GET OUT

Though we all watch a lot of movies in here, we don’t often get to see stuff together – such is the nature of #videoshoplife that we usually watch movies at home and reconvene in the video shop to talk ’em over, disagree wildly and lovingly mock each other’s opinions. But, every now and again, we manage a shop outing to the cinema and see something together after scoffing burgers at Five Guys (the video shop cliche is real).

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One movie I really wanted us to see as a sort-of video shop posse this year was Jordan Peele’s GET OUT. Partially, my motivation came after Liz Chege of Come the Revolution recommended it to me (she has great taste in film). It was also partially motivated by the age old decider of genre: most video shop clerks have cross-over taste when it comes to horror.

Of course, when I say we went as a video shop posse, I should clarify that it’s a hap-hazard crew, made up of some people who do or have worked in the video shop plus others who are loosely associated with the shop and minus our dear Co-Director Whiskey who, since having a child some four years ago, has not yet managed to join us for a late night cine-jaunt.

So off we went and together we watched Jordan Peele’s thrilling and wonderfully uncomfortable for white folk social satire, GET OUT. I sat, literally in nail-biting, edge-of-my-seat position for the entire film, enthusiastic and ready to gush after the credits rolled – it had been the perfect choice for a movie night out! But, much to my chagrin, my post-movie excitement was met with varying degrees of ‘meh’ from my video shop pals. It seems that my male movie buddies were a little underwhelmed, some finding the horror a little predictable or not to their liking and others thinking it was good but not great.

Let me just say this: I love those guys but they’re all absolutely wrong. GET OUT is one of this year’s finest movie treats and now that it’s in the shop on DVD to rent we can finally prove my colleagues and pseudo-colleagues wrong! So, if you wanna read an intelligent article on why the film is great, head to Overland.org.au where Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson have already done all the hard work with their article, ‘We’re on your side: white violence and the horror of representation’ . And, if you want to see it on the big screen, then you have another chance this weekend at Cinema Rediscovered thanks to the good folk at Come the Rev who are showing it as a comparison piece with Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

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Otherwise, come and get it at the shop and take it home where you go, undisturbed, to the sunken place on your sofa.

Get Out/Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner trailer courtesy of Cinema Rediscovered.

Anomalisa: Act 2

A few days after I’d seen Anomalisa a friend of mine asked if it would make an okay date movie. I said no. She went to see it anyway.

The next morning she sent me a text that said, “You were right.”

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Anomalisa may, even on my own advice, be a terrible date movie. Still, and I say this as someone who went to see it with their partner, it might also be a wonderful way in for discussing intimacy taboos.

For many, Anomalisa  is desperately depressing; the idea is that we are all alone and have no hope of finding anyone who who will understand us, or even anyone who is “different”, individual.

Michael Stone, after spending the night with our titular Anoma-Lisa,  finds her every bit as irritating as everyone else he’s ever met. Pause, sigh. He just can’t accept that everyone, no matter how ‘special’ or ‘individual’ they seem at first encounter, is human. We all eventually reveal habits or behaviours that irritate. Humans aren’t perfect.

The first taboo, then, in watching this film with a loved one, is accepting that the person you’re with annoys you. The second is in accepting that you annoy them. Ouch.

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But there’s  also something deeply comforting about the extremity of the alienation Michael feels, and in the unflinchingly  bleak outlook of the film itself. It’s not so much that his attitude is one that provides comfort, nor is it his inability to get to grips  with the fact that, in the end, all humans are disappointing. They’re human, after all. Pause, sigh. Instead, it’s that we see the fragility of someone who feels utterly, utterly alone – and that’s what can be comforting.

For the optimist who feels delight every day, for the person who is overjoyed by what the world offers and who finds happiness rather than alienation in others, sure, Anomalisa is bleak. But, for those of us who suffer anxiety and depression, or sometimes find it difficult to relate to others, who feel that even our loved ones don’t understand us some of the time – maybe much of the time – it can be comforting precisely because it means we aren’t alone. That anyone else can feel so acutely what the high functioning anxiety sufferers and manic depressed among us feel, means that someone else out there understands. Pause, breathe.

And, as horrible as Michael is, at least in part owing to his own cycle of depression – he is the unwitting maker of his own misery – he’s also human. Well, actually he’s a stop motion animation. So I guess writer/director Charlie Kaufman is human. Either way, thanks to Anomalisa, sitting in the  dark next to someone you love, feeling unashamedly in tune with the miserable protagonist onscreen, you might just have opened up a line of conversation, a way to start talking about how difficult it is to admit that sometimes, even though everyone is an individual, you too might feel utterly, utterly alone. The good news is that you’re not.

Anomalisa is now available to rent on DVD from your favourite neighbourhood video shop – i.e. us.

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I can’t stop thinking about Anomalisa. It isn’t the best or even the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year, but it’s stuck with me. Every fourth or fifth day since seeing it, when I’ve forgotten to busy my mind, allowing reflection and existential dread to set in, I think about it and another crisis of self and Other presents itself, and strikes a chord.

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Returning to Anomalisa in this piecemeal way – via the abstraction of my fading and, I’m sure, altering memory – I find myself caught in Charlie Kaufman’s web. Am I self or Other? Am I alienated or comforted by his artful depiction of loneliness and yearning? I am lonely? Am I yearning?

I never really reach determined answers to these questions but I do spend a lot of time thinking about the different types of relationships in my life and how I feel about them. And instead of writing a review, or an analysis or any sort of critical piece about Anomalisa and the back catalogue of Charlie Kaufman’s weird and wonderful films, I’m going to write a series of responses to my encounters with this film.

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My first response to Anomalisa, on reflection at least, was fairly superficial. It spoke to me most forcefully as a movie about customer service. Though I really enjoyed the likes of Clerks (1993), Empire Records (1995) and  High Fidelity (2000), the reality of working in a video shop (or a book shop, fashion retailer, museum, etc, etc) is decidedly different – less broody for a start.

Having worked in customer service for twenty years, one of the strangest things to get used to is the crisis of equality that it kicks up.

The true success of any relationship rests upon an equal balance of power between the two parties involved. But this is essentially impossible in both customer service and Kaufman’s mind. While there is at least a theoretically attainable equality in friendships and sexual relationships, customer service is built upon the foundation of one person serving another.

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Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) is the miserable author of a famous book about the secrets of great customer service: to treat customers as humans not consumers. He’s so successful that even the hotel he’s staying in (The Fregoli) has improved their service and increased business by some absurd percentile somewhere around ninety. Despite his success, he just can’t seem to actually connect with anyone – to him, they all look and sound the same – that is, until he meets the titular Anomalisa.

This is the part that’s relevant to working in a video store and, customer service more widely. Stone knows how to do business related human things like; optimise customer satisfaction and increase sales through approach and response strategies. But none of this involves connecting with people in any real or meaningful way. Quite simply put: making money hasn’t really got much in common with being human.

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And this is why, despite how great it is to feel like an individual (the video shop is a far cry from corporate sticks) I just end up seeing myself as the slightly less successful, awkward, occasionally irritating, squawky voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh, rambling on about insignificant things with scrambled eggs in my mouth when I should be smiling constantly, well groomed (probably) and more enthusiastically helpful when people ask for rom-coms.

But then again, the soft crooning of Tom Noonan stands in for the bland endlessness of so-called ‘great’ customer service, and that’s just the pitiful result of measured, distanced, interaction. So, while a high standard of service; politeness, efficiency, perhaps even servitude, is generally preferable in the industry, there’s nothing unique or sincerely empathetic about it.

The only conclusion, then, is that it’s better to be Anomalisa… right?

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Check back next week for further reflections on this beautiful, bleak film.

 

 

 

South West Silents Speak Up: Mark Fuller on Piccadilly (1929)

I’m a particular fan of British Silent Film; for many decades ill-served by critics, historians and archives, to the extent that few bothered watching them, even while decrying them in print, relying on hand-me-down opinions propagated by twenties and thirties intellectuals with political axes to grind. Although this attitude lingers on in places, the fight-back began around fifteen years ago when a small group of women historians and archivists who knew better, founded the British Silent Film Festival, and a radical reappraisal begun. Long-time unseen films were finally being discovered by new generations who saw how dazzling, inventive and progressive British film could be before the sound era.

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Even now, however, British Silent Film is fairly ill-served on home entertainment formats; aside from Hitchcock’s rightly lauded silents, few are available with decent prints and thoughtful scores….but an exception is the BFI release of Piccadilly, a late silent made in 1929 by an international team, combining British and American actors, with German direction, design and photography, in a British production.

The resulting Piccadilly (1929) is a stunning film, a prototype film noir, with two femme fatales; Shosho (Anna May Wong), the young, beautiful Chinese girl washing dishes at the nightclub where Mabel (Gilda Gray) is the ageing star turn. The club’s boss, Valentine (Jameson Thomas), also Mabel’s lover, discovers Shosho, sets her dancing in the club, where she is an immediate sensation, and falls for her.

The story is not the most original, but has fine observation and some killer lines. But the film is a must-see for its visuals; German expressionist flavourings run throughout, featuring the designs of Alfred Junge (best known for his work with Powell and Pressburger in the ’40s), creating a look that would dominate Hollywood films in the forties and fifties – in 1929.

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The acting is stunning; Jameson Thomas is a seedier Ronald Colman, trapped between the two women who want him; Gilda Gray goes from awful prima donna to a sympathetic, tragic figure with great conviction, and Anna May Wong is breath-taking, utterly convincing both in the nightclub and in Limehouse, growing from timid girl to full-fledged sexual predator! You simply cannot take your eyes off her: even in the plain clothes she wears at the beginning, she has a cool, almost 1960s quality. The German director, E.A.Dupont, somehow manages to combine all these disparate acting styles, moments of high drama and touches of comed, with deft little bits of business informing us about the people behind their public masks, and about the layered nature of London society. The sequences in the old East End offers a particularly fascinating look at the sexual and racial politics of the time. If you were lucky enough to attend South West Silents’ screening of Dupont’s Varieté (1925) at The Cube late last year you will know already what a fine filmmaker, and handler of actors, he was.

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The restored print is stunning, rarely showing its age, more often showing the beautiful cinematography by Werner Brandes, ex-UFA – the sequence where Shosho debuts in the club being one of the most beautiful I have ever seen on film, although the tinting and toning of the restoration seems a bit bold to my eyes, so you may want to turn the colour settings down on your TV.

The extras on the DVD include text biographies of Wong and Dupont, a howlingly bad sound prologue for the film, but most importantly a briefing by Neil Brand about his thinking for his new score, but which also, incidentally, acts as an illuminating commentary and analysis on the film itself . The film’s background is a jazz club of sorts, and the score is a jazz-based one, but he has (thankfully) resisted the temptation of a Charleston-fest, and gone for a style that actually fits the style of the film, the emotions at work; restrained, cool, languid, but with an underlying tension. It works brilliantly.

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If you are wary of Silents, or think they begin and end with Nosferatu (1922) and Metropolis (1927), or perhaps think Film Noir started around WWII, then this is an approachable, beautiful and thrilling entry point to a whole area worthy of discovery. Enjoy…

Recommended Reading:

Destination London: German-Speaking Emigres and British Cinema, 1925-1950 by Tim Bergfelder and Christian Cargnelli

Reframing British Cinema, 1918-1928: Between Restraint and Passion by Christine Gledhill

Written by Mark Fuller of South West Silents for 20th Century Flicks.

 

Christmas Giveaway

I fracking love Christmas movies. Even the bad ones. In fact, sometimes I especially like the bad ones (except Love Actually, obvs). So, I thought I might like to reward someone else who also likes Christmas movies.

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To that end, if you wanna win a prize, you can answer the following ten questions about ten great Christmas flicks, email them to us at: info[at]20thcenturyflicks[dot]co[dot]uk and, if you’re lucky – it’ll take a Christmas miracle! – you might just win yourself ten free rentals. 

  1. Nicolas Cage is in a Christmas movie. We have it in the shop. What’s it called?
  2. There’s a movie about a man taking his geese to market that’s set at Christmas time. What’s the name of the actor who plays that man?
  3. Billy Bob is the opposite of a Good Santa. In that movie he has a love interest and she was in a TV show. What TV show was she in?
  4. Barbara Stanwyck’s in a Christmas movie. Which is awesome. She steals something. What does she steal?
  5. Which famous British film had its titular concept inspired by Brief Encounter?
  6. The Brain Gremlin in Gremlins 2: The New Batch references a famous American writer and critical and political thinker. What’s her name?
  7. Diane Keaton stars in this year’s Christmas family cinema release Love the Coopers. Which other family Christmas flick did she star in some ten years earlier?
  8. Hulk Hogan was in a very silly Christmas movie. We don’t have it in the shop. But it involves something cray in the caves beneath an orphanage. What that?
  9. What colour are the Martians that Santa conquers?
  10. Which muppet gets mistaken for the Grinch on his way to the bank?

Good luck and have yourself a merry little Christmas… x

While We’re Young

It screened at the Showcase and at the Cube but somehow I missed it. Now that it’s made its way onto DVD, I’ve taken the time to catch up.

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I think I like Noah Baumbach films. It’s difficult to be sure because even though I did enjoy Greenberg (2010), I really didn’t like Margot at the Wedding (2007), and I just can’t be sure about The Squid and the Whale (2005) because when I saw it I was kind of being stood up by my sort of boyfriend of the time. As a result I pretty much cried the entire way through the movie. I still don’t know whether or not that has anything to do with the movie being sad. Or if the movie even is sad.

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While We’re Young (2014) (I’ve left Frances Ha out of the discussion because even though I love that movie (obvs) it’s totes all Greta Gerwig) has made me think that, actually, maybe I don’t like Noah Baumbach films. It’s one of those identifiably, entertainingly, jovial yet sort of empty meta movies. Though it comes next in a trajectory of and aspires to be an enjoyably nihilistic film, it’s far too aware of its own constructive elements to be earnest enough to pull it off.

My dislike for Baumbach’s latest aside, what the film did achieve was in making me think a little about how my life is characterised by my generation – whichever of those it might be…

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Sort of like living in a double diaspora (am I British or Australian ffs?), I’m kind of stuck between generations. I think I’m technically Gen X. I might be wrong about that – is the cut off 1980 or 1981? Either way, there’s absolutely no way I’m Gen Y. I only just found out what a selfie stick is and I don’t use the word literally when I mean figuratively or metaphorically. And yeah, I’m still on hotmail. But what I might be, is belonging to a generation-less generation, one devoid of any defining characteristics – including slackerism. A kind of NeverEnding Story style Nothing, if you will. How very Heideggerian of me.

So I guess While We’re Young should be a movie that speaks to me; it’s true that I know people who keep chickens, make all their own stuff, wear pork pie hats and think authenticity – especially when it comes to formats; vinyl, paper, typewriters – is ironic. But most of those people are around five to seven years younger than me. It’s also true that I know people who spend way too much time attached to their devices and totally think it’s acceptable to send romantic messages via email/text/facebook/twitter instead of talking to each other while the majority of their peers are getting married, having babies and/or buying houses in the burbs.

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Unfortunately, these dry observations aside, there’s not lots that I can identify with in the film. Probably because no one, no matter how aware they are of their generational tropes, is quite that smug IRL.

There is a moment in the film, however, that really struck me, but for its inability to engage with the intergenerational generation – you know, the generation-less one I mentioned earlier – and that is where  Adam Driver’s character carefully puts a video tape into a VCR before cutting to Ben Stiller’s character browsing Netflix.

Where are the DVDs?

While I do recall VHS extremely well, and while I still do watch them from time to time (we have somewhere around 2,500 of them in the store), I am, at heart and in tangible forms, all about digital versatile discs. The only online content I ever watch are preview screeners.

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Of course, even I can acknowledge that this might have less to do with which generation I belong to and more to do with the fact that I work in a video shop. Some of my friends, who are my age, have Netflix. The major difference, then, I suppose, is that even though they have it, they don’t watch it exclusively. And that’s because they’re not self-aware jackasses playing po-faced stereotypes in a post-postmodern attempt at ironic  nihilism. Which, I guess, is because real life is not much like a Noah Baumbach movie.

Nicolas Cage Fest: Coming to a Kino Near You

This Scalarama, 20th Century Flicks are bringing the tiniest festival to the tiniest cinema in Bristol. Across three Wednesday nights in September (9th, 16th & 23rd), we (I) intend to screen three Nic Cage movies in the Flicks Kino.

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While this means there’ll only be eleven seats available for each screening, it’s also an opportunity for Cage fans across Bristol (there must be at least eleven of us) to get together and revel in the gloriousness of the great, mesmeric man.

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There’ll also be a couple of Cage-related competitions: Best Dressed Cage (extra points for efforts to recreate specific film examples of his ever-evolving hairline), Best Cage Impression (you perform it, we decipher the film/era), and a quick round of Cage Trivia. Prizes will take the shape of free rentals, of Nicolas Cage movies. Attendees will be encouraged to enthuse about Cage in what I promise to provide as a safe environment.

But, before we (I) get too carried away with the fun stuff, it might be a good idea to think about the limitations of only showing three NC films. It’s tough to select just three from the man’s vast and impressive filmography. And it is nigh impossible to showcase every era of his hairline in just three sittings.

Still, in the interests of best pleasing those likely to attend (someone will join me, right?), I’d like to take a wee poll on which films you’d be most keen to pay money to come see.

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Program 1: Cagey in Love

Wild at Heart

Raising Arizona

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Program 2: Caged Animal

Con Air

Face/Off

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Program 3: A Cage of crippling debts

Drive Angry

The Wickerman

If you have preferences from each of the cagetories, lemme know in the comments section below.

Until September…

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Music From the Movies

Though we mostly tend to talk about movies as “moving images”, there’s a whole ‘nother dimension (outside of the silent era, of course) that has a huge impact on how we understand, read and engage with cinema.

And I’m not just talking about dialogue and diegesis either. When it comes to mainstream cinema it’s the music that’s most likely to set me off on an embarrassing blub-a-thon – all too often in spite of how stupid I might think the story/characters/narrative emoti-cue is.

Look no further than any Steven Spielberg movie, ever, for first class musical manipulation.

Or pretty much anything with Tom Hanks in it.

But it’s not all unwanted tears; movie music can also offer up joyous, upbeat earworms – anything Ennio Morricone for me, Hans Zimmer or Alexandre Desplat, perhaps, for others.

Moving, mighty and a most beautiful art all o’ its own, movie music can be magic.

Which is why we’re recommending this upcoming twilight event at The Bristol Zoo: Music From The Movies.

Including music from Harry Potter, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Mission Impossible, Titanic and loads more big screen favourites, the Bristol Ensemble orchestra are bringing entertainment to the animals – and you.

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