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O ye of little faith.

1 Mar

A bloke’s favourite films is a touchy subject.  Often, they are etched into our psyche at crucial emotional junctures and any criticism of our shiny, shiny  list is like, well, a statement that we evolved incorrectly. Take, oh, Jaws for example. Sure, it’s a movie about a giant shark that eats people and then goes boom, but it was also the first time, as an eight year old, that I became aware of communal self consciousness and the power of ritualized story-telling.

Until then, the vanguard of ritualized story had been St.Anthony’s Catholic School. Now, taking out Sister Allen and her weird hump and relish in giving you a good crack  over the knuckles with a ruler, by “A Current Affair” christian standards, St.A was alright.

But, god… so-much-talk. Daily sermons in a profoundly intimidating school church. The priest waxing away was doing his level best to inspire us to the light I’m sure, but the thesis that found its way into my bones was “God is boring and angry.”  Kinda like an angry ex who role plays with his Star Wars figures and a cross-bow.  Meanwhile, I stared at Karen Lucas’s pig-tails in front of me and fought a desire to pull them, giggle and then wet my pants.

Up to that point, the ‘temple story’ was something to be punished by.

Then Jaws happened. And the temple was rebuilt.

That’s what’s going on in a bloke’s favourite movies. Nothing less than the proof of god.

Permit a bit of role-play then…

So you say… the shark looks fake, and I respond, but MY soul isn’t.

But it’s just a silly summer movie –  Yep. Since when is silliness banned from the divine and what the hell has air temperature got to do with it?

But the shark still looks fuh-ake – Oh Jesus Christ! Look, we’re all in this dark room together, screaming a primal epiphany as the big plastic bastard bites a boat in half, and if I’m not mistaken, you hit the roof and stayed there when it popped up during Brody’s chum sequence. For that one scream, we were all in the same place, beautiful animals in the dark, a single light guiding us.

Men are solitary beings. Women too, just it seems to express itself differently. The cinema offers us lads an anonymous place, a safe place to bond with stories that reveal the dancing soul we wish we wore, not the perhaps luggish, tight-lipped spirit you encounter day to day.

We go to the movies to see ourselves. The best of ourselves I think, So next time you feather that copy of “Runaway Train” or “Mad Max 2” and cast a mocking eyebrow at their eighties soaked viscera, pause before you chortle, there may just be an eight year old soul resting in your hands.


Mapping a wild soul.

20 Nov

Before he made the basquillion earning E.T, Steven Spielberg long expressed a desire to make a film that captured the magic of those few hours between primary school finishing and your mum calling you in for tea. A time of BMXs, loyalties, dirt fights, betrayals, exploring drains and just the vaguest hint that there was something cruel and wonderful about girls. He wanted to make it in real-time, perhaps to attempt a literal grab at the strange slowing down and acceleration of time that occurs in those long passed Friday afternoons.

He never made this film, though clumsy thematic facsimiles often clambered their way into subsequent releases; usually accompanied by a John Williams score that employed every instrument on the planet.

This is not to rag on S.S or J.W. Jaws is my favourite film. Spielberg knows his game and plays it well. John Williams has a canon of iconic scores that readily obscure the dozen or so that go flute-mental….

…..this is to say Spielberg cannot make this film, because it has been done. Sublimely, savagely…done.

Where the Wild Things Are received oddly mixed reviews upon its 2010 release. Many a critic lamented both the lack of classic narrative and the sinister edge to Spike Jonze’s and Dave Eggers’s vision of Maurice Sendak’s fantastical children’s book. Terminal nostalgia* elevated the book’s narrative  and condemned the film’s. There is a certain irony to the coupling, for Where the Wild Things Are as a film surpasses the book by exposing that very nostalgia in all its messy guises. It is, for all the fur and phantoms on display, a brutally humane film.

When a movie maps your soul, it’s difficult to defend it rationally. So, let’s just say these critics – every last slippery-lipped, snarky, post modern, quip-master one of them, missed the point entirely. Where the Wild Things Are is not about narrative. Not the classic linear one anyway,with its call to adventure and reversal of fortune yada yada. It is about rage. Not the adorable cherubic rage of shit like..oh, I dunno, every other film, but rage a child actually feels. Confused. Frightened. Dangerous.


Most powerfully, it is about the ferocity of imagination that this rage can produce and this is the stupefying point that is missed for mine. Art by its nature is born from extreme emotion. Where The Wild Things Are is not only a story about the confusion of being a boy on the edge of mortal self-awareness, it is about art itself and the comfort and delusion it brings to us in those long cold nights when the universe appears godless and doubts circle like wolves. It tells us, shows us,  we are our own storytellers. How we conduct and fool our own free-flowing narratives, improvising to survive and hopefully, thrive. To steal a line from Next to Normal, “Improvisation. Otherwise known as the act of creation.”

Max says goodbye to KW

And with creation must come destruction. Of all the poetry of this film, and there is much, the  killer couplet comes at its conclusion, as Max, realising this world he inhabits cannot sustain him, sails away, howling in farewell to the sky as his wild things stand forlorn on his beach, each and all knowing that ultimately, we will all farewell each other,  and the best we can do, in fact the only thing we can do, is create something to warm ourselves against that one  brutal fact. Like those mythical afternoons after school; we can slow down time…we can touch the face of….something.

So, if you don’t like this film, most likely you are a horrible human being. Or, at best, you were  born thirty-four years old, thrust screaming into this world already defeated and cynical.

The critics that lamented the lack of narrative?  I ask, were you not once young? Do you not recall those  hours  when the world was bright and full of story and the promise, always the promise, of something both furious and delicate watching over you?

Like I said. It’s hard to defend rationally.

*                                            *                                              *

* A term coined by Matty Ballgame Robinson from Filmspotting;  a crackingly good film review podcast.

Oh perfect quixotic pixie girl

28 May

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a movie I need to watch every few months to feel normal. Usually at season’s turn. I can barely fathom, let-a-lone conjure the words for how close to mapping my soul this film came.

I guess the thing about Eternal Sunshine is the leads. I mean, there is also all the visuals, the score, the complete commitment to the human in what could have been a dinky plot device, but truth is it’s Winslet and Carrey that just make sense. He is so clear in his portrayal of boyish doubt, in all its charm and idiocy, that when he extends a sleeve  and caresses a childhood bicycle seat, all things gentle and forgotten come pouring back and things get pretty dusty on my couch.  (Thankyou filmspotting)

Then, there is that woman. I went into the cinema already with a truck sized crush on Kate Winslet. When Leo lets go at the end of Titanic, it’s a travesty of masculinity. You can’t hold on for her?! You deserve to die man.  I hope a shark eats you on the way down.

I mean, she’s such a ….. broad, you know. Fearless. Probably shame me over a pint (Though I’d have her measure on West Coast Coolers) and a smile that just rings, I like men. Really like ’em.

With Clem layered on top, or Clementine, from Clemency as Joel proffers, I pretty much see every woman I have ever fallen for. From that troublesome Russian at eighteen to Cyclone Leah. Clementine is demonstrative, fragile, scarred – wounds that  importantly, need me for repair. She’s volatile as all get out, but retains a hum for the quieter things. Smart. Funny. Spontaneous. Basically, a raging contradiction with me at the core, trying to fix her like a woman’s a shelf.

So, in winter 2009, whilst visiting my gal in NYC,  I jumped the Amtrak out to Montauk just so I could stand on the station where Clementine first flirts with Joel. Well, that’s not true, I think she first flirts in that lovely cafe, but after walking the mile into town, that was all shut up for the off-season.

Location stalking is weird I know. I’ve often mocked the habit in others. I mean I also love Jaws, but unless I’m gonna see a massive shark fin slicing through that Martha’s Vineyard pond, I’m not too interested in seeing that pond. What I demand, in other words, is a complete recreation of the scene, setting and context. A vague shape to squint and kinda nod at is just not enough.

But. But. But. Montauk station delivered in spades.  I stepped off that train, took one look to my right and I was there, buzzing with the same elation I felt when I first saw that orange parker march up the walkway towards Joel. The light was the same, the station the same.


Sure, Montauk in winter is basically gulag with a bait shop and the beach is just sand, not fluttering snow, but this is not real, real life, it’s the magic of shape, shadow and memory…each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned.