A quote from the Spring 2014 edition of Jewish Quarterly summarises what I have been trying to achieve with my film: “Omission from a narrative does not necessitate absence of awareness. Gabriel Josipovici, in The Singer on the Shore, describes some narrative gaps in the Bible as ‘vibrant silences’. Failing to tidy up details so that characters ‘live happily ever after’, he explains, leave the reader to face the paradoxical, conflicted and uncomfortable nature of real life. Only in romantic fiction or an ‘if only world’ are all loose ends tied.
The film is out there – at the the Curzon Mayfair and the Barbican plus a bunch of cinemas in Ireland and a smattering in the UK. And it’s been reviewed, giving lie to the age old saw: There IS such a thing as bad publicity, with some honourable exceptions in the Irish press, the Independent in the UK and Psychologies magazine. But fuck it: here’s a picture of me standing in front of the poster for the film I made and love and am proud of outside the Curzon. My Mum’s schepping nachas from heaven and you know what? I kind of agree with the Observer that the past looks a bit Jack Vettriano. And you know what else? I’m going to make another one. Fail better next time (Beckett, I think)!
OK so now the time approacheth. The critics have rolled their sleeves up and the gloves are off. My film has its modest release on April 18th at the Curzon Mayfair and Barbican in London, the IFI and various others in Dublin, Belfast and other Irish cities, plus the Kino Digital at Hawkhurst in Kent.. also Norwich and a few carefully chosen locations. And of course, on DVD. I was thrilled that Sinead Cusack won Best Supporting Actress at the IFTAs on Saturday night and was touched by her praise read out by husband Jeremy Irons. All in all I’m ready for this thing to hit the streets – and to move on with great striving to my next project, which could come from a number of directions. And then there’s always the ironing….
Scorsese’s latest, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, has an intensity and a fluency that is dazzling and kept me hooked for the full three hours. Here is the eye of the storm of corruption with a rudderless Captain Ahab (the film is full of lovely literary and cinematic references, all of which add nuanced meaning) in the shape of the central male screen actor of our age, Leonardo DiCaprio. Bombastic, brash, attractive, pathetic…. endless. I thought often of Orson Welles marching similarly across the screen in CITIZEN KANE. This film is about shame, about loss … greed .. the film is a torrent. I loved it.
The other film I’ve seen this week, AMERICAN HUSTLE, like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, also uses the back catalogue of popular music to make some sublimely apposite musical interventions that really back up the story and add meaning. Even heard a bit of Plastic Bertrand, Ca plane pour moi, somewhere in the Scorsese – haven’t heard that for a while – worked a treat. AMERICAN HUSTLE is altogether cheesier, but I felt that underneath the hairdos was a film where the protagonist is desperately trying to hold his devilish plan together while all anybody really wants from him is love. This time my mind went wandering to Ben Gazzara in John Cassavetes’ 1976 masterpiece, THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE. Christian Bale’s performance stands up to Gazzara’s for me.
These films are big and loud: they are like gargantuan illustrated pop-up picture books. When I got off the bus to come home, I looked up into the deep blue dusk as three swans flew across the sky in formation. Not one frame in either of the films I describe was as beautiful as this.
The Sunday papers were especially good this week. We made a rare foray into The Sunday Times as well as The Observer, mad, bourgeois devils that we are: A.A.Gill in the Times hits the spot, focusing on how, not what we eat, is what matters. It ticked every box in my sad approach to comfort eating, as reflected in my ghastly waistline. From now on I eat at mealtimes only. With a fork.
But to cinema – and the point which resounds is: always try and see a film before you’ve read the critics. I’m lucky – I can pick my times. The downside of being a hopeless freelancer is that you never work. The joyous upside is that you’re always free to see a movie at midday on a Friday when you’re feeling perky, the cinema’s relatively empty and the tickets are at their cheapest. So, in I went to confront the much hyped phenomenon of the season, 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Immersive cinema. An aspect I admire in director Steve McQueen’s films is his uncompromising gaze (loved HUNGER, hated SHAME). His compositions are often ecstatic in both horror and joy. And they’re not played for laughs/deep irony, etc as with that other great uncompromiser, Quentin T. But in a way, that’s what burdens the film too. We become enslaved to McQueen’s gaze. Does that make a film profound or entertaining? (and by this I mean SERIOUS entertainment). I felt that McQueen departed from his usual stasis at the beginning of the film which was dynamic and inventive. Here it was at its most riveting. But by the end of 134 minutes, I felt the film had become more of a procession of tortures. But hey! I also thought overall it was masterful and wonderful. It made me realize why, more than ever, I’d like to make another movie, to try and improve…. McQueen sets the bar so very high!
And the critics? Mark Kermode in The Observer: “If.. this very powerful film.. achieves a clean sweep in the forthcoming best picture categories, it will be a rare example of awards ceremonies getting it right”. Camilla Long in The Sunday Times: “This isn’t so much a film as a thundering and unremitting sermon, a ranting monologue that teaches us little we didn’t already know about the horrors of slavery”
Be a freelancer like me and make up your own mind.
In the scramble to hail Israeli director, Rama Burshtein’s FILL THE VOID as a quiet and elegant success, a new look at the closed world of Charedi Judaism, a world of great “otherness”, and in particular the thorny issue of arranged marriage, I think critics are missing the point. This is a film about the abuse of a young woman by her parents, by her brother-in-law and by her community. Abuse by cumulatively forcing her into a corner where she believes she must marry her dead sister’s husband – she is confused, lovelorn even, but most of all compliant. This is all wrapped up in a truly chocolate-box view of the Charedi community. Everything is so poised and deliberate. (plodding even). I’m fine with quiet – lots of families are quiet, even Jewish ones but, as a traditionally (i.e. pick ‘n mix) observant Jew myself, who has lived in the Charedi community of Stamford Hill in North London for thirty years, my overriding impression is that they are a community who looks different and have very clearly defined expectations of social and religious behaviour, which can be extreme BUT (big but) when it all boils down to it, they face all the same issues as everyone, and repress and manipulate their emotions just like the rest of us messed up individuals. I think the whole concept of “other” is overused and misused. Other to me represents a different paradigm altogether, e.g. human versus the divine or science versus religion. I think FILL THE VOID misses the point by allowing all this otherness to be the story, while the baddies get away with it.
Also seen NEBRASKA this week. Bruce Dern is superb: distracted, lost, yet somehow completely all there. Just like my late Dad in fact. I was absorbed from start to finish.
It’s been a while. I’ve been hunkering down and getting attuned to the long wait before THE SEA’S release next April. Will I, too, be released? I’m reading a lot and, of course, watching movies: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR, GRAVITY, Joss Weedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and ANCHORMAN 2. Quite a diverse bunch. We can write off ANCHORMAN 2 straight away. I’m well disposed to the un-okness of the comedy but there’s a desperation about a string of gags in search of a story that undermines the whole thing. Please, Will Ferrell – don’t do another one. MUCH ADO…? I have a problem with big screen Shakespeare at the best of times as the editing is a distraction from the poetry. This modern L.A. setting does nothing to dispel that for me. If you’re going to do Shakespeare on screen, then somehow you have to break the text open to new imaginings, not just put on snappy suits, ties and frocks and pretend. OK, to GRAVITY. I liked it: I empathised with Sandra Bullock’s utter spacesickness and her growing realisation that she had to let her grief go before she could return home. Same basic story as THE SEA, in fact! Pointless showing off from George Clooney is a necessary box-office demand, I suppose. Finally, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR. Well, this strikes me as a very complete and honest exploration of a lonely and intelligent young woman’s life. Something that is regarded as a great cinematic subject in France and film poison by the gatekeepers here. Her sexuality, her relationships – girlfriend, parents, colleagues, her ambitions and tragic love are all beautifully and patiently unfolded before us. I look forward to watching it again and understanding more.
Just finished reading the new translation of Simenon’s Maigret story: THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET. In my dreams I direct the movie. In the meantime it’s time to break out the port and stilton and watch a real comedy: SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (the original with Terry-Thomas). What fun!
Stephen Frears’ PHILOMENA is a beautifully crafted film with a superb script. Steve Coogan has made the tale of searching for a lost child into a complex exploration of forgiveness. Both he and Judi Dench get my Oscar. Since I’ve last tapped out my blog I’ve seen Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE and Ralph Fiennes’ THE INVISIBLE WOMAN: both very interesting films, highly original. All three films are connected by their portrayal of psychological states on screen, making them absorbing and emotionally and visually engaging. Go see them (the latter two not released till next spring) and tell me what you think! I still love film after so many years – check me out back in the day with Arnie on the set of TOTAL RECALL (the original version, down in Mexico City) – a true film nut!
This has been a long summer of film festivals for me and my film. Is the world ready for THE SEA? Well, the audiences have been unfailingly receptive and even warm, but I am in no doubt that I’m in difficult critical territory. We were in competition here at Dinard and failed to make any impression at all on the jury…. but my fantasies don’t include gloriously tearful acceptance speeches, so that’s all right then. Am I just being brave? Well, the film which carried the day is THE SELFISH GIANT – and it’s a lovely, accomplished work that at moments I found mesmerically beautiful. So it’s not about the other films: it is, as it is with everything about me, from the films I make, to the ironing I do, about my self, my soul, my place in the world. And it’s a scratchy, uncomfortable, inconvenient, unfashionable, never quite in vogue place: THE SEA epitomises it all.
My film, hopefully like the life I live, is about asking questions and trying, against the sadly evident odds, not to look a bit ridiculous.
It’s Friday so it must be the Festival du Film Britannique de Dinard, where THE SEA is one of six films in competition. The Chair of the judges is the legendary Eric Cantona, but apparently we’re not allowed to talk football to him. I don’t fancy being drop kicked (joking Eric if you’re reading this), so will only talk film with him. Unlikely to get near, though, as the judges keep strictly apart from the film-makers. Seen three films so far: THE GIRL had a gala presentation as the excellent Toby Jones is guest of honour here and also on the jury – I enjoyed it more the second time; a great study of a tormented (Alfred Hitchcock) director’s mind. Then today Gaby (my wife and cheerleader) and I saw two of the other competition movies: SPIKE ISLAND – Stone Roses wannabees go to the legendary gig, they even dragged out my old colleague and Madchester fanatic from The Word, Terry Christian to do a hopeless fake radio voiceover, but the film was energised with a great script and acting; and TITUS – long lost daughter shows up but sax-blowing dad doesn’t wanna know. So far I think I’m winning but hey! What do I know? Film is so bloody subjective for all the analysis, expertise and clever words. And both films I describe have some brilliant moments…. time to chill out, quaff some vin rouge and not worry about winners and losers!