he is mumbling something while he rocks backward and forward and dribbling almost on his knee, she would laugh at him now that dares not utter her name for fear and yet she hated and disdained him. No-one will listen to Ed for he does not talk loud and he is confused in his mind and ever was.


Gideon

It will be a party almost when we will say farewell to Maggie tho they told us not to and not at such cost well I do not care and I will kiss my goat because I do not care.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cannes 2013 - An Excitable Preview

In May I will be going to the Cannes Film Festival for the second time, and I feel just as excited as I was the first time. If you care about arthouse cinema - about world cinema, and independent cinema; fuck, if you use the word cinema rather than movies, I'd say - then Cannes means something to you. For me, Cannes represents the sometimes uneasy tension that exists in cinema, between high glamour - the glitz of films, the starriness and sex appeal of actors - and high art. It manages to find that balance, every year: shiny premieres, hot stars, alongside a drab film from Romania about four miserable friends eating brown bread. The credibility of the festival rests on conjugating bold, brave cinema - in standing up for the craft of film, for its intransigence, its political dimension, its dreamlike quality and poetry - with more populist fare. Since the start of the 90s - the era that saw an explosion in what we think of as 'indie' cinema -  Soderbergh, Tarantino and the Coen Brothers have all won the top prize. But so, in that time, have Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Cristian Mungiu and Laurent Cantet, for wildly different films.

I think of the festival as a political bastion, a place that recognises anti-establishment views and promotes a liberal, inclusive politics: it stands up to dictatorships, offering a home for dissenting film-makers (like Lou Ye or Jafar Panahi) who are at risk of being oppressed. The origins of the festival lie in anti-fascist sentiment that led in 1947 to the creation of a programme celebrating a great liberating, universal art-form. The festival believes, truly, in the power of film to do good, and to be a form of art for all. This is one of the reasons I could shiver from head to toe with excitement when considering that I'll be climbing the steps of the Palais myself this year.

I'm thrilled to be writing about film, once more, for my great friends at Pajiba.com. I'm given so much liberty to write about films in the way I want by the wonderful, discerning, inspiring people who work for and read the site, and I hope to write some interesting stuff about some films that might not otherwise get much publicity. Pajiba is a wry, sharp-tongued website that is full of heart and passion for the things it loves - a real community site, embracing the arts it talks about. I couldn't have a better home.

So, onto the films that I hope to see this year. It's now just a week until the line-up is revealed, so what better time to speculate wildly about the films that could be showing at the festival? Last year was a good vintage, which suffered from the inclusion of a few films not quite up to scratch and the lack of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, which was not ready in time. This year, there's a great deal of films whizzing about, jostling each other for a coveted position in the official selection. Here are the films I hope to see, mixed in with a few I think I probably will see on the list.

Several films by women could help the festival to combat the scandal it weathered last year when no female directors were selected in the official line-up. Catherine Breillat with Abus de Faiblesse starring Isabelle Huppert, and Claire Denis with Les Salauds, are in with a good shot I would say, and are reliable, old hands. In terms of newer directors, the festival could give a boost to a young director like Rebecca Zlotowski, who has Grand Central coming out, featuring the great Tahar Rahim. Depending on whether her film is ready or not, we could be seeing Night Moves by Kelly Reichardt. Both Night Moves and Grand Central, with their environmentalist themes, could capture political currents quite nicely, and both offer stars for the red carpet. It would also be super sweet to see Pascale Ferran's new film, Bird People, featuring Anais Demoustier and Josh Charles; this is Ferran's first film since 2007, and sounds rather promising. Otherwise, there aren't many certainties at Cannes, but I'd say that with a starring role for Emma Watson, you can bet your bottom euro that Sofia Coppola will get a call for The Bling Ring.

In other certainties: sod it, I'm going to call Jimmy Picard by Arnaud Desplechin and Only God Forgives, by Nicolas Winding Refn. Desplechin is a great director and his film stars an amazing pairing of Mathieu Amalric and Benicio del Toro. Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, a couple of years back, rubbed a fair bit of its hipster aura off on Cannes, and I think they'll be anxious to welcome Gosling back, hopefully to replicate his suit-and-glasses-and-no-shirt look from last time, which we all so enjoyed. I also think we'll see the new James Gray film, starring Marion Cotillard and the great Joaquin Phoenix. Cotillard is French and internationally famous, which screams Cannes, plus Gray has presented two films here before, so he has form. Additionally, the festival may want to apologise for putting him on the notoriously fractious jury of 2009, presided over by Huppert, which reportedly fought constantly over Lars Von Trier's Antichrist.

Has an English film director made a film this year? Yes! Steve McQueen's Twelve Years A Slave, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, will be hoping to 'do a Django' - by which I mean, 'be successful at the box' office, not 'accurately portray slavery on film'. That's it for English films. Mike Leigh is on holiday and I don't think Terence Davies' Sunset Song is ready.

From Africa, we can expect to see 'Gris-Gris' by Mahamet-Saleh Haroun, following 2010's A Screaming Man, which won the Jury Prize. That might be it from Africa.

'The Americas' may give up a bit of Malick, the new Jarmusch, perhaps Scorsese (with The Wolf of Wall Street) and the Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davies). Xavier Dolan, the upsettingly young and gifted Canadian master, is reportedly putting the finishing touches to his film Tom A La Ferme - and if he doesn't get selected to the main competition after getting overlooked for Laurence Anyways last year, I cannot wait to hear the hissy fit he throws. He really tore into the selectors last year, which you would not imagine is a good way to endear yourself to the festival; but Dolan is aware of his gifts and knows that he has already earned a place among the more experienced directors here.

From Asia, I'd love to see Hou Hsiao-Hsien's The Assassin, and new films by Hirokazu Koreeda and Tsai Ming-Liang. Koreeda's I Wish is possibly the loveliest film I've seen in recent years, and he has come to Cannes a couple of times before. Asgar Farhadi should be in with a shout for The Past, starring Tahar Rahim (Best Actor at Cannes for A Prophet), and we could also get the new film by Ari Folman (the director of Waltz With Bashir). I also hope we'll get to see the new film by Corneliu Porumboiu, whose Police, Adjective was a masterclass in controlled, forensic cinema.

I wonder if there'll be any surprises. I haven't considered the possibility of Thierry Fremaux selecting a critic-baiting film à la The Paperboy - which reminds me: Lee Daniels' new film, The Butler, may be ready in time. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, Terrence Howard, Oprah, Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey, and centring on the life Eugene Allen, butler to eight presidents at the White House, this is sure to be a... classy and well-conceived work of art.

Do please log on to the venerable Pajiba from May 15th onwards, when I will be reviewing some or perhaps all of these films, should my powers of prognostication be vindicated.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Django Chained

When I was seventeen, an old woman was invited to speak to my class about her life as a survivor of the Holocaust. She was sent to Auschwitz when she was a little older than us, she told us; she revealed the tattooed number on her arm. She told us about her escape from the camp - an extraordinary story of determination and outrageous good fortune in evading her captors. What made many people in my class queasy -  I remember a long discussion about it in the playground afterwards - was that this woman told us she had been saved by God; she had prayed to Him over and over as she fled, and He had heard her prayer and rescued her, helped her along as she fled. It seemed astonishing that she might not reflect on the people God chose not to help. She did not explain why her life might be deemed more valuable or worthy of saving than that of 6 million other Jews. Looking back now, I still feel awkward about her testimony, but I understand how this narrative might be comforting, possibly even necessary to her, to help explain how come she survived and provide her with solace as she recalled the terrors she witnessed. I am clear however that no one person deserves to be saved more than any other.

I write this as a preface to this piece on Django Unchained, which I saw and was horrified by yesterday evening, because the danger of fictional narratives slotted into historical horrors - the Holocaust; Slavery - is that they dehumanise the events, and the creator of the fiction is at risk of playing God, of saving one person at the expense of all others. This is what ends up happening in Django Unchained, in which Tarantino/God decides to play with actual historical events - as he did in Inglourious Basterds when he killed Hitler and enacted the revenge of one Jewish woman on her Nazi nemesis - and create a Special man who is able to escape enslavement and visit punishment on his persecutors. What makes Django (Jamie Foxx) so special that he, unlike millions of other black people, is able to escape? Well, Tarantino, since it serves the purposes of the entertainment he has crafted.  We'll come back to this; for now I'll just highlight the moral dubiousness of telling one broadly positive story of retribution, against the current of history, as it minimises the horrors of slavery and tramples on the lives of actual people who died and were brutalised during that chapter of history.

Another problem Tarantino faces, and does not succeed in defusing, also stems from the difficulty of creating a fiction within actual events. Essentially, when you set a story in 'the time of Slavery' - Quentin is a little vague on this - you create a dilemma of moral equivalence. Your baddies already exist: we know this, since they are Baddies of History. You don't need to create your villains at all, or seek to comprehend their motives or give them back-stories or a character: we know from History that they were evil, since Slavery is an evil. Steven Spielberg had Nazi villains in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: they're easy to identify because they wear swastikas, and they make great villains because you can kill as many of them as you like and you'll always be in the right. It is a laziness of fiction to create characters who are completely villainous and not investigate their motives or consider them as people. We know that Nazi people weren't all born evil but, as the philosopher Hannah Arendt had it, were almost functionaries of evil, who did not consider their actions: she called this the banality of evil, because it is capable of infecting all of us. This, Tarantino does not for a moment consider when it comes to taking out members of the Ku Klux Klan in the new entertainment he has devised: how much more fun it is to see them as stupid, senselessly evil people, and take them all out in one go. (In this, Tarantino follows the lead of the Coen Brothers who also created some spectacularly thick Klansmen in O Brother Where Art Thou; how the predominantly white audience laughed in each case as the black person escaped death by lynching and some of the Klan died!)

Moral equivalence rears its ugly head because Tarantino, as he has grown older, is looking for ever more valid stories within which to frame his brutal revenge fantasies. No longer for him the cartoonish violence of his early days in which mindless fighting and gore existed in their own right, as a device or effect to thrill or amuse: we must now be urging someone on whose combat is morally sanctioned by history. This gives Tarantino all the licence he needs to unleash a bloodbath. The problem he confronts in this new Inglourious Basterds/Django Unchained phase, is that there is a psychological imbalance: we have to consider the fictional violence on the same scale as we consider the actual violence - for instance, the torture of Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Things that actually did happen - such as the branding of black people for punishment or to signify white ownership - exists in a film where several people die in a funny way. (Which was the funniest death for you? I'd say the death of Cora, the sister of the character played by Leonardo di Caprio, who gets blasted away in one blissful shot. Least funny death: a black man getting torn apart by dogs) There are good deaths and bad deaths. This means that the actual events become lost, and a due consideration of events, which would seem to be a moral obligation here, never happens.


Tarantino never pauses for a minute to consider the moral implications of what he is doing. Why should he? It's an entertainment. But for those of us who aren't entertained by murder, there is a nagging problem of ethical responsibility. In one scene, Django and his companion, the bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), pause before shooting a man who is wanted by a local sheriff. Django cannot bear to kill him, since he is ploughing his land in the company of his son. Schultz explains that the man is bad for a little while, and Django picks up his gun again and shoots the man who, some distance away from the camera, falls down dead; as Tarantino cuts away from the scene, we hear the voice of the man's son, saying 'Dad?'  End of scene. It's a ghastly scene for many reasons: first of all, because of Tarantino's laziness in cutting away from the action after the death. Presumably Django and his partner have to then go and pick up the body of this man in front of his child, and take him away to the sheriff to collect their money; I suppose it wouldn't be entertaining to be shown the grief of a child as his father is murdered and then taken away by strangers. Far simpler to cut the scene. Secondly, the scene is ghastly because of the distance at which Tarantino films the man dying: he is so far away, there is never the slightest pretence of engaging with him as a human: this participates in the same moral dubiousness as the cutting of the scene just after the murder. Thirdly, we know that people with a price on their head are wanted dead or alive: why could Django and Schultz not go to the man, with their guns, overpower him, and collect their fee for a live person rather than a dead one? Because a shooting is always more entertaining, more viscerally and dramatically pleasing, less attached to human complications. Tarantino, over and over, makes a faint case for murder and then just does it, because it pleases him.

There is much more that is disturbing in the film: the passive female character Broomhilda who exists for her beauty and whom we only ever see being tortured or saved; the use of the N-word, which never seeks to defend or question itself but is supposed to dull an audience into submission; the toadying Uncle Tom character played by Samuel L. Jackson for laughs as a sort of servile, racist Uriah Heep. (I'm mostly considering the disturbing politics of the film here, but I will add as an aside that it is also often extremely boring, with Tarantino giving in to his perverse propensity for  long scenes of fancy-but-witless dialogue. The film's qualities, such as they are, lie in the technical mastery in the first half-hour of the film, some great shots and editing, and terrific lighting and costumes. Tarantino has also given his actors licence to grandstand as much as they like, and there is a lot of playing to the gallery from Samuel L. Jackson and from Di Caprio and Waltz, both liberally twirling their moustaches and enunciating their scenes of verbal sparring as if they were am-dram actors doing Wilde. Only Jamie Foxx seems to be attempting to inhabit an actual character.)

If Tarantino is seeking to gain narrative revenge for slavery, why does he not free a fuckload more slaves in his story than he actually does? Django is freed, because he is our hero; likewise his passive wife Broomhilda, whom he rescues because the fairytale narrative demands it. But other slaves we see during Django's quest are constantly left in their positions of subjugation. Towards the end of the movie, as Django cleverly outwits and escapes his captors (played by three men plus Tarantino in a winking, wouldn't-it-be-cool-if cameo), three other black men are shown gazing at him in wonder. They are notionally free since Django has killed the white men and opened their cage, so in terms of plot they are able to escape; instead they remain in their cage, staring bog-eyed at Django's prowess as he rides away on his horse. Their place is inside the cage; his is outside. At the start of the film, Schultz saves Django and leaves five other black men to fend for themselves and certainly be recaptured instantly by white men with weapons and money. We don't care about these men. Their story is not interesting.

Django is interesting, though, because he is a black superman. Why? Because he has been created so by two white men: one is Tarantino, who wrote the story so as to give Django his redemptive arc. The other is Schultz, the white fairy godmother who gives Django the magic powers (On you I bestow literacy! And cool clothes! And guns! And this piece of paper that means nothing now but which will save your life after I have died!) to save himself and rescue his sleeping beauty, his Brunnhilde, from her fairytale ring of fire. This is obviously disgusting. I seriously doubt that a German bounty hunter in the deep south in 'the time of slavery' (late 1860s, I suppose? Alexandre Dumas is supposed to be still alive), would be so racially enlightened in the first place as to help out a black man. But the problem of a good white man giving a black man his powers to escape other, bad, white men, does not seem to occur to Tarantino. Essentially he is enslaving Django, his own character, all over again, imprisoning him as a passive white-enabled product within the confines of the entertainment he has concocted. Before Schultz appears, Django does not exist as a character. Waltz names him - by calling out his name, which distinguishes him from the other black characters with whom he is silently chained up - and then pays for him (but in a good way). He then asks Django to act as his slave for the time being. Crucially, Django seemed to have no plan to rescue his wife before he met Schultz; he certainly didn't have the determination or wherewithal we see at the end of the film. With the white man's help, having heard the story of Siegfried and Brunnhilde from the erudite white man, he is able to devise a plan to rescue his girl. Sorry, I mean, the white man devises the plan. This forms the narrative of the film. Towards the end, the white man will sacrifice himself - as Jiminy Cricket does for his poor illiterate Pinocchio when he jumps with him into the sea - and grant him the power to become a super-man. At this point of the film, Django, who has been getting cooler and more powerful throughout, fully assumes his super-man character: he is Neo from the Matrix after he has realised he is The One. The piece of paper in Django's pocket which saves his life, after Schultz has died, is one last magic flicker from the fairy godmother, helping our hero to reverse his own story, totally against the pattern of Slavery, and exact revenge on the bad guys. The kindly white man is an aberration in itself in the context of this story and this chapter of History, but it is even more offensive as a trope in the film.

But Tarantino will not leave it. Django is a super-man more deserving of being saved. He says it himself towards the end of the film when he says to the bad white guys as he kills them, "I'm that one nigger in ten thousand". No he isn't. He's that one black man in 12 million.