Archives for November 2014

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 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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