Review: Song To Song

SongToSong

And so the prostitute says, “Create the Illusion, but don’t believe it.”

I am not sure if that is Terrence Malick’s thesis with Song To Song, an elliptical fairy tale of despondency, but the film does feature Val Kilmer wielding a chainsaw on stage at the SXSW music festival, so there is that.

It also embeds clips from Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed, offers heartbreaking relationship advice from punk rock goddess Patti Smith, cheerfully cuts off Iggy Pop in mid-sentence and makes a little time for Natalie Portman to wait tables and attend church services kitted out in Erin Brockovich inspired push-up bras.

Song to Song is Malick’s fifth film in six years, not including his forthcoming Europe-set WWII epic, to be released later in 2017. Apparently, The film has been in production in one way or another for seven years; long enough to recast Christian Bale (or re-purpose his footage into Knight of Cups) and lose Arcade Fire completely in the editing room. This means that the overall process overlaps all the way back with Tree of Life, the touchstone for his current mode of cinema.

The ongoing price to pay for scrapping conventional storytelling (and, you know, actual scripts) has yielded his work some superb benefits … for those keen to tune into his wavelength. Of course, this is not for everyone, and do not be surprised when many film-goers drawn in by the marquee actors and musician cameos flee the experience in frustration. Like it or not, Malick has, for some time now, been in the business of capturing elusive, immersive, Steadicam dreams of time and place that he subtly bends into narrative in the editing room.

Here he films in the in-between spaces of Texas, be it backstage casual at South By Southwest, the concrete and glass boxes of the wealthy, or windswept desert pools in the wilderness. You would not recognize this as the same Austin in the front half of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof or the sprawling walkabouts of so many a Richard Linkater joint. And though the film features an impressively programmed and multifarious playlist, the soundtrack is less the music, and more the palpable ennui of gorgeous white young things trying to find themselves in a confusing world of indulgence.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Creeping Garden

Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp
Starring: Mark Pagnell, Heather Barnett, Bryn Dentinger
Country: UK
Running Time: 84 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: E


Although they’re both documentaries, I couldn’t have picked a more different film than The Creeping Garden to follow up Gleeson to watch and review. Where the latter was a moving, very human film made up from raw, home movie style footage, The Creeping Garden is an unusual, cerebral and stylish affair. As such it was a bit of a shock to the system, and I still haven’t quite settled my thoughts on it in my mind. I’ll give it a go here though as I write my review.

Co-directed by Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp (who I’ve met a couple of times through a festival I help organise), The Creeping Garden is a documentary that explores the study of plasmodial slime mould. It sounds like an unusual and dull subject for a feature length documentary, but although I’d agree that it’s unusual, there’s more to slime moulds than you might imagine. Although they look like and were originally classified as fungi, they are in fact organisms which can move, eat and have a surprising level of intelligence for their appearance.

The film interviews and looks at the work of a number of scientists, amateur enthusiasts, musicians and artists who all deal with or take inspiration from slime moulds. As such, the film is almost about them as much as it is about slime moulds. A little like Room 237, part of the hook of the film is how unusual the work is from this incredibly niche group of people and how deeply they delve into it. The studies here are less crackpot than those of Room 237 though of course, so the filmmakers are in no way poking fun at or exploiting the strange habits of these slime mould experts. In fact Grabham and Sharp seem as interested and obsessed as they are, as the camera thrives on shots of the organisms.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Look Back – Criterion Collection

Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Screenplay: D.A. Pennebaker
Starring: Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, Bob Neuwirth
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15


The phrase ‘don’t meet your heroes’ might go somewhere to explain my approach to the musicians I admire. Although I consume music to an exhaustive degree, listening to it whenever I have chance and spending far too much time reading reviews, compiling playlists and shopping for CD’s/downloads. However, I’ve never been one to read/watch many interviews with musicians. I do occasionally, but don’t make a habit of it like I do checking their latest reviews. I think I prefer to let their work do the talking as I often find if their natural personality rubs me up the wrong way it casts a shadow over my opinion of what they do.

For that reason, I’m occasionally dubious about watching documentaries about artists I love as I don’t want to spoil my enjoyment of their work. Some Kind of Monster for instance is a great documentary about Metallica, but makes them look like pricks (pardon my French) and has made me a little more hesitant over checking out their latest albums.

One film I’ve never seen until now, a good twenty years since falling in love with Bob Dylan’s work, is the most famous documentary surrounding the musician, D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. It might simply be chance that I haven’t got around to seeing it, but I think a worry that I’d find the famously elusive artist a pretentious wanker had always loomed in the back of my mind. Thankfully The Criterion Collection is re-releasing the classic film on Blu-Ray in the UK with a phenomenal amount of extra features, so I couldn’t resist finally giving it a chance after all these years.

And thank God I did, because I loved it.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Sid & Nancy

Director: Alex Cox
Screenplay: Alex Cox, Abbe Wool
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman, Andrew Schofield
Country: UK
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1986
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘m not a huge punk fan. The original movement came and went a few years before I was born and later punk iterations never did much for me. However, The Clash’s London Calling album has long been one of my all time favourites and when I was a teenager I also got a lot of play out of my CD copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. It was and still is a powerful album, full of youthful exuberance and fiery anger at the damaged establishment, which spoke to me back when I was a youngster. I never really looked into the history of the band though. Although I’ve long been a music lover, I’ve rarely paid much interest in the private lives of the artists involved. I tend to let the lyrics and music do the talking and leave the rest a mystery. Some of the Sex Pistols’ history is unavoidable though and I was aware of their troubled and brief existence, even if I didn’t know all the details.

My love of the band’s sole studio album helped pique my interest in reviewing this 30th Anniversary re-release of Sid & Nancy then, along with an interest in its director, Alex Cox, who wrote and directed the rather excellent punk movie Repo Man. Sid & Nancy dramatises the relationship between the Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and sometime prostitute Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). The two met in early 1977 and quickly formed a very destructive relationship, based largely around heroin. Nancy was already a user before she met Sid and it’s reported (and suggested in the film) that she introduced him to the drug. The two grew heavily dependent on one another, as well as the drugs, and their lives inevitably both came to tragic ends. In October 1978, Nancy was found dead with a single stab wound to her abdomen in the bathroom of the infamous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, with Sid laid in a drug induced stupor on the bed across the room. After being arrested for Nancy’s murder, Sid died of a heroin overdose a few months later. The film opens with the discovery of Nancy’s body by the police and flashes back to their first meeting to tell the story of their brief time together.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: All Night Long

Director: Basil Dearden
Screenplay: Nel King, Paul Jarrico
Based on a Play by: William Shakespeare
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Marti Stevens, Keith Michell, Betsy Blair, Paul Harris, Richard Attenborough
Country: UK
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 15


I may spend much of my free time writing about films and work for a production company who make them, but film isn’t my only passion in life and, depending on my mood, isn’t necessarily my biggest either. My first love was music and it remains a vitally important part of my life. I’m an avid album collector and have been ever since I got a copy of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ on cassette for my 6th or 7th birthday. I’ve also played the piano since the age of 5 and had short stints learning the saxophone, training my singing voice and self-teaching myself some basic guitar chords. Films are hugely dear to my heart too of course, but they’ll never fully replace the joy I get from listening to or playing my favourite songs or albums.

I pride myself in appreciating a wide range of music, from classical to metal, but one particular genre has long been my go-to and that’s jazz. The whole reason I learnt to play the saxophone as a teenager was because I’d discovered jazz music and artists such as Charlie Parker who brought the instrument to vivid life. I often go through phases of different types of music I listen to more frequently than others, but jazz is always there in the background.

So what better way to combine my two life passions than in a film about jazz? I’ve been looking for some good ones recently as my jazz love has been in overdrive, but there aren’t that many good ones available. I tracked down a couple of documentaries, such as Ken Burns’ fantastic Jazz TV series, but feature films on the subject tend to largely be biopics and I’ve never been a fan of biopics, so tend to avoid them. Network have recently come to my rescue though, asking if I’d like to review Basil Dearden’s spin on Shakespeare’s Othello, All Night Long, which is set in the 60’s London jazz scene and features jazz luminaries such as Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes. Needless to say, I took them up on their offer.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: Janis: Little Girl Blue

Director: Amy J. Berg
Starring: Cat Power, Janis Joplin, Karleen Bennett
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


Janis: Little Girl Blue is a documentary which looks at the life of powerhouse ’60’s blues singer Janis Joplin, who joined the infamous ’27 club’ when she succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse in October 1970. Being a huge fan of ’60’s music from an early age, particularly Janis’ brand of blues rock, I’ve long had a great admiration for her. She had a raw, bone-rattlingly powerful voice like no other that helped revolutionise the way we thought about female vocalists. So an offer to review Janis: Little Girl Blue was not one I was going to turn down.

Charting Janis’ life from her teenage years (after a brief run through her childhood) to her death, the film runs chronologically, using letters she wrote to her family over this time as a sort of framing device. Read out by the musician Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power), these add a strong sense of poignancy to her tale, which could otherwise have easily fallen into the simple ‘lived fast died young’ bracket. Right through to the end, the letters were sweet and sadly apologetic, displaying a vulnerability not evident in her wild, passionate musical performances.

As well as using these letters to give the film emotional weight, director Amy Berg sensibly avoids using talking heads from celebrity fans (other than a couple over the credits). Instead we only hear from those who actually knew Janis – her family, friends and band members. This helps keep the film from being a fluffy ass-kissing affair and keeps the film focussed on Janis as a person rather than a mythical music icon. A wealth of personal artefacts have been made available too, including a scrap book of notes and photos on top of plenty of archive film footage.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Director: Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Roger Ebert
Based on a Story by: Roger Ebert, Russ Meyer
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, Michael Blodgett
Country: USA
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 18


Russ Meyer is an unusual character in the history of American cinema. His first feature film as a director (after working as a combat cameraman in WWII) was The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). Widely acknowledged as the first commercially viable American ‘skin flick’ (or softcore porn as the films are more commonly known these days), it grossed more than $1,500,000 in the US at the time of its release from a budget of a mere $24,000. This success spurred Meyer on to make a name for himself as the ‘king of the skin flicks’, producing dozens of successful exploitation films that always featured incredibly buxom female stars, even when his films started to mix in other genres and become wild action-packed romps.

What’s interesting and unusual about Meyer is that, despite his reputation for making what were pretty much porn films, he actually became respected as a filmmaker in many circles. One of the key reasons for this was that he showed all the traits of being a true auteur. He worked as director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer and film editor on many of his films, giving him a huge amount of control over the end product. His films had a recognisable style because of this. As well as the large-breasted stars, his films had a punchy editing style and bold, well composed cinematography. He made exploitation movies that actually looked good and were well put together, unlike many of the ‘skin flicks’ that would follow in his wake.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls represents an unusual point in Meyers career though. After Easy Rider, which was cheaply produced by a bunch of young ‘hippies’, became a huge unexpected success for Columbia Pictures, the other studios wanted in on the action. A number of the companies believed that giving money to young directors, fresh out of film school, would produce exciting counter-culture movies that the nation’s youth would flock to see (which is what kick-started the 70’s New Hollywood movement). 20th Century Fox’s plan though was to give a large budget to an already successful indie director with a reputation for making commercially successful genre films for very little money. The director they chose was Russ Meyer and the film he made was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Decline of Western Civilisation Collection

The Decline of Western Civilization Collection sees three cult music documentaries directed by Penelope Spheeris (known largely for Wayne’s World these days) finally get a UK DVD and Blu-Ray release. I must admit, when I was offered the set to review I went for it largely on a whim. I had a vague recollection of the title being mentioned somewhere and the writeup made it sound interesting. I’m very glad I did take up the offer though as I was treated to an exceptionally good trilogy of films. In this age of blockbuster sagas being churned out by the dozen, it’s refreshing to see a set of documentaries show us how a film series should really be done.

The Decline of Western Civilization

Director: Penelope Spheeris
Screenplay: Penelope Spheeris
Starring: Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, X, Fear, Circle Jerks
Country: USA
Running Time: 100 min
Year: 1981
BBFC Certification: 18


The first of Spheeris’ documentaries, The Decline of Western Civilization, saw her explore the burgeoning hardcore punk scene of her native L.A. around 1979-80. Speaking to a number of bands such as Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks, Fear and The Germs as well as some of their fans, she gets to the heart of the lifestyle as well as the music. Speaking of which, a number of live performances run throughout proceedings, acting as an anchor to the interviews.

Spheeris adopts a ‘warts and all’ approach, throwing the viewer in without a safety net. After a brief introduction we jump straight into the mosh pit (or whatever it was called in that era). The aggressive, sweaty atmosphere is captured perfectly and it’s easy to get caught up in the energy of the performances. I’m not a huge fan of punk rock, but the film sells it very well. Yes it looks violent and dirty and the music is loud and offensive, but through the kineticism of the action on screen and some occasional subtitles revealing otherwise hidden depth to the lyrics, you can really appreciate why these people are so dedicated to the genre.

Would you like to know more…?

Cinecast Episode 395 – Have an Exit Strategy

The multiplex continues to bore Kurt and Andrew, who have no interest in costumed heroes or a uniformed Reese Witherspoon. So it is off to Argentina for the Oscar nominated anthology film, Wild Tales. Game of Thrones hits the half-way mark and Kurt may have finally convinced Andrew of a) just how tedious things in Meereen have gotten, b) how much Stannis Baratheon has come into his own this season, and c) the power of a good long shot.

The watch-list creates a divide in taste on music and documentary form with Brett Morgan’s Montage of Heck. The strengths and weakness of Wes Craven’s The New Nightmare are discussed, along with a tangent on lost concept over-spill resulting from sold out movies. Don’t Look Now, but there is more Nic Roeg discussion on the Cinecast. As is the case of Kevin Costner, Shawn Levy and the race to the middle(brow). Finally, Alex Gibney’s Scientology doc, Going Clear is compared and contrasted with PTA’s The Master, for dos and don’ts in filmmaking.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

 

Would you like to know more…?

Cinecast Episode 382 – Warm and Foreign

row31-640

 
The one in which Kurt doesn’t realize he’s the winner of a (much controversial) bet. In exchange, buys Andrew a present for his sunken heart after The Oscar results. We dive headlong into The Academy Awards with all its ins and outs and what-have-yous with Neil Patrick Harris and the face touching and the boring music and the severe lack of montages and the… hey hey hey don’t hurt me. We do recognize Julianne Moore as a favorite however, and we praise her Oscar win with a heartfelt review of the quite good, Still Alice. The Watch List rattles on with pro wrestling, Cronenberg, submarine movies are always awesome and… Aeon Flux? Yeah.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 

 
Would you like to know more…?

What I Heard Last Month [music]

I still try my best to remain loyal to a number of bands and musicians that continue to put out new music.  I certainly don’t get as excited about what’s new, but for 2015, I would like to try my best to keep up and attempt to listen to at least four new records each month and avoid needing to binge at the end of the year. With that said, I would love for you to comment with what you’ve been listening to each month to celebrate the other art form we probably love almost as much as film!  Here are the four new albums I’ve heard this past month, besides my own of course (shameless plug) which you can download for free!

Would you like to know more…?