Monthly Archives: August 2013

Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990)

Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990)

Fifteen years after the events of Juvenile Liaison (1976), Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill returned to Blackburn in Lancashire to trace the children they had filmed. Although the premise of returning to subjects is nothing new — Michael Apted‘s Up series had been doing that for years — this was not just a dropping in on old friends but a means of again exploring the legacy of both the scheme and the original film upon the lives of those featured. The result was Juvenile Liaison 2 (1990, 78 mins.), which in a marked change from the original saw Broomfield insert himself prominently into the film. From observing the interrogations he had now become the interrogator.

In all but one case the children, now grown, remained in Blackburn. Glenn, the young boy terrified by the bullish Sergeant Ray, lives in London, stacking shelves in Safeway. Asked about that infamous encounter he admits it had an effect on him in that it kept him out of trouble. Interestingly, fifteen years on, his responses are terse, practically monosyllabic as he stares reflectively beyond the camera. There’s the sense that the first encounter left some traumatic mark. However, there’s little meat for whatever narrative the directors wish to create, and so they move on.

There’s more enlightening interviews with the other children. Some, like Glenn, have left their misdemeanours behind, while others’ lives have been miserable thenceforth. One guy, Russell, is facing prison on twelve counts of burglary. Saddest however is the life of George, the crying boy dragged from his bed by Sergeant Ray. Now thirty and estranged from his family, he clearly has a mental disability and has been receiving psychiatric help for voices.

While we meet a number of participants from the first film, there are others that decline to be involved but closure is still given to, what in a narrative, may have constituted loopholes. In one scene we see Broomfield sitting on a hotel bed, microphone strapped to a phone receiver, calling Sergeant Ray. While the policeman, now retired, seems amiable enough to chat, he declines the chance to participate in the film, citing the original’s editing (“It made me look like an ogre, most of the time.”) and how it never showed the pleasant side of the scheme.

As we learn at the beginning, the original film was screened twice — in the House of Commons and also to those filmed — and from there it was banned. The great public debate it was expected to kickstart never happened, becoming only an internal police enquiry that found in its own favour. If there were questions to be asked of officers’ skills or suitability, they were never to be answered. If the film was “unbalanced”, as Ray suggests, can the unseen treats for children really bring parity to the acts shown? Sergeant Ray was seen as leading the way in the juvenile liaison scheme, so what’s shown is that it’s not just questions of individuals actions that are questionable but of the system also.

When it comes to asking those involved to stop looking back and instead to reveal what their futures hold, some have it worked out. Go live in America or buy a house. But there’s the sense that there are some dreams that will never come true. For Russell, with both ambitions and a criminal record, he’s under no illusion as to his future (“I’m a loser. That’s where I’ll go. Down, down, down. I know that for a fact.”). His life is a nightmare from which he will never wake up.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Juvenile Liaison (1976)

Juvenile Liaison (1976)

Screened twice and then banned for fifteen years, Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill‘s Juvenile Liaison (1976, 97 mins.) embeds itself into the work of the Lancashire Constabulary’s juvenile liaison scheme. Adopted in 1968 this three person department worked with schools, social services, and parents with the purpose of keeping young offenders out of court. In the year prior to the film’s release, the police had recorded shy of a thousand cases. With delinquency at such levels the need for such a scheme is obvious, although the execution demonstrated is dubious.

Over the course we meet a succession of children whose crimes range from truanting and petty theft (felt pens and apples) to physical abuse. When a first time offence occurs all relevant bodies are informed and the police give the kids a good old talking to. Doing the talking are Sergeant Ray and Policewoman Mrs Brooks, both thrown into a role that they appear ill-equipped to manage. Ray drags one lad from bed when he refuses to come downstairs; Brooks equates a young girl’s swearing with sluttery. Poor questioning finds more tears than admissions of guilt. Yet enquiries continue, repetitive and directionless.

Ray’s methods in particular are excessive; he brings an excessive counter-productive bluster to the role that suggests Philip Glenister‘s turn as DCI Gene Hunt in Life On Mars may be a stingingly accurate portrayal of a 70s cop. Yet it seems acceptable at that time as others stand aside, complicit. The most horrible scene is one where his hulking figure looms over an increasingly terrified seven year old boy, interrogating him as if he’s some master criminal. The crime? A stolen cowboy suit.

At times it can be difficult to understand what’s being said. In some cases it’s the Northern brogue; in others it’s the murmuring through sobs; and sometimes the diagetic sounds overpowering. The microphone captures everything and there are no helpful subtitles to punctuate the less comprehensible moments. But there also comes of this an immediacy, a sense of being in the moment. There are a few nods to the directors’ presence — an aside here; a cigarette proffered there — but otherwise we are strictly observers.

With all the ineffective questions being asked of the kids’ misdemeanours, the one unspoken is why they are inclined to their crimes. The juvenile liaison scheme, as well-intentioned as it is, puts its emphasis on preventing court appearances in lieu of exploring the underlying problems. The police sound more like angry parents when speaking with the children, which is perhaps what they need; some parental interest. Although it sometimes feels that attention now is just too little too late.

Viewed now, Juvenile Liaison is a fascinating social document capturing an aspect of its time. Then, the scheme was adopted as a public relations exercise which, in part because of this documentary, turned into a disaster. However, the potential public debate that the film could have sparked about the scheme’s efficacy never happened. As it closes there is no mention of what happened next. That would come later, in 1990.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Wadjda (2012)

Wadjda (2012)

It’s not often films get released and automatically write themselves into the history books. Wadjda (2012, 96 mins.) has by default assumed some historical significance as it’s both the first filmed on location in Saudi Arabia and the first directed by a woman. A general cultural awareness should highlight the importance of this as the Arab state is known for its religious repression and female subjugation. Given these circumstances one may be forgiven for expecting a film that conforms to the society it emerges from, however while Wadjda respectfully handles its culture the content tugs at its restraints.

As the film opens we see a pair of Converse amongst many pairs of conservative black shoes. These are the feet of the eponymous Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), a young girl more interested in having fun than taking her religious schooling seriously. In fact, the only time she does take it seriously is when a Quran recital competition at school offers a substantial cash prize. It’s not about the money, per se, but because Wadjda has a dream — she wants a bike in order to race her friend Abdullah. The only problem being that in her culture it is forbidden; bikes, like most things in Saudi Arabia, are for boys only.

Although the film is named for Wadjda, it is not exclusively about her. Instead, director Haifaa Al-Mansour takes us into the enclosed world of Saudi women with Wadjda acting as a bridge between the domestic and wider world. While home is not a million miles from western comfort — pop music, microwaves, and video games — the outside world is a harsher experience where uncovered woman cannot be seen by men. Or, indeed, heard. As hushed schoolgirls are told for laughing: “A woman’s voice is her nakedness.”

Behind closed doors everyone has their problems. Wadjda’s father is considering taking a second wife to provide him with a son, much to the disappointment of her mother (Reem Abdullah). That she can’t voice an opinion on this is an injustice. At school there’s a rumour going around that Wadjda’s teacher, the strict Ms. Hussa (Ahd), may not be practising what she preaches. At the same school a classmate is married off. All such scenarios are played without judgement. If there are to be any questions over the morality of child brides in Saudi Arabia, then they perhaps belong in the same bucket as the sexualisation of young girls prevalent in the west — the imported T-shirt Wadjda wears at home carries the line ‘I am a GREAT catch!’

In a way, she is a great catch: for a debut role, and at a young age, Mohammed’s performance seems to come naturally. Her portrayal is innocent and good humoured — some parity, perhaps, between actress and character. — and it’s easy to warm to her and, in her dream to have a bike, root also. However, Reem Adbullah and Ahd, as mother and teacher respectively, put in the best performances. The former sad in the way her life holds her back, be it from singing or just having a happy family but ultimately happy for having her daughter. And the latter as a cold, harsh mistress extremely devout as to hide her transgressions.

As Al-Mansour shows us these scenarios and invites us to form our own opinions of Saudi mores, what we see in Wadjda is a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, innocent of what’s expected of her and instead having the temerity to reach out and grab what she wants. To have a dream and see it through. While this may be difficult for many women in Saudi culture for now, and unlikely to be a clarion call to rise up since the county’s a cinema desert, it implies that a forward momentum is possible. The motif of a bike suggest the pedals are already turning.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Where The Boys Are (2010)

Where The Boys Are (2010)

Not to be confused with the 1960 film of the same name, Bertrand Bonello‘s short film Where The Boys Are (2010, 22 mins.) features four girls sitting around in a Parisian apartment dreaming of boys while, across the street, a group of Arab and African men are putting the finishing touches to the Gennevilliers mosque.

As it opens one of the girls, Pauline (Pauline Etienne), is translating the lyrics of the eponymous song by Connie Francis for her friends and they look on dreamily, no doubt imagining the man they will one day meet (“a smilin’ face, a warm embrace, two arms to hold me tenderly”). Having the mosque with its many men at work acts as a physical realisation of where the boys are. However, if the distance to these men is easily spannable, the distance presented is more abstract. Religion, race, or maybe something else — Bonello is deliberately opaque.

In one scene the screen is quartered, each quadrant showing one of the girls at home, bored and restless (“Till he holds me I’ll wait impatiently”). They listen to music, send dull text messages to each other, or browse photos on their social networks. The implied impatience is the girls’ waiting to mature from their current fantasies. However, what they don’t see in their naïvete is that the adult world, as portrayed by the workers, is just as humdrum.

During a party, where too much alcohol is drunk, the Francis song plays once more, as the girls pair off and dance arm in arm they appear vulnerable and in need of reassurance. In the background the mosque can be seen, its minaret reaching into the air — a subtle phallic symbol, perhaps. It’s debatable given the girls’ actions whether it’s a symbol of longing for their imaginary boys or one of rejection as they find solace in each other. As the film follows the song, it perhaps exploits an ambiguity in the lyrics. For all the song’s mention of a mythical he, it notes only that “someone waits for me”.

Tagged , , , , ,

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)

When comedy shows reach a peak of popularity, a big screen adaptation can’t be far off. The premise is invariably to remove the situation that makes it popular and to put the characters into new similarly invariable situations. Thus On The Buses went on holiday and Kevin and Perry went large. Borat and Mr Bean went Stateside; The Inbetweeners went to Crete. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013, 90 mins.) is the little piggy that stayed home.

From his first appearance as an inept sports desk reporter in On The Hour over twenty years ago, the character of Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) has seen his popularity grow inversely proportional to his broadcasting career. Despite having had his own BBC chat show — the ABBA-flavoured Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge — he is now working at North Norfolk Digital. Despite his ups and downs (downs, mostly) one thing hasn’t changed — he’s still as egotistical as ever. And in this first big screen outing for the character — set, as ever, in his beloved Norwich — this self-obsession makes itself visible throughout.

The aforementioned North Norfolk Digital has now been swallowed up by a media conglomerate and renamed Shape. Through-the-night broadcaster, Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney), has bore the brunt of cost cutting and has found himself dumped from the station. His response is to take the station hostage at gunpoint and,  refusing to negotiate directly with the police, makes clear that he will only speak to them via Alan. This situation, as it develops in the media, sees Partridge become its face and in this he senses the opportunity to exploit the goings on in the name of his career.

While the movie is set in an English city, its premise is more Hollywood than Pinewood. However, this being a comedy, the British knack for self-deprecation undermines the convention throughout. A high stakes affair in regional England may not be glamorous, but it serves two purposes. It both provides plenty of opportunities for humour and makes the film’s story more plausible. In the case of Alan Partridge this is important as Coogan’s development of the character has seen him grow increasingly complex; more tragicomic than simple comedic cypher. To put him in a new fabricated situation purely to generate laughs would be to betray the character’s inherent capacity for eliciting them unaided. Thus Alan makes his way through the movie, doing and saying things that are typical Partridge.

There are a perhaps a couple of notable risks in elevating a television character to the cinema. The first is expanding the usual small situations into a feature-length story, where the audience expects a beginning, middle, and end. The second is a question of accessibility. Despite prior successes, a new audience inevitably comes to the character without that knowledge. The first few minutes are their introduction and in the opening credits we see Partridge driving to work, singing along to Roachford‘s Cuddly Toy. Coogan’s delivery is excellently exaggerated, but in each gesture — as Alan — you can see he means it. It’s both comedic and creates some common ground for the audience. Who, after all, doesn’t sing along to their favourite songs or at least know someone who does? And since scant reference is made to Partridge’s past career in the film, whatever baggage he displays on screen comes solely within the movie’s scope.

As adaptations go, the team behind Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa appear to have nailed it. Given that in the past he has appeared on radio, television, and in print, the step up to film seems simply natural. Although it certainly feels as if he’s been toned down for the movie, this doesn’t detract from what makes him a genuinely funny character.  Laughs come thick and fast and there are enough supporting characters given space to breathe and assist in subplots. Alan may be an unlikeable person — awkward, pedantic, oleaginous, tactless —  with ultimate consideration only to Brand Alan, but it’s this brilliant dramatic irony that makes him loveable.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring (2013)

Typically, when a film begins by stating it’s based on a true story then you expect some grounding in the truth. When it comes to the supernatural and the skepticism that runs parallel, it feels an injustice to describe the film so. A true account, perhaps. But a true story? No. However, in a movie that delivers spooky goings on as fact, its veracity is always going to be questionable. Such is The Conjuring (2013, 112 mins.), a movie by James Wan that takes on the haunted house horror trope and delivers a sturdy but generic scarefest that rises above other horror offerings by virtue of their lesser quality.

After an opening gambit involving a possessed doll that serves as introduction to main protagonists, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the story quickly moves on to the Perron family, a couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) with five daughters and a dog. It’s Rhode Island, 1971, and the family have picked up an old farmhouse at auction and are in the process of moving in. Minutes barely pass before secret areas are discovered and the dog, exercising a sixth sense, refuses to come inside. Thereafter the disturbances come thick and fast — unnatural bruising, clocks stopping in harmony, doors opening unaided — although the pace never feels rushed. Eventually it all becomes too much for the Perrons, now sleeping communally in the living room, and they call in the Warrens to help.

Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson), a demonologist and clairvoyant wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), whose case files inform the story, move in with the family, seeking evidence of the supernatural so as to convince the Vatican that an exorcism is more than certainly necessary. Some research on the house provides back story to all things bumping in the night. And from there it’s event after event, either supplementing the back story or ratcheting up the frights until the denouement.

Areas where The Conjuring succeeds are twofold. First is the main cast, in so much as they put on convincing displays. Even the children, when experiencing the horrors around them, are individually given time to let their distress shine. When the actors believe, the audience believes too. As a result of this, the quality of acting is greater than can typically be expected from a horror film — perhaps because as a franchise stretches itself thin, with its stars long since abandoning it, roles are filled with lesser actors. Secondly, the scares, while not original, are for the most part solid. While the unsteady camera roams the house, offering up unnerving angles or the sense of always watching or being watched we get traditional scares such as ghosts reflected in mirrors, whispering voices, and doors slamming shut. We’ve seen them all before in countless horror movies. For the most part, they just work better here.

The steadfast focus on scares works however to the movie’s detriment. In looking to frighten his audience Wan neglects to offer a deeper thread that can resonate with the viewer long after the end credits. Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking but it’s a consideration that shouldn’t be brushed aside. With the current slew of horror remakes and spin-offs mostly treading familiar ground, there’s a need for an The Exorcist (1973) to suit our times. A film that goes deeper into exploring the nature of horror. The Conjuring is definitely not that film. Its characters go no deeper than being involved in its action. Possibly because, being angled from the Warrens’ point of view, the Perrons are just another case. What they do and where they go from here is not their concern. But even the Warrens, for all the actors’ efforts, need an extra dimension to truly flesh them out.

In one early scene, while the Warrens lecture a university crowd on their investigations, they suggest that people refer to them as both ‘ghost hunters’ and ‘kooks’. The Conjuring takes a side on this debate, opting for the former description. However, while it’s risible to suggest that the supernatural events depicted in this movie actually happened, a willing suspension of disbelief works in the movie’s favour. It’s a finely seasoned stew of horror tropes that too many kooks don’t spoil.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Glass (1958)

Glass (1958)

In the Academy Award-winning Glass (1958, 10 mins.) Dutch director Bert Haanstra introduces us to his country’s glass industry by way of the Royal Leerdam glass factory. There’s no talking heads, no explanations of what’s going on, and no industry jargon to learn. Instead, he borrows the old writers’ adage of show, don’t tell, the result of which is an entertaining shot-by-shot glimpse of the skills involved and a paean to the craft.

The documentary opens with a range of men, young and old, blowing the malleable glass, their cheeks inflated like puffer fish. One gent is so adept as to not bother removing his pipe while blowing. There’s no goggles, gloves, overalls, or anything else that contemporary health and safety zealots would endorse. And with the furnaces all around them, they don’t appear to even be breaking sweat. They blow the glass, they roll it, and they shape it both in moulds and by hand, all in sync to an upbeat jazzy soundtrack that gives the impression of being trapped in an elevator.

When technology gets involved, the music changes. It’s much more restrained, applying sound effects to the machinery. Clinks, whizzes, and clockwork winding punctuate a bottling line as it produces identical bottle after bottle, all with a robotic voice incrementing a count. It makes sense to show this side of the industry since it poses a potential threat that could ultimately downsize the workforce and nullify the skill involved. However, since the product is uniform and in high quantities it leaves the glass blowers to focus on the more complicated designs. As the film shows, when a bottle gets stuck on the line, causing breakages, people can never truly be ruled out as someone has to watch over the machines.

When the focus returns to the men of Royal Leerdam — and a jazzy piano accompaniment —  we no longer see their faces. Instead Haanstra turns his camera to their hands. In every swivel of the blowpipe or roll of the molten glass, the men are likened to musicians. Artists, certainly, with a very unique skill. As the climax builds all elements that have gone before come together, showing that the craftsmanship and the automation, as an industry, are ultimately tied.

The real joy of the film is experiencing what is most likely a mystery to most — the shaping of glass. To see it twisted, moulded, and worked into a recognisable everyday object is a pleasure, especially as it dawns on you what is being produced. The complementary soundtrack simply adds to and enhances the positive experience the film provides. Put succinctly, Glass is as immaculately crafted as the items it portrays.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado (2013)

In 1975 when Spielberg’s Jaws hit cinemas, it came with the tagline “Don’t go in the water!”. That warning is no longer applicable thanks to Sharknado (2013, 86 mins.) as the sharks now come to you. So crazy is the film’s premise — a tornado filled with sharks! — that its tagline opts out of any promotional pretence and blatantly acknowledges its daftness with ‘Enough said!’ It’s just as apt as the premise certainly leaves one speechless.

The film opens with a dodgy deal going down on a boat. Two men eye each other suspiciously as one hands over the money. Does any of this matter? Not really, as the scene is never referred to again. If anything, it’s solely a means to show the brewing storm before we make landfall with the main cast and to seed the notion that sharks could possibly be capable of the Fosbury flop. Needless to say the deal goes awry and the bloody scenes that follow set the tone: ridiculous ideas played straight.

When the movie starts proper we are treated to a typical west coast beach scene. Here it’s all volleyball, surfing, skateboarding, and blatant posing. It’s not long though until the storm comes inland, bringing sharks in its wake. More blood. While the sharks take bites out of those in the water, the storm — dubbed Hurricane David — exercises its power with the local pier. The wind picks up, the waves lash in. A ferris wheel becomes unhinged and rolls into a nearby building. There’s mass hysteria.

From this display of nature’s power emerges the merry band that will be our companions for the duration. Led by the best surfer ever, Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering, playing it completely straight), the crew consists of friends Nova (Cassie Scerbo) and Baz (Jaason Simmons). With the radio providing them with regular weather updates — as is always useful in disaster movies — they set about first picking up Fin’s estranged wife (Tara Reid) and his daughter before heading on to rescue his adult son, whether they need rescued or not. All the while the water levels rise, sharks swim along the streets, and all manner of silly set pieces occur.

Where the comedy comes from is in equal part the seriousness of the premise and then its subsequent execution. The CGI is quite poor, but given the low budget is acceptable. Many a film has endured on less. The characters are fond of cheesy, knowing wisecracks. “Need a lift,” Fin asks after abseiling off a bridge to rescue kids from a school bus he wasn’t sure was even populated. Apart from the chances of having abseiling gear to hand, it’s the realisation that the scene is really only there to both provide a shark-related dramatic moment and to introduce a new character that, like most others that aren’t in Fin’s gang, become fish fodder almost straight away. Almost, because they really need to get a joke in first.

The continuity is all over the place, too, which likely adds to the movie’s ironic appeal. Stock footage is spliced with the film’s, meaning the sky’s temperament is prone to rapid changes between scenes. An airport is destroyed by the freak weather, only for the planes to appear unscathed in a later scene. A house atop a hill is flooded with water only for the water to be nowhere near during an external shot. Away from continuity, it’s also mildly amusing to see the economy wrung from the repeated shot of a bomb’s fuse alight. Or to witness some strange perspectives in the CGI. Or even to listen to a girl reeling off dumb questions so as the guys can exposit their plans to target the latest developments with the sharknado.

The plans are just as dumb as the girl’s questions. We can’t go up in the helicopter due to the storms, it’s made clear, so the solution is simply to go up in the helicopter because Nova will help. There’s a nod to Jaws when it’s suggested that they are going to need a bigger chopper. With a plan of action to end the weather — seriously! — Fin talks of standing and fighting. It’s unclear who he sees as the enemy here. Is it nature itself, with its brutish tornado wreaking havoc on his city? Or is it the poor sharks innocently caught up in the local weather? When the denouement comes — all chainsaws and gore — there’s a striking set piece notable both for its ridiculousness and its unforgettable imagery. It sort of makes you wonder why surfers don’t fend off shark attacks with a chainsaw.

Yes, it’s B-movie schlock and its laughs come from the straight-laced approach to its ridiculousness. It’s a triumph of imagination over execution, certainly. You’ll laugh at all the wrong places. You’ll cringe at the lines delivered. But it is an empty kind of enjoyment. With announcements having been made about producing a sequel, the question of how to better Sharknado must be one of special effects than storyline as the premise is quite rigid. The team behind this are probably already thinking they are going to need a bigger budget.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Man With A Movie Camera (1929)

Man With A Movie Camera (1929)

Although the moving image is a natural progression from static photography, what a wonder the movie camera must have been in those early days. It may well have been an answer to this little couplet from Robert BurnsTo A Louse:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

The movie camera, assuming that power, was able to record and play back the world around us. Naturally, when it came to telling stories through this new medium, the narratives were borrowed from both page and stage. Was this to be the fate of moving images? Dziga Vertov thought different. The moving picture made possible new means of expression and new narratives. The movie needed to be a language in its own right, an “absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature”.  Hence Man With A Movie Camera (1929, 68 mins), a manic composite of disparate scenes and images drawn from any old day in Soviet Russia edited in such a way as to tell a universal story.

As the title suggests, the premise is thin – a man does indeed have a movie camera – but it’s the execution that is rich and makes this a rewarding view. Our eponymous man can be seen regularly, out and about with his camera, whether he be running along the streets, standing on rooftops looking over the streets, or even just standing in the middle of the street. It’s hardly surprising that much of the content should be set here as this is a film about life and much of our daily life happens on the streets. Shops line them, trams glide along them, and those down on their luck sleep in them. But the man about town with his camera is not the subject, but what is seen through his lens. And, what the camera sees is a world without borders. Where a person may have difficulty going, the camera has no qualms. And so the streets are only part of its focus. Beyond there’s industry, beaches, and bedrooms.

All human life is here, juxtaposed. Birth alongside deaths; marriage against divorce; the rigours of work versus the pursuit of leisure. That it’s real people and not actors make it a beautiful historical document, but Vertov’s handling of this is nothing short of cinematic poetry. And it’s not just his attention to the myriad Russian lives that composes this symphony but the technology that occupies the people, be it in the workplace or through entertainment. The wheels of machinery turn, churning out their product repeatedly, a mirror to humanity’s daily saga of life and death.

Ultimately, the camera does not just capture what it sees, but shows a startling self-awareness. It sees the movie itself being made. When it begins we see an empty cinema, the type where news reels were once shown. The seats come to life, people gather to watch. Just another facet of daily life. But what they have come to see is not just the end result, but its production. Vertov’s work has fun here. We see innocent street scenes and then cut to the man filming them. Many people are blissfully unaware of the camera’s all-seeing eye while others direct their performance its way. We see a boy smiling, unaware he’s being filmed, before moving to the film in the editing room where his smile is static in a single frame.

The speed at which images fly by is incredible. The second you’ve been presented with something — a scene, an object, a face — to observe, and adjusted to this, the film has discarded it in favour of something else. It’s frenetic, and with the accompanying high-tempo soundtrack (Michael Nyman’s 2002 score, in my case) it takes you on a dreamlike journey that carries an undercurrent of urgency. It’s not quite free-associating, but the wealth of images flow in and out, both complementing and contradicting each other.

If Vertov’s new cinematic language is playful, so too is its further use of technique. The director doesn’t shy away from experimenting with his footage, and thus we see double exposures, split screens, slow motion, amongst others.  This creates interest and adds variety to the those scenes that are perhaps overused. There’s one moment, shown in reverse, featuring the gathering – or ungathering, rather – of chess pieces that doesn’t ring true with the opening assertion to viewers that the film is “a cinematic communication of real events” however it still works as another interesting image in the film’s inventory. What most impressed me was a piece of stop motion animation that saw our titular movie camera lose its man and walk around on its own. Truly the camera has the power to go anywhere.

With no definite narrative, the montage of disparate shots in Man With A Movie Camera is a fine example of the Kuleshov Effect writ large. What can it mean when one image is followed by another? A train passing and a woman rousing from sleep, say. Each to their own. But to watch this film now, over eighty years since its release, represents many different journeys. One back in time to a world gone by; one across the world to a place unvisited; and one through a day in the life of both a city and a man. A man with a movie camera — the reel deal.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,