Cinemania is Back!

I have reinstated my film blog Cinemania – well what happened is it got unceremoniously deleted when the host died. I have revived it here as Spectacus – which is a merger  of ‘Spectator’ ‘Spectacle’  and ‘Circus’


I have only posted the highlights, the articles I wanted to keep.


a bad taste in the mouth

Friday, January 6, 2012 9:13:51 PM

dawn treader, race, film, narnia, orientalism, Islamophobia, apted, stereotyping

I enjoyed a guilty pleasure the other day: the third installment of the Narnia chronicles “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. Now this was always my FAVE of the Narnia books. I lapped them up as a child, read them many times over and I don’t think I suffered in any way from the soft-serve Christianity that CS Lewis loaded into the fantasy tales.
Now those books were written in the late 1940s-early 50s and to be sure they do betray the mind set of the late colonial period. This to be expected, and of course makes the rereading of them interesting from today’s point of view.

But adapting a 1950s book in 2010, and keep all the racial-cultural Eurocentricity of the novels is a bit much. What was director Michale Apted thinking? Given that there is no such place as Narnia, and the Narnian characters are as likely to be fauns, minotaurs and talking mice, why did he choose to ensure that the only non-white human faces in the film were – slave traders!?! I mean, he could have done anything – that’s the great opportunity of fantasy and sci-fi, you really can dream it and film it. And, even more pertinent, why do the slave traders wear the kind of robes, turbans and general getup that we all know VERY well from Orientalist painting and art – Arabian Nights as it were? The Arabs were the only people ever to trade slaves? Since the Narnia slave traders aren’t meant to be “real people” and it’s only a matter of costume, why not have dress them as Spanish conquistadores? Or Norsemen? Or just get creative and make something up? (now that would have been really interesting!)

Or are we meant to continue to see dark skinned, bearded and robed people as ruthless, filthy, greedy, unjust and cruel? I mentioned earlier that i watched Jack Shaheen’s film Reel Bad Arabs recently. But I was really shocked that the very NEXT film I saw did exactly the same things Shaheen exposed. In a film for kids. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Shame on you, Michael Apted.

I am sure there are / were defenders of the “faithful” Orientalist, Arabophobic, racial, loyal, faithful interpretation of CS Lewis in the film. But I’ll bet none of them were from an Arab background. Anyway, I don’t defend it.

Speaking as ‘white’ person, I think we can – and must – really do better.

This link discusses the remaining books and their unsuitability to be filmed. – Kyrie O’Connor
Houston Chronicle, December 1, 2005.

©G. McIver 2012 all rights reserved


Friday, January 13, 2012 12:34:39 PM
famiily drama, film making, canadian film, Elem Klimov, war. Lebanon, Denis villeneuve, Come and See, cliches, war film, film, Incendies
I really wanted to like this, as its the kind of subject (history, politics) that is to my taste, but I did not like this one bit.
Incendies is a kind of road movie partly told in the present partly in flashback. A mother’s last wishes send twins Jeanne and Simon on a journey to an unspecified country in the Middle East- but surely it’s Lebanon – in search of their father and brother. Adapted by film maker Denis Villeneuve from Wajdi Mouawad’s acclaimed play.
The problem with this film is that adapting a stage play for film is a very difficult process that is hard to do well, and it really shows here. What could be a wonderfully intense and claustrophobic story when seen on-stage with live actors, is just relentlessly head-against-the-wall depressing on screen. The characters are so woeful and undergoing such constant misery that one just waits for the next hideous thing to happen. By the revelation of the final horror, we expect it and are unmoved.
Screen opens out the story, it sacrifices the electric emotion and momentum of live performance but broadens out the story and the perspective. Except that this film does not do that. Film also gives one time and space to ask questions about what one sees, whereas onstage we are caught up the immediacy of the drama and we accept unequivocally what we see. Film, with its pans and crane shots, establishing shots etc., give us much more space for reflection. And that does not work for this film, as the story is not filled out with more life.
Shakespeare understood that to make a great tragedy there needs to be some moments of lightness, that’s why he included the comic scenes in his plays. Villeneuve totally misses out on showing us the actual relationship between mother and children, which could have provided those moments. Any glimpse of “normal” life in present day “Lebanon” is also missing. As the horror piled upon the horror, I kept thinking “she must have really hated her children to knowingly put them through that” which is an interesting take on the story – but I got the sense that it wasn’t supposed to be about that.
Denis Villeneuve makes the most depressing movies imaginable (Maelstrom, about a hit and run killer, and Polytechnique about a real life mass murder). They are very worthy, but they are depressing. He does not seem not realise that one can take a harrowing and serious subject and do two seemingly contradictory things: hold your audience close to the chest of the film and make them really live the experiences of the characters, and at the same time, open it out to make it go beyond the personal catharsis and make us understand something deeper about humanity. Incendies does not do that, really. We can’t even really reach the moment of empathy or catharsis because we are too interested in the puzzle yet we know, from the relentless mournfulness of the characters that whatever happens won’t be good.
A wonderful example of a film that does exactly that – makes us live the harrowing reality of the characters experiences and then take us far beyond it – is the incredible Come and See by Elem Klimov (1985) a film made near the end of the Soviet period set in WW2 Belorussia. According to the director: “I understood that this would be a very brutal film and that it was unlikely that people would be able to watch it. I told this to my screenplay coauthor, the writer Ales Adamovich. But he replied: “Let them not watch it, then. This is something we must leave after us. As evidence of war, and as a plea for peace.” ”
Contrary to Klimov’s expectations the film was extremely successful and remains so today.I saw it in the cinema at the 2001 Vancouver Film Festival, a special retrospective presentation, and it has haunted me ever since. It’s the best war movie ever made – maybe alongside Rachid Bouchareb’s Indigenes.
Come and See Trailer:
©G. McIver 2012 all rights reserved

thoughts on cinema as a world wide phenomenon

Saturday, January 14, 2012 3:07:52 PM
film making, film
We often forget that while cinema was “invented” in the Anglo-French world it reached the rest of thew world pretty much at the same time. The first film screening in the world, by the Lumières, was in Dec 1895; by the end of the following year, films had been screened in Bombay, London, Montreal, New York, Alexandria Egypt and Buenos Aires.
We think the history of cinema is the history of Hollywood, but it isn’t. Or at least, that’s not the whole story. Mark Cousin’s book and TV series The Story of Film is the best account of the real history of cinema yet produced, while David Puttnam’s Undeclared War has a great account of the rise of Hollywood form a European (UK) perspective.
But too often film industries in English speaking countries believe they have to do the impossible: compete with Hollywood. We can’t. Ever. Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand… we can never play the Hollywood game. We can’t make the kind of films they do. If we want to, we have to go there. And we do.
But is that what we are: breeding grounds for Hollywood – supplying them with the creative and technical people they need to make more US-focused US-market Hollywood films?
What is the role of cinema: is it just a business, where the return on the investment is all? Or is it a valid and important (even crucial) form of creative national expression? It’s so expensive to make films that it’s hard to put cinema in the same category as literature – which after all is just not as costly to produce. Nobody can argue the importance of literature as creative national expression (imagine Russia without Bulgakov, England without Orwell, America without Ginsberg). Yet cinema touches more lives these days than literature does. We understand the world though storytelling and always have. And today our stories are mostly told in the form of moving images.
So, how do we as English speakers, create valid national cinemas that don’t compete with Hollywood but deserve a place in world cinema?

a dangerous mess

Saturday, February 18, 2012 6:00:20 PM

film making, Cronenberg, Freud, canadian film, Jung, film

A week ago I went to see David Cronenberg’s new film A Dangerous Method. I did so although I had had doubts about this version of a play based on a nonfiction book about the relationship between Freud and Jung and a female patient of Jung’s, especially in view of the fact that the over-exposed Keira Knightley was in it. Well, I did not like the film one bit and I was not the only one in the audience that felt this way.
I believe the film did not do justice to Jung in any way (if you know Jung’s work you’ll be offended by the way he’s portrayed, if you don’t know his work you’ll go away believing he’s a smug, self satisfied weak bourgeois nonentity trying to get one over on his Big Daddy Freud.)
But my problem with the film is its failure as film not a question of representation. Again I find the key problem is the failure to achieve a successful adaptation of a stage play. Film has the power to “open out” the story from the confines of the stage yet this power bears within it the risk of dissipating the intensity that a live stage play engenders. As with Incendies (but much worse), this film is boring, the characters histrionic displays in the wide open landscape are puerile and decontextualised. We don’t see the wider society the two men are operating in, so we don’t really know what they are grappling with. And it was “talk talk talk.” Any opportunity for nuance was ignored.
I feel that Cronenberg simply did not have a “feel” for the material, that he did not care about it or did not understand it. It is strangely hollow and empty, tiresome and slight while at the same time trying to be portentious. Yet the subject matter in itself is quite gripping.
Still I have never been keen on Christopher Hampton’s screenplays. I far preferred Valmont, Milos Forman’s version of the Choderlos de Laclos novel to the Frears-directed Hampton-scripted Dangerous Liasions, though it was a very free adaptation from the book. But it was more dramatic and filmic. I don’t think many people agreed with me on that one. But there were certainly some unusually forthright scoffs in the audience last Monday for A Dangerous Method.
©G. McIver 2012 all rights reserved

Waiting for Anatolia

Friday, March 2, 2012 10:02:32 AM

Uzak, film making, Turkish cinema, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ceylan, Three Monkeys, film art, films, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, film

I’m waiting to go and see Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s new film Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, due out soon. Meanwhile here is an interview with the film-maker:

Ceylan’s films are amazing, really slow burners but once burnt you are scarred forever. For example I went to see 3 Monkeys and found it – well not boring exactly but it didn’t quite gel for me. A few days later i happened to mention it someone, and suddenly found myself bursting out with some kind of deep understanding not only of the film itself but even of a deeper level of insight caused by the film… It was strange. I realized it was one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

was the same, although I saw it on DVD (I regret that now, Ceylan is cinema, needs the big screen). Ceylan’s films are about relationships and how we never really know anyone and how we often don’t even know ourselves. yet we know people in ways they don’t know themselves. On the surface there is bleakness but this is shallow, beneath it is a huge compassion because however unknowing we are, we do strive to know.

©G. McIver 2012 all rights reserved

Blank City

Monday, March 5, 2012 7:44:48 PM

Beth and Scott B, Blank City, Celine Danhier, film making, VHS, super 8, Richard Kern, Vivienne Dick, DVD, Suzanne Tabata, Steve Buscemi, Jim Jarmusch, Nick Zedd, DOCUMENTARY, films, Lydia Lunch

Blank City review

It’s interesting how the cultural history of the recent past is interesting to young film makers who seek to unearth the hidden history of the counter cultures and bring them forth. Such as Suzanne Tabata’s Bloodied But Unbowed (2010) investigation of the unique Vancouver based punk music scene in the late 70s – early 80s, which I have ordered but not yet seen as it’s not released yet in the UK (like most Canadian films).

Now we have Blank City also 2010, by Celine Danhier a young French film maker fascinated by the New York “no wave” scene and particularly its film makers. Blank City did get a UK release and the DVD is due out in April. And its well worth a viewing.

Both films uncover a specific period when music, film and art were resolutely uncommercial: that cusp between the “hippie” counter culture’s morphing into stadium rock and the super-commodification of all art forms which happened during the 1980s. The “no wave” films of Irish artist Vivienne Dick (always worth seeing), Beth and Scott B, the transgressive films of Nick Zedd and Richard Kern … I remembered them from the 80s, from the magazines, and the occasional showing in grimy screening rooms and parties, on crappy VHS tapes.

Blank City shows us clips of a decaying New York, a city that in the 70s was slowly falling apart, and in the nooks and crannies of ruin were growing the green shoots of a new creativity. Yet that isn’t actually the narrative. These artists for the most part just did their thing, and didn’t go all commercial, they just kept doing what they did and sometimes made money from it. Even the biggest “stars” to emerge from the “no wave”, Steve Buscemi and Jim Jarmusch, are still industry mavericks, fully independent and continuing the do what they want. (I say this now, hoping Jarmusch does not sign to direct Ocean’s 21 next week). Instead, the narrative is of a vibrant art scene in a derelict city, getting pushed aside when the city discovers money. Yes, “regeneration” another word for development and financial hubris caused by real estate prices.

Watching Blank City, it’s interesting to imagine what might have happened if the same crew of young artists hit NYC today, full of dreams and spit and vinegar. Within a few months they’d have been famous. Nick Zedd would have got a modelling contract. Lydia Lunch would have her own chat show. Scott and Beth B would have been enroute to Hollywood before you can say “Sundance.” Vivienne Dick probably would have not bothered, and gone to Berlin instead. Richard Kern would have been shooting fashion and celebs – actually that is what he does now, but really well, with style and – dare I say it – some integrity. Basically they would have been recuperated in the blink of an eye and resold to us packaged neatly and with the rough edges smoothed down. And if they could not handle that, hounded by the press until they died, à la the beautiful and wondrous Amy W.

What struck me though was how the aesthetic that emerged from the No Wave movement, the thrown-together fashion, crude makeup and sunglasses, still hits us as the definition of “cool”. I’m sure the folk back in the 70s and 80s were dressing like that because they had no money and went to junk shops, and because they wanted to look as far rorm the hated “hippies” (with their fringed suede jackets) or, later, the vile “yuppies” with their feathered hair. Today though, as soon as anyone wants to be taken seriously as “cool,” they don the glasses and affect the no wave look. Half of Shoreditch has been dressing like John Lurie in Stranger than Paradise for years now.

Anyway, that’s a total aside. back to the film. I really recommend it. It’s very well done. Danhier lets the subjects do the talking, and cuts together a series of remarkable and fascinating and apparently very open honest interviews with all the key players of the era. It’s aided by some clever editing and design that updates the film, and counterpoints the imagery of the original films which were made on super 8 and VHS. If I have one criticism it’s that I’d have preferred the see more longer pieces from the subjects, not so much quick line by line cutting.

I was most impressed I guess with Nick Zedd, whose insights and views were particularly stimulating and thought provoking and which seemed ot me the most relevant when considering the potential of the “underground” of today.

Blank City was joy to see in the cinema, the images big and glorious, the full splendour of the crude super8 clips showing us why HD is just not mysterious enough …

The sheer fun of (relatively) badly made, spirited, energetic and defiant cinema.

Another review No Wave Revisited: Celine Danhier’s BLANK CITY March 6, 2012 By Sophia Satchell Baeza

©G. McIver 2012 all rights reserved