The Essence of Jean-Luc Godard (sort of)

Earlier this year, Studiocanal began re-releasing the early films of the iconic art house director Jean-Luc Godard. Freshly restored and re-mastered, these re-releases not only kicked off a major restrospective of Godard’s work at London’s BFI but also began what would appear to be a rolling programme of high-definition home releases. FilmJuice have my extended review of the box set that began this programme of home releases, a beautifully-formed gem entitled Godard: The Essential Collection and includes:

  • Breathless (A Bout de Souffle)
  • A Woman is A Woman (Une Femme est Une Femme)
  • Contempt (Le Mepris)
  • Alphaville
  • Pierrot le Fou

While I would question the description of these five films as “essential” (there’s no Bande a Part for starters), this box set does provide an excellent starting point for anyone who would like to get to grips with Godard’s early work. If I had to provide you with something to bear in mind when watching Godard or reading my review it would be this observation:

Godard’s films speak of politics, modernity and the creation of cinematic art but they mostly speak of women and Godard’s failure to understand them.

 

On A Bout de Souffle…

I say:

While much has been made of the jump-cuts, non-sequiturs, and fourth-wall breaches that comprise the film’s style, none of these flourishes are anything less than organic. Just as Roman Polanski’s Repulsion would later chronicle the squalid living conditions faced by a generation of young women who had chosen to live and work outside of the parental home, Godard’s Breathless tries to capture what it felt like to be young and unsupported in 1950s Paris. It’s not just that Michel is forever failing to track down his friends or that people seem to drift in and out of bed without having a clear idea as to how they feel about each other, it’s that time expands and contracts around working days that never seem to disentangle themselves from coffee and flirting. O Lord the flirting.

 

On Une Femme est Une Femme…

I say:

Godard’s playful sound design continues once Angela arrives at work. We see her talking to colleagues, getting into costume and wandering around backstage at the strip club but the music and scoring never seem to line up with the images we see on screen. We see an old man playing an organ but we only hear the music when the shot cuts away and we’re trying to make out what the characters are saying to each other. After a few minutes of this trickery, Angela takes to the stage but the music drops out the minute she starts to sing. This results in an uncomfortable few minutes of poor singing as the camera swoops majestically around a sleazy strip joint full of men in dirty overcoats while beautiful Angela sings about being a woman. Angela’s song is entirely appropriate to a strip club as she sings neither of love nor of yearning but her own beauty and how she always says “Yes” because it doesn’t pay to be impolite with boys. This song combined with the absent score and the rough singing creates a tension between fantasy and reality: Angela’s work demands that she objectify herself but the fantasy is too imperfect to hold our attention… we cannot help but look beyond the beautiful woman to the cleverness of the sound editing or the movement of the camera.

 

On Le Mepris…

I say:

In Contempt, art is not something that exists separately from the private lives of people who create it. Artists breathe in reality, mix with their innermost thoughts, and exhale creations new. Left to his own devices, Michel might have been able to work out the sources of Camille’s anger but his need to manage this problem whilst dealing with the Lang/Prokosch impasse distorts and obscures his vision, he cannot see beyond the limits of his art and this has served to disconnect him from reality in much the same way as the characters in Breathless and A Woman is a Woman seeks refuge in old films when they know full well that reality is more complex. During their arguments, Camille urges Michel to ignore her complaints and take the job but Michel doesn’t know if he wants to be an ambitious, money-driven person and so he blames his own lack of decisiveness on his wife. There is literally nothing that Camille could have said to make Michel happy and therein lies the rub. The film concludes with some jaw-dropping footage of the isle of Capri where Michel tries to resign from the job and make a stand for artistic freedom but his words are hollow and insincere. He can’t even convince himself.

 

On Alphaville…

I say:

Alphaville may be a commentary on Godard’s Paris and the way that making your way in any big city requires you to adapt your expectations to that which the city is willing to provide, but it is also a far broader metaphorical representation of the ways in which political systems break, remake, and exclude those of us who fail to fit in. Living within Alphaville means accepting the logic of Alpha 60’s plans and accepting this logic means lowering your expectations to the point where they are already met, thereby ensuring that the residents of Alphaville can live as seductresses and gun-thugs without ever feeling a moment’s sadness or regret. Caution’s mission is to destroy Alpha 60 and so save those who are still capable of crying.

 

On Pierrot le Fou

I say:

Despite its sun-drenched setting and musical interludes, Pierrot le Fou is easily the darkest film contained in this box set. Apparently, when Godard’s sister was shown the film, she became agitated as she saw in Ferdinand’s suicidal blockage an echo of Godard’s own problems understanding both his art and the women in his life. This reading of the film is compelling as Ferdinand’s decision to abandon a bourgeois existence and live on the margins of society in the hopes of writing a great novel recall not only Godard’s frustrations with artistic expression but also his decision to strike out and create a new cinematic vocabulary with this very film. Like his creator, Ferdinand moves from energetic set-piece to energetic set-piece only to realise that originality and energy are no guarantee of truth. The film ends with Ferdinand strapping a load of dynamite to his own head and blowing himself up and it is difficult to think of a more apt response to a film that spends nearly two hours producing more light than heat. Pierrot le Fou is tedious and hollow but the film’s self-awareness transforms tedium into tragedy.

REVIEW — Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (1990)

Having just finished putting up my review of Gemma Bovery, I find myself linking to yet another work of cinematic metafiction intended as a means of approaching a classic text from an entirely new perspective. Well… I say “new” but FilmJuice have my review of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are dead.

I love the idea of metafiction. Metafiction is one of those quintessentially postmodern literary devices that serve not only to highlight the artificiality of a given text, but also to explore it from an entirely new perspective. Metafiction works by locating holes in the plot, character, or setting and then creating a fresh text that not only fills the holes, but links them together in a way that forces you to look upon the original text in a different way.  Like many postmodern devices, the principle aesthetic of metafiction is cleverness and so the name of the game is usually to see how many gaps you can fill, and how far you can distort the original text without the entire thing becoming cumbersome and boring. I love the idea of metafiction but tend to find that cleverness is a singularly unappealing aesthetic.

Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead was a classic play before it was a classic film and the adaptation is weighted down by the fact that a) Tom Stoppard is no film director and b) Many of the ideas that Stoppard tried to extract from Hamlet have entered the mainstream and feel neither fresh nor in need of the kind of complex metafictional infrastructure that Stoppard felt obliged to create. Did we really need an entirely new text to draw our attention to the absurd nihilism at the heart of Hamlet? Maybe back in 1966.

But I’m skipping ahead of myself… Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is a work of metafiction about two of Hamlet‘s more inconsequential characters. In the text of the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two of Hamlet’s old school friends who turn up in Denmark, listen to a couple of speeches, get involved in courtly intrigue and wind up sentencing themselves to death. Stoppard’s play and film use the characters not only to draw our attention to the contrivances at the heart of Hamlet, but also to drive home the vicious nihilism that haunts the events of the play. Thematics aside, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is all about the linguistic games and philosophical tangents explored at 100 miles-per-hour. Unfortunately, Stoppard’s directorial inexperience completely undermines this aspect of the play:

When performed live, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is all about speed of delivery and the way that a conversation about one thing can suddenly blossom into a scene from Hamlet dealing with something else entirely. Performed live, the play is immensely impressive if only because of the sheer speed and complexity of the material being delivered. Having been asked to adapt his play for the screen, Stoppard evidently decided that he should try to make the play seem more cinematic but rather than replacing elements of the play with elements that might work better in a cinematic format, Stoppard took the text of his play and inserted additional cinematic elements like elegant footage of the decaying castle and visual jokes about people being chased up and down corridors. While these elements are not in and of themselves terrible, they do serve to slacken the pace of the narrative and so undermine the sense of speed and flow that is evident even in the written form of the source material. The result is an adaptation that feels overly long and cluttered to the point where it calls into question the cleverness of the source material.

Another thing that occurred to me after writing this review is that Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead seems to harken back to a rather dated form of Shakespearean performance. Prior to the likes of Olivier, Shakespeare was often performed purely for the strength of its mouth music and so actors would plant themselves in the middle of the stage and deliver magnificent orations without being overly fussed about the nature of the characters they were meant to be portraying. It occurs to me that Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead harkens back to this unfashionable approach in so far as the play’s aesthetics are all about speed and elegance of delivery rather than expressions of character. Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss, and Gary Oldman are all superb actors but it struck me that, aside from mouth music and gurning, the play did not offer them very much to do.

 

REVIEW — Gemma Bovery (2014)

FilmJuice have my review of Anne Fontaine’s Gemma Bovery, an adaptation of that Posy Simmonds strip that ran in the Guardian a few years ago… Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary given a modern make-over and transported to a village in Normandy where an English couple have just moved in. But the cleverness of the source material extends way beyond its modern setting.

As I say in my review:

Simmonds’Gemma Bovery was an attempt to address the maleness of Flaubert’s gaze by drawing the audience’s attention to the way that men see women, the way that men read novels, and the way that these two processes can often feed into each other. Anne Fontaine’s French adaptation of a British comic connects admirably with the source material’s literary criticism but struggles to understand the substantive issues surrounding the ways in which straight men look at women.

This is a film about a French baker who becomes obsessed with the idea that an English woman named Gemma Bovery is in the process of reliving the plot of Flaubert’s novel. What works is the way that Fontaine keeps Gemma at arm’s length and encourages us to speculate as to what is going through her head. What does not work is that Fontaine seems surprisingly reluctant to acknowledge Gemma’s existence as anything other than a sex object. As I explain in my review, there are scenes intended to stress the fact that Gemma works damn hard to maintain a sexy public persona and that said work involves hours spent working out, denying herself food, and generally being profoundly unsexy.

This was a real wasted opportunity as it seems to make the exact same mistake as David Fincher’s adaptation of Gone Girl in that the female character delivers a speech about how she can finally be herself after years of being the ‘cool girl’ only for the film to suggest that the character had no ‘real self’ beyond a desire to mould herself to male expectations and use those expectations to manipulate and consume men.

Both films acknowledge the ‘cool girl’ phenomenon and the extent to which women are forced to perform not just their femininity and sexuality, but also their earthy authenticity for the sake of men. However, it is one thing to acknowledge this phenomenon and quite another to critique it and Fontaine proves just as unwilling to critique the performance of femininity as Fincher.

Last Year at Marienbad (1961) –Submitting to Another’s Interpretation

As I remarked in the introduction to my recent piece about Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad is one of a handful of works comprising the peak of the sensibility or movement known as European art house film. Great works may have followed in its wake, some may even continue to be made, but few films have managed to equal (let alone outstrip) Marienbad when it comes to sheer inventive panache. This was a film that did not so much bend the rules of cinematic story-telling as shatter them into a thousand beautiful pieces.

There are many critical paths into Marienbad, but the one I would like to focus on today involves the colliding sensibilities of the film’s writer and director:

The film’s director – Alain Resnais – may have begun his cinematic career as an actor but his reputation was built on the back of a documentary exploring the extent of France’s collaboration with the German war machine during World War II. Night and Fog served to confront the myth that the French people had spent the entirety of World War II actively resisting the German occupation. Far from spending their evenings blowing up ammunition dumps, many French people welcomed German occupation and their welcome even extended as far as helping the Nazis to exterminate France’s Jewish population. The myth of the citizen-resistance fighter was not only put about by French political elites eager to evade answering questions about their own wartime activities, it was also embraced by a French population wracked by feelings of guilt and shame. While themes of remembrance and forgetting may have gone on to dominate the rest of Resnais’ cinematic career, that career began with an examination of how memories can be manipulated by those with a vested interest in particular truths.

The film’s writer – Alain Robbe-Grillet – differed from most writers in so far as he trained as an agronomist with a particular interest in diseases of the banana. As someone whose perhaps more scientific than humanistic, Robbe-Grillet’s writing was famously devoid of humanity. Even when his work did feature conventional characters and narratives, the prose would invariably be affectless and profoundly wedded to the surface of objects. For example, consider the opening to his classic experimental short story “The Secret Room”:

 

The first thing to be seen is a red stain, of a deep, dark, shiny red, with almost black shadows. It is in the form of an irregular rosette, sharply outlined, extending in several directions in wide outflows of unequal length, dividing and dwindling afterward into single sinuous streaks. The whole stands out against a smooth, pale surface, round in shape, at once dull and pearly, a hemisphere joined by gentle curves to an expanse of the same pale color—white darkened by the shadowy quality of the place: a dungeon, a sunken room, or a cathedral—glowing with a diffused brilliance in the semidarkness.

 

There are two further things to say about this quotation: The first is that, despite appearing to be written in an objective or photo-realistic style, neither the room nor its contents ever existed. The room is a complete fiction that has been introduced into your head by the simple act of reading the above passage. The second thing to say about this quotation is that the red stain is blood dripping from the breast of a woman who has been murdered. Indeed, while Robbe-Grillet never killed or maimed anyone, his fantasy life is said to have revolved around the torture of young women. These fantasies would often inspire real actions undertaken as part of a long-term sadomasochistic relationship with another consenting adult. I mention this not to posthumously kink-shame Robbe-Grillet, but rather to position him as someone who would have been quite comfortable distinguishing between non-consensual sex and the performance of non-consent as part of an activity to which everyone involved would have willingly consented.

Last Year at Marienbad is a film about memory but also about consent and the extent to which our memories and actions can be shaped by other people.

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REVIEW –Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)

FilmJuice have my review of Alain Resnais’ iconic art house drama Hiroshima Mon Amour. Historical distance tends to result in cultural moments losing a lot of their nuance. For example, when we look back at British punk, we often struggle to see beyond the Sex Pistols and even when we do manage to escape the event horizon of their fame, we tend to only see bands like Crass and X-Ray Spex. I have a theory that when the books are closed on post-War European cinema and its contemporary art house rump, people will agree that the cultural moment peaked with Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad and L’Avventura. Sure… great films came before and after (I’ve reviewed quite a few of them) but even fifty years later, European art house film struggles to be anywhere near as beautiful, shocking, and thought-provoking as those three films. Indeed, one of my recurring moans is that many of the directors working in contemporary European art house film are little more than tribute acts grinding through gestures and ideas introduced over half a century ago.

And yet, who can blame generations of film school graduates when those gestures and ideas contain so much power?

Hiroshima Mon Amour was Resnais’ first feature-length film and the road to directing narrative features was paved with short, confrontational documentaries including Night and Fog, his damning examination of French involvement in the Holocaust. As might be expected of a feted documentarian, Resnais’ first feature begins with a series of documentary gestures in which a woman describes visiting a museum about the bombing of Hiroshima while her Japanese lover repeatedly asserts that she saw nothing at Hiroshima. The steel in his voice and the intimation of trauma it suggests set the tone for a film about memory, emotion, and the urgent need to forget:

Were someone to make Hiroshima Mon Amour today, people would say that it was a film about trauma; the trauma inflicted upon the Japanese people by the American use of nuclear weapons and the trauma of being used as a scapegoat for the years your home town lived happily under German rule. Rather than differentiating between the wartime experiences of winners and losers, soldiers and civilians, Renais links the experiences of a Japanese soldier to the experiences of a French teenager and explores the effects of trauma upon memory and, by extension, the self. Though Renais would likely not have thought of his film in terms of modern ideas about psychological trauma, he intuitively understands the ways in which trauma can distance you from people who do not share your experiences. He also understands how traumatic events can demand a form of active and self-protective forgetfulness whereby the traumatised create new stories to tell about themselves. For example, the architect is only able to function because he chooses not to talk about the destruction of his home and family. When his lover tries to start a conversation about Hiroshima, his only response is to shut her down… “You saw nothing of Hiroshima”. Conversely, the actress is only able to function because she chooses not to fall in love so deeply as to be transported back to that day when she was shaved and thrown into a basement. She recognises the need to confront these feelings and move on with her life and yet she cannot… “You destroy me. You’re so good for me”.

I’ve long suspected that my tastes are turning more and more towards the abstract. I’ve spent so long thinking about books and films that I genuinely struggle with the carefully curated experiences offered by works with strong narratives and the need to lock audiences into a single unambiguous narrative. All too often, these works feel like theme park rides only without the excitement. Like many films influenced by the experimentalism of French modernism, Hiroshima Mon Amour turns its nose up at the tricks and traps of western story-telling and encourages us to think by providing us with a stream of unanswered questions and evocative images. Hiroshima Mon Amour is one of those films that perfectly suits my current needs and tastes… it is my bag, baby.

REVIEW – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

FilmJuice have my review of Arrow’s re-release of Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The film revolves around a group of female rock musicians who decide to leave home and try their luck on the LA music scene. What they find is a scene replete with sex and drugs where fame is just as likely an outcome as death. Initially wowed by the glamour and raw sexuality of their new friends and hangers on, the band lose sight of the music and each other before re-discovering themselves and asserting their basic moral character. In other words… it’s the cinematic version of Josie and the Pussycats only without the tunes and satirical edge:

The problem with Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is that while Meyer had been working in Hollywood for a few years, neither he nor his screen-writer the film critic Roger Ebert had any idea as to what LA’s sinister underbelly was actually like. Meyer was 48 when Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was released and so the image of Hollywood he wound up ‘satirising’ was one with little or no basis in reality. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is not so much humorous as embarrassing in that characters wander around spouting 60s-inspired gibberish like “don’t bogart that joint” and “I’d love to strap you on”. It’s funny enough the first few times but the well is shallow and Ebert’s script keeps digging long after the audience is being served refreshing glasses of dirt. Moving beyond the thin attempts at satire are juvenile attempts at transgression that usually boil down to footage of enormous bouncing breasts and moments of gay panic.

Some critics describe Beyond the Valley of the Dolls as a satire of the LA scene but the satire rarely rises above the level achieved by Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, which I assume provided the bulk of Ebert and Meyer’s ‘research’ into 60s counter-culture.

Meyer is a director who reminds me a lot of Roger Corman in so far as his fame seems to be a reflection of financial realities rather than genuine authorial vision. Both directors arrived on the scene after the collapse of the studio system and TV’s wholesale annexation of cinema audiences. Corman and Meyer made money and brought in younger audiences by filling cinema screens with sex and violence and so have come to be hailed as pioneers but the directors of the American New Wave did much the same and yet produced art rather than the grubby, stupid and lacklustre nonsense that we have come to associate with Corman and Meyer. As I say in my review, Meyer deserves credit for developing a vision that was uniquely his own but there really are much better Meyer films than Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. This film is unfunny, unsexy, unexciting and egregiously reactionary. Ugh.

 

REVIEW — The Angry Silence (1960)

I often wonder how much attention I should play to politics in the evaluative elements of my reviewing. As someone who is normally quite cynically detached from the culture that surrounds me, I am –to borrow a turn of phrase from Peter Mandelson and thereby prove a point — intensely relaxed about the consumption of right-wing culture.

I can watch Triumph of the Will and The Birth of a Nation just as easily as I watch Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. I can watch and appreciate these films because I take them all  to be well-realised expressions of particular world-views. The fact that I have more personal sympathy for the politics of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning might encourage me to return to that film slightly more often and hold it in slightly higher regard but ugly politics are no impediment to the creation of beautiful films. At least in principle…

There are times when right-wing culture annoys me and those times are usually when the film is quite obviously tapping into existing trends in right-wing propaganda in order to connect with an audience. My go-to example for this type of thing is Ciaran Foy’s The Citadel, a low-budget horror film that draws on a variety of racist and classist stereotypes in its efforts to depict modern-day council estates as madness-flecked sink holes filled with feral dog-children who would just as soon rape you as smear faeces on your front door. This type of shit bothers me because these are notions that are still ‘live’ and still doing damage to the people who live and work on those council estates. Fascism and racism are still very real social problems but I feel that cultural politics have shifted far enough that it is easy to gain some distance from films about Nazis and Klansmen. This may be a reflection of my white privilege, but it is also how culture works… time and distance make it a lot easier to be objective.

An excellent example of this process at work is my review of Guy Green’s workplace drama The Angry Silence, which has now gone live on FilmJuice.

The film is set in a period of British history where capitalism had not yet been completely unbound. The story revolves around a factory-worker who is forced to choose between financial security and group loyalty when a communist agitator manipulates his local union into a series of wildcat strikes:

It is at this point that the film’s right-wing politics begin to manifest themselves as Curtis is positioned as a righteous individual standing up to both the inhuman collectivism of the working class and the selfishness of ruling elites who inexplicably single him out as a ‘lone wolf’ and general trouble maker. What makes the film right-wing is the way that it paints the working class as a collection of cowards, sheep and thugs. Easily manipulated by what would appear to be Soviet spies, they strike out of vanity and blind conformity rather than as a means of securing fairer wages or safer working conditions. The Angry Silence is not set in our world but in a parallel universe where capitalists increase wages, workers remove their own safety rails and still people turn out on strike. The situation explored in The Angry Silence is as much of a paranoid right-wing fantasy as the ticking terrorist time bomb that invariably serves to justify the use of torture… no wonder this film was universally praised by the right-wing press.

The Angry Silence is a piece of right-wing propaganda that aped the kitchen sink realism and working-class focus of the British New Wave at a time when those themes, methods and politics still had an audience. It’s not just that the film’s politics are wrong and harmful, it’s that the producers Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, and Jack Rix took a set of tools devised to help set people free and used them to construct an argument in favour of the blasted neoliberal hellscape in which we are now collectively entombed. The Angry Silence is a well-made film in the same way as Triumph of the Will and The Birth of a Nation are well-made films in that it articulates its right-wing worldview with real panache in a film that is well-constructed, well-written and very well-performed.

The Angry Silence is a well-made piece of right-wing propaganda and the only reason I am able to enjoy it is because the argument the film participates in about the merits of collective action and group solidarity have now been lost. I can understand why the right-wing press praised this film and I can understand why the (then) predominantly left-wing film culture absolutely hated it. I hate what this film represents and yet I have enough distance from the argument that I am able to appreciate the skill with which its clauses and conclusions are laid out. Yet another good film in service of an ugly argument.

Colin Barrett’s Young Skins: “Kindly Forget My Existence”

As I reach the finish line, I’m moved to consider whether or not Colin Barrett’s Young Skins is actually a decent collection of short stories. As I’ve mentioned before, Barrett’s name often features in articles devoted to the emergence of a new wave of Irish writers and I think the Glanbeigh stuff justifies his inclusion in those types of curatorial pieces… but only just.

“The Clancy Kid” and “Bait” are hip to gender politics and come with enough ugliness, sensuality and kinetic weirdness to ensure that they linger first in the eye and then in the mind. However, as compelling as the collection’s opening stories may be, nothing else quite manages to reach their levels of either cleverness or artistry.

Presenting Young Skins as a story cycle set in the fictional town of Glanbeigh was a great idea as it encourages us to view the collection’s weaker stories in a flattering light cast by its opening triumphs. However, while Barrett does connect the stories at the level of both place and character, he struggles to find deeper connections and so fails to achieve either stylistic consistency or thematic focus resulting in a collection that rapidly loses its shape despite the diminishing returns offered by the pretence of inter-connectedness. Once you realise that Barrett is never going to build on the achievements of those opening stories, you are left with the frustrating and the merely passable.

Young Skins’ final story “Kindly Forget My Existence” is an excellent case in point as while it would appear to be set in the same place as “The Clancy Kid” and “Bait” it is actually an entirely generic piece of literary writing that could have been written by almost anyone and published almost anywhere.

 

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Colin Barrett’s Young Skins: “Diamonds”

If “Calm with Horses” was all about Barrett relaxing into the long-distance gait of the novelist then this story is all about the explosive energy of the short fiction sprinter. Even less concerned with narrative and sustained characterisation than the collection’s opening stories, “Diamonds” demonstrates the raw power of Barrett’s prose as well as the strategic weaknesses of his methods.

The story begins with a display of pyrotechnics:

The midland skies were huge, drenched in pearlescent light and stacked with enormous chrome confections of cloud, their wrinkled undersides greyly streaked and mottled, brimming with whatever rain is before it becomes rain. Each time I came to and checked the carriage window the same cow seemed to be eyeing me from the same sodden, tobacco-brown field.

Little more than a shot across the reader’s bow, we move on to discover a protagonist who is all out of luck and all out of options. Rock bottom is rising up to meet him and the only way out was a return to source… to Glanbeigh!

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Colin Barrett’s Young Skins: “Calm With Horses”

At 74-pages in length “Calm with Horses” is not only the longest work in the collection by some considerable margin. It is also the only work that might be described as a novella rather than a conventional short story and this format change may account for why the stylistic fireworks that characterise both “The Clancy Kid” and “The Moon” feel less present.

So what does a Colin Barrett story look like when it isn’t waxing rhapsodic about fierce women and drink-cudgelled men? It looks exactly what I hoped it would look like: An intense and character-focused story that takes place in those few precious millimetres where the wheel of crime fiction hits the road of literature. Ragged, patchy and perhaps overly reliant upon the literary ellipsis, “Calm with Horses” is by no means a finished product but it bodes well for what Barrett might be able to accomplish once he starts producing novels.

 

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