The Fallen World: Mr Malick’s Garden

Everywhere and yet nowhere.

Terence Malick haunts the world of  cinema like The Lord, Our Father, used to haunt us sinners’ lives.  He, The Lord I mean, is dead and gone now of course.  But Terry’s still with us at least.  Like the most alluring and troubling of deities, Malick stalks our days and troubles our nights.

The first Malick film I saw was The Thin Red Line.  We barreled into that West End cinema with the normal Saturday night, alcohol-fuelled, boyish bravado; expecting to see the usual war film – the carnage, the stoicism, the ultimate triumph.  We left chastened men.

I’d never experienced anything like it.  We didn’t utter a word as we left – none of the usual piss-takes, snarky comments, arrogant improvements – not even one of those ever so few raves.  We felt a little embarrassed; we’d experienced something too intimate and profound to be discussed.  We smiled at each other and left it at that.

Inevitably, I hunted out everything else he had made.  That, to my delight, amounted to only two previously released films: ‘Badlands’ and ‘Days of Heaven’.  A masterpiece is one thing; three in a row is taking the piss.

We had to wait until 2005 for the next: ‘The New World’ and then,  this year, ‘The Tree Of Life’.

He’s not for everyone, Terry.  Perhaps, like The Lord used to, he demands too much of us.  But oh, for the initiated, his Bounty is neverending.

He translated Heidegger in his youth – ‘The Essence Of Reasons’.  Heidegger believed that  we found ourselves fallen into a world that already existed.  I can’t speak for Malick, but watching his films, it makes you realise afresh into what a world we’ve fallen.  ‘Eden’ we called it when The Lord was still around, and we were still unsullied.  Now it’s just a garden, but at least someone’s still here to show you all its glories.

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Blue Valentine

Tears.  Vales of tears.  Niagras of lonesome sorrow.

Tears upon tears upon tears.  That’s what this film gives, it makes no apologies for it, and that’s what you should expect.  Why shouldn’t you?  You’re ‘hooked up’, aren’t you?

I’ve seen it five times now.  Every time I’ve been reduced to a blubbering wreck.  That, in itself, is a recommendation.  When’s the last time a film really made you feel something?

Why did I feel something?  I’m reminded of the scene in that Spike Lee ‘joint’ ‘He Got Game’ when Denzel Washington’s son asks why his parents had the sadism to name him Jesus.

His father explains that it wasn’t due to any religous impulse,  he was named after a basketballer named ‘Jesus’.  Why?  ‘Because he was the TRUTH’.

The TRUTH; and the truth will set you free.

That’s how the saying goes, at least.  Pour pity on the reality.

 I won’t paraphrase the plot here, if only for the reason that I hope the meagre few who read this post will seek out this masterpiece for themselves.

These masterpieces, they don’t come around often, but when they do they show you what this art form, film, is capable of – all it can describe, all it can invoke, and all it can achieve.

I watched this on my pc, on a dismal 14-inch screen.  I only wish that I could have watched this at IMAX, with couples in every direction experiencing it with me.

It would have been a form of communion. 

After all, what better form of communion do we have these days than those evanescent gods on the burning screen, and those darkened souls below?

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The Social Network

Well, hi there!

How did you come across little ol’ me?  Did you randomly find this flicking through the blogs?  Did a friend say, ‘Ignore this twat’, but your curiosity overcame you?  Or, by far the most likely, did you see the ‘link’ on ‘you-know-whAAAaaat’!?!

The Social Network: a David Fincher film.  Fincher’s known for his dark and embittered view of the world: ‘Alien 3’; ‘Se7en’; ‘Fight Club’; ‘Zodiac’; all are films imbued with misanthropy, and shot in a kind of stricken light, with the palette of an ageing bruise.  His last one, ‘…Benjamin Button’ (widely rumoured to be a set-up for a Pitt Oscar run), proved too saccharine for some.  Well, all that can be said with his latest is: Davie, welcome home!

And what a home it is.  Harvard in the early millennium.  A campus that, in its grandiosity, would make Versailles blush and turn away.  Versailles is an apt comparison because the social network here, amongst the elite of the elite, is ( the computer-nerds out there would dig it) entirely, and viciously, hierarchical.

Mark Zuckerberg, our anti-hero, is a nobody.  He’s smart, of course, but he’s not old money, and therefore he may as well be sweeping the floors as attending class;  and he knows it.

After being unceremoniously, and superlatively, dumped by a girlfriend after a tedious diatribe about how to forward yourself in this feudal milieu (if anyone comes away from this film still holding America to be the model of the classless society they didn’t see the film I did) he lashes out in the only way he knows how: technologically and, so he initially thinks, anonymously (this is of course ironic, considering he develops into the foremost destructor of anonymity in our times).

The development of his rudimentary site, ‘Facesmash’, gets him in trouble but lends him the notoriety which catches the attention of the twin princes of this Kingdom: the Winkelvosses (Winkelvossi!).  They charge him with developing a website which would exchange the personal details and activities of the Harvard elite.  He gets to work but, like a true American entrepreneur, not for them.

We no doubt know how the rest of the story pans out.  The beer-sodden programming marathons, the breathtaking expansion of ‘The Facebook’ (Justin Timberlake, in his scene-stealing role as internet-guru-Napster-developing-playboy, Sean Parker, recommends dropping ‘The’), the acrimonious legal battles, and the exploding figures – going from hundreds, to thousands, to millions – both in members and dollars.

What to make of it all.  There’s something celebratory in Fincher’s direction.  Like he’s saying:  look at them, these titans of industry in the internet age, re-engineering society, one program at a time.

But of course, underneath it all, the concern, and doubt, and dread, are building (or is that running? Or downloading?).  What Brave New World is being devised here?  And in a world in which changes, paradigm shifts, ‘updates’, are a click of the button away – how long will it take for us to realise what has been irretrievably lost in the frenzy for more, newer, latest?

Throughout, Zuckerberg treats the claimants of the various law-suits which intersperse the film with the casual disdain of the triumphantly revenged.  What’s $65 million here or there when he could buy up entire buildings of the Harvard campus without a second thought?

It really is a triumphant revenge: but in what sense?  Is it because he’s the world’s youngest billionaire, richer by an order of magnitude more than those WASPs who used to patronise him?  Or is it because he’s succeeded in making the world like him?  The type of place where you can make ‘friends’ without ever having to meet in person?  A world in which people can be collected and dropped with the click of a button?

When looked at objectively, you could consider Facebook, in a fundamental sense, to be the masterwerk of a man who not only doesn’t have friends, but doesn’t like people.  A ‘community’ predicated on the pathologies of the sociopath.

And yet the doubt remains: In the last scene of the film, Zuckerberg is abandoned in the clinical folds of a lawyer film, hesitating over, and then clicking on, the ‘friend invite’ button for the girlfriend who dumped him at the start.

In the preceding two hours millions of dollars have accumulated with breathtaking speed, ‘friends’ made and lost over the minutiae of profit shares, all with barely a shrug.

This film, a major work, I think, of our digital age, leaves us with this:  How many billions would he be willing to sacrifice for this girl to click ‘Yes’?

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Fallout: New Vegas

Today,  I have spent the best part of six hours ‘playing’ the latest in the Fallout series: New Vegas.

‘Playing’ seems rather flippant.  In the course of today’s extravaganza I’ve been terrified, amused, frustrated, elated, and – throughout it all – utterly engaged.

The cost of this was $10 for three days; compared to my usual $16 for two hours of bland dross down the cinema.

I, like many of my generation, grew up with ‘gaming’ (the rather clunky phrase du jour) and can attribute to it many of my fondest memories.

Does anyone else, for example, remember ‘The Great Giana Sisters’  or ‘The Chaos Engine’?  Probably not but, if not, your loss buddyboy.

Some of the most recent examples of this art form, and it is an art form (perhaps the most promising we have – cinema’s moribund, theatre’s ossified, and music is strangulated, utterly derivative, and beset on all sides) might be:

The aforementioned Fallout,


The world, the Weltanschauung, which is Fallout is essentially a ravaged dystopia populated by mutants, warring bands, and communities scraping the unforgiving ground for the meagre means of survival – and one in which you are constantly imperilled; both physically and morally.  Its aesthetic is that of an Armageddon imagined through the eyes of a particularly misanthropic Sinatra:  all fenders, checked suits and antiquated weaponry (with a post-bellum shtick).  A better example of post-nuclear catastrophe – a future we may once again have to begin considering in earnest, given the utter abandonment of the NPT  – you’d be hard-pressed to find.

Next, the ne plus ultra of Ayn Rand inspired philosophy:  Bioshock.

Bioshock places you in an underwater city, Rapture, which is exquisitely imagined, and striking in its melancholy beauty.  You’ve crash landed and are now tasked with deracinating the reign of a maddened despot bent on the imposition of an insanely individualistic and laissez faire ideology.  This may be one of the most beautiful games I have yet seen;  you could easily wander this city for hours on end simply staring at the gargantuan vistas on offer.

Last, in this short, and decidedly undefinitive list, Limbo:

 This silly picture doesn’t do it justice; I urge you to google it and watch one of the videos which will give you it in all of its Germanic Expressionist glory.

The game evokes myriad sources: ‘Lord of the Flies’; ‘Night of the Hunter’; ‘The Company of Wolves’.

It’s imbued throughout with a kind of Lynchian, nightmarish atmosphere in which every scene is foreboding, and the consequences of each action pitiless.  You’ll die over and over again; dying never looked so good.

So, what’s the point?  I suppose it’s that this medium is one of the most commercially popular, yet critically reviled – or, more importantly, ignored – in the history of the arts (as I’ve said, it is an art, and an art to be reckoned with).

Nevertheless, it remains one of the few remaining conduits for genuine human expression and imagination.

I referred to it before as ‘gaming’: could there be anything more serious?

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‘Animal Kingdom’

Animal Kingdom is a film about family; and crime; and, most importantly, Melbourne.

I’ve lived in Melbourne for four years and I still can’t get a hold on it.  Is it beautiful?  Yes, on a sunny spring day, without doubt.  Is it ugly?  Absolutely, miles and miles of barren suburban wastes hold testament to that.

Many who hail from Melbourne regard it as one of the most ‘European’ of Australian cities.  Why?  The cafe culture, the sneaky laneway bars, the incessant arts festivals…

Google (in its Maps form) may belie that.  Melbourne, with its citadel of scysrapers, surrounded by a yawning sea of low-slung neighbourhoods, seems more like Los Angeles, or Houston, or Detroit.

In other words it is the city of the future: each allotted their home, and each restricted to it.

 Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft; Community and society.

It’s unfair to single out Melbourne; isn’t this the way we all live now?  When’s the last time, for instance, you said ‘hello’ to your neighbour?  Or offered to help with their chores?

Here we all are (I am right now) sitting on the internet and thinking they’re a part of a ‘community’.  But we’re not really.  We’ve exchanged effort for expedience.

In the words of Aaron Sorkin, the Internet is to socialising, what reality TV is to reality.  We deal in simulations and simulacra; and pretend we’re ‘keeping in touch’.

What has this to do with ‘Animal Kingdom’?  Not much, but, I think, it shows the kind of society in which we will all be rampant in chasing our freedoms, and equally imprisoned by them.

Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft.  When’s the last time you felt part of a society?

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I’m still here

Today, Anne and I went to see Joaquin Phoenix’s new movie.

By now, I would assume we all know it to be a hoax, a fraud, a satire, or whatever you want to call it.

A great many of the reviews have been scathing; mostly from a sense of bewilderment as to whether or not Phoenix(and, by extension, the director – and Phoenix’s brother in law – Caisey Affleck) were for real; or just smirking their way through the whole piece at their audience’s expense.

Those who go to see this type of fare are not your normal, multiplex, film audience.  They look at the artful marketing, and the cool young names, and consider themselves too hip to be duped (there is nothing, after all, that a hipster hates more than being duped – they’re too hip for that).  Nevertheless, at our screening, the skinny-jeaned crew seemed to be sniggering and guffawing away as some kind of defense mechanism: ‘What the fuck was this guy up to?!’.

We live in times, after all, where – according to Fredric Jameson – most people find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of Capitalism.  In other words, it’s all very well to have a laugh Joaquin, but what about your career?

Well, this is why I think Phoenix was the only man for the job; because the world does not seem to please him.

He is extremely talented, and quite formidable in his commitment.  He also has a casual disdain towards Holywood’s normal trappings; its allures and its restrictions.

You get the feeling of a man who knows this will harm his future (on a scale to match an anti-semitic tirade on a Malibu hard-shoulder) but who is prepared to pay the price for a chance to lash out at what used to be called the Dream Factory but now seems to be a visciously efficient abbatoir skilled in consuming and discarding talented young meat.

In his book, ‘The Whole Equation’, David Thomson talks about the Hollywood recruitment process.  Visiting that cabal of producers would be a horde of Midwestern beauties ‘who’d swallow your grey cum and smile like it were cream’.

That’s how what we see on the screen gets made; and it’s a lie to deny otherwise.

In one final note, in one of the latter scenes of this film, we see Phoenix staging a rap performance at a Miami nightclub.  He’s awful, disorientated, and utterly helpless.  Once you’ve seen the film you realise it’s all an act but to the audience there (full of young beauties – male and female – who’d be happy to swallow that grey cum) he’s simply a falling star, freshly ashamed from a Letterman appearance, and in all probability mentally ill.

Nevertheless, there they are, IPhones hoisted high, filming the whole scene to laugh over with their mates and post on their Facebook pages.  They don’t seem to give a shit; it’s just entertainment, right?

That is probably one of the most disturbing thoughts that came to me after watching this film:  What wouldn’t we film?  And what would it take to make us look away?

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Mystic River

Mystic River is a film.  It is also just that, a river which runs through Boston.

Growing up in Glasgow, our river, the Clyde, was something you’d turn your back on; the city itself seemed to shun it.  Very few were the vantage points from which you could catch a glimpse and those glimpses were never less than desolate – broken wasteland and gutted shipyards.  You’d snatch a glance from the train and look away, loathe to remember what our city used to be and how the river had made it.

The Bostonians in Mystic River, however, don’t have that problem with their river.  They can’t help but be drawn to it.  Its vistas demand their attention, and its depths may perhaps wash away their sins.

Mystic River is a Clint Eastwood film, and perhaps one of the finest of this fledgling century.

It is the story of a working class neighbourhood (this in itself makes it remarkable – when, for instance, was the last time you heard an American politician use the phrase ‘working class’?).

Three boys are playing hockey in the street, it’s the sixties, kids still played out back then.  The cocky one suggests writing their name in a newly laid patch of concrete.  ‘Jimmy’ goes first, then ‘Sean’, ‘Dave’ is half way through when a car pulls up and a guy gets out.  He’s a cop, or so he says, and he drags Dave away for vandalising municipal property.

He isn’t a cop; Dave manages to escape after four days of sexual abuse.  But he doesn’t escape, not really.  No one in this film does.

Twenty five years later, Jimmy (Sean Penn) is a former hood, turned good (so he thinks).  He has a corner shop and a family.  He’s doing alright, although Penn makes it clear he’s always waiting for the sirens.

Sean (Kevin Bacon) is State police and Dave (Tim Robbins) is a wreck – still back in the woods escaping his abusers.

Jimmy’s beloved daughter is murdered; no reason, no clear suspect.  The cops come in of course but Jimmy decides his old gang can find the killer faster and…shall we say…serve better justice themselves.

What unfolds is probably nothing short of a Jacobean tragedy.  By the end the wrong man is dead and the real killers have been found – they’re kids, it was a stupid prank gone wrong.  The nature of the crime just doesn’t seem to match the gravity of the grief.

Meanwhile, the wrong guy has been cast away into the murky depths.

Heraclitus, commenting on his philospohy of eternal flux, supported it by naming the example of a river.  You’re never looking at the same one twice, because it’s always moving.

Well the waters of the Mystic – as with all rivers – are always moving.

But in the final frames of this film, the river itself is still there, silent and implacable, and mocking your notions of justice.

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