Thursday, 30 May 2019

Out On Blue Six: Jem

So I was doing a bit of shopping in Wilkinsons earlier today as you do when this tune wafted down the aisles and stopped me in my tracks....

Let me explain. Back in 2005 I was going through a really rough patch with work and my mental health. My girlfriend at the time went out and bought me this single, telling me to pay attention to the lyrics.

Life, it's ever so strange
It's so full of change
Think that you've got it worked out
Right out of the blue
Something happens to you
To throw you of course
And then you
Yeah you breakdown
Well don't you breakdown
Listen to me
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
No need to run, no need to hide
It'll take you round and round
Sometimes you're up
Sometimes you're down
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
Don't be scared, don't hide your eyes
It may feel so real inside
But don't forget it's just a ride

The implication of her kind, thoughtful deed was immediately clear. Just as clear as it was again for me today because, once again, this song came at the right moment for me. Truth is, I'm not in a great place right now. Something has crept up on me and circumstances have exacerbated the situation. I got quite emotional hearing this again, truth be told, right there in Wilkies! 

My girlfriend and I split up a few years later. The fact is, we weren't great for each other as we both had issues to contend with. But there's hardly a week that goes by where I do not find my thoughts wandering to her and I know she was arguably the love of my life. I hope that, wherever she is today and whatever she's doing, she's in a good place. And, if anyone else is struggling right now, take time out to listen to this - it may just strike a chord with you and help.

End Transmission

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Cruel Summer by M.R. Mackenzie

Released today, Cruel Summer is the direct sequel to the critically acclaimed novel In the Silence and the second instalment in the prospective Kelvingrove Park trilogy from M.R. Mackenzie.

In the Silence was a fine addition to the Tartan Noir genre. In Cruel Summer Mackenzie turns up the heat, placing him ahead of the field.

Read my full review at The Geek Show.

Friday, 24 May 2019

The End of May

I guess you expected word from me about this before now eh?

The truth is, I'm not that jubilant. Whilst May's resignation has finally, thankfully come at last, I am concerned about what the future holds.

Nothing will improve if the only option is yet another Tory government. And if that government is led by current front runner contender Boris Johnson then the country will be in an even worse mess than the one it is now.

The only recourse, the only light at the end of the tunnel, is a general election that will bring Jeremy Corbyn to Number 10.

As it stands what I will say about May's resignation is this; she cried. But she didn't cry over the deaths that happened in Grenfell, in the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, or in the needless and estimated 120,000 deaths that have occurred because of her austerity measures.  

And that tells us all we need to know about Theresa May. No one should feel sorry for her because she never felt anything for any of us - just herself. A typical Tory then.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Out On Blue Six: Radiohead

....Or you'll never believe what this song's about

Sadly there's only live versions available of this track from Radiohead's second studio album The Bends from 1995, but it loses none of its power. 

I feel and that much of the song's compelling power (live or otherwise) lies in the fact that it is based on the Hungerford Massacre of 1987 and the psyche of its perpetrator, Michael Ryan and his relationship with his mother, just one of 16 fatal victims of that day.

End Transmission

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Brexit: BBC News Continues to be Stupid, or Deliberately Wrong

Just sat watching the BBC's North West Tonight to hear their political correspondent Nina Warhurst claim that our region is a hit confused about the EU elections tomorrow because the two main parties have been pretty absent.

Now I know that the Tories don't seem to be putting much into their campaign (as I blogged at the weekend, they are the only party I haven't received any correspondence from) but Labour missing from our region? Erm, here's a picture of Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking to an audience of hundreds in Bootle on Saturday...

Perhaps North West Tonight didn't get the memo?

Warhurst then went on to say that the region is further confused by Labour's vague stance regarding the EU and a second referendum. Again the BBC don't seem to want to acknowledge that Labour has whipped for a so-called 'people's vote' twice now, but there isn't a sufficient majority for it to pass in the House, which is why it isn't happening.

Let's be clear about the second referendum; Theresa May's latest deal (aka the same as it ever was: why is it we have to respect the result of the Brexit ref, yet she will not respect the result of her first, second or even third attempt at getting her deal through?) claims that parliament must have a vote on whether there will be a second ref, but they have to vote on her deal first. It's a ploy to push her deal through and a meaningless sop towards another vote as she knows damn well there isn't a majority for one. The only way we can get another vote is if the PM backs one. 

Meanwhile tonight, Theresa May is sitting behind the sofa of Number 10 with her fingers in her ear and the door barricaded. She is a PM that neither the country nor her own MPs want and, in typical Tory fashion, she's refusing to acknowledge reality. How very strong and stable.

And the European media? Tonight they're discussing the UN Report into UK poverty which estimates a staggering 40% of our children will be living in poverty by 2021 as a result of the Tories austerity policies. Are our media talking about this? Are they bollocks. We just get the same old Brexit chat and the same old lies. Ignore them. Get out and vote tomorrow - and vote Labour - because we need to send a clear message that we can no longer tolerate what this government has done to us and will continue to do unless there's a General Election and a Labour victory.

RIP Andrew Hall

Sad news coming through this afternoon on social media that the actor Andrew Hall passed away on Monday this week at the age of 65.

Hall will of course be best remembered for the role of Russell, the eldest son of Wendy Craig's Ria in Carla Lane's 1978-1983 BBC sitcom Butterflies - a role he reprised in 2000 for a Children in Need sketch that saw all of the surviving original cast reunite. As a kid in the late 80s and early 90s I would watch the repeats of Butterflies of an evening, shortly after seeing Hall play the role of diligent nurse Dave Spencer in kids ITV drama Children's Ward. Other credits include Coronation Street, in which he played the cross-dressing Marc Selby, Hollyoaks, Brookside, Dream Team, Doctors, Casualty, Holby City, 2point4 Children, Birds of a Feather, Come Fly With Me and, more recently, the American sci-fi series Blood Drive. He was a prestigious stage actor and director too.


Monday, 20 May 2019

Ratcatcher (1999)

"Little postcards from hell" that's how Peter Mullan recently described the semi-autobiographical films of Bill Douglas from the 1970s. It's an apt description for Ratcatcher too, the feature length debut of another Scottish filmmaker, Lynne Ramsey. 

Just like the work of Douglas, there's a tactile aesthetic to Ramsey's film, a kind of shimmering poetry and a sense of fragmentary memory to the everyday poverty of working class Glasgow which again, when seen through the eyes of a child, picks out the hazy minutiae of life in a manner that makes it all seems so curiously sublime; the pocket of shaving foam behind Da's ear, or the momentary escape a net curtain (of all the humdrum everyday things) can provide for the adolescent James, played superbly by William Eadie. 

Film critic Hannah McGill has discussed how Ken Loach influenced the new wave of social realist filmmakers at the turn of the last century, citing Shane Meadows, Mullan and Ramsey as examples. But Ratcatcher offers a stylistic expressionism to the harsh realities it depicts that is wholly in tune with the notion of Mullan's "little postcards from hell" phrase; after all, when you're living in hell you need a strong imagination, and it's this imagination that point's to Ramsey's influences from further afield, specifically American filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick. There's a perfect symbiotic relationship between imagery and music that Ramsey uses that suggests the former in the scene in which Da is violently attacked, cutting to a shot of blood-like raspberry sauce dripping down an ice cream cone as something as sweetly innocuous as The Chordettes' Lollipop plays, but it's in her referencing of Malick that Ratcatcher makes it's biggest point. 

The use of Carl Orff's Gassenhauer points unmistakably towards Badlands. It's telling that she uses the tune to depict the fate of Snowball, the pet mouse of James' friend Kenny (played by John Miller; another wonderful, unforced performance skillfully brought to the fore by Ramsey). It's a moment that should leave us with our hearts in our mouths, a heartbreakingly tragic instance of ignorant and unwitting cruelty, but Ramsey invests it with fantasy, a hopeful happy ending that resides in Kenny's innocent, sheltered mind. Telling because the Malick influence is crucially evident when depicting young James' newly built dream home and the Days of Heaven-esque golden wheat fields that lie beyond its windows. 

Initially framed by Ramsey to suggest a painting, James and his family return here at the close of the film, seemingly having been relocated by the council. On the surface it is a happy ending, but it's an ambiguous one.  Like his earlier leap through the window/painting, this suggests a better world that James can somehow escape into. A fantasy. In reality, James willingly drops to the bottom of the dirty canal that claimed his friend in the film's opening moments and that the film has repeatedly, portentously returned to several times across its narrative. Living on borrowed time, James had about as much chance of living in his dream home as Snowball had of reaching the moon.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)

Tonight sees the long-anticipated debut of Gentleman Jack on BBC1, Sally Wainwright's take on the tale of Anne Lister, a 19th-century Yorkshirewoman and industrialist widely held to be the first modern lesbian. Starring Suranne Jones, Wainwright's eight-part serial looks set to be a rompy affair...but it's not the first time Lister's life has been adapted for the screen.

In 2010, the BBC broadcast Jane English's The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister. Starring Maxine Peake in the title role, it was a much more touching and tender depiction of Lister as a woman before her time and, as such, was a wonderful period drama in its own right. The period, region and society in which it was set played to the usual tropes of a Bronte or Austen adaptation but, by virtue of Lister herself, it was a deeply original story.

Anne Lister kept extensive diaries detailing her life and her forbidden love, written in an elaborate cipher. These diaries, which inspire much of this biopic, were only decoded 150 years after her death and prove that she was very much an individual born before her time. She held a desire to marry her girlfriend Mariana (Anna Madeley) or as her diary called her '-Zp4z-z', in a kind of proto-civil partnership that was simply unheard of at, and frankly scandalous for, that time. The shrewd Mariana however understood that the only match she could make in an oppressively patriarchal society was one with a man of prospects, and so she ultimately chose an older, wealthy landowner Mr Charles Lawton (Michael Culkin) as her husband, thereby breaking Anne's heart and shattering her naive illusions that they were ever true soul mates. Alone, Anne devoted her time to her studies becoming a canny businesswoman in the coal trade and ultimately finding love and companionship with her young business partner Ann Walker (Christine Bottomley).

In the lead role, Maxine Peake brings her curious mix of comedy, heartbreaking vulnerability and skilfull dramatic intensity that helps fully round the character beautifully. On paper I imagine Lister could easily come off a touch predatory or simply gloomy at the misfortunes that befall upon her because of who she is and what her sexual preference is, but with Peake's remarkable talent this is neatly avoided and the drama bends to her passionate playing and sheer will.

I found this a very moving and well made production which boasts an excellent supporting cast to accompany Peake including the aforementioned Madeley and Bottomley as her romantic interests, Alan David as her uncle and Gemma Jones as her aunt (a role the actress reprises in Gentleman Jack). Susan Lynch delivers a bittersweet turn as a Lister's friend Tib Norcliffe who chooses to live her life as open about her sexuality as possible, whilst Peake's former Shameless co-star Dean Lennox Kelly as a jealous business rival determined to spread malicious gossip about Lister's relationship with Miss Walker.

Will Gentleman Jack be as good as this? Given that Wainwright is behind it, I have high hopes. It certainly looks set to have lots of panache - a story played more positively towards the notion of Lister being some kind of trailblazer than this tale which captured the pain of someone whose love had to be hidden away from 'polite society'.

Return to Sender

It's time to return to the voting booths again this Thursday as the elections for European Parliament take place. Campaigning seems to have been taken up in earnest by most parties and many a letter or leaflet has dropped through the letterbox at the tail end of last week. So far, I've had stuff from Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, Nigel Farage's Brexit Party and Independent candidate Stephen Yaxley Lennon (aka 'Tommy Robinson'). Nothing for the Tories though, who clearly know that they are doomed.

I know that it can be really irritating to receive missives from parties you vehemently disagree with. It fair turns my stomach to see something from far right parties personally addressed to me, so here's what I do...

Knowing that returning this mail back to their party HQ's actually costs the party money, I scribble a quick 'Unsolicited Mail - Return to Sender' note at the top of the envelope and pop it back in the postbox. A small victory maybe, but a satisfying one. 

However, before that I like to offer up some sort of reply. UKIP, the Brexit Party and 'Tommy Robinson' all had their leaflets suitably redecorated (nothing too original, just the odd Hitler moustache) and were left in no doubt as to what I feel about them. But it was the Lib Dems that I decided to point towards the truth.

Their leaflet was full of utter lies. This habitually opportunistic party are currently flying under the flag of being the only political force determined to stop Brexit. If that truly was the case then where were Vince Cable and Tim Farron last July on the night of a crucial Brexit legislation vote that could have kept back the hard Brexit mob? They weren't in the House that's for sure and so they did not vote. I can tell you were Farron, the former leader and the man who keeps banging on with 'Where are you Jeremy Corbyn?' at Remain protests, was; he was charging a fiver a head for a lecture in Sherbourne about his faith (or homophobia), but where was present leader Vince Cable? And do they really think we're so stupid that we'd fail to notice how they vote in the House or, more bluntly, when they don't even bother to vote?

The leaflet also goes on to say that Labour refuse to push for a second referendum. Again this is a lie and one that the MSM also seem keen to spread. The fact is that Labour have repeatedly whipped ahead of voting for a second ref or a 'people's vote' but there isn't enough of a majority in the House to push this over the line. 

Cable and the Lib Dems, perhaps more than any other party and politician, deserve our contempt. They sold their soul to share power in 2010 and enabled the austerity that we are still suffering under to this very day. They twist with the wind and are now pretending that they never had any association with the Tories and that they are the only ones with our best interests at heart. They're banking on a resurgence that I think will happen to a degree, but when you're already at rock bottom, there's only one place to go - up.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

The Crying Game (1992)

I mean, I suppose you could argue that The Crying Game is in some ways a close spiritual sister to Neil Jordan's previous film, Mona Lisa, but there's no denying that The Crying Game is one of a kind thanks to that twist.

Like the earlier Jordan film, I can't really put into words how much of an impact this film still makes on me with every watch. The reveal of the twist is no longer a surprise to anyone of course, but this is a film that is far from a one trick pony. The screenplay is so bloody good, that often events are foreshadowed or counterbalanced in the most deliciously ironic and satisfying of ways. Dil's belief that 'Jimmy' aka Fergus is Scottish in some way mirrors his own mistaken allusions regarding Dil, whilst the spectral image that continues to haunt Fergus of Jody in his cricket whites comes forth, complete with Forest Whitaker's incredible smile, to reveal that he had bowled him a very distinctive googly all along. 

The googly in question is of course Jaye Davidson; an incredible role and a brilliant performance. Davidson pitches it all at such a wonderfully underplayed level that it retains its utter mystique and, even now, you find yourself almost convinced. Indeed no performance is out of place here; Stephen Rea is at his most sympathetic and tragically, sweetly heroic, whilst Miranda Richardson and Adrian Dunbar prove an effectively dangerous and darkly alluring pair of screen villains. Meanwhile Ralph Brown plays a character that I once told him arguably sets the template for the tracksuited scorned lover type you would find in any edition of Jeremy Kyle that you could care to mention, which amused him. 

Like a lot of Jordan films, the foundations of The Crying Game are quite fondly nostalgic, yearning for a Noirish 1940s or '50s, and this is never more clear than in Jim Broadbent's sympathetic intermediary of a barman, Col, who comes from a long line of such characters stretching all the way back to Dooley Wilson's Sam in Casablanca. But the beautiful thing about Jordan during this period was that he so effectively infused old fashioned tropes with some distinctively modern storytelling. I still think that my favourite era and genre of filmmaking is Film Four in the 1980s and '90s.

Out On Blue Six: Dave Berry/Boy George

One song, two versions.

First Dave Berry with the original

And Boy George with the cover recorded Neil Jordan's incredible film of the same name

End Transmission

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Tonight's Tele Tip, Part 2: The Virtues

Coming an hour before Mum and over on Channel 4 tonight will be Shane Meadows' new drama The Virtues starring Stephen Graham.

It's Stephen Graham. It's Shane Meadows. It's gonna be blisteringly good!

Channel 4, 9pm.

Tonight's Tele Tip: Mum

Back for a third and final series tonight is Stefan Golaszewski's excellent, heartwarming sitcom Mum starring Lesley Manville and Peter Mullan.

Co-starring Lisa McGrillis, Sam Swainsbury, Ross Boatman and Dorothy Atkinson, Mum starts tonight BBC2, 10pm

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Little Stranger (2018)

***Contains mild spoilers, or an explanation of the film for those looking for one***

The latest from Lenny Abrahamson has had something of a mixed reception which perhaps ought to come as no surprise for a film that purports to be a poltergeist/haunted house chiller but is actually a meditation on the British class system and the encroaching sea change of the Post-War Attlee Labour government.

A trim and dour Domhnall Gleeson stars as Faraday, a Warwickshire doctor who makes a house call to Hundreds Hall, a rather dilapidated mansion belonging to the Ayres family reside. The mansion, as we will come to see via a series of flashbacks, has a special resonance for Faraday as he first got to walk its environs and see within as part of a grand fete at the close of WWI. Back then he was a poor, local child but now, having carved out a medical career for himself, he returns, not as an equal perhaps, but as someone the family no less rely upon. The elderly matriarch Mrs. Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) has never got over the death of her child, Susan, and her long-held grief begins to manifest itself in various disturbing ways just as her son Rod (Will Poulter), a former RAF pilot suffering excruciating burns presents with debilitating injuries both physical and mental. Only Caroline (Ruth Wilson) seems untouched by illness and Faraday becomes particularly close to her, hopeful of marriage and a future. However as Faraday becomes more and more attached to the family and Hundreds, their combined fates grow all the more desperate.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger takes the generic elements of a classic ghost story to deliver something altogether more interesting and non-generic. Much like the work of Henry James or Charles Dickens, The Little Stranger is a story that is just as interested in the era or culture as it is in delivering scares. Abrahamson shoots his film through with a barely repressed sense of longing and regret that ultimately is the thing that comes back to haunt the protagonists, rather than any poltergeist or bogeyman. Tellingly, whilst Abrahamson is on record as believing that there is something paranormal going on within the narrative, he's equally at pains to point out that the horror is man-made, borne of the things the characters have tried to suppress. Ultimately, it's a story of a boy (Faraday) who grew up conditioned into thinking that the Hundreds was this great place of status and respect and whose impulsive ambition left him passionately desiring to be a part of such a place. Now, as a grown man, he finds he has that opportunity, but he also finds that it still remains elusive because this is not his world or his people. It is, I feel, that childish longing, and all its bitterness and pain, that the Hundreds itself has somehow absorbed into its being. It is those emotions that are the root of the haunting and it presents itself in a variety of personal ways to the residents; for Roddy, it is a fire reminiscent of the fireball that engulfed his plane in WWII, for Mrs Ayres, it is her dead child, and for Caroline, ultimately, it is Faraday's childhood desire.

Like I say, I can see why some audiences and critics didn't get on board with The Little Stranger because it is an ambiguous movie and it's becoming increasingly clear that moviegoers like things cut and dried when it comes to genre film-making. It's also a parochial movie, with its focus on the repressive class system of Britain in the late twentieth century and I can't imagine that travelling particularly well outside of the UK or indeed striking much of a chord with British audiences under the age of thirty at the very least. But I personally, really enjoyed it; it's a very attractive, polished feature which boasts strong performances, specifically from Gleeson whose buttoned-up characterisation is perfectly pitched and an always impressive Ruth Wilson. Three Girls star Liv Hill also deserves a mention for her performance as the maid, Betty. On Letterboxd I am currently torn between rating this 3.5 or 4 ot of 5, so yeah all the 2.5 ratings on there can cheg on.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

An Unsuitable Job For a Woman (1982)

In 1982, Chris Petit followed up his enigmatic British road movie mystery Radio On with something that, on the surface at least, was more mainstream and traditional; an adaptation of a British mystery thriller novel. That novel was PD James 1972 story An Unsuitable Job For a Woman, which detailed the first case of young female private eye Cordelia Gray.

If my memory serves me right, I can only recall this being shown on TV once in the late 90s. It may have been broadcast before that of course, but I really don't think it has been since. It's transmission coincided with ITV's decision around that time to produce a TV series based on James' story starring Helen Baxendale who, at the time, was riding high from the success of Cold Feet. The series itself was short-lived (lasting just two series) but it seemed to be popular in the US, where episodes of its second series were broadcast a full two years before it received its UK premiere and where a full DVD boxset is commercially available. 

I haven't read James' novel, but I heard that this was a somewhat loose adaptation from Petit and his fellow screenwriters Elizabeth McKay and Brian Scobie, and a cursory glance on the Wikipedia page for the novel proves it to be the case. Where the film does not deviate from the source material is in its basic premise and narrative; Gray is a twenty-three-year-old woman who was training to be a private detective under the tutelage of an older man, Bernie Pryde, when she finds that he has committed suicide and left her the agency. Her first case is also a suicide; that of a young Cambridge drop-out and son of a prominent individual. Cordelia learns that Mark Callender, the dead young man, had everything to live for - including decent grades and a considerable family inheritance - and begins to suspect that he was actually murdered, a suspicion that subsequently puts Cordelia's own life in danger.

Like Radio On, this is an off-beat and evocative film from Petit that perhaps has more interest in character than it does narrative. Whilst playing with the traditions of film noir - a mystery involving a wealthy family out in the sticks who perhaps know more than they are letting on - it stands out as distinctive because of its untypical central character. There's no tough, wisecracking Philip Marlowe-type here, just an unusual and determined young woman operating in what is traditionally viewed to be a man's world. Played by Pippa Guard, Cordelia Gray is an interesting proposition. Her inexperience as a detective is refreshingly never far from the film, but neither is her resourcefulness and a peculiar desire for justice that takes the form of an obsessional desire, not only to do right by the memory of the deceased young man, but also in terms of a romantic connection with that memory.

This connection makes for several reproachable decisions on her part, yet some are perhaps understandable ones given her ingénue detective status. Arriving in Cambridge, she opts to live in the estate cottage that Mark resided at as part of his job as a gardener, she begins to wear his clothes and even makes tape recordings of her findings in which she begins to talk to him. Most dangerous of all, she attempts to recreate his final moments, by hanging herself...inadvertently kicking the chair over!

Unfortunately, Petit doesn't seem able to breathe much life into Cordelia's eccentric investigation methods and her connection to Mark. This should be the most interesting aspect of the story, but it just proves too obscure and elusive. Most damning of all, one never gets the feeling that Cordelia is a natural detective. She should be seen to grow into the role so that, by the end of the film, the audience is convinced that she has made the right decision to continue her late employer's business, but Petit's obtuse characterisation, coupled with a perfunctory interest in the central mystery itself, means that we are never persuaded. James' heroine is universally praised for her femininity, empathy and mettle but, apart from the setpiece the film's poster recreates of her resourceful escape, having been thrown down a well by an unseen assailant and her odd fellowship for the deceased, we never really see this character in this adaptation. Guard is a capable and effective actress, but she is a touch too reserved in the role. She convinces best in the enigmatic, quietly obsessive moments, but is never really driving the narrative on thanks to the way Petit et al have chosen to restructure James' tale and never feels that concrete a character as a result. I think Baxendale is probably a better fit for Cordelia as James envisaged, bringing the toughness she highlighted in her role as a cynical junior doctor in the excellent BBC series Cardiac Arrest with her own natural attractiveness - and, given that James described her heroine as possessing features 'like an expensive cat' I'd say she was a good physical fit. Though, if I do pick up the book (and I suspect I might) I imagine that, given that description, I'd end up thinking of Sophie Ellis-Bextor!

Tellingly, Guard gets third billing in her own vehicle thanks to star turns from Billie Whitelaw as her client, the Callander family's steely factotum, and Paul Freeman as Mark's father James, a wealthy industrialist who each supersede her in terms of progressing the story in its crucial final stages, leaving her to act as little more than a diffident bystander. The rest of the relatively small cast is rounded out by performances from Dominic Guard (no relation), Dawn Archibald, and Elizabeth Spriggs, with David Horovitch playing the archetypal PI-disapproving policeman. All good actors, but somewhat ill-served by an adaptation that doesn't seem to know how to handle the tropes of a murder mystery.

I mentioned earlier how Petit has changed aspects of James' novel and this is never clearer than in how he chooses to depict Freeman's character. In the novel, according to its description on Wiki, Mark's father is Sir Ronald Callender, an eminent scientist (note the difference in name and profession) and, I imagine, an older more conservative seeming man than the one depicted here. The first clue in the film moving away from the source material lies in James' seduction of Cordelia. I get why it's there; Cordelia gets close to Mark's father as a physical outlet of her desires for Mark himself, but it's an unconvincing and superfluous moment in the film. Where the rewrites really come to the fore however is in the way the case is solved and its ultimate denouement. Reading the summary on Wiki it's clear that James' novel is a much more satisfying approach (featuring an appearance from James' best-loved creation, policeman-turned-poet Adam Dalgliesh) than how Petit approaches it which is often abrupt and desultory, boasting a very lame ending that may leave audiences going 'is that it?', though it didn't help that the print I viewed was so murky it was hard to actually see what had occurred! Its moments of action are also handled poorly and it's true that a low budget may have been at play in making them so cursory and half-hearted.

It took me two goes to appreciate Petit's previous film, the existential Radio On, but I think my initial instincts regarding this more mainstream effort will prove to be correct. It's by no means a poor film, as there is something attractive at play here, but it is something of a misfire. It needed a greater appreciation of what makes a good mystery thriller work, something which I suspect Petit, with his tendency towards the enigmatic, had little interest in. Ultimately, it's this disinterest that scuppers An Unsuitable Job For a Woman; by the time that the film should be coming to life with a bang, it is all but spluttering away with a whimper.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Barry Lyndon (1975)

No offence but Stephen King fans must be very sensitive souls.

I say this because I have often heard criticism directed at Stanley Kubrick for his decision to play fast and loose in adapting King's novel The Shining, yet I've never heard any complaints of Kubrick stamping his own identity on any other number of adaptations. Think about it, he completely changed the ending of Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, he turned the nuclear holocaust novel Red Alert into the comedy Doctor Strangelove, and he produced here a very intriguing and wholly different reading of Thackery's The Luck of Barry Lyndon.

Thackery's novel, much like his later Vanity Fair, is one that is populated with schemers and their hapless marks. Told in the first person by Barry himself, it's an unreliable account of his rise and fall in Georgian times. "Hang you for a meddling brat! Your hand is in everybody's pie!" Barry's debt-ridden uncle may complain of our hero in an early sequence in the film, but Kubrick doesn't share this view. For him, Barry is a passive victim of two dominating themes that he would return to again and again in his films; fate and human fallibility.

Casting Hollywood heartthrob Ryan O'Neal in the lead role, Kubrick elicits a performance that is a world away from the grandstanding of Malcolm McDowell or Jack Nicholson, opting instead for a blankness that allows the other characters in the story - tellingly, Barry's antagonists - to place their own impressions upon. This underplaying works in great contrast to the litany of character actors who enliven proceedings, up to and including Leonard Rossiter's Captain Quinn, a tight coil of neuroses, and Frank Middlemass' pig-squealing coronary victim. Employing in Michael Hordern an equally unreliable narrator for the movie allows Kubrick to lend a formal voice to the attitudes of Barry's enemies and Georgian high society as a whole. To them, Barry is an ingenious upstart and cunning opportunist inveigling his way into their circles. His actions are relayed as traditionally picaresque, robbing the audience of an insight into the reality of Barry's inner life, feelings and motivations. In many ways, it feels like Kubrick is challenging our own preconceptions: do we take the narrator, who bridges the gap between the actions and our reactions, at his word or do we accept that he may be misleading us? Are we just as much snobs as the society of 1700s?

There's a pleasing sense of things coming full circle in the narrative of Barry Lyndon. Part One, which explores his rise, sees him coming into contact (and subsequently losing) a variety of father figures (Captain Grogan, Captain Potzdorf and the Chevalier du Balibari) to replace the father he lost in a duel at an early age. Part Two sees him dispense entirely with this desire because he himself is now a father, however cruel irony comes into play when he loses his beloved son. And the duel that robbed him of his father is one he is somehow personally and perversely compelled to repeat, firstly in success (of sorts) with Captain Quinn, and lastly in failure with his wronged and vengeful stepson, Lord Bullingdon (Leon Vitali, who of course went on to become Kubrick's personal assistant). 

Thackery's satire is episodic, flamboyant and farcical, but in translating it to film Kubrick delivers instead a melancholic and subdued three-hour epic, one that befits the haunting qualities of the score from Handel's Sarabande and Schubert's Piano Trio in E-Flat. It is  the works of Hogarth brought to life by natural lighting and NASA-borrowed, super-fast 50mm lenses. It is a resigned yet sympathetic study of fatalism.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Out On Blue Six: Stiff Little Fingers

End Transmission

The BBC: Framing the Narrative in the Tories Favour

I just had to share this tweet from Robyn Vinter which takes a screen grab of how the BBC have decided to report the local election results today.

As you can see, they've chosen to go with 'Where the Conservatives lost and won' before reporting gains of 19 and losses of 69.

But when it comes to reporting Labour's gains of 32 and losses of 37, they've opted for 'Labour lose dozens of seats'

As Vinter suggests with such clear misrepresentation is it any wonder that people believe the BBC to be biased with their news and politics reportage?

Let's be clear; the Tories have lost almost 500 councillors, and the full result isn't even in yet. So why are the BBC so determined to claim that it is Labour - who are on course for a significant national lead - who are the losers?

Undoubtedly the narrative from the MSM is going to blame Corbyn for not making greater gains, but the simple fact of the matter is that Labour's membership is deeply divided on Brexit, a dangerous farce that is (and this isn't stated enough) wholly of the Tories making. With many traditional Labour strongholds in favour of leaving the EU and many more liberal, metropolitan Labour areas vehemently against, the party is stuck between a rock and a hard place in which they will obviously disappoint one or the other. That's what we are seeing here for sure, but what we are most definitely seeing is a complete dissatisfaction with the government for getting us into this mess in the first place.

As is often the case, Owen Jones hits the nail on the head.