So Farewell then, Laser Video…

Laser DVD in Dublin.

Laser DVD in Dublin.

First, some quick house­keep­ing. For the moment, I’m going to be post­ing here once a month, as opposed to every week. If things are par­tic­u­larly slow in your neck of the woods, and you’d like to hear why, by all means drop me a line in the com­ment sec­tion, and I’ll make a short story bor­ing. But for the moment, onwards:

For any­one who’s lived or stud­ied in Dublin over the last 25 years, Laser Video, as it was and then Laser DVD wasn’t so much an insti­tu­tion as it was a life­line. Since it moved to Georges Street from Ranelagh 22 years ago, it fos­tered around it a com­mu­nity of aspi­rant film mak­ers and musi­cians and the intel­lec­tu­ally curi­ous from all around the city and its environs.

Women Without Men.

Women With­out Men.

The last three films that I picked up from there, as I recall, were: A Time For Drunken Horses, a Kur­dish film from 2000 that man­ages to be incred­i­bly cul­tur­ally spe­cific and yet time­lessly uni­ver­sal; the sump­tu­ous Iran­ian film Women With­out Men from 2010, which I reviewed ear­lier here; and Fassbinder’s sole foray into sci­ence fic­tion, World On A Wire which was orig­i­nally broad­cast as a two part mini series on Ger­man tele­vi­sion in 1973.

All three were a joy to behold and are impos­si­bly hard to get your hands on. Or at least they would have been, but five years ago.

The truth is, I’ve been to Laser sig­nif­i­cantly fewer times over the last two years than I had in the pre­vi­ous two. And I had been far fewer times dur­ing those pre­vi­ous two years than in the two before them. I had every inten­tion of fre­quent­ing it as ardently as I had in the past, it just didn’t happen.

David Byrne's True Stories.

David Byrne’s True Stories.

The very tech­nol­ogy that made a place like Laser pos­si­ble ulti­mately ren­dered it redun­dant. Or at least com­mer­cially unvi­able. It was the rev­o­lu­tion in film dis­tri­b­u­tion thanks to the arrival of video that lead to the cre­ation of a place like Laser. And it’s the Inter­net and the rip­ples cre­ated by the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion that have lead to its tragic demise.

It’s des­per­ately sad for every­one involved. And we’re all going to miss it ter­ri­bly. And I sup­pose, if anyone’s to blame, we all could have made a bit more of a con­scious effort of late.

But, for good or ill, the world has moved on. To quote from True Sto­ries, which is exactly the kind of film that you would only pre­vi­ously have ever chanced upon in Laser. David Byrne, whose only work as a direc­tor this is, turns to cam­era, and says:

What time is it? No time to look back.

Farewell then, and thank you.

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2001: A Space Odyssey, the Magic of Pure Cinema.

Section 3 of Kubrick's iconic sic fi classic.

Sec­tion 3 of Kubrick’s iconic sic fi classic.

Peo­ple often remem­ber 2001: A Space Odyssey as being divided into three. It’s actu­ally in four parts. The first part sees us in the depths of our pre­his­tory. And it’s a pretty accu­rate sum­mary of what was then known about our ori­gins in the mid 1960s.

We began as part ape part man, slightly more the lat­ter than the for­mer, liv­ing as one amongst many ani­mals, some of whom we preyed upon, and some of which preyed upon us.

But our abil­ity to fash­ion tools, and our under­stand­ing that this is was sets up apart began the process by which we soon came to dom­i­nate the planet. It also – though much later – intro­duces rivalry between us and our neigh­bour­ing clans. And that means drama.

Section 1: no sex please, we're (adopted) British.

Sec­tion 1: no sex please, we’re (adopted) British.

Pre­dictably, the one ele­ment that Kubrick leaves out of our pre­his­toric evo­lu­tion is repro­duc­tion, because that requires sex. Despite the fact that sex is the source of all the best drama, Kubrick avoids it. Because sex leads to emo­tion, and Kubrick doesn’t do emo­tion – see ear­lier review here.

The sec­ond sec­tion moves to the future, where an astro­naut is sent into space to inves­ti­gate a curi­ous dis­cov­ery on a nearby moon. And when that goes wrong, we move fur­ther into the future for the third sec­tion, as another pair of astro­nauts have been sent into space to inves­ti­gate that.

Miss Jones! Rigby in section 2.

Miss Jones! Rigby in sec­tion 2.

This then becomes a bat­tle of wits between one of them and the on board com­puter, HAL. And when then the bedrag­gled astro­naut speeds off into space for the fourth sec­tion we are flung fur­ther for­ward into the future and what seems to be a new dimension.

What hap­pens when we get there is instruc­tive. In appear­ance impres­sively enig­matic, it’s actu­ally fairly easy to break down. The fourth sec­tion is basi­cally an exer­cise in sub­ject dis­place­ment.

He, the sub­ject, looks over at a door­way. Cut to his POV of the door­way, the object. Then the object has become the sub­ject, and we now find our­selves at the door­way. He, the new sub­ject, is look­ing over at: Our POV of an old man eat­ing at a table, the new object. Then once again, we are now at the table, where the old man, who was the object but is now the sub­ject, is look­ing around at: our POV of another old man in a bed. And once again we are over with the man in the bed, who is look­ing up at: our POV of the gran­ite slab that links all four sec­tions, sug­gest­ing so much yet say­ing so little.

Section 3: man V machine.

Sec­tion 3: man V machine.

The response to all of which is, so what? It’s all won­der­fully evoca­tive, but it’s not actu­ally about any­thing. Nei­ther philo­soph­i­cally, intel­lec­tu­ally nor nar­ra­tively. And that goes for the whole film. The only sec­tion of the film that is, is the third, where fairly stan­dard fears about machines tak­ing over the world are explored. Other than that, none of it is about any­thing. But that’s not the point.

What it is instead is a sequence of beau­ti­fully com­posed, imag­is­tic tableaux, painstak­ingly con­structed and all metic­u­lously framed by bril­liantly cho­sen pieces of com­pli­men­tary clas­si­cal music.

The enigmatic section 4.

The enig­matic sec­tion 4.

When the space­ship docs in part 2 to the tune of the Blue Danube, for a full six min­utes(!), that’s not what space looks or sounds like. That’s what we’d like it to look and sound like in our imag­i­na­tions. Unfet­tered by the con­straints of con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive, Kubrick let his imag­i­na­tion roam. And it’s ravishing.

If all films were like this of course, none of us would ever bother watch­ing any of them. But as a lone bea­con that stands proudly in con­trast to every other great film, with its dis­missal of nar­ra­tive and there­fore of emo­tional engage­ment, and its cel­e­bra­tion instead of pure images set to sub­lime music, ver­ily its vision to behold.

It’s on for a week at the Light House in Dublin, and else­where, and here’s the 2001 trailer.

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New Flying Lotus album “You’re Dead!”

Flying Lotus' You're dead!

Fly­ing Lotus’ You’re dead!

If secretly, in a hid­den cor­ner of your psy­che kept secretly secreted just for you, you qui­etly sus­pect that that man that young mas­ter Zim­mer­man riles against with such sav­age enthu­si­asm on the first of those three extra­or­di­nary albums from 1966 is star­ing back at you from that mir­ror. And that some­how, inex­plic­a­bly, you’ve mor­phed into Jones, Mis­ter, then this is the album to dis­play so loudly and with such pride at the head of your playlist.

In his guise as Fly­ing Lotus Steven Elli­son is the man respon­si­ble for keep­ing U2 and Radio­head awake at night as they toss and turn in their tor­tured desire to stay rel­e­vant. Thom Yorke was actu­ally a guest vocal­ist on Flylo’s – as he’s inevitably been dubbed – last cou­ple of albums, the break­through Cos­mo­gramma from 2010 and Until the Quiet Comes in 2012, reviewed ear­lier here.

Flylo gets grilled by Thom Yorke.

Flylo gets grilled by Thom Yorke.

You’re Dead! is his fifth album, and it’s effort­lessly, daz­zlingly rel­e­vant, and almost casu­ally if tri­umphantly cur­rent. Nom­i­nally a con­cept album, it’s as much an explo­ration of the tex­ture and feel of sounds as it is of the idea and real­ity of death.

That excla­ma­tion mark, so often so irri­tat­ingly redun­dant, here hits the nail on the head, as they point out on their review on Pitch­fork here, where it gets an 8.3.

The album man­ages to be at once light and airy, and yet clearly con­tem­pla­tive as it con­sid­ers and pon­ders the inevitable. The art work per­fectly cap­tures that lightheavy, trippy dippy sense of happy res­ig­na­tion pro­pelled and punc­tu­ated by the rhythms and ten­sions of 21st cen­tury hip hop.

Elli­son is quite sim­ply the man, and this my friend is where it’s at. You can see the video for Never Catch Me fea­tur­ing Kendrick Lamar here.

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The Imitation Game” is surprisingly watchable.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game.

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in The Imi­ta­tion Game.

Per­son­ally speak­ing, the prospect of watch­ing yet another cos­tume drama with all of those actors who are in all of the other period pieces is about as appeal­ing as an extra Maths grind on a balmy summer’s eve. But The Imi­ta­tion Game is sur­pris­ingly watchable .

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch is Alan Tur­ing, and Tur­ing was, gen­uinely, one of the most remark­able indi­vid­u­als of the 20th cen­tury. If you’re unfa­mil­iar with his story, and you very well might be as it’s only very recently been unearthed, then I’ll not give too much away here. As all the best sto­ries do, the drama of his life unfolded in both the pub­lic and in the pri­vate spheres.

In the pub­lic sphere, Tur­ing was head hunted by the top secret wing of the then “non exis­tent” MI6 as they des­per­ately tried to unpick the enigma code. This was the code that the Ger­mans used to dis­guise their daily broad­casts of where their troops were and what they were up to. It had over 159 quin­til­lion – that’s 159 fol­lowed by 18 zeros – dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions that were changed every day. Tur­ing almost sin­gle hand­edly cracked it, and you could make a very strong case for sug­gest­ing that his was the most impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the whole of the sec­ond World War.

Kiera Knightley together with Cumberbatch.

Keira Knight­ley together with Cumberbatch.

In the per­sonal sphere, he was demon­stra­bly autis­tic which inevitably leads to albeit unin­tended offense. As there’s always the sus­pi­cion that your obnox­ious behav­iour might very well be just that, merely obnox­ious and have noth­ing to do with your autism. And, he was also gay.

Which is all well and good when you are attend­ing the sort of male only pub­lic school that the British send their elite to. But which becomes an enor­mous prob­lem when that same soci­ety then con­demns and indeed crim­i­nalises those boys who grow up to be young men who pre­fer the com­pany of other young men.

La Knightley.

La Knight­ley.

Cum­ber­batch is appeal­ingly prickly as the iras­ci­ble bof­fin, and Keira Knight­ley is as ever much bet­ter than any­body ever likes to give her credit for. And yes, obvi­ously math­e­mati­cians don’t look like that. But do you really want to go to the cin­ema and watch a film peo­pled by char­ac­ters who look real­is­ti­cally like math­e­mati­cians and code breakers?

The Imi­ta­tion Game is an unashamed love let­ter to Alan Tur­ing. But if ever an indi­vid­ual deserved one, it is surely he. What­ever device you’re read­ing this on wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble were it not for Tur­ing. If any one per­son can be, Tur­ing can gen­uinely be cred­ited with hav­ing per­son­ally invented the com­puter. His con­tri­bu­tion to the world, in war and peace, is immense. And it’s only right that the soci­ety that so cal­lously con­demned him in his life should belat­edly cel­e­brate him in death. And the result­ing film is sur­pris­ingly mov­ing and appro­pri­ately stirring.

You can see The Imi­ta­tion Game’s trailer here. And this review also appears on State.ie here which obvi­ously you should all be read­ing as avidly as you do this.

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Stanley Kubrick at the Light House, great technician but a minor film maker.

The peerless Paths of Glory.

The peer­less Paths of Glory.

There’s a sea­son of each and every one of Stan­ley Kubrick’s films on at the Light­house cin­ema in Dublin at the moment. The best place to start is with his sec­ond film proper (his actual fourth) Paths Of Glory (’57).

One of the great anti-war films, it sees Kirk Dou­glas come fruit­lessly to the defence of unjustly accused sol­diers in the 1st WW. What’s so strik­ing about the film in ret­ro­spect is how glo­ri­ously mov­ing it is. There’s a tremen­dous emo­tional invest­ment in the fig­ure of Dou­glas and the result is a sear­ing indict­ment of war. It was though the one and only time that Kubrick ever allowed emo­tion sully any of his films.

After that, we have a series of films each of which seems to have its own par­tic­u­lar excuse as to why it fails to engage on an emo­tional level.

The Planet of The Apes.

The Planet of The Apes.

First, there’s the bloated if curi­ously blood­less spec­ta­cle of Spar­ta­cus (’60), fol­lowed by his under­stand­ably cold take on Lolita (’62). You could hardly have become emo­tion­ally invested in that kind of a pro­tag­o­nist. Hence the cast­ing of James Mason instead of the younger, darker and more obvi­ously cyn­i­cal Dirk Bog­a­rde – who would later reprise the role for Fass­binder in the glo­ri­ous Despair (’78).

Next up, he was appro­pri­ately detached for the bril­liant polit­i­cal satire Dr Strangelove (’64). Nei­ther it nor 2001:A Space Odyssey (’68), the sci-fi clas­sic that fol­lowed had a dis­cernible pro­tag­o­nist, so there was no one there to invest your emo­tion in. But that’s the nature of sci-fi, seems to be the sug­ges­tion. Even though it hadn’t been for the other sci-fi clas­sic that came out in exactly the same year, Planet Of the Apes.

2001 A Space Odessey.

2001: A Space Odyssey.

And you can hardly blame Kubrick for fail­ing to get us to invest emo­tion­ally in the pro­tag­o­nist of his next film, Alex in A Clock­work Orange (’72). Or for that mat­ter in Ryan O’Neill’s Barry Lyn­don (’75) or Jack Nichol­son in The Shin­ing (’80). And while you do care about Matthew Modine’s Joker in Full Metal Jacket, he’s not what the film is about. His are just the eyes through which we view the war. While in his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, he ditches the pro­tag­o­nist, Nicole Kid­man, after 90 min­utes and we spend a fruit­less final hour watch­ing an actor at a series of orgies being directed by the only man in the world even more wary about sex than he is.

Ton Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut.

Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut.

Paths to Glory ends with a female Ger­man pris­oner being humil­i­at­ingly forced to sing in front of her French cap­tors. But as they watch her, they become increas­ingly moved by the pathetic sight of her, and the plain­tive sound of the song that she sings. And they crum­ble before her, reduced to com­mon tears. The Ger­man actress was called Chris­tiane, and Kubrick promptly mar­ried her.

And it’s almost as if, hav­ing found emo­tional sat­is­fac­tion in his per­sonal life, he was never inclined again to invest any emo­tion in any of his pro­tag­o­nists, and there­fore into any of his films, ever again. Or per­haps at that early stage of his career, he just hadn’t found his voice yet. Per­haps engag­ing emo­tion­ally just wasn’t some­thing he was inter­ested in. And hav­ing made the mis­take once, he made sure never to do so ever again.

There’s no deny­ing the tech­ni­cal bravura of say the light­ing in Barry Lyn­don, the use of the steady­cam in The Shin­ing (remark­ably fore­shad­owed in Paths of Glory by the way), or the per­for­mances he gets out of Peter Sell­ers in Dr. Strangelove, or the sheer daz­zling spec­ta­cle that is 2001. But in the absence of emo­tional invest­ment, that’s all they are; daz­zlingly bril­liant, spec­tac­u­lar, tech­ni­cal exercises.

They all glis­ten, but none of them are gold.

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