Archives for September 2017

How bad is “Mother!”?

Darren Aronofsky's Mother.

Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s Moth­er.

So just how bad is the new Dar­ren Aronof­sky film, Moth­er!? Well, and at the risk of bam­boo­zling you with arcane tech­ni­cal jar­gon, it is what we in the indus­try refer to as pants. Which is extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ing, because for a while Aronof­sky seemed as if he might be the great white hope of inde­pen­dent cinema.

He made his impres­sive debut in 1998 with Pi, and fol­lowed it up two years lat­er with the gen­uine­ly daz­zling Requiem for a Dream. Here glo­ri­ous­ly, form is con­tent, and con­tent form, as Beck­ett had defend­ed Joyce with. The high­ly stylised explo­ration of the lan­guage and gram­mar of cin­e­ma was the per­fect way to delve deep into the top­ic of addic­tion. The result was the film of the decade.

Jarred Leto and Jennifer Connolly in Reqiem for a Dream.

Jared Leto and Jen­nifer Con­nel­ly in Requiem for a Dream.

Next up was The Foun­tain in ’06. And, suf­fice it to say, we all put that film down to the immense pres­sure he must have been under to pro­duce a wor­thy fol­low-up to what had come before. So he was for­giv­en that.

Then came The Wres­tler in ’08. So okay, before earn­ing the right to go back to mak­ing the sorts of films that he real­ly wants to make, he need­ed to accom­mo­date the bean coun­ters in Hol­ly­wood. And as nice as it was see­ing Mick­ey Rourke back on the sil­ver screen, it real­ly is lit­tle more than your runofthemill, feel­go­od Hol­ly­wood film.

The dream master, David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.

The dream mas­ter, David Lynch’s Mul­hol­land Dr.

But then came Black Swan, reviewed ear­li­er here, a fur­ther a n oth­er Hol­ly­wood pic­ture. And then, worse again, Noah in ‘14 which couldn’t have been more Hol­ly­wood had it been direct­ed by Cecil B DeMille and starred Charl­ton Hes­ton. So just what kind of a film mak­er is Aronofsky?

Well let’s just hope that Moth­er! isn’t the answer to that ques­tion. True, for peri­ods of ten, even fif­teen min­utes, the film trun­dles along inof­fen­sive­ly enough. And you begin to won­der what all the fuss is about. But then there’ll be a plot point, a quote devel­op­ment unquote in the ahem, sto­ry, that’s so implau­si­ble and so com­plete­ly uncon­nect­ed with what had gone on before, that your only response is an almost over­pow­er­ing urge to get up and leave.

I don’t remem­ber ever see­ing a film that left me so per­ma­nent­ly on the edge of my seat, about to leave, only to remain where I was on the assump­tion that any moment now, it was sure­ly going to improve. It was like re-liv­ing the 2016 elec­tion night all over again.

Jodorowsky's most recent pair of comeback films, Santa Sangre and the Dream of Reality.

Jodor­owsky’s most recent pair of come­back films, San­ta San­gre and the Dance of Real­i­ty.

For a while there, you won­der whether what’s being explored here might per­haps be some sort of dream­scape. But as Freud so mem­o­rably summed up, dreams are about “the trans­for­ma­tion of man­i­fest dream mate­r­i­al into latent dream con­tent”. The whole point of dreams and their read­ing in oth­er words, is the con­nec­tion between what you dream about, and the stuff of your every­day life. The dif­fer­ent ele­ments need to be con­nect­ed, oth­er­wise they are lit­er­al­ly mean­ing­less. And if what we’re being offered on the oth­er hand is some sort of metaphor, alle­go­ry or para­ble, then we need to be able to iden­ti­fy with who­ev­er it is that is expe­ri­enc­ing the les­son to be learned.

There are no con­nec­tions between the begin­ning, mid­dle and end of Moth­er!, or for that mat­ter, between any of its major scenes, and you could­n’t pos­si­bly iden­ti­fy with any of the char­ac­ters involved. There are the same two prin­ci­pal actors, poor old Jen­nifer Lawrence and Javier Bar­dem, on the same set, of the same house, and all the props are the same. But there is almost noth­ing to con­nect what hap­pens in one scene with what hap­pens in the next.

Fellini's 8 1/2.

Fellini’s 8 1/2.

Dreams have been cen­tral to cin­e­ma, which is hard­ly sur­pris­ing for a medi­um designed to pro­duce illu­sion. Fellini’s 8 ½, Bunuel’s the Dis­creet Charm of the Bour­geoisie, Polanski’s Repul­sion and, more recent­ly Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky’s the Dance of Real­i­ty, reviewed ear­li­er here, and, of course, David Lynch’s Mul­hol­land Dr., where, as David Thomp­son astute­ly point­ed out, D R stands first and fore­most for Dream, and only sec­ond­ly for Dri­ve.

If there are any of those films that you haven’t seen, do so now. If how­ev­er you’re curi­ous about what hap­pens when you try to make a film with­out hav­ing a script or, there­fore, a sto­ry, then if noth­ing else, Moth­er! will put you right on that.

Here’s the trail­er to Mul­hol­land Dri­ve. And for the record, you can see the trail­er to Moth­er here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month, on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music.

Heimat”, the original box set.



Heimat, a Chron­i­cle of Ger­many, com­pris­ing of 3 sea­sons and a pre­quel and made up of 32 indi­vid­ual films that last for more than 53 hours, is one of the most ambi­tious and bril­liant series ever broad­cast. Sea­son 1 has eleven episodes that cov­er the years 1919 to 1982 and was first broad­cast in 1984.

The whole saga cen­tres on the Simon fam­i­ly in the fic­tion­al vil­lage of Sch­ab­bach in the Hun­sruck, in the heart of rur­al Ger­many. Specif­i­cal­ly, on Maria, and the two sons she has with Paul, and then with Her­mann, the son she lat­er has with Otto. What Edgar Reitz, who writes and directs them all, does then is to con­cen­trate on the things that mat­ter most to all com­mu­ni­ties, big and small, rur­al and urban. Fam­i­ly life, love and loss, tri­umph and despair, on all those who leave the fold nev­er to return, and on those who stay behind.


Mari­ta Breuer as Maria.

Each of the decades from the 20s to the 70s get about a cou­ple of episodes each in sea­son 1, so all of those defin­ing events that Ger­many was sub­ject to through the course of those years are seen through the prism of vil­lage life, where every­body knows every­body and prac­ti­cal­ly every­one is relat­ed to one anoth­er in some shape or form.

So instead of being the ful­crum around which every­thing else piv­ots, the rise and fall of the Nazis is just one of the many back­drops against which vil­lage life pro­ceeds. It’s not remote­ly sur­pris­ing then when Lucie, Maria’s sis­ter in law, cosies up to the Nazis in the 30s and ear­ly 40s, only to com­plete­ly switch sides in the late 40s and 50s, that she then sidles up to the Amer­i­cans, who effec­tive­ly replace them in the wake of the sec­ond World War.

Season 2 of Heimat was made in 1992, and the 13 episodes cover the 60s.

Sea­son 2 of Heimat was shown in 1992, and the 13 episodes cov­er the 60s.

There is noth­ing immoral about her denial. It’s entire­ly amoral. You do what you have to, to sur­vive. The sec­ond world war, like the first before it, the great depres­sion, the swing­ing 60s and the fall of the Berlin wall to come, all look very dif­fer­ent when viewed from the pur­blind con­fines of vil­lage life, buried deep in the heart of nowhere.

What Reitz does so bril­liant­ly is to make a suc­ces­sion of indi­vid­ual, stand-alone films that each focus on one or two  char­ac­ters. So that the rhythm, pace and feel is not that of a suc­ces­sion of episodes, but of indi­vid­ual, 70–80 minute Euro­pean art house films.

Season 3 of Heimat was screened in 2004 and covers post 1989 in 6 episodes.

Sea­son 3 of Heimat was screened in 2004 and cov­ers the post 1989 peri­od in 6 episodes.

Every frame is care­ful­ly and pre­cise­ly com­posed, and you’re delib­er­ate­ly giv­en the time to take in its com­po­si­tion. Music is used but spar­ing­ly, and in its place tac­tile sounds res­onate; film being loaded into a very ear­ly cam­era, the soles of worn, leather boots scrunch­ing on a dirt track, the chop­ping of veg­eta­bles being read­ied for a soup. And all the while, Reitz slips in and out of the pre­dom­i­nant black and white and into occa­sion­al bursts of colour, as his very per­son­al aes­thet­ic dictates.

His­to­ry unfolds in the dis­tant back­ground as vil­lage life is brought to a stand­still by the defin­ing events that shape their lives; the lay­ing down of the first tar­ma­cadam road, the arrival of the very first tele­phone, the open­ing of that first indus­tri­al fac­to­ry in the post war years, those gor­geous, cur­va­ceous, open-top Mer­cedes’ that they man­u­fac­tured so tri­umphant­ly in the 60s, and the ero­sion of their very specif­i­cal­ly Ger­man, and rur­al Ger­man cul­ture, that all that late 20th cen­tu­ry progress destroyed so method­i­cal­ly as it made its way inex­orably onwards.

The 2013 Heimat prequel covering the 1840s.

The 2013 Heimat pre­quel cov­er­ing the 1840s.

Like Syberberg’s equal­ly mag­is­te­r­i­al Hitler: A Film From Ger­many from 1977 (over 7 hours and in 4 parts) and the work of W. G. Sebald (specif­i­cal­ly his almost unbear­ably mov­ing nov­el Auster­litz), Heimat is a nuanced and mea­sured explo­ration into how what hap­pened in Ger­many could have hap­pened there, and what it means there­fore to be Ger­man. Like the peo­ple it deals with, it’s a serous work that demands to be seen.

Sea­son 1 was screened over the sum­mer on Sky Arts, so there’s every chance it’ll be repeat­ed there. While the recent pre­quel Home from Home, which Reitz made in 2013 and which cov­ers the 1840s, was  screened recent­ly on BBC4, so keep an eye out for it there. All four hours of which are every bit as cap­ti­vat­ing as the very first episode of sea­son 1, first broad­cast over a quar­ter of cen­tu­ry ago.

You can see the trail­er to Home from Home here.

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!