Silent Studies in the Kino – According to Tara

For a long time I thought I didn’t like silent cinema. It’s easy to be prejudiced against an era or a genre of film when your first encounter had you looking through the wrong keyhole.

It was about seven or eight years ago that I went to a silent film screening in Bristol. I can’t remember which film it was but I know it was a slapstick comedy with either Chaplin or Keaton, and it featured blackface. I was horrified and, quite honestly, shocked. I’d never seen a film with blackface exhibited publicly before and there had been no trigger warning before the screening. There was no context given and there I was, amidst a room full of white middle-class folk laughing their asses off.

On a less serious but still ultimately off-putting note, the music was poorly matched to the film. It was jaunty, whimsical and upbeat all the while. I hated everything about the screening and, as a result, was pretty much turned off silent cinema for life.

Or so I thought.

Several years later I met Dr Peter Walsh. He’s a feminist and a film scholar. His expertise is in early and silent cinema. He seemed immediately like a great guy who doesn’t endorse jaunty, inappropriate, crap music – or blackface. So, I thought, maybe there’s more to this silent cinema malarkey than I’ve given it credit for…

And so, with curiosity and hope, I invited Pete to run a silent cinema course at Flicks. I was first to enroll.

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The course exceeded the foolishness of my keyhole metaphor and opened an actual door to previously inaccessible cinema. Throughout the course I was introduced to The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors (1993) which included the totally amazing Alice Guy who experimented with Gaumont’s sync sound system known as the Chronophone until such time as she got married and had to resign. She continued to work elsewhere after Gaumont gave her the boot but her husband kinda got in the way.

While a woman being nudged out of the way by dudes is an all too familiar story in film history it was great to at least hear about some of the women who made a mark before the patriarchy pushed them aside because documentaries (un)like this one far too often have us believing that women were altogether absent. Turns out it’s not just funny white dudes doing blackface after all. In fact, Lois Weber, who also features in the documentary, refused to work on one particular film, taking a stand against blackface – yep, there were heroes fighting for what’s right even in the early era.

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Course, I can’t help but wonder why The Silent Feminists, a forty-five minute documentary about women in a field where women are often absent from the dominant historical narrative, has yet to be released on DVD or BluRay. Please, BFI, help a sister out?

I also discovered that not all silent cinema is scored with unimaginative organ playing (like The Lost World, 1925) or jaunty piano. Having seen clips from Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) many times before, I was amazed to discover that I have never seen the full film, restored, coloured, and gloriously scored by Air. I was also amazed at how many inappropriate scores have been recorded and released with Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera (1929). Personally, I like it properly silent: no score. We also had a series of great, and divisive, discussions after watching Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) with a Giorgio Moroder score.

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Perhaps most surprisingly was that I chose, of my own volition, to watch silent movies at home – not so much for homework or even extra curricular viewing, but just for the fun of it and with a genuine interest. Jean Painlevé’s wonderful sea urchins on our old never-before-rented VHS of Surrealism and Science (1925) and a beautifully scored, visually exciting and honestly suspenseful Swedish horror film, The Phantom Carriage (1921) were two such treats.

Silent Studies in the Kino was our first foray into adult education courses at Flicks and, from the perspective of both student and course administrator, I can honestly say that it was so darn good it not only makes me want to schedule more classes in the Kino but it also changed my previously rigid opinion of an entire era of cinema. Cheers, Pete.

Dr Peter Walsh is Co-director and Co-curator of South West Silents and can found on twitter as @soylent_grey.

 

Joy: the greatest mop movie ever made

I went to see Joy last week, it was my first cinema visit for 2016. I was already primed to like the film, what with my love of J-Law and B-Coop in David O Russell movies, and like it I did. Not just because there’s a beautiful moment at the very end of the film (SPOILER ALERT?) where the characters have an exchange that mirrors the actors’ journies in David O films – B-Coop acknowledges that J-Law has now not only met his status in stardom but in fact surpassed it, becoming the new centre of gravity for David O, but also because it’s a story about a woman who persists in the face of adversity.

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While there’s a pro-capitalism reading in there – human with financial and familial problems decides to fulfill her dream (the American dream) by working really, really, really hard (because apparently you can have anything you want in life if you just work hard …  and become ruthless in your approach) – but the film also features a compelling story about one downtrodden woman and a mop. And it’s the mop I wanna talk about.

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For those of us who clean our own floors, a good mop story can be quite emotional. And so it was, for me, resident shop mopper. You see, the thing about mopping is that it’s one of the most truly depressing human pursuits; a thankless, literally back aching and no matter how many times you do it, you pretty much always need to do it again kinda task.

And so, the film’s narrative has more than just three acts; much like the ups and downs of mopping there’s the joy when you finish and the floor is finally clean, followed by the despair at seeing the floor sullied once more – ad infinitum. In this way, Joy is a film with as many moments of fist bumping elation as face palming dismay. And, because of that, truly resembles the sisyphean nature of human life.

The true joy, then, in Joy, is at being enabled to experience a spectrum of exaggerated but still lifelike mop related emotions, in a darkened room.

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One of the reasons I love cinema so passionately is because it allows us to experience and engage with such intense emotions – the kind that everyday life, for all its mop like frustration, doesn’t really do. If I were to cry each morning as a new spillage, mud trampled trail or cat related mishap hit the floor, I’d be considered more than melodramatic. But in the cinema, I can cry each and every time adversity hits – in whatever guise or shape that might take. And only the film will be described in terms of relative melodrama. What joy.

 

 

 

Quizmas is Coming…

Quizmas is coming the quiz host is getting fat,

Please put a pound in the pint glass – not a hat

If you haven’t got a pound, then nothing else will do

If you haven’t got a nothing else then no quiz for you!

Which would be terribly, terribly sad because we have TOTALLY KICK-ASS PRIZES up for grabs! Like awesome Arrow Video movies, Klank beer wrapped in a limited edition Flicks’ t-shirt, random rental vouchers, and other, stuff.

PLUS, we’ve arranged for a very special visit from the Australian Feminist Santa to hand out said prizes. What the frack more could you want? (Don’t answer that, we can’t give you anything more).

So assemble your team – no more than six humans, please (replicants not allowed) – and get down The Steps on Monday night (December 7th). And remember, this is our last one until Feb as we’re taking a not very much needed but convenient hiatus!

What’s a ‘Klank’…?

Entry is £1 per person and rules are subject to the whim of your two quiz masters, Mr Bags and DJ WillSpinz, and the Australian Feminist Santa. 

Ex_Machina

Unlike my Movie Mondays co-host, Ben, I wasn’t super excited about the arrival of Ex_Machina on DVD. Alex Garland and I don’t exactly have a troubled past but I’ve always found the realisations of his penmanship pretty dull. The Beach (1999), 28 Days / Weeks Later (2002, 2007), Sunshine (2007), Dredd (2012) (I didn’t get around to seeing Never Let Me Go,  2010) all left me unimpressed. It’s not so much that they’re bad films, just that they aren’t good ones. Still penning the screenplay, but adding a directorial feather to his filmmaking cap, Garland’s Ex_Machina makes for some pretty unintelligent and far from inventive viewing.

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Perhaps its strongest point – let’s start with that and descend into disdain from there – is its one contemporary grounding. Nathan (Oscar Isaac) explains to Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) that he has created real artificial intelligence, through the mining and analysing of internet search engine data. Instead of thinking about an individual’s search history as ‘what’ they’re searching, he interprets the movements and trajectory as ‘how’. Without explaining the science in too much, or perhaps any, depth, we then learn that Ava’s (Alicia Vikander) brain is kinda like an electro magnetic map of a search engine. Considering where technology is headed – down and up-loadable brain activity, human enhancement and bio-politics – this seems like a plausible near future sci-fi premise.

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What’s not so progressive is the film’s themes. Its exploration of gender politics and creationism, or the god complex, is pretty standard fare. Ex_Machina plays out somewhere between Luc Besson’s Lucy (2014) and Spike Jonze’s Her. Where the former was entirely bat shit crazy in its premise and somewhat troubling for its gender politics (Lucy is a not very smart woman whose body is literally used as a transportation device only the whole thing goes wrong and, oops, a hot woman got smart) it did at least offer fantastic car chase scenes. As for Her, again starring Scarlett Johansson only this time as a disembodied OS, there were some intriguing ideas about gender, through voice and imagined sensibilities (the OS, like Siri, can be assigned a gender). Ex_Machina, comparatively, simply shows us a man creating a woman (and, as it turns out, several women) as prototypes that are built with sexuality – mostly with the intent to manipulate, because, you know, that’s what female sexuality is – and who adhere to a mainstream heteronormative socially acceptable notion of beauty. Yawn.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Theodore in the romantic drama "HER," directed by Spike Jonze, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Theodore in the romantic drama “HER,” directed by Spike Jonze, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

The dialogue that best reflects this simplistic idea varies from Nathan asking Caleb “what’s your type of girl?” because desire is all about types and has nothing to do with other human qualities, and “If you wanted to screw her, mechanically speaking, you can and she’d enjoy it”, because sexual intercourse is something a man does to a woman not a consensual act between two people (or, in this instance one human and an AI) and because the fact that physically she would ‘enjoy it’ completely surpasses the need to consider any other motivating or engaged responses to sex and sexuality. The scenes where she quite literally constructs her gender from skin, clothes, wigs, etc., and the fact that Nathan has her created based on Caleb’s porn profiles doesn’t in any way further make this a very basic nod towards the idea that women are constructed for the pleasure of men.

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Now, if you wanted to defend the film by going down the whole, ‘but it’s a story about a woman trying to escape from the literal and figurative oppression of men’ that’d be fine, except for that she is created by a man which means that, even if she does escape, she still owes her very existence to men.

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So for me it was unsatisfying. That said, there’s a great dance sequence and the house where things unfold is at least as desirable as everything else ought to be.

Mad Max: Troubled Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is here. It’s big, it’s loud and the car chase scenes (which make up about 90% of the movie) are ah-may-zing. Though the four of us tend to do the vast majority of our viewing on DVD (and occasionally VHS), what with our being an old school video shop and all, we do sometimes take ourselves to the cinema. Last week, Taylor, Bags and his housemate, Pete from Bristol Silents and I made our collective way down to the de Lux to see Mad Max: Fury Road in XPlus 3D with Dolby Atmos surround sound. It was awesome, if a little troubling…

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After we got used to the feeling of the bass rumbling its way through our bodies and were entirely taken by the film’s impressive production design and kick-ass live action sequences, we had only to let the content play out. Or so I thought. As a part-time Australian, I found its representation of Indigenous cultural issues a little clunky.

George Miller hasn’t shied away from ideology and social commentary in this franchise. Sure, the Mad Max films are brilliant action movies but, like most dystopian storytelling, there’s plenty more to get stuck into. His earlier films have been subject to queer readings and discussion on issues of development and technology, fear of drought and diminishing natural resources, addiction, gender, race, class and other such serious social concerns.

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Fury Road, as expected, has already been written about all across the internet. Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, MRAs along with your garden variety misogynists have taken to the great uncensored cyber space to warn other men against seeing the film, lest they accidentally expose themselves to its supposedly sinister feminist agenda!

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I’ll admit that hearing they were up in arms about the whole thing was what piqued my interest and, ultimately, inspired us lot to book such expensive cinema tickets. So, in that regard, well done MRAs for getting a part time Australian off her arse and into the cinema!

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Unfortunately, and not at all surprisingly, MRAs and garden variety misogynists are also total farking idiots who don’t understand and can’t read film. Fury Road isn’t so much pushing a feminist agenda as it is a film that has a strong female character in a lead role, with other female characters in supporting roles and with a storyline that includes women trying to escape and fight against sexual enslavement and fascist rule. There are also strong male characters, in leading and supporting roles. The only difference is that in their quest to escape and fight fascist rule, there’s less to do. This is because they are, as male characters, not subject to sexual exploitation. They also fit into three categories, each one implicit in said fascist rule: 1) apathetic (Max), 2) brain washed minions (Nux) or, 3) the proverbial oppressors (Joe & co).

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What is most fascinating about the film is when it shifts from top gear entertainment down into serious post-colonial Australian issues terrain. Miller might make big budget movies these days but he is Australian and the film did receive Screen Australia Producer Offset funding. Plus, the Mad Max films, for all their cross-culture entertainment value, have always been deeply Australian.

Fury Road is, for this part time Australian (and I dare say anyone who’s ever lived in Australia for any amount of time) a film that takes a sharp turn when it transitions from second to third act. In her quest to save the women from their bridal and breeding enslavement to Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is headed straight to the place of her birth: The Green Place. When she talks about why she ever left, she reveals that she was stolen. Miller very deliberately uses the word ‘stolen’ in the dialogue and pauses thereafter. The Green Place no longer exists.

The weight of the stolen generation in Australia can never be lifted. It is one of many scars that post-colonial Australia must always bear.

What’s curious to me about the choice of this particular issue to serve the narrative is that Miller does so without casting Indigenous Australians in any of the key roles. Theron does an outstanding job as Furiosa but what are the implications of casting a non-Indigenous Australian in such a crucial role? Especially when Indigenous Australian women are so hugely under-represented in Australian cinema. One of the (many) stipulations of the Producer Offset funding is that it must have a certain percentage of Australianness (not SA’s official terminology) – some info on that can be found here.

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Miller did plan to shoot the film in Australia, but apparently the weather gods were against him and it wasn’t quite dry or barren enough, forcing the shoot to relocate to Namibia – a little more on that here. Whether or not that had anything to do with other ways in which the film ended up being deeply Australian, I can’t say. What I wonder, though, is if the treatment of such a significant social, historical and cultural issue is adequate.

Though I’d agree Miller has paved a dangerous journey, I’m just not sure it’s furious enough.

Should you want to revisit any of the earlier films, we have them all, ready for renting, here at Flicks. 

Australian Feminist Film Trivia: coming to a pub near you!

Our monthly film quiz returns in June, a week later than the first Monday of the month. For reasons…

In other ‘reasons’, there’s a substitute situation you ought to be aware of – DJWillSpinz will be away and the Australian Feminist will be filling in! So, brush up on your Australian feminist film trivia because the battle to topple those Bristol Silents is ON.

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Maximum of six people per team, entry is £1 per person. Bring friends who aren’t already Flicks members and we’ll sign them up for a quid on the night. You might win prizes, you might earn our respect and you’ll probably drink a pint or two. Good times guaranteed*.

* As always, it is not a real guarantee. 

Listicles

“What’s a listicle?” He asked, and a wee glimpse of terror shot out of his right eye. “It sounds like testicle,” he said, the fear having now manifest itself into an unnerving timbre of his voice. “That’s because they are bollocks,” she replied.

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It’s not that the shop is anti-list. In fact, we have for many years collated and re-produced various reams of “best” and “recommended” titles to help with what some might feel is endless browsing. But the lists have always been just that: films titled one to one hundred (or thereabouts) that cover a genre (like horror), or relate to an event (like Christmas) or have achieved great acclaim (like the AFI and BFI 100s). Annotations, however, usually turn up on boxes or in conversation.

But what of this blog?

Might be that you want lists. Heck, maybe you expect them (it’d certainly make more sense than posts about mangoes.) And sure, we have the time and resources to put them together. But in our newfangled era of Buzzfeed-journalism I can’t help but wonder if they’d be in any way fulfilling – to read or to write. And I say that even though I realise the content doesn’t necessarily have to consist of unbridled crap and snide commentary (ahem).

Suggestions so far [Ed’s note: I’m pretty sure I already wrote that we don’t do ‘by request’ blog posts but the downside to your favourite customer being aware that they are your favourite customer is that they also know that they can request the unrequestable] include Top 10 Female Directors (this is totally understandable since even I’ve begun to refer to myself as ‘the Australian Feminist’) and a Top 3 Richard Curtis films (LOL, as if any of them could be considered worthy of one’s retinas).

Though I do have plans to indoctrinate – I mean share – with y’all my feminist film choices, I haven’t really got a tidy top ten to speak of. And then there’s the issue of the films I’d include that we maybe don’t have (Shirley Clarke’s stellar films for example, never released on DVD in the UK) … So, for now, here’s a few female director recommendations. They’re not numbered.

agnes-vardaAgnes Varda – everything, just watch everything she’s ever made. We now have most of her films at the shop and she was every bit as important to the Nouvelle Vague as her male contemporaries.

600full-chantal-akermanChantal Akerman – her films are amazing but, for the most part, they’re only available for home entertainment on NTSC import, and we can’t buy films the BBFC haven’t classified, so we just have the one title, La Captive (2000).

Maya_DerenMaya Deren – who became a key figure of the Postwar American Avant-Garde, was a poet, photographer, filmmaker and ethnographer. Her first film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) is available on the Cinema 16: American Short Films compilation put out on DVD in 2005.

Julia Louis-DreyfusNicole Holofcener – films with great female characters that are humanist, charming and heartwarming without ever being saccharine.

93142c5bbb745ae0e8a8a95ba92fd236Lisa Cholodenko – celebrated and criticised in equal measure, Cholodenko’s films revolve around the lives and sexual odysseys of complex characters – not only but often female, and not always but usually LGBTQI.

your-sisters-sister-movie-image-emily-blunt-rosemarie-dewitt-01Lynn Shelton – it began with mumblecore and it continued with American Indie fare of the finest calibre. I really can’t recommend Humpday (2009) and Your Sister’s Sister (2011) highly enough. Her latest, Say When (aka Laggies, 2014) is soon to hit our shelves but, unfortunately, adheres to far more traditional (and dude centric) mainstream movie ideology. Stick with her earlier stuff.

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Věra Chytilová – we only have the one, most famous of her films, Daisies (Sedmikrásky, 1966), and it is an absolute must-see. If you’re in London, however, over the next week or two then you can head to the BFI, they’re celebrating her life and work. If you can’t get to London then at least start with Daisies – it’s a sublime work of art from the avant-garde.

 

If do you want more lists then please let us know. Otherwise you might just get Nic Cage adoration and fruit disputes.

The Mango

Video shop life isn’t only about movies. Sometimes it’s also about mangoes.

Earlier in the week the Shrewsbury Stoner brought a mango to work with him. The mango, at that time, had a simple destiny: it would be eaten. That is, until the Australian Feminist stepped in and queried the ripeness of said mango. And so it was, that the 20th Century Flicks staff battle about a mango began.

IMG_2802 Here’s a picture of the lime-like looking piece of fruit.

IMG_2803 This is its ‘Other’ side.

These pictures were taken on Tuesday. Due to several not-really-heated-but-at-least-comically-high-pitched arguments about whether or not a mango could possibly be ripe inside of such a skin, it was not eaten. It simply sat in the store and waited, as the days of the week wore on.

Then, on Friday, something happened.

IMG_2805 No, it didn’t suddenly change colour.

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But someone did write on it with a pen.

And now, here we are. It’s Saturday and the mango is still sitting in the shop, waiting to be eaten. My guess is this: next time the Shrewsbury Stoner and the Australian Feminist work together (that’d be Sunday) the mango will be savagely ripped open and the answer determined once and for all – one sweet, or potentially sour, bite at a time. And then, I guess, we’ll see whether or not it’s true that you should never judge a mango by its cover (skin).

[Ed’s note: meanwhile, in other sensory news, the mango feels ripe, but doesn’t smell ripe. Which of the senses should we trust? Have your say in the comments. Think of this as our gift to you: an equally as time-consuming and inane activity as trying to work out that whole dress malarkey. Only with fruit and people you know.]