Happy End (2017)

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I always thought it was Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror who said “dialogue is just two monologues clashing” but I find that it was actually Charlie Brooker quoting Russell T Davies. Anyway, Michael Haneke’s film is another study of a modern world in which no-one is able to successfully articulate their sicknesses to each other, a condition largely accounted for (or symbolised by) the screens that have intruded between us.

As with The White Ribbon (perhaps more so) the script is elegantly decentralised across the experiences of the ensemble cast’s characters without feeling fragmented (interconnectivity without communication). Perhaps the tradeoff for this is absence of the black intensity of Amour, besides the most physical karaoke session ever witnessed. And while the pacing of individual scenes like Eve and Thomas in the car is perfectly judged, there’s maybe an over-reliance on those trademark set pieces which threatens to undercut moments of surprise.

Nevertheless, Haneke at his funnest and funniest here, but still the best on the bleak and abstract absurdity that connects life’s particular tragedies.

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Personal Shopper (2017)

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In a weird way, it has a restlessness, a mysteriousness, and a narcotised glamour that it took me until the set of the London designers to realise was reminding me of watching Blow-Up.

In parallel with Maureen’s frustration at the greater difficulty she experiences connecting with the unknown than did her talented “medium” brother, there’s an underdeveloped theme of artists with comparably superior capacities (Hilma af Klint, Victor Hugo). Occasionally tarnished by its coating of mediation and ephemerality (skype, bags, taxis, coupons, streaming, travel, fashion, iphone [so much iphone]), Personal Shopper is minor key for better and for worse.

Still, it’s an idea first, and an interesting one – see also Three Billboards, though this is gratifyingly more committed. Great performance from Kristen Stewart. Better than A Ghost Story!

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Good Time (2017)

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Does raise an interesting question about how you mark a film. I tend to want every film I watch to be the best film I’ve ever seen, an attitude which lends itself to negative marking. Negative marking would suggest that a perfect film is one about which you have no complaints. I have no complaints about Good Time. It’s seriously tense, psychological in the manner which I saw and loved in American Honey (close and somehow impartial but so involved). It’s a total trip – that fairground is a cackling neon nightmare, a setting which comes closest to emulating the aural experience of the pounding score from OPN (which compliments the film’s atmosphere ideally throughout and in other more co-constructive ways). It’s a New York film as much as Taxi Driver or King of New York, but the Queens streets present a desperate and collapsing side we haven’t seen so often. Pattinson and B Safdie are great; their fraternity is manipulatively oriented to the perfect extent to keep Connie in the moral gutter, but frantically sympathetic enough to keep us involved and hanging on as the film lurches round corners and down rabbit runs, always in the subjunctive mood (nothing goes to plan, everything is conditional and circumstantial, constantly diverting away from expectation).

I can’t say that it’s a perfect film because it doesn’t have the next-level epiphanic potentiality of an Inland Empire or a Sleep Furiously or, even, an American Honey. It’s probably a great case for marking films positively: what really matters is that you saw it and you had a very

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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Saw this at the UPP with J and S after work last Tuesday. Was a fine surprise. Took me about half an hour to get into it, I think largely because of the pacing, which is slow throughout but initially lends itself to plot-based impatience. In the early scenes, the lounging and philosophising and pontificating is at its least appealing, too. But the whole film is best seen (and telegraphs itself as) a holiday: it’s sad because it’s temporary; otherwise, its blissful. The more I thought about it the happier it made me. The visual beauty is intoxicating but there’s plenty of visual restraint, which valuably installs the theme of emotional development at the heart of the story. The use of jewish identities is interesting: prudent privacy is hinted at, a Mussolini painting is gestured at fleetingly, but the film takes place almost entirely within a family community which is eminently welcoming (I think LG may actually have even dedicated CMBYN to fathers in general, and Michael Stuhlbarg is a heroic if lovably preposterous one here). The beauty in honesty and smallness. Also worth mentioning that it’s hilarious when it needs to be, and not hilarious at exactly the right times: the scene with the peach is sequenced precisely to be morbidly fascinating, hilarious, toe-curling, and achingly sad, all at the level of out-loud guffawing and gasping.

Like a paperback you’d retrieve from your back pocket in a piazza or hold up against the sun while lying on a blanket in a meadow. Intense but slips down like a glass of homemade apricot juice.

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The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (2017)

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Went over to Islington with M on 15 October to watch a live screening of The Cabinet as part of this event series celebrating and reconstituting the church organ. Adam Wiltzie performing a live score with half an orchestra. The space is octagonal, with pews curved round like a lecture theatre; the musicians were not sunken but lit and raised onstage, with a huge projector screen above showing the film.

What immediately became apparent – perhaps unsurprisingly – is that the score would follow not the rhythms and tempos of the individual actions onscreen. Overall it wasn’t far from Stars/Winged Victory territory with the pacing and the interweaving of live and synthetic instruments across swooping peaks and troughs. What AW nailed was tracking the emotional progression of a scene or a section, which sounds like an unremarkably desirable analytical exercise, but it’s actually quite rare in my experience of silent film scores (Nosferatu was a particularly frustrating lowpoint). In this it was productively alternative to the almost Mr Bungle-style generic and instrumental handbrake turns of the colourised youtube version of The Cabinet that M and I watched originally.

The other overriding impression was that the score was in some way not illustrative of the film itself but of our reaction to the film. This is obviously connected to the notion that it tracked our emotions as we received the film rather than the film’s movements as it was broadcast to us. I think it’s also connected to the almost equivalent staging given to the orchestra and the film (the poster above suggests that the film was almost anonymously subordinate to the music, or the composer). Like watching the film with the musicians – I could see the conductor had a tiny screen in front of him that showed the film in sync with the projection, so that he could keep time without craning upwards.

With this effect, points of disjunction between the macro-arced music and the micro-moving visuals frequently became quite suggestive. I remember well the first appearance of Caligari, painted in both a Shakespearean artificial-dramatic sense and a very literal wardrobe one, glowering cross-eyed and painful. The music was near an ecstatic peak; it seemed to be marvelling at the capacity of humans for wordless expression, expressivity which seems simultaneously campy and sincerely sinister today after 97 years. The feeling that the film was reaching out to us across that century was enhanced by a sound that could only be standing alongside us, looking backwards.

The film is great and always has been, but I found myself concentrating more on the score (M and I left babbling at cross-purposes about the two aspects of the performance; she picked out moments of discontinuity from our previous viewing [convincing ourselves that Cesare really did strike down decisively at Jane in her bead {what a scene this is though, with the receding dress like ectoplasm}; noticing new resonances like the chalked X across Cesare’s sweater vs the crossed arms of Francis’ straightjacket]) Still, it was an amazing setting and an unforeseeably satisfying artistic combination.

M made me this framed Caligari printout for my birthday. It’s an original German poster. The figures look more like Gorey waifs than chiaroscuro clowns. The rippling typography gives it a kind of futurist feel, too, above the angularity of the big top and the leaning top-hats. I really like it but she was having none of it.

Everywhere at the End of Time – Stage 3 (2017)

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: A First Reaction (I am not minded to spend my evenings typing as well, ok?)

With a drastic left turn, this is the first time the album artwork in this series has created a properly constructive link with the music. The form behind the shapes and mess has become almost indecipherable; your mind is drawn away from the base towards the gorgon coils and the daubed darkness. It’s teasing at the fringes of appreciation: the first track is a good example of this idea, with its briskly spinning but still tuneful strings swaying behind the sped-up blurting horns. The experience of believing that your reaction and enjoyment is as usual, struggling against too-tangible reminders of depreciation. Agree with the slightly snotty Norman review’s point about LK riffing on the almost cheeky continuity or similarity of Caretaker projects here – like a desperate clawing at the most solid memories (standards from An Empty Bliss bustle against riffs on previous EATEOT cuts until they become confusedly inseparable; titles like “Libet Delay” and “Aching cavern without lucidity”). There’s even some sickly self-similarity over onto the second side, including the final track, which goes down like a sinking titanic.

The A-side, at least, departs from the more lucid explorations of departure on Stage 2 (the excursions into nocturnal trepidation in particular). This is more cerebral, locked-in. There is a greater emphasis on noise and fuzz, particularly the illbient gramophone echoes towards the end of the first half: self-interrupting blass bluster like Ahnnu tones slipping out of their groove. Penultimate track on this side is a willy wonka hallucination of dangling bells, like B1 which shivers with unease beneath a dusty surface. Illbient is a particularly interesting and novel comparison here which brings up the sensation of the Caretaker as a sort of residually parallel hip-hop instrumental project (pulling chopped samples from the darker ages of jazz). Does create the sensation of intoxication rather than memory degradation at points.

Tracks like the last one on the first side and even B1 and B2 are quite straight-laced, departing from the narrative (but for B1’s hypnopompic abortive conclusion). Feel like I’m being outflanked, looking for consonance with the past where there perhaps isn’t any. B2 does revive the haunted ballroom with its piped, miasmic piano jaunts. The percussive skipping at the end was a real shock that segues perfectly into the wailing Gorey absences of B3 (a silent tap on the shoulder; the still-terrifying dream in Amour).

B6 is “An empty bliss beyond this World” which projects that project’s lullaby melodies through that thick, haunted-ballroom fog. Quietly ties in the cautionary luminescence from the beginning of the B-side, too; with some tumbling tones that sound like they’re from a xylophone or the mall at the end of Eyes Wide Shut after everyone’s left. The night-feverish “Libet Delay” constitutes the first real hit of poignance at the impending demise of the Caretaker project (making me realise that this had been lacking in the series’ actual music until now). This one’s emblematic, at least of the album that I expected.

Lacks the arc and structural conspicuousness of which made that instalment one of my highlights of this year. Despite a clear constructive strategy, it’s harder to see this as a standalone piece because of its context within the series (and the fact that it follows what I think are two more satisfyingly distinctive projects), but this is probably his most overtly personal release, and it features some of the standout textural explorations of this series in its forced intermixture of source and slippage. Typing is helping in my abandoned house on a Friday night.

Etched information in the central space after the grooves is almost illegibly small this time, like he’s goading us to play the B side first (an experiment for another day). You just have to remember that the later side is the one whose label’s grey shades can only be distinguished while they spin.

Probably the My Struggle: Book 4 of EATEOT.

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A Ghost Story (2017)

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Hipster bullshit. Saw this at UPP with Steve. Establishes a post-Tree of Life environment of suburban peace through patient pacing and misty ambience. A couple wrangle with mysterious melancholy (some Wong Kar-Wai in these highly-strung exchanges) before Casey Affleck, the husband, perishes in a car crash. He is whimsically clad in the pictured archetypal ghostly costume; all focus on his personal experience after death is borrowed and intentionally childish, extending to a take on the Taylor Swift meme of figures communicating wordlessly between isolated houses. Hammy and unsatisfying reflections on loss and (im)permanence ([be]longing) swirl around this central, simpering irony. At the beginning, though, there are some interesting prospects for examination of the intransigence of grief, extending to (and pushed through) a pointedly interminable scene depicting Rooney Mara’s indulgence in kummerspeck with CA’s besheeted presence hovering out of focus. This isn’t followed through, however, as RM leaves the set, giving way to CA’s dissatisfying ponderings on regeneration and residual presence. There’s a cameo from Will Oldham which comprises a garbled diatribe on humanity as a ‘brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness’, hanging on with a whiff of watery hauntology. There are also some unintentionally guffaw-prompting missteps, as in CA’s successful attempt to diffuse an argument with RM by insisting upon his tuneless and flatulantly insubstantial musical endeavours. All the jump-scares (the extent of the film’s spookiness, besides a brief but effective poltergeist interlude) are equally unwarranted and unwelcome. Ultimately the message was entirely covered – and then some – by the yet-imperfect short film Plastic Bag by Ramin Bahrami, which at least had an appealing sense of humour. Usage of rounded 4:3 framing seems more Instagram than Scarred Hearts.

A film which is never more than you expect it to be.

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