Archives for April 2022

The Northman’, classy video, yawn

The North­man

What you think of The North­man will depend on whether you’ve heard any­thing about it before see­ing it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, its direc­tor, Robert Eggers, and his PR team have done such a ster­ling job pro­mot­ing it that the chances of you com­ing to it fresh are almost negligible. 

You’ll be as well versed as I was in how metic­u­lous­ly researched it all was, and about the many and great pains that they all went to to realise his vision. So you’ll very prob­a­bly be as baf­fled and as qui­et­ly irri­tat­ed by it as I was. 

What all that painstak­ing research was aimed at was, appar­ent­ly, in giv­ing us a win­dow into what life in 9th and 10th cen­tu­ry Viking Europe actu­al­ly looked and felt like. Doing then for the Viking world what Robert Alt­man and Jacques Audi­ard did for the west­ern, with McCabe and Mrs Mil­lar (1971) and The Sis­ters Broth­ers (2018). Or what Bergman, Eggers’ favourite film mak­er did for medieval Europe, with The Vir­gin Spring (’60) and The Sev­enth Seal (’57). All of which bril­liant­ly redraw a genre’s bor­ders to reimag­ine its parameters.

Alt­man’s McCabe and Mrs Millar

But The North­man doesn’t look or feel any­thing like a film. It’s plain­ly part of the music video/advertising/video game land­scape. All the physiques are per­fect­ly sculpt­ed, everyone’s hair falls just so, and all that killing and may­hem has that chore­o­graphed look and feel that we’ll all so famil­iar with and com­fort­able watching. 

We know that none of the fig­ures we’re look­ing up at are actu­al, real peo­ple. They’re just more of those char­ac­ter avatars. Some of whom get decap­i­tat­ed, oth­ers of whom sur­vive. None of which mat­ters, because the stakes are nec­es­sar­i­ly almost non-exis­tent. And the whole thing has that flat­tened, mono­chrome look that you get with video, fur­ther dulling any inter­est you might have had in it. 

Worst of all, you nev­er get to hear, and there­fore expe­ri­ence, any of the phys­i­cal things that they’re sup­posed to be doing. Like, say, tak­ing a bite out of some­thing, or sit­ting down exhaust­ed into a chair, or tak­ing off a piece of cloth­ing, because all its sounds are neutered by the con­stant drone of atmos.

Bergman’s The Vir­gin Spring.

If you’d heard noth­ing about it before sit­ting down to watch The North­man, you’d very prob­a­bly con­sid­er it a per­fect­ly pleas­ant way to while away a stray cou­ple of hours. No doubt you’d have found all that cod, ye oldie, mit­tle-Euro­pean dia­logue mild­ly amus­ing, rather than ris­i­bly pretentious.

And you’d prob­a­bly con­clude that Eggers was the younger broth­er of Baz Luhrmann, deter­mined to treat the world of com­ic book heroes and D&D with dead­ly earnest­ness. Unlike that old­er broth­er of his, ever ready to set­tle for the cheap­est thrill and the eas­i­est laugh.

But you’d nev­er for a sec­ond imag­ine that either were work­ing in any­thing oth­er than the world of video. And when it comes to video, there’s no two ways about it. Eggers is a class act.

Audi­ard’s The Sis­ters Brothers

I love music videos, and video games. Just not at the cin­e­ma. As a mat­ter of fact, they’re exact­ly what I go to the cin­e­ma to escape.

You can see the trail­er for The North­man below – and, by the way, a 2 minute trail­er is exact­ly how the North­man should be best expe­ri­enced. Just don’t ruin your mem­o­ry of it by watch­ing the actu­al film.

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The BBC’s ‘The Coming Storm’: QAnon and how to start a conspiracy theory

The BBC pod­cast The Com­ing Storm.

The Com­ing Storm, the lat­est pod­cast from the BBC, is a riv­et­ing explo­ration of the phe­nom­e­non that is QAnon

QAnon is in many ways the ulti­mate expres­sion of the cul­ture wars that rage today between the over-edu­cat­ed and anti-edu­cat­ed. In that it states, in a mat­ter of fact man­ner, that the Amer­i­ca they are liv­ing in is not the one described by the lib­er­al intel­li­gentsia, but one that is in fact run from with­in the depths of the deep state by a coven of pae­dophile cannibals. 

Incred­i­bly, indeed incom­pre­hen­si­bly, some 23% of Repub­li­can vot­ers in the US sub­scribe to this quote real­i­ty unquote.

How it all began. He came, he saw, he left a polite note.

Writ­ten and pre­sent­ed by Gabriel Gate­house, inter­na­tion­al edi­tor on BBC 2’s News­night, it is, for almost all of its 8 episodes, a gen­uine­ly scep­ti­cal enquiry. Giv­ing equal­ly short shrift both to its cen­tral claims, and to any­one who air­i­ly insists that only dim-wit­ted Amer­i­cans would be suf­fi­cient­ly cretinous to give cre­dence to that sort of guff. 

On the con­trary, as he goes on to calm­ly explore, peo­ple every­where have always believed that sort of nonsense.

This par­tic­u­lar man­i­fes­ta­tion seems to go back to that twin phe­nom­e­non of the 1990s. The ruth­less ambi­tion and cor­rup­tion of the Clin­tons and the resent­ment that that gen­er­at­ed, com­bined with the vast blank and unreg­u­lat­ed can­vass that the Inter­net sud­den­ly pre­sent­ed us with.

The Com­ing Storm is an exten­sive­ly researched, deep dive into how all of that got start­ed, and Gate­house is com­mand­ing, genial and mea­sured. Except that is for a cou­ple of brief min­utes, towards the end of episode 2, when he goes off script. 

It’s then that he intro­duces us to Juani­ta Broad­drick, who alleges that Bill Clin­ton raped her in 1978. An accu­sa­tion Clin­ton flat­ly and res­olute­ly denies. 

Broad­drick only made the accu­sa­tion dur­ing Clinton’s impeach­ment tri­al, some 20 years lat­er. And that was after she’d pre­vi­ous­ly denied it, only months earlier. 

Where it all began, the Comet ping pong pizzeria.

Nev­er­the­less, her detailed rec­ol­lec­tion of those events is all too cred­i­ble and it’s impos­si­ble not to con­clude she’s telling the truth. And Gate­house is demon­stra­bly of the same opin­ion. It’s what he does next that is, to use one of Alice’s words, curi­ous. Because he con­cludes the re-telling of her sto­ry with:

The media knew about her alle­ga­tions but they sat on it. It was too explo­sive. The stakes were too high.”

No it wasn’t, no they weren’t and no they didn’t.

The main­stream media hound­ed Clin­ton dur­ing those weeks, months and years. Espe­cial­ly over any­thing that had the whiff of sex. But they decid­ed that what­ev­er had hap­pened had tak­en place 20 years ago, and that all any of them had to go on now was her word ver­sus his.

More to the point, by this stage the Amer­i­can pub­lic was bored to tears with tales of Bill’s sex­u­al pec­ca­dil­los, which were doing lit­tle more than fur­ther deep­en­ing the abyss that divid­ed and divides the states there into red and blue ones.

What Gate­house does in this telling is to present us with one of those clas­sic exam­ples of an Aris­totelian syl­lo­gism that fails to func­tion. One of those How-not-to syl­lo­gisms. All bus­es are green, that vehi­cle is green, there­fore it’s a bus. 

Sent from below.

Assum­ing that her ver­sion of events is true, what we have here are two, inde­pen­dent, un-con­nect­ed events. Event one, she was raped. And Event two, the main­stream media decides against giv­ing her sto­ry the kind of exten­sive cov­er­age that some might have liked. 

There’s no causal­ly con­nect­ing because here, but Gate­house mag­ics one into exis­tence. Which is exact­ly how you con­struct a con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, before send­ing it out and on its mer­ry way, into the uni­verse and the dig­i­tal aether beyond. 

You describe two, sep­a­rate and uncon­nect­ed events as if they were obvi­ous­ly linked. Indeed, as if that con­nec­tion were so obvi­ous, it’s sur­pris­ing to you that any­one should call that so say con­nec­tion into doubt. 

In oth­er words, and clear­ly inad­ver­tent­ly, Gate­house has erect­ed the scaf­fold­ing and is using the archi­tec­ture need­ed to con­struct the very phe­nom­e­non he was sup­posed to have been mere­ly report­ing on. 

Curi­ouser and curiouser. 

Still, it’s a crack­ing pod­cast. And that minor blip aside, Gate­house is thought­ful and mea­sured and is a won­der­ful­ly engag­ing host.

You can lis­ten to it 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!