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5×2 (2004) – The Space around Love

February 10, 2015
5x2a

Characterisation is a funny thing. Characters obviously have no inner lives and no existence beyond the indentations they leave on a text and yet a well-drawn character can seem human enough to warrant an emotional response from the audience. Characterisation works by tapping into the various short-cuts humans use in social interaction; As humans, we can never know what another person is thinking or feeling but we can infer their emotional state by considering their behaviour and comparing it to what feelings we think might prompt us to act in a similar fashion. Characterisation can thus be thought of as the art of building an evocative human shape from a series of descriptive passages. Strike the right poses at the right moments and a character will leap off the page but fail to make a character’s poses recognisable or fail to make those poses coherent and you will be left with a character that seems lifeless and inhuman.

Different cinematic traditions have different standards of characterisation. For example, travel back to 1930s Hollywood and it was still quite common for directors to use voice-overs and have their characters tell the audience what they were thinking. Fast-forward to contemporary Hollywood blockbusters and you find directors relying quite heavily on audience-recognisable character types whose inner lives are made accessible through a combination of unambiguous musical cues and absurd theatrical gestures including sinking to their knees and bellowing ‘Nooo’ into a rain-filled sky. Thankfully, not all cinematic traditions are as heavy-handed; Cinema originating in cultures with low-levels of emotional disclosure is far more subtle in its emotional topography and so audiences are forced to pay closer attention and approach scenes in different ways in order to catch the poses that might allow them to infer the presence of an internal state or collective vibe. The subtlety of character beats in Japanese film also explains its long-standing relationship with a European art house tradition in which directors seek to deliberately attenuate their characterisation in a bid to create characters that seem more complex and ambiguous. However, despite European film’s desire to keep its characters aloof, the last fifty years have still seen the emergence of not just stock characters but stock poses that serve as short-cuts in films that should not be about the easy answers. How many times have you seen art house films in which characters stare into the middle-distance impassively? How many times have you seen art house films in which a character fails to react to some devastating event and yet winds up over-reacting to some seemingly unrelated incident? As a general rule of thumb, if you are an art house director and your characterisation techniques are showing up on Mad Men then it is time to get yourself some new techniques… which is where François Ozon’s 5×2 comes in.

 

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REVIEW – The Overnighters (2013)

February 6, 2015
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FilmJuice have my review of Jesse Moss’s rather frustrating documentary The Overnighters.

The documentary is set against the backdrop of the North Dakota oil boom, which saw a massive expansion in the North Dakota oil industry at a time when many Americans were losing their jobs and their homes in the Great Recession. However, while North Dakota now has the lowest unemployment rate of any state in the Union, the job market expanded so quickly and generated so much money that the state’s rental sector simply could not keep up meaning that many Americans travelled thousands of miles to get a job in the oil industry only to realise that their new job didn’t pay enough to allow them to cover rent. The film revolves around a Lutheran pastor who set up a programme that would allow the working poor to sleep on the floor of his church.

The documentary is at its absolute best when it shows the inhumanity and indifference of American institutions:

The most striking thing about this documentary is how little support Reinke gets from… well… anyone. The oil industry in North Dakota is going through a period of historic expansion and yet despite record profits rolling in to corporate coffers, none of the oil companies seems to provide food or shelter for the thousands of people they employ. The oil boom has reportedly given the under-populated state of North Dakota a billion-dollar budget surplus and yet the state would rather shut down the church and ban people from living in caravans than find a way to house and feed the thousands of people who helped to create that surplus. Even more shocking is the way that Reinke is forced to battle his own church as parishioners file into his office and trumpet their Christian values in the same breath as they complain about poor people making the place look untidy.

However, rather than expanding this critique into something more systematic, Moss takes the disastrous decision to focus upon the human element and the experiences of the men who are running and relying on the Overnighters programme. This approach is quite traditional in American documentaries as human interest stories sell better than analytical pieces but you can only make that kind of film when the humans are interested in telling their stories and the men who feature in The Overnighters keep their emotional cards very close to their chests. As I point out in my review, Herzog’s Into the Abyss is a great example of how to use human stories to build a social critique but Herzog’s interviews help his subject to develop their own thoughts whereas Moss seemed reluctant to ask any questions whatsoever. For example, one of the subjects spends his time spouting vitriol after being asked to leave the church and Moss neither challenges his vitriolic remarks or tries to determine what actually happened. Similarly, the film seems to imply that one of the subjects might well have been sexually involved with a man staying in the church who then blackmailed him but Moss never bothers to ask questions that might have allowed him to share the real story of what happens at the end of the film. The Overnighters had the potential to be a great little documentary about the plight of America’s working poor but rather than making that film, Moss tried to make a film about people’s feelings when nobody wanted to discuss them.

Another issue the film brought to light is the role of charity in perpetuating systemic inequality. According to the film, the oil industry did not pay its workers a living wage in the sense that their salaries did not allow them to make rent and feed themselves, forcing hundreds of people to sleep in their cars. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that, allowed to continue unchecked, these working practices would have resulted in hundreds of deaths and people fleeing the cold of North Dakota in order to return home. The resulting humanitarian disaster and shrinking of the labour pool would presumably have resulted in either the state stepping in or employers raising wages and building dormitories to arrest declining production. While charities like the Overnighters might prevent humanitarian disasters and save hundreds of lives, they do provide both the state and the public sector with an excuse for not changing their practices.  After all, why would an oil company build dormitories when a church down the road provides one at no cost to them? Watching The Overnighters, I was struck by the fact that the only way of addressing systemic inequality is at a systematic level: Workers can’t make rent? raise the minimum wage. Rents too high? Cap them. People forced to sleep in their cars because their wages are too low? raise corporate taxes and use the money to provide cheap social housing. There is something faintly obscene about the fact that the oil boom gave the state of North Dakota a seven-figure budget surplus and yet the only time we hear from the state in the film is when they are trying to shut down the church or ban people from sleeping in caravans.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW – The Killing (1956) and Killer’s Kiss (1955)

February 3, 2015
KillKK

FilmJuice have my twin review of Stanley Kubrick’s second and third films Killer’s Kiss and The Killing, which are getting an all-singing and all-dancing re-release next week at the hands of Arrow Films.

It was interesting to discover these films after reviewing the Masters of Cinema release of Kubrick’s first film Fear and Desire (apologies for nerfed formatting) as, like most people, my memories of Kubrick’s work are shaped by the classics he started churning out from the late-50s onwards. Of Kubrick’s first three films, The Killing is almost certainly the most accomplished and accessible.

However, while the heist is beautifully handled and provides the film with a strong narrative spine, the film’s real beauty lies in the character beats that provide the film’s real sources of tension. Based on a novel by Lionel White but scripted by the legendary crime novelist Jim Thompson, the film benefits from a cast of old B-movie hands who slot effortlessly into their assigned character types and go to town on the dialogue:

Marie Windsor plays Sherry as this wonderfully cynical drunk with a young lover and a hunger for money. Every inch the Femme Fatale dominatrix, she showers her husband with sarcasm and distain only to show him just enough attention to secure his continued loyalty and affection.

As I point out in my review, I felt that the film’s ending failed to live up to the promise of the film’s opening act but I have since learned that the film’s leading man Sterling Hayden was not a popular choice with the film’s studio backers and I wonder if Kubrick might not have left a few of his character beats on the cutting room floor. Either way, the film makes the mistake of driving home the idea that the character is a no-nonsense hard case only to try to elicit sympathy for him in the final scene. You can see how the film might have played out as Kubrick does soften the character in the opening scene but his failure to re-visit that softening and underline that duality results in a film that feels more bleakly nihilistic than it clearly yearns to be. Having said that, I compare the film to pictures like The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon and I stand by that comparison as this still a really fucking good film.

As well as some awesome extras (including an interview with a bearded, shirtless and resentful Hayden), the disc also includes Kubrick’s lesser-known second film Killer’s Kiss. Seldom revived during Kubrick’s lifetime, Killer’s Kiss is just as trippy and arty as his first film Fear and Desire but rather than deploying those tricks in the context of a war movie, Kubrick decides to deploy them in the context of an hour-long film about a second-rate boxer who falls in love with a woman in trouble. The narrative isn’t that interesting and the bloke playing the boxer is not what you would call charismatic but the film looks sensational, a bit like Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend complete with blurring of boundary between real and imagined:

However, look beyond the simple narrative and the desperately uneven acting and you will see a young director experimenting with a wide array of cinematic techniques. For example, whereas most Hollywood films of the period shot dialogue scenes with fixed cameras, Kubrick has his cameras move in and around the actors while they deliver their lines resulting in an odd, queasy feeling that feels a lot more subjective than realistic. Also interesting is the way that Kubrick makes the walls of the boxer’s kitchen pitch black except for a window looking onto his neighbour’s apartment creating the impression that the window functions almost like a comic book thought bubble in which the boxer visualises sounds overheard through the walls.

It is also quite interesting to see these two films get a release from Arrow films. Arrow have always been a damn fine home-release outfit but I have always associated them with the cult and horror titles they release under the Arrow Video label. I’m not entirely sure how long Arrow Academy has been around as a label but releases like this one and last year’s amazing Walerian Borowczyk box set would certainly position them as the emerging power in Britain’s premium home-video market. Masters of Cinema had better watch themselves!

Future Interrupted – Rest In Peace, Uncle Bob

January 25, 2015
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February 2015 must surely have been raised by heathens for it promises to come upon us unbeknownst. A month down the line and the timelessness of Christmas is but a fading memory, the mustiness of childhood bedrooms and Quality Street Victoriana banished for another year by a future that will not be denied. In 2015, the Conservative Party of Great Britain and the Marvel Cinematic Universe will battle for control of our collective brainspace… they will demand entry with images of ruined cities and whisper of looming threats that can only be averted through the actions of certain expensively-marketed media constructs. Who do you trust to run the economy? Who do you trust to sell you cars and fast food? The sickness will spread on the words of people who should at least wash their hands if they aren’t going to do us the courtesy of gouging out their own eyes. Remember… friends don’t let friends circulate viciously right-wing fantasies.

What better way to prepare for this ugly future than with the latest issue of a magazine that remembers when the future was still trying to gets its foot in the door? A magazine that knows where the skeletons are buried and who took a padded envelope to look the other way… That’s right! Issue #256 of Interzone is out in the world for your dee-light and dee-lectation!

This month’s issue includes such stories as:

  • “Nostalgia” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
  • “An Advanced Guide to Successful Price-Fixing In Extraterrestrial Markets” by T.R. Napper
  • “The Ferry Man” by Pandora Hope
  • “Tribute” by Christien Gholson
  • “Fish on Friday” by Neil Williamson

Aside from the usual columns by David Langford, Nina Allan, Tony Lee, Nick Lowe and myself, there are interviews with the artist Wayne Haag and the writer Ann Leckie as well as the usual suite of book reviews by such luminaries as Maureen Kincaid Speller, Paul Graham Raven, Stephen Theaker and John Howard.

One idea that particularly caught my eye appears at the end of an excellent Nina Allan column in which she expresses her frustration with Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road. Musing on the current relationship between British SF and mainstream publishing, Allan quotes an optimistic piece by Martin Lewis:

So my hope is the non-genre boom simply becomes the start of a new wave of British science fiction without boundaries and that the next time the broadsheets come calling we have some better broadsides.

Allan has been enthusiastic about the SF that is being published in Britain by mainstream presses before and yet her response to Lewis’ optimism is a fascinating note of caution. Quoting a rather disappointing Nick Harkaway interview from the Independent she writes:

My heart says bring it on, but my head says never gonna happen. Many of the mainstream writers cited by Lewis — not to mention their publishers — seem at pains to distance themselves from the science fiction label, often citing SF as a childhood enthusiasm rather than an ongoing preoccupation.

I am sceptical because we have been in this position before: Cast your minds back to 2003 when China Mieville was first acquiring broadsheet respectability and the strength of the British scene would result in an all-British Best Novel Hugo short-list only two years later. Unlike Harkaway, Mieville had steadfastly refused to distance himself from the British genre scene meaning that the attention lavished upon him was trickling down to authors who, though well-known to people in genre culture, were almost completely invisible to people outside it. The now infamous TTA Press forum discussions that saw the birth of the New Weird were, first and foremost, an attempt to capitalise on this rare moment in the mainstream cultural sun and find a way for British genre writing to break free from its old chains and find a way of operating without boundaries.

Needless to say… this new creative space was shut down almost as soon as it opened. Genre institutions were too rigid and paranoid to provide much support to mainstream-published SF and attempts to discuss the cultural moment in genre spaces were rapidly swamped by American authors who couldn’t see the point and genre commentators eager to see science fiction slipstream the commercial success of post-Tolkienian fantasy via the dissolution of genre boundaries. Waves of historical revisionism have stripped the Britishness and the Science Fiction from the New Weird moment and American-dominated genre spaces have (if anything) become even more indifferent to the interesting stuff being done on the margins of British genre publishing. Then, as now, British science fiction is beginning to assume a really interesting shape but I would not look to the institutions of genre culture to provide much in the way of support.

Now don’t you wish you could read the rest of that column and the magazine that contains it?  Well now you can! Physical subscriptions are available via the TTA Press website and digital subscriptions can be found on Smashwords!

Anyway… on with the reprints!

 

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My Seventh Future Interrupted column is entitled ‘Rest in Peace, Uncle Bob’ and it is best thought of as a continuation of the line of thought I began in “Dominion of the Dead” and continued in “Not a Series of Waves, but an Ocean”, which is to say that it is another examination of the history of science fiction and how various systematic and commercial forces shape our cultural history. The piece of cultural history covered by the column is the career and continued visibility of Robert A. Heinlein.

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Heinlein

 

 

I remember Robert A. Heinlein being dead, which is not the same thing as remembering when he died. Back in the 1990s when I was first getting into science fiction, Heinlein was almost out of print in the UK. Contemporaries such as Asimov and Clarke still enjoyed vigorous sales and a reassuring amount of shelf space but Heinlein himself was disappearing beneath the historical waves with only the spires of Starship Troopers still visible. In fact, Heinlein’s legacy was far more obvious in the works that reacted against his style and values, from the stripped-back futurism of cyberpunk to the progressive politics of the so-called Radical Hard SF. I remember Uncle Bob being dead but something seems to have disturbed his well-earned rest.

After decades of being an American phenomenon, Heinlein’s works are back on the shelves of Britain’s remaining bookshops. Gollancz’s prestigious Masterwork series has expanded to include Double Star and The Door into Summer alongside its existing editions of Starship Troopers and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Meanwhile, non-fiction presses have been doing their part to stimulate academic interest with the publication of not only a two-volume hagiography by William J. Patterson but also a series of critical volumes that acknowledge the problematic aspects of Heinlein’s patriarchal individualism and sex-positive incest advocacy but try to present them as evidence of a complex and progressive sensibility. Even the storm-tossed seas of online fandom are helping to wash Heinlein back into the limelight as certain corners of American genre culture have taken to using his position and popularity as indicators of the moral and aesthetic health of science fiction as a whole. What is going on here? Why are we seeing a concerted effort to repair the reputation and standing of a man who died over twenty-five years ago? There are a number of answers and most of them are partially true.

One explanation is that Heinlein’s back catalogue represents a substantial financial interest for the copyright holders. Time, fashion and the collapse of the mid-list are unkind to long-dead authors and while Uncle Bob’s books might well have leapt off the shelves in 1988, the current beneficiaries of Heinlein’s estate must now work harder to keep his books in the public eye. Sometimes this work might involve working with tame biographers, other times it will involve cutting deals that make little money for the estate but do at least keep Heinlein’s books in print. Clareson and Sanders’ book The Heritage of Heinlein includes anecdotes about Heinlein’s widow trying to block re-publication of work that she deemed ‘vulgar’ but the concerted effort to get Heinlein back into print suggests that such prissiness has now been replaced by steel-eyed pragmatism and the realisation that the dead no longer look after themselves.

 

HoH

 

Another thing to bear in mind is that while Heinlein’s reputation has been declining in the UK for decades, American genre culture still considers him to be a central figure in the history of science fiction. One of the more regrettable aspects of the online marketplace of ideas is that sharing a language with Americans and Australians means that it is proving difficult to maintain the distinctively British genre culture that once flowed from British magazines, conventions and publishers. Like every other product of neoliberalism and late-stage capitalism, the Internet provides a level playing field on which local concerns and sensibilities are dismembered and devoured by their much larger and better-resourced competition. Don’t get me wrong… American genre culture features an over-abundance of great stories, books, writers and ideas but the price of gaining admission to that abundance includes having to pay attention to American issues, American histories and American ideas about what constitutes a canonical author.

Shifting realities of genre publishing aside, the campaign to restore Heinlein’s reputation and standing may also have something to do with the fact that a particular generation of science fiction readers are now reaching the end of their natural lives. The growing concern about Heinlein’s status and visibility are reminiscent of a similar concern regarding the status of the film producer and director Roger Corman.

One of the most intriguing books about American film that you are ever likely to read is Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Drawing on extensive interviews and biographical research, Biskind describes how the post-war baby boomer generation came of age in the 1960s and set about changing the face of American film. The book’s opening chapters are upbeat and filled with anecdotes about the likes of Warren Beatty, Francis Ford Coppola and Dennis Hopper taking on the system and convincing the studios to give them enough freedom to reach a new generation of filmgoers. However, while this strategy did deliver huge successes such as Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather, it also allowed for ruinous failures like William Friedkin’s Sorcerer and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. According to Biskind, New Hollywood engineered the golden age of 1970s Hollywood but their excesses and individualism also paved the way for a backlash in which studios reasserted control and forced talent to cooperate with the blockbuster business model that endures to this day. The nuance of this historical account is entirely missing from a recent film made about the exact same time frame.

 

cormans-world

 

Alex Stapleton’s documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel features many of the same names as Easy Riders, Raging Bulls but rather than describing a period of boom and bust in which some directors were indulged at the cost of what turned out to be much less creative freedom for everyone else, Stapleton presents the ‘50s and ‘60s as the opening steps of a long triumphant march towards the era of the blockbuster that began with Jaws and Star Wars. The interesting thing about this film is that despite being an inexperienced director, Stapleton managed to secure interviews with a large chunk of Hollywood royalty who all turned out to praise the vision and independent spirit of the man who made terrible films like Battle Beyond the Stars and Frankenstein Unbound.

Much like Heinlein, Corman has become so closely associated with a particular moment in cultural history that it is almost impossible to pass judgement on the man’s work without also seeming to pass judgement on that moment in cultural history. Sure… Corman is an important historical figure whose strategy of targeting younger audiences with genre material laid the foundations of contemporary Hollywood, but the real reason Hollywood royalty lined up to praise Roger Corman is that he represents a spirit of independence and experimentation that is entirely at odds with the reality of today’s Hollywood machine. The re-invention of Corman as the Man Who Built Hollywood suggests that Hollywood baby boomers are trying to write their own epitaph and ensure that their generation is remembered for its experimentation and individuality rather than its complete capitulation to the forces of big business.

 

ballard_cokliss1

J.G. Ballard’s short work “Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan” makes the point that Ronald Reagan the person was an entirely different entity to Ronald Reagan the political figure and media construct. Similarly, the ideas and principles represented by the likes of Robert A. Heinlein and Roger Corman bear only a passing relation to the real people buried beneath the weight of those names. We fight over these names because of what they represent. We fight over these names because we want recognition for our values and concerns.

Some right-wing American fans want Heinlein to remain visible because they think that science fiction should continue to embody a blend of iconoclasm, rugged individualism and patriarchal power worship that is common to both Heinlein’s writing and the contemporary American right. Some progressive fans accept that Heinlein had a huge impact upon the development of science fiction but want to re-invent him as a progressive or even quasi-feminist figure because re-inventing Heinlein to fit your values is a means of ensuring that your values will be as much a part of the history of science fiction as Heinlein himself. Despite sharing the desire to emphasise science fiction’s history as a political literature, such revisionism strikes me as wrong-headed, why go to the trouble of papering over the cracks when it we could instead re-plaster the ceiling? We do the future no favours by seeking to deceive the present about the past.

Nobody Knows (2004) – Left Luggage

January 22, 2015
NK1

Art house film is a really shitty cultural milieu. Back in the 1960s, when European directors began to chafe against the studio system and competition from an ever-expanding Hollywood machine, they looked to the East for legitimacy and proof that cinema didn’t need to be about three act structures and infantilising melodrama. The history of European film may be dominated by European names but those early Japanese victories in Berlin served to remind the world that Hollywood is not the default option when it comes to film. Half a century later and Japanese film is treated in the same cavalier fashion as every other piece of non-English language cinema: Invisible until someone has a breakthrough at which point the floodgates open until everyone gets bored and moves on to the next big thing. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you saw a Spanish horror film or French thriller at your local cinema? Was it after one Spanish horror film or French thriller had a breakthrough success? I thought so.

It is now a long time since a Japanese film was embraced by European audiences and so the lines of communication with the Japanese cinema scene are growing increasingly faint. Fancy watching a cartoon series about World War II battleships that are anthropomorphised as sexualised pre-pubescent girls? No problem! There’s a massive website that will sub-title that shit and stream it so that you can see it at the same time as Japanese people! Fancy watching a Japanese live-action film that peels back the surface of Japanese social problems and exposes the embattled spirit that all humans share regardless of their race, gender or sexuality? Yeah… that might appear on DVD eventually but only if it does well at Cannes. Clearly, Japanese directors are missing a trick by not having their intricately-drawn characters be semen-drinking demons that look like 10 year-old girls.

Hirokazu Koreeda is one of only a handful of Japanese directors who retain some visibility in the West. Over the past twenty years, his films have charted the emotional landscape of contemporary Japan with a degree of humanity that nearly justifies Koreeda’s reputation as heir to the cinematic tradition of Yasujiro Ozu. Released in 2004 and winner of the Best Actor award at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, Nobody Knows finds Koreeda using one of his favoured narrative techniques: Taking inspiration from a contemporary news story and producing a film that unpacks the emotions underpinning not only the story but its relationship to Japanese society.

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REVIEW – Thief (1981)

January 20, 2015
IF

FilmJuice have my review of Michael Mann’s cinematic debut Thief. Despite having seen Mann’s first feature-length film (a TV movie called Jericho Mile), I had somehow evaded seeing his first cinematic feature. This means that I have just had one of my best cinematic experiences in years as Michael Mann’s Thief is a stone cold classic!

The film revolves around a highly organised and professional thief played by James Caan in full 70s tough guy mode. Despite having his life completely squared away and stripped of all unwelcome and unnecessary emotional entanglements, the character feels a yearning for normality when a face-to-face meeting with an old mentor gives him a Ghost-of-Future-Present moment in which he imagines himself dying alone in jail. However, despite wanting to live a normal middle-class life, the character approaches his desire for normality with the same level of aggression and control-freakery that he approaches his job as a cat burglar resulting in an absolutely amazing sequence in which Caan’s character almost pulls a gun on a woman as a means of declaring his love and desire to start a family. Unfortunately, the character soon realises that his chequered past and lack of social skills mean that a proper middle-class existence is out of bounds (he cannot adopt or secure a mortgage to buy a house) and so he enters into a relationship with a crime boss who is looking to start a family.

The conventional reading of this film emphasises the humanity of Caan’s character and see a desire for emotional openness in his pursuit of a middle-class lifestyle. However, I don’t believe that Thief is a film about someone who has a middle-class life stripped away from him, this is a film about a man who was never suited to middle-class life to begin with!

Hardboiled crime thrillers love the idea of emotionally isolated men discovering reasons to live: In Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Ryan Gosling’s highly-professional simpleton goes on a couple of nice dates with the woman next door and sacrifices himself for the sake of her family. In Brian Helgeland’s Payback, Mel Gibson’s highly-professional blank slate murders his way through an entire criminal syndicate for the sake of a few thousand dollars until he spends time with an old flame whose presence transforms the money from a stupid reason to risk your life into a chance for a new beginning. Directors and writers love these transformative moments as it softens one male power fantasy (the highly-professional hard case) into a slightly different male power fantasy (the highly-professional hard case who turns out to be a sensitive soul after all). Part of what makes Thief so fascinating is that while Mann literally walks Caan’s Frank up the garden path to an ordinary life, Frank abandons that life at the very first set-back. In fact, Frank doesn’t just walk away from his life… he abandons his family and burns his house to the ground because he cannot cope with the emotional entanglements that characterise a normal life.

Michael Mann’s Thief can be read as a hardboiled version of Jean Renoir’s classic Boudu Saved From Drowning except rather than being about an eccentric homeless person who is taken under the wing of a nice middle-class man only to walk away from middle-class bliss, Thief reskins Boudu as an emotionally isolated cat burglar and the lovely middle-class book salesman as a patriarchal crime boss. Both films critique the idea that everyone is suited to a normal middle-class existence and both films suggest that there is something faintly intimidating about the middle-class urge to uplift and civilise the lower orders.

 

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A Perspective on Perspectives

January 10, 2015

The Good people at Nerds of a Feather are currently experimenting with a couple of new formats including the Blogtable I was lucky enough to participate in earlier this week. The second format they have tried is called Perspectives and it seems to involve a number of bloggers responding to a particular piece or event. For reasons best known to The G, they chose my reviews of Terraform and Uncanny magazines as the basis for their first Perspectives.

Whenever people respond to anything I write (particularly negatively, natch) my first instinct is to mutter about them getting the wrong end of the stick but this time, I was reminded of an old article by John Clute in which he talks about the wonders of ‘misprision’ and how someone’s decision to latch onto a meaning other than the one you intended can serve to open up interesting perspectives on the original piece. Plus… it would be a bit off of me to argue that the author is dead and then argue that people have failed to interpret one of my essays correctly! So rather than seeking to ‘correct’ their responses or ‘punish them for their impudence’, I’ll respond to their ideas directly and use them as an opportunity to clarify some of my own thinking.

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