Reviewed today: Let The Corpses Tan, Memoir Of A Murderer, My Generation, Takashi Miike Screen Talk, The Venerable W.
My LFFs often tend to be documentary heavy, so it's not surprise that I'm seeing a couple of them back to back this afternoon. They're rather different from each other, though. This first one is credited to director David Batty, but there are some heavyweight names in the list of producers who've presumably also had a major say in the proceedings. Pop svengali Simon Fuller, for example (and if you fancy seeing what the homepage of a man who's completely up himself looks like, go here). Or writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, taking time out from the Porridge reboot to write the script. Or Michael Caine, who's front and centre of the piece as narrator.
My Generation is yet another documentary about London in the sixties. Most of the time, these films focus on how young people took control of the culture in that decade: this one concentrates on how they were mainly young working-class people. Caine himself was content to play Cockney light relief roles on stage and TV, until director Cy Enfield gave him the leading role of an officer in Zulu. Caine insists he was lucky because Enfield was an American, and wouldn't have assumed that he wasn't officer material, like an English director would. Once he was inside the system, Caine was in a position to get depictions of people like himself on screen in films like Alfie.
It was a similar story elsewhere at the time. Working class actors like Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney were getting the big movie roles: the fashion scene was exploding thanks to the influence of Mary Quant and Twiggy: and, of course, the two biggest bands in the world were made up of lads from the suburbs. Having said that, this film seems quite determined to suggest that the Beatles were nothing till they moved to London, which was the only place to be. To hear people talk here, everyone over the age of 25 had been Logan's Runned out of the capital by 1966, and all that was left were horny teenagers rutting in the streets.
My Generation does a fair job of working through its big idea, as far as it goes. One neat trick it pulls is that apart from Caine's on-screen narration, everything we see is archive footage, sometimes overlaid with audio of Caine interviewing various sixties luminaries in the present day: there's no real need to see what these people look like now, because it's a film about then. Editor Ben Hilton does a terrific job arranging the archive shots in witty combinations, leaving plenty of room for footage of old posh people pompously complaining about kids today. Unfortunately, all too often the film's happy to coast on the cheap nostalgia of comment-free montages played over the hits of the time. (And some of those hits sound downright odd over a modern cinema sound system, with Strawberry Fields Forever's hard panning to the left and right speakers feeling particularly uncomfortable.) Still, the mixture of socio-political analysis and Sounds Of The Sixties flashbacks mean there's something for everyone, I guess.
3.15pm: The Venerable W. [official site]
For forty years now I've had two Barbet Schroeder soundtrack albums in my record collection, which is one more than the number of his films that I've actually watched. (Blame Pink Floyd.) But when he's not directing groovy fiction features, Schroeder has had a highly regarded parallel career as a documentary maker. Over the years he's made a series of films that has been loosely classified as The Evil Trilogy: they feature him getting up close with utterly terrible human beings like Idi Amin, Jacques Vergès and now Ashin Wirathu.
Wirathu is a Buddhist monk living in Burma, and he's proud of where he comes from. Too proud, perhaps. For over a decade now he's been preaching a gospel of hate against the Rohingya, a minority Muslim community. Through a combination of inflammatory speeches and crude propaganda videos, he's repeatedly stirred up violence against the Rohingya, and thanks to recent new laws has been able to extend that to the whole of Burma's Muslim population. When he says in a 2016 interview "if America wants to stay safe from Muslims..." you know exactly where that sentence is going to end.
In the months that have elapsed between the film's premiere at Cannes and this screening, things have moved on alarmingly: it started out as a warning about a potential genocide, which has now escalated to actual genocide. Given the scale of the horrors encouraged by Wirathu, the most enraging thing about him in The Venerable W. is what a low-quality racist he is - you'd imagine in this day and age that if you were trying to exterminate an entire race, you could use a much better excuse than "they come over here and steal our women," which is literally the line he takes.
Schroeder is largely happy to give Wirathu enough rope to hang himself in a series of on-camera interviews. (According to the Q&A afterwards, he sneakily got access to the man by saying "the woman who's going to be my country's next president feels the same way as you do about Muslims, can we talk?") But where that's not enough, we get expert analysis from people who are able to point up his lies, and some horrifying footage from the riots he stoked up, with alarming scenes of Buddhists literally beating people to death. Readings from Buddhist texts by Maria de Medeiros point up the most shocking thing of all: a representative of one of the world's most peaceful faiths is the figurehead for a programme of ethnic cleansing. One of the other ways Schroeder got access to Wirathu was by appealing to his vanity, pointing out this film would be in cinemas rather than on TV. And it's an incredibly powerful cinema experience, which should be seen there if possible.
6.15pm: Takashi Miike Screen Talk [Wikipedia]
"Are you sure you're in the right place?" says Takashi Miike to the audience at the start. "Del Toro isn't going to be here..." Even after seventeen years of seeing the director's movies (The BBG and I reckon we've watched about 40 of the 100 he's directed), it's hard to know just what to expect from an on-stage interview with Miike. Far from being the nervous bundle of energy you'd expect of someone with his work rate, he's actually ridiculously laid-back and relaxed here. He takes the questions seriously and gives long, thoughtful answers, but he manages to fit in a few jokes as well. There's excellent work from translator Shuko Noguchi throughout, as well as from host Jamie Graham, keeping the questions at the level of intelligent fanboy probing rather than delving too deep into Miike's psyche.
The talk follows the usual structure of these things: a brief discussion about the new film, and then a jump backwards in time for a chronological run through Miike's life and work. He's reticent about his early family life, but does reveal that he used to be a very nervous child until he watched this scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was a traumatic experience that apparently made him the way he is today, so thanks for that, Tobe Hooper. He studied under the great Shohei Imamura at Yokohama film school (but kept skipping classes), and then took on a series of small jobs in film and TV, gradually working his way up to directing straight-to-video thrillers.
The turning point came in 2000: several of his films were screened at international festivals, and his "love story" Audition became a worldwide sensation. Miike's only previous visit to London happened around then, when his UK distributor flew him out here first class, only for Miike to fall asleep for the entire flight so he didn't get to appreciate any of the freebies. ("No wonder Tartan went bust," notes The BBG.) He also got some attention from Hollywood around this time, but in the end working there didn't appeal to him - "too many lawyers and contracts." The way he sees it, when you work on a Japanese film they pay you to deliver the project, whereas in Hollywood they're effectively buying you and your time.
These days, he's happy to take most projects he's offered, always relishing new challenges and working with new people. He talks about how many of his more dramatic projects use vengeance as a plot motor, which he thinks comes from Japan's history of it being a lawful way of solving disputes in feudal times. (A pause, and then: "not now, obviously...") He discusses how he works on set, and how the large-scale battle sequences in a film like Blade Of The Immortal mostly involve the same ten actors performing all the death scenes ("I tell them, 'pretend you're playing sextuplets'"). In a discussion of his work in non-violent genres, we watch a number from his musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris, and he points out "this can be considered as violence as well, when it's done this badly." All in all, it's an entertaining chat, even if it doesn't tell us a huge amount we don't already know. And I got to see Miike going into the gents at the Curzon just as I was coming out of them. I Did Not See His Cock, as they used to say on Popbitch.
9.15pm: Let The Corpses Tan [official Facebook]
I'm kind of seeing this one on the indirect recommendation of The Cineaste, who was a big fan of the directors' previous work The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears four years ago. This time, instead of the giallo thriller, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani are channeling the spirit of the spaghetti western, albeit into a modernish day crime drama.
In a ruined Mediterranean villa somewhere by the sea, Luce (Elina Löwensohn) is letting out rooms to various dubious types, notably a writer and a gang of gold thieves. Returning back to the villa after their latest robbery, the gang find themselves with a couple of women and a child in tow. Throw a couple of cops and a shitload of guns into the mix, and that's your final hour right there.
Cattet and Forzani are famous for their high style, and for the first half hour or so this is fabulous: a sunscorched colour palette, a score that mixes up Morricone with Italian space rock, and a visual style that recalls all the most showoffy shots from every spaghetti western you ever saw jammed together. As it becomes apparent that two thirds of the film is going to be a huge shootout confined to the single location of the villa, you find yourselves itching to see what stylistic tricks they can pull out of the bag.
They have one new trick - a timeline that slips queasily backwards and forwards to show you the same event from multiple perspectives - but unfortunately, that's basically it. The second half of the film isn't really capable of delivering on the promise of the first, and it all starts getting a bit repetitive and dull, apart from a few brief sequences here and there. It's a pity: if the film could keep the intensity of its opening going for longer, it could be something pretty special.
Notes From Spank's Pals
Memoir Of A Murderer [trailer]
The Belated Birthday Girl - Korean Dexter with Alzheimer's, and then it gets schlockier.