Screening Notes: Four Lions

  • Four Lions was screened as part of a double bill with Repo Man, which we wrote about here.
  • I’d previously said that we’d write about Four Lions “in mid-December”. From this you may surmise that I have either very poor timekeeping or a chancer’s disinterest in the truth.  Neither of these possibilities should concern you overly much.  Move along.
  • The screening took place in sunny Cathcart, on the evening of Saturday 6th November 2010.  Note: by the time we watched Four Lions the sun was a distant memory.  By the time the film finished, it may well have been early on Sunday 7th November 2010.
  • Scott, Chris and David attended; everyone else is scared of fire and fun.
  • David and Scott had both seen the movie in the cinema. David had actually seen it twice, because he is a sad bastard that way. Chris had not previously seen the film.
  • Not even Football Manager was able to distract Chris this time.
  • Four Lions was originally going to be watched as a double feature with Chris Morris’ short movie My Wrongs #8245–8249 & 117. The subsequent orphaning of the movie has upset the lovely Lynne, who will hopefully be providing us with some guest thoughts on Four Lions.
  • We’ll come back to My Wrongs #8245–8249 & 117 at a later date, because no matter what your mother might tell you, we’re not monsters.
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The List: Version 1.5

Currently in consideration or recently watched:

  • Akira
  • Alien
  • Audition
  • Battle Royale
  • Blade Runner (Final Cut; we’ve still got the Director’s Cut and a couple of different theatrical cuts to work our way through, depending on how daft we’re feeling)
  • Blood Simple
  • Blue Velvet
  • Casablanca
  • Chris Morris double bill – My Wrongs #8245–8249 & 117 and Four Lions (My Wrongs has been orphaned, but maybe we can watch it as an extra or with some other shorts?)
  • Citizen Kane
  • Dark Star
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell Innocence.
  • Groundhog Day
  • Infernal Affairs
  • Inland Empire
  • Jaws
  • Let The Right One In
  • Magnolia
  • Raising Arizona
  • Ran
  • Repo Man
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • Rushmore
  • Scanners
  • Series 7: The Contenders
  • Seven Samurai
  • Sleeper
  • The Living Dead (Adam Curtis)
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • The Third Man
  • Vertigo

Contributors: If there’s anything here that offends your delicate sensibilities, now would be the time to say.  I’ll watch any old shite, but I know that Graeme and Vicki don’t want anything to do with Dark Star, for example, and if there are any other such issues I’d rather know now so we can plan this properly.

Everyone else: Any suggestions or objections?  Let us know in the comments!

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Lobby Talk: Repo Man

“It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.” – Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Scott: And so, from Blade Runner’s artificial LA, we stay in the same locale but go underground.

There must be a name for that sense of knowing, yet not knowing, a location from afar.  Our relationship to film is hugely influence by what geography the filmmaker’s consider worthwhile, even if it bears no resemblance to real life.  I have a soft spot for the daft-as-fuck movie Unleashed/Danny The Dog, and a small part of that is from watching it use my hometown as a backdrop, even as it tries to convince us that a hundred yards is miles apart.  It sort of brings home the fact that movies tend to film the same places and that those landmarks are somewhat reassuring.  If you see the same thing in two movies, then hell, it must be a real place.  It brings home the verisimilitude.

The sense of the familiar permeates this movie for me.  TerminatorBuckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. HeatCollateralChinatown.  Ripples of their existence creep into my memory, and replay here. Sort of. I don’t know LA.  It’s a myth, played out in various forms.  I love how this version breathes. It’s not just about having another car chase down the river, because, hey, we’re here, might as well use it.  It feels like a subversion of one of the great Hollywood myths.

What’s great, to me, about this film is the way that it takes what could be a straightforward story (guy finds a mentor and a calling, they fall out over the big job) and subverts it so utterly.  Someone else would do this same film, except instead of being repo men, Otto and Bud would actually be detectives and the fate of the world would hang in the balance at the end.

Of course, everything’s on the slab here for the chop. Like a Chandlerian hero, Otto is the only hero in town, but the difference is that whereas Philip Marlowe does so by virtue of being the only person with a code of honour and decency, Otto is the only guy who doesn’t subscribe to anything. Really, why would he? Everyone’s a two-faced bastard, and a code is only something that someone else can use against you.

But really, what’s it all about? “Nuclear War.  Of course. What else could it be about?”

The bomb is here. It’s a part of your life. There’s a crazy man at the wheel, and he’s there because he knew better than you. So he says.

David: Well put mate!  Since you’ve covered the sense of doomed madness that buzzes through this movie, I think I might as well focus on the other side of that story – the punk rock side!

Sure, Otto might stagger away from the punk scene even as a Black Flag song dribbles out of his beer-stained lips…

…but Repo Man is punk as fuck from start to end.

I should know!  You see, in my head I’m the One True Punk, and the fact that no one else on the planet would back me up on that only proves my point.  Of course I was always more into the Our Band Could Be Your Life side of punk, but I still fundamentally get the ragey, punch-you-in-the face aspect of the scene, and so should you if you’ve ever felt like the only halfway sane creature in an entire universe of dickheads. Which is to say, if you’ve ever been an angry young man (or woman!) looking for any sort of answer.

If you’re having a hard time connecting with this, let the angry young men in Black Flag give you a hand:

My war you’re one of them
You say that you’re my friend
But you’re one of them

I have a prediction, it lives in my brain
It’s with me every day, it drives me insane
I feel it in my heart, that if I has a gun
I feel it in my heart, I’d wanna kill some
I feel it in my heart, the end will come
Come on!!

My war you’re one of them
You say that you’re my friend
But you’re one of them

(Black Flag, ‘My War‘)

Everything Otto does stems from that fundamental sense that everything in life is hopelessly stupid, from your parents to your friends, from the job you quit to the job you find yourself working in.  Alex Cox seems to revel in this chaos – there’s a sense of manic glee in the way the movie pushes Otto from absurd situation to absurd situation, and the dialogue is at its craziest when the characters try to make sense of the world they live in:

Still, what comfort is this to Otto?  Why should he care how funny his story might be to someone else?  After all, Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole, but Otto enjoys no such benefits, being just another asshole in movie full of them.

Like Scott said, if Otto’s a hero it’s because he doesn’t seem to subscribe to any of the worldviews he encounters, at least not for long. After all, whether you’re hanging out with punk rockers, conspiracy theorists, repo men or government spooks, you’re still just buying some more sliced peaches in the end, right?  This can be fun and all, but unless you’re careful you can ending up playing the Us  vs. Them game till you can’t tell one from the other and you’re just another meathead throwing punches in the dark:

“You one of those right wing nut outfits?” inquired the diplomatic Metzger.
Fallopian twinkled. “They accuse us of being paranoids.”
“They?” inquired Metzger, twinkling also.
“Us?” asked Oedipa.

(Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49)

Maybe this is the most punk rock thing about Repo Man in the end: it’s too punk to accept any point of view, even its own.  It’s the story about how Otto Learned to Keep Worrying & Love The Bomb, basically.  It’s a great movie about LA, but fuck it – that theme is universal…

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Script Rehersal: Repo Man

Alex Cox from an interview with The Onion AV Club:

O: Where did you come up with the idea for Repo Man?

AC: I had a neighbor who was a repo man, and I ended up driving around with him and earning the occasional small sum for driving home cars he had repossessed. Or driving his car home after he repoed somebody else’s car. Just by chance, I knew this fellow who was a car repossessor.

O: And it struck you as an interesting subject?

AC: It has sort of an emblematic quality, doesn’t it? A symbolic quality about what the repo man does: He’s the criminal of capitalism.

From the same interview:

O: Do you think of Repo Man as a political film?

AC: I think it is fairly political, but I think pretty much all films are political, aren’t they? They all promote a certain point of view. I think, in a sense, that Repo Man tends to promote a non-consumerist and anarchic point of view. It’s not the normal thing that would be promoted. Most films would tend to promote… There’s another kind of completely non-criminal and legal activity Hollywood engages in called product placement. You can line your pockets fantastically if you agree to prominently feature Marlboros or Coca-Cola or Budweiser and other ghastly products in your film. And one hand washes the other: You get free FedEx and free beer as long as you… Do you remember a film called Tequila Sunrise? There’s this one shot in Tequila Sunrise which is the exterior of Mel Gibson’s house. And the FedEx truck is turning around in the driveway, and it pulls away to reveal a billboard that says Coca-Cola. Or maybe it reveals a UPS truck behind it. You just think, “Wow! I just saw a shot that has no bearing on the film at all.”

O: There’s a particularly egregious example of that in The Thomas Crown Affair, where a full minute is devoted to Rene Russo rapturously enjoying a Pepsi One. It just sort of lingers on her drinking.

AC: The most important line of dialogue in the film Wall Street, for me, was Martin Sheen saying, “Two more Molson Golds over here.” There was absolutely no reason for him to say that. Even in a bar, why would he drink that shit anyway? Even in a bar, if you’re having two more, you say, “Two more beers, please.” The barman knows what you’re drinking. It was such a corrupt line of dialogue, with an actor of the stature and quality of Martin Sheen uttering it. And that was years ago.

O: You’ve got the great scene in Repo Man where he opens the refrigerator and everything is generic. That’s one of the things people remember most about Repo Man.

AC: The problem with the film is that you can’t really do that with the cars, because you’ll always end up talking about a Ford or a Chevy or something. It’s difficult: If we’d invented car types, the film would have seemed too strange, wouldn’t it?

Repo Man – title sequence (soundtrack by Iggy Pop):

Alex Cox, from an interview available at Senses of Cinema:

XM: I think you could extend this vinyl recuperation to a visual recuperation on the part of the major studios during the period. I am thinking here of Robin Wood’s famous definition of Hollywood of the mid-’70s and early 1980s as ‘Reaganite cinema’, which attempted to seize power from the independents through big budget blockbusters which seemed to endorse the position of the status quo.

AC: Definitely. I think you can also see it in the career trajectory of an actor like John Wayne. As you may know, John Wayne began his career playing outlaws, he ended it playing reactionary cops. Equally, you can think of someone like Eastwood, he began his movie career in the 1960s, playing bounty hunters, in other words characters that are half way between an outlaw and a cop. So even in those days he was already being incorporated into the reactionary apparatus of the state, rather than being at odds with it. And he also ends his career playing reactionary cops. I heard a rumour that he is going to do another Dirty Harry movie, which would make his character the only 80-year old policeman on the force in San Francisco! So as the ’70s wore on, it is interesting how the movie business switched from celebrating the rebel or the outlaw to celebrating the policeman. If you think of the remake of Shaft (John Singleton, 2000), then those contradictions are there again. In the original film, Richard Roundtree is a private eye, while the new Shaft is a cop. Now, it’s not that cops are bad necessarily, but the medium has increasingly come to celebrate the police state, where the police are the automatic hero of any activity that’s going to be reported on film.

Sean Witzke, Supervillain:

Alex Cox’s Repo Man is, without a doubt, the most punk rock science fiction film ever.

Here’s a nasty little piece of satire, aware of Pynchon and Burroughs (“paging Dr. Benway”) and Mad Magazine. The weirdness that Tracy Walter talks about in the film, those things are clearly at the forefront of Cox’s mind as he worked on this story – the screwed up details of real life intruding on the fictional world – Chariots of Fire, televangelists, scientology, ufo cults, time travel, the CIA being staffed mostly with mormons, the neutron bomb, the lingering of punk rock long after it had died. Repo Man is like a monstrous hybrid of Jim Jarmusch and John Carpenter’s aesthetics – the stakes are low, the plot is minimal, the feel is loose, but there is a simmering tension to every scene. Carpenter and Jarmusch never seemed to be as angry as Cox is here. Repo Man is an LA film the way Long Goodbye and Point Blank are, the way Pulp Fiction is. There is this strange sun-sick scuzz to Repo Man, partially due to the way they shot it and partially because the score is half reverbed-to-death surf guitar and Carpenter clanging pulse, and the rest of the film is punk as hell. Repo Man drifts, scene to scene, events happen whenever. Sometimes Cox cuts to the same characters talking, creating a hazy quality, an untethered feeling to the scenes we’re watching. The character monologues, particularly Harry Dean Stanton’s, impart so much character and so many ideas that they stand up against any great piece of scifi writing you want to hold it against. If science fiction is the fiction of ideas, maybe Repo Man isn’t science fiction – Repo Man is a film made entirely in the language of tone. The scraped-out, zero budget, speed-sick, punk rock, scifi of this moment, right now.

(From Sean’s top 100 movie list, NO STAR WARS)

Repo Man – TV trailer:

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Screening Notes: Repo Man

  • Repo Man movie was screened as part of a double bill with Chris Morris’ Four Lions, which we’ll write about in mid-December.
  • The screening took place in sunny Cathcart, on the evening of Saturday 6th November 2010.
  • Scott, Chris and David attended; everyone else was still hiding from the fireworks.
  • Only Scott had seen Repo Man before, though David felt like he definitely should have.
  • Chris played Football Manager while watching the film, and therefore does not want to volunteer any opinion as to its themes or quality.
Posted in Repo Man, Screening Notes | 1 Comment

Lobby Talk: Blade Runner – Final Cut

David: So while we were watching Sir Rid’s not-terribly-involving introduction, my first reaction was one of blind panic – “I don’t know shit about films! Why the hell would I want to talk publicly about them?!

Just… just try to keep that in mind while you read my ramblings and we should be fine here.

Scott: The impetus of this project (if that word isn’t too generous about this flailing effort) came off the back of Sean Witzke‘s No Star Wars.  A list of 100 films that Sean considers a ‘snapshot’ of his present, personal, relationship with film.  Film, like any kind of fiction, should react on a personal level, which is why there’s nothing worse than either being The Guy who does the whole “why haven’t you seen film x?”/”why don’t you like film x?” or being the one questioned by That Guy.  Sure, it’s subjective, but there’s a demonstrable skill in justifying ones a opinion and not seeming like a chronic public masturbator, posting “me 2”.

Sean is a titan at this, and we have no intention to put ourselves against a guy who knows his shit, and knows it well.  In the world of thinking and reacting to film, Sean is Hamlet to our Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Like Stoppard’s heroes, we find ourselves defined by the absence of certain scenes.  Or more correctly, certain knowledge.  What we’ve done is identify certain gaps in our filmic diet that Sean has highlighted, and we’ve chosen to try and fill it.  And we thought we’d document the process.

We’ve chosen to start with Blade Runner: The Final Cut.  Quite an odd choice, because it lead to a short debate about which version to watch and pretty much came down to a mental coin toss.  That’s not the end of it, and we will probably be revisiting the various versions in time.

David:

Sorry about that, I got my existential robot stories crossed for a minute! But yeah, while I’d feel awkward putting Sean on a pedestal since he’s a mate and all, you’re right – he knows his shit and I (at least) don’t.

Still, that’s as good a reason to try to work shit out as I know of, so why don’t you kick this one off for us Scott?

Scott: Blade Runner was an odd one for me as, although I now count it in my favourite films, I came at it by this strange, oblique angle of being fascinated by the buzz around the film. I knew of it from a young age, but I knew I didn’t have it in me to watch it. My interest was piqued when the Director’s Cut was released, and everywhere carried a story about it, and about the debate surrounding Deckard, but even then, it was still a couple of years before that version appeared on TV, and I actually watched it. Let it wash over me is more like it. I found the tone it set pulled you in, like it’s own gravitational field. Not long after that I read a review of Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir book, and knew that I really, really wanted to read it, but that to do so would require me to watch the film a few more times. And thus my relationship with the film really began.

It was my gateway drug to Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, which now I can’t live without. What eventually drove me on to Chandler and Hammett? The answer lies here. However, as much as the film grows parallel with Gibson, and spawns off Dick in a way that barely lets you recognise the parent, you can’t ignore the fact that this thing exists as an evolutionary apex predator. A tyrannosaurid from which we get pretty awesome modern birds, but not quite the awesome seven tons of meat eating dump-truck on legs legend that was.

It’s no use comparing it to a lot of what tributes it in film most of the time. Very few science fiction films that require big visuals ever get near this level of story. Everyone’s got blood on their hands on this one, and yet everyone’s a victim. There’s a hell of a lot of moral quagmire for a mainstream Hollywood film that few others would aim for.

You can sort of feel that attitude sort of struggling to infiltrate Kingdom of Heaven or Robin Hood, but there’s always a clear line between good in bad in those. Although the bad guys usually have an attempt at having their own defensible morals, it’s usually undercut by their performances. That said, it’s probably with good reason that Ridley Scott once described this as “…my most complete and personal film…”.

David: Unlike you and Sean, I’ve never really got all that attached to Blade Runner. It’s not part of who I am, and for all that I think it’s a pretty amazing movie, I don’t normally act like that’s the case.

The only time I’ve ever had a particularly passionate relationship with the film was back when I was maybe 15 or 16, and a couple of my close friends took it upon themselves to declare that the film was, in fact, a turd. It was slow and boring and grainy and it ended with the angry robot sitting around in his pants giving a sad little speech, was the general consensus. I disagreed, but struggled to articulate why  – it was a “real” film, was about the best I could offer, though what that actually meant I didn’t know.

Watching it again now, I know that the “real” quality I saw then is as arbitrary as the distinction between real people and robots in the movie, except that there’s no Voigt-Kampff test here. This kind of reality can only be defined tautologically – real movies are real movies and you know them when you see them.

Blade Runner’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, a sci-fi story done as an old fashioned noir in a still-modern cityscape, but you struggle to see the scar tissue while you’re actually watching it.  It’s too good a noir, its characters all equally lost and equally guilty, and it’s too good a sci-fi film too — you can practically smell the future here, and there are damn few movies you can say that about.

Strange lights might flicker in its eyes, and it might hiss steam at awkward moments, but just talk to the thing and tell me it doesn’t have a personality of its own, you know?

Vicki: I had never seen the film in any form before, or read the source material, so I came to the film completely fresh, without any preconceptions. All I came to it knowing was that it was a Ridley Scott film, starring Harrison Ford, and that Graeme loves it.

And it was cool. It’s not the kind of film I would naturally be drawn to, but I really enjoyed it. I love how retro it is. How we’ve already moved beyond the “hi-tech” computers Deckard and Gaff use. How the special effects are so obviously practical, finding real world ways around the limits of your technology to bring your vision of the future to life.

We discussed this during the film, but I really can’t bear to think of how glossy and shiny the film would be made to look if it were to be made now, in these days of easy CGI. The dirty grittiness of it allows you to be drawn more completely into that world. It’s not a glossy Star Trek future – it’s a dirty future, with garbage, crime, poverty, suffering. The kind of future we will really see one day because humanity is as fucked up as this film shows it to be.

The most human character in the film is Rachel and I love that too. Watching the film, I knew almost by the end of her first line that she was a Replicant. But I found her the most compelling character. She, and to some degree Pris, were vulnerable in a way that none of the “human” characters were. Humans were shown to be selfish, arrogant, self-absorbed. Even Sebastian, the most compassionate human character, created a world for himself where he was King, surrounded by his robot children, who lived only to make him happy. As David says, this is a film about the nature of humanity. And I think it does this best through the characters who are persecuted for not being human. I think it is the best of Ridley Scott’s films that I have seen.

And it made me shout at the screen while watching Six Feet Under when I realised that Brenda’s mother was Zhora.

David: Part of me wants to say that Blade Runner takes place in an analogue future, and that it only seems quaint only because we’re now so used to dreaming in digital, but I’m also aware of how funny it is that “analogue” now means old-fashioned.  It’s the name of a science fiction magazine you know!

If backed into a corner, I’ll stick to the line that most science fiction is actually an attempt to deal with the time it’s created in, rather than a genuine attempt to predict the future. But here’s a thing – for all that Blade Runner’s both mighty influential and very much of its time, it still doesn’t feel irrelevant.  If, as Scott says, it’s a raging dino-beast, it’s one that you could easily bump into on the high street today.

This goes back to my earlier comments about the striking “realness” of the film.  Watching the Final Cut was like catching up with a very strange friend from a half-remembered past, and realising how much they’d influenced the course of your life and how much they still have to talk to you about.  It was overwhelming, to the extent that I’ve been reduced to breathless hyperbole here, but thankfully we still have a number of different versions of the film to watch and talk about.

So try to think of this as a beginning rather than an ending.   Final Cut?  Well, it might be the ultimate realisation of Ridley Scott’s vision, but there’s so much more to see here, and the rest of us are only getting started…

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Screening Notes: Blade Runner – Final Cut

  • The screening was held in the badlands of the Bar-G, on the damp and unremarkable evening of Friday 8th October 2010.
  • Scott, Vicki and David attended; everyone else had something better to do or was stuck at work (sorry Graeme!).
  • Scott had seen the Directors Cut and Final Cut of Blade Runner prior to this screening, but found himself noticing the differences a lot more this time.
  • David had seen both the Directors Cut and the Theatrical Cut before, but had not seen the Final Cut.
  • Vicki had not previously seen any version of the film.
  • David’s phone went off three times, causing a break to the overall flow of the film that hopefully allowed for some decent conversation.
  • Vicki worked on some embroidery throughout the screening, but this did not seem to impact her understanding of the film and its workings.
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