Adventures in Cinema 2015

African cinema, American cinema, Blogpost, British cinema, Canadian cinema, Chinese cinema, Documentary, European cinema, Film education, Film reviews, French Cinema, Iranian cinema, Italian Cinema, Japanese Cinema, Latin American cinema, Philippine cinema, Ritzy introductions, Transnational Cinema, Ukrainian Cinema, Uncategorized

There’ll be some stories below, so this is not just dry analysis of films I saw this year. But it is that, too. Sorry if this is boring. But you can go by the section headings to see if any of this post is of interest to you.

The Basics
In 2015, I saw 336 films for the first time. There is a complete list at the bottom of this blog. Some might provoke surprise, begging for example how I had not seen those films (in their entirety) before – Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, France/UK, 1985) being perhaps the main case in point. But there we go. One sees films (in their entirety – I’d seen bits of Shoah before) when and as one can…

Of the 336 films, I saw:-

181 in the cinema (6 in 3D)

98 online (mainly on MUBI, with some on YouTube, DAFilms and other sites)

36 on DVD/file

20 on aeroplanes

1 on TV

Films I liked
I am going to mention here new films, mainly those seen at the cinema – but some of which I saw online for various reasons (e.g. when sent an online screener for the purposes of reviewing or doing an introduction to that film, generally at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, London).

And then I’ll mention some old films that I enjoyed – but this time only at the cinema.

Here’s my Top 11 (vaguely in order)

  1. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, France/Germany/Switzerland, 2014)
  2. El Botón de nácar/The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzmán, France/Spain/Chile/Switzerland, 2015)
  3. Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Peter Greenaway, Netherlands/Mexico/Finland/Belgium/France, 2015)
  4. Bande de filles/Girlhood (Céline Sciamma, France, 2014)
  5. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania, 2014)
  6. Saul fia/Son of Saul (László Nemes, Hungary, 2015)
  7. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, UK, 2015)
  8. Force majeure/Turist (Ruben Östlund, Sweden/France/Norway/Denmark, 2014)
  9. The Thoughts Once We Had (Thom Andersen, USA, 2015)
  10. Phoenix (Christian Petzold, Germany/Poland, 2014)
  11. Mommy (Xavier Dolan, Canada, 2014)

And here are some proxime accessunt (in no particular order):-

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, Canada/Spain/France, 2013); Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, USA, 2014); Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2014); Jupiter Ascending (Andy and Lana Wachowski, USA/Australia, 2015); The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, UK/Hungary, 2014); Catch Me Daddy (Daniel Wolfe, UK, 2014); White God/Fehér isten (Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary/Germany/Sweden, 2014); Dear White People (Justin Simien, USA, 2014); The Falling (Carol Morley, UK, 2014); The Tribe/Plemya (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, Ukraine/Netherlands, 2014); Set Fire to the Stars (Andy Goddard, UK, 2014); Spy (Paul Feig, USA, 2015); Black Coal, Thin Ice/Bai ri yan huo (Yiao Dinan, China, 2014); Listen Up, Philip (Alex Ross Perry, USA/Greece, 2014); Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, USA, 2015); The New Hope (William Brown, UK, 2015); The Overnight (Patrick Brice, USA, 2015); Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse/My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2015); Manglehorn (David Gordon Green, USA, 2014); Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, USA, 2015); Hard to be a God/Trudno byt bogom (Aleksey German, Russia, 2013); Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie, USA, 2015); Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, USA, 2015); Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, USA/Brazil, 2015); While We’re Young (Noah Baumbach, USA, 2014); Marfa Girl (Larry Clark, USA, 2012); La Sapienza (Eugène Green, France/Italy, 2014); La última película (Raya Martin and Mark Peranson, Mexico/Denmark/Canada/Philippines/Greece, 2013); Lake Los Angeles (Mike Ott, USA/Greece, 2014); Pasolini (Abel Ferrara, France/Belgium/Italy, 2014); Taxi Tehran/Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2015); No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France, 2015); Dope (Rick Famuyiwa, USA, 2015); Umimachi Diary/Our Little Sister (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan, 2015); Tangerine (Sean Baker, USA, 2015); Carol (Todd Haynes, UK/USA, 2015); Joy (David O. Russell, USA, 2015); PK (Rajkumar Hirani, India, 2014); Eastern Boys (Robin Campillo, France, 2013); Selma (Ava DuVernay, UK/USA, 2014); The Dark Horse (James Napier Robertson, New Zealand, 2014); Hippocrate/Hippocrates: Diary of a French Doctor (Thomas Lilti, France, 2014); 99 Homes (Ramin Bahrani, USA, 2014).

Note that there are some quite big films in the above; I think the latest Mission: Impossible topped James Bond and the other franchises in 2015 – maybe because McQuarrie is such a gifted writer. Spy was for me a very funny film. I am still reeling from Cliff Curtis’ performance in The Dark Horse. Most people likely will think Jupiter Ascending crap; I think the Wachowskis continue to have a ‘queer’ sensibility that makes their work always pretty interesting. And yes, I did put one of my own films in that list. The New Hope is the best Star Wars-themed film to have come out in 2015 – although I did enjoy the J.J. Abrams film quite a lot (but have not listed it above since it’s had enough attention).

Without wishing intentionally to separate them off from the fiction films, nonetheless here are some documentaries/essay-films that I similarly enjoyed at the cinema this year:-

The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle, USA, 2015); National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, France/USA/UK, 2014); Life May Be (Mark Cousins and Mania Akbari, UK/Iran, 2014); Detropia (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, USA, 2012); Storm Children: Book One/Mga anak ng unos (Lav Diaz, Philippines, 2014); We Are Many (Amir Amirani, UK, 2014); The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, France/Brazil/Italy, 2014).

And here are my highlights of old films that I managed to catch at the cinema and loved immensely:-

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis/Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini (Vittorio de Sica, Italy/West Germany, 1970); Il Gattopardo/The Leopard (Lucchino Visconti, Italy/France, 1963); Images of the World and the Inscriptions of War/Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (Harun Farocki, West Germany, 1989); A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, USA, 1974).

With two films, Michael Fassbender does not fare too well in the below list – although that most of them are British makes me suspect that the films named feature because I have a more vested stake in them, hence my greater sense of disappointment. So, here are a few films that got some hoo-ha from critics and in the media and which I ‘just didn’t get’ (which is not far from saying that I did not particularly like them):-

La Giovinezza/Youth (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France/Switzerland/UK, 2015), Sunset Song (Terence Davies, UK/Luxembourg, 2015); Macbeth (Justin Kurzel, UK/France/USA, 2015); Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad, USA, 2014); Slow West (John Maclean, UK/New Zealand, 2015); Tale of Tales/Il racconto dei racconti (Matteo Garrone, Italy/France/UK, 2015); Amy (Asif Kapadia, UK/USA, 2015).

And even though many of these feature actors that I really like, and a few are made by directors whom I generally like, here are some films that in 2015 I kind of actively disliked (which I never really like admitting):-

Hinterland (Harry Macqueen, UK, 2015); Fantastic Four (Josh Trank, USA/Germany/UK/Canada, 2015); Pixels (Chris Columbus, USA/China/Canada, 2015); Irrational Man (Woody Allen, USA, 2015); Aloha (Cameron Crowe, USA, 2015); Point Break 3D (Ericson Core, Germany/China/USA, 2015); American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, USA, 2014); Every Thing Will Be Fine 3D (Wim Wenders, Germany/Canada/France/Sweden/Norway, 2015).

Every Thing Will Be Fine struck me as the most pointless 3D film I have yet seen – even though I think Wenders uses the form excellently when in documentary mode. The Point Break remake, meanwhile, did indeed break the point of its own making, rendering it a pointless break (and this in spite of liking Édgar Ramírez).

Where I saw the films
This bit isn’t going to be a list of cinemas where I saw films. Rather, I want simply to say that clearly my consumption of films online is increasing – with the absolute vast majority of these seen on subscription/payment websites (MUBI, DAFilms, YouTube). So really I just want to write a note about MUBI.

MUBI was great a couple of years ago; you could watch anything in their catalogue when you wanted to. Then they switched to showing only 30 films at a time, each for 30 days. And for the first year or so of this, the choice of films was a bit rubbish, in that it’d be stuff like Battleship Potemkin/Bronenosets Potemkin (Sergei M Eisenstein, USSR, 1925). Nothing against Potemkin; it’s a classic that everyone should watch. But it’s also a kind of ‘entry level’ movie for cinephiles, and, well, I’ve already seen it loads of times, and so while I continued to subscribe, MUBI sort of lost my interest.

However, this year I think that they have really picked up. They’ve regularly been showing stuff by Peter Tscherkassky, for example, while it is through MUBI that I have gotten to know the work of American artist Eric Baudelaire (his Letters to Max, France, 2014, is in particular worth seeing). Indeed, it is through Baudelaire that I also have come to discover more about Japanese revolutionary filmmaker Masao Adachi, also the subject of the Philippe Grandrieux film listed at the bottom and which I saw on DAFilms.

MUBI has even managed to get some premieres, screening London Film Festival choices like Parabellum (Lukas Valenta Rinner, Argentina/Austria/Uruguay, 2015) at the same time as the festival and before a theatrical release anywhere else, while also commissioning its own work, such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s documentary Junun (USA, 2015). It also is the only place to screen festival-winning films like Història de la meva mort/Story of my Death (Albert Serra, Spain/France/Romania, 2013) – which speaks as much of the sad state of UK theatrical distribution/exhibition (not enough people are interested in the film that won at the Locarno Film Festival for any distributors/exhibitors to touch it) as it does of how the online world is becoming a viable and real alternative distribution/exhibition venue.  Getting films like these is making MUBI increasingly the best online site for art house movies.

That said, I have benefitted from travelling a lot this year and have seen what the MUBI selections are like in places as diverse as France, Italy, Hungary, Mexico, China, Canada and the USA. And I can quite happily say that the choice of films on MUBI in the UK is easily the worst out of every single one of these countries. Right now, for example, the majority of the films are pretty mainstream stuff that most film fans will have seen (not even obscure work by Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard, Fritz Lang, Terry Gilliam, Robert Zemeckis, Frank Capra, Guy Ritchie, Steven Spielberg, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wes Anderson). Indeed, these are all readily available on DVD. More unusual films like Foreign Parts (Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki, USA/France, 2010) are for me definitely the way for MUBI to go – even in a country that generally seems as unadventurous in its filmgoing as this one (the UK).

I’ve written in La Furia Umana about the changing landscape of London’s cinemas; no need to repeat myself (even though that essay is not available online, for which apologies). But I would like to say that while I have not been very good traditionally in going to Indian movies (which regularly get screened at VUE cinemas, for example), I have enjoyed how the Odeon Panton Street now regularly screens mainstream Chinese films. For this reason, I’ve seen relatively interesting fare such as Mr Six/Lao pao er (Hu Guan, China, 2015). In fact, the latter was the last film that I saw in 2015, and I watched it with maybe 100 Chinese audience members in the heart of London; that experience – when and how they laughed, the comings and goings, the chatter, the use of phones during the film – was as, if not more, interesting as/than the film itself.

This bit is probably only a list of people whose work I have consistently seen this year, leading on from the Tscherkassky and Baudelaire mentions above. As per 2015, I continue to try to watch movies by Khavn de la Cruz and Giuseppe Andrews with some regularity – and the ones that I have caught in 2015 have caused as much enjoyment as their work did in 2014.

I was enchanted especially by the writing in Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up, Philip, and then I also managed to see Ross Perry acting in La última película, where he has a leading role with Gabino Rodríguez. This led me to Ross Perry’s earlier Color Wheel (USA, 2011), which is also well worth watching.

As for Rodríguez, he is also the star of the two Nicolás Pereda films that I managed to catch online this year, namely ¿Dónde están sus historias?/Where are their Stories? (Mexico/Canada, 2007) and Juntos/Together (Mexico/Canada, 2009). I am looking forward to seeing more Rodríguez and Pereda when I can.

To return to Listen Up, Philip, it does also feature a powerhouse performance from Jason Schwartzman, who also was very funny in 2015 in The Overnight. More Schwartzman, please.

Noah Baumbach is also getting things out regularly, and I like Adam Driver. I think also that the ongoing and hopefully permanent trend of female-led comedies continues to yield immense pleasures (I am thinking of SpyMistress AmericaTrainwreck, as well as films like Appropriate Behaviour, Desiree Akhavan, UK, 2014, to lead on from last year’s Obvious Child, Gillian Robespierre, USA, 2014; I hope shortly to make good on having missed Sisters, Jason Moore, USA, 2015).

I don’t know if it’s just my perception, but films like SelmaDear White PeopleDope and more also seem to suggest a welcome and hopefully permanent increase in films dealing with issues of race in engaging and smart ways. It’s a shame that Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq (USA, 2015) may take some time to get over here. I am intrigued by Creed (Ryan Coogler, USA, 2015).  I was disappointed that Top Five (Chris Rock, USA, 2014) only got a really limited UK release, too. Another one that I missed and would like to have seen.

Matt Damon is the rich man’s Jesse Plemons.

Finally, I’ve been managing to watch more and more of Agnès Varda and the late Chantal Akerman’s back catalogues. And they are both magical. I also watched a few Eric Rohmer and Yasujiro Ozu films this year, the former at the BFI Rohmer season in early 2015, the latter on YouTube (where the older films can roam copyright free).

Michael Kohler
During a visit to Hartlepool in 2015 to see my good friend Jenni Yuill, she handed me a letter that she had found in a first edition of a Christopher Isherwood novel. She had given the novel to a friend, but kept the letter. The letter was written by someone called Michael and to a woman who clearly had been some kind of mentor to him.

In the letter, Michael described some filmmaking that he had done. And from the description – large scale props and the like – this did not seem to be a zero-budget film of the kind that I make, but rather an expensive film.

After some online research, I discovered that the filmmaker in question was/is British experimental filmmaker Michael Kohler, some of whose films screened at the London Film Festival and other places in the 1970s through the early 1990s.

I tracked Michael down to his home in Scotland – and since then we have spoken on the phone, met in person a couple of times, and he has graciously sent me copies of two of his feature films, Cabiri and The Experiencer (neither of which has IMDb listings).

Both are extraordinary and fascinating works, clearly influenced by psychoanalytic and esoteric ideas, with strange rituals, dances, symbolism, connections with the elements and so on.

Furthermore, Michael Kohler is an exceedingly decent man, who made Cabiri over the course of living with the Samburu people in Kenya for a decade or so (he also made theatre in the communes of Berlin in the 1960s, if my recall is good). He continues to spend roughly half of his time with the Samburu in Kenya.

He is perhaps a subject worthy of a portrait film himself. Maybe one day I shall get to make it.

And beyond cinema
I just want briefly to say how one of the most affecting things that I think I saw this year was a photograph of Pier Paolo Pasolini playing football – placed on Facebook by Girish Shambu or someone of that ilk (a real cinephile who makes me feel like an impostor).

Here’s the photo:


I mention this simply because I see in the image some real joy on PPP’s part. I often feel bad for being who I am, and believe that my frailties, which are deep and many, simply anger people. (By frailties, I perhaps more meaningfully could say tendencies that run contrary to mainstream thinking and behaviours – not that I am a massive rebel or anything.) And because these tendencies run contrary to mainstream thinking and behaviours, I tend to feel bad about myself, worried that others will dislike me.

(What is more, my job does not help. I often feel that the academic industry is not so much about the exchange of ideas as an excuse for people to bully each other, or at least to make them feel bad for not being good enough as a human being as we get rated on absolutely everything that we do – in the name of a self-proclaimed and fallacious appeal to an absence of partiality.)

I can’t quite put it in words. But – with Ferrara’s Pasolini film and my thoughts of his life and work also in my mind alongside this image – this photo kind of makes me feel that it’s okay for me to be myself. Pasolini met a terrible fate, but he lived as he did and played football with joy. And people remember him fondly now. And so if I cannot be as good a cinephile or scholar as Girish Shambu and if no one wants to hear my thoughts or watch my films, and if who I am angers some people, we can still take pleasure in taking part, in playing – like Pasolini playing football. And – narcissistic thought though this is – maybe people will smile when thinking about me when I’m dead. Even writing this (I think about the possibility of people remembering me after I am dead; I compare myself to the great Pier Paolo Pasolini) doesn’t make me seem that good a person (I am vain, narcissistic, delusional); but I try to be honest.

And, finally, I’d like to note that while I do include in the list below some short films, I do not include in this list some very real films that have brought me immense joy over the past year, in particular ones from friends: videos from a wedding by Andrew Slater, David H. Fleming cycling around Ningbo in China, videos of my niece Ariadne by my sister Alexandra Bullen.

In a lot of ways, these, too, are among my films of the year, only they don’t have a name, their authors are not well known, and they circulate to single-figure audiences on WhatsApp, or perhaps a few more on Facebook. And yet for me such films (like the cat films of which I also am fond – including ones of kitties like Mia and Mieke, who own Anna Backman Rogers and Leshu Torchin respectively) are very much equally a part of my/the contemporary cinema ecology. I’d like to find a way more officially to recognise this – to put Mira Fleming testing out the tuktuk with Phaedra and Dave and Annette Encounters a Cat on Chelverton Road on the list alongside Clouds of Sils Maria. This would explode list-making entirely. But that also sounds like a lot of fun.

Here’s to a wonderful 2016!


KEY: no marking = saw at cinema; ^ = saw on DVD/file; * = saw online/streaming; + = saw on an aeroplane; ” = saw on TV.

The Theory of Everything
Le signe du lion (Rohmer)
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Au bonheur des dames (Duvivier)
Il Gattopardo
Daybreak/Aurora (Adolfo Alix Jr)^
Eastern Boys
The Masseur (Brillante Mendoza)^
Stations of the Cross
National Gallery
American Sniper
Fay Grim^
Tokyo Chorus (Ozu)*
Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza)^
Wild (Jean-Marc Vallée)
La prochaine fois je viserai le coeur
Pressure (Horace Ové)
La Maison de la Radio
L’amour, l’après-midi (Rohmer)
The Boxtrolls^
A Most Violent Year
The Middle Mystery of Kristo Negro (Khavn)*
Ex Machina
Die Marquise von O… (Rohmer)
An Inn in Tokyo (Ozu)*
Big Hero 6
Images of the World and The Inscriptions of War (Farocki)
Corta (Felipe Guerrero)*
Le bel indifférent (Demy)*
Passing Fancy (Ozu)*
Inherent Vice
Mommy (Dolan)
Quality Street (George Stevens)
Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune (Rohmer)
Jupiter Ascending
Amour Fou (Hausner)
Fuck Cinema^
Bitter Lake (Adam Curtis)*
Broken Circle Breakdown^
We Are Many
Duke of Burgundy
Love is Strange
Chuquiago (Antonio Eguino)*
The American Friend*
Set Fire to the Stars
Catch Me Daddy
Two Rode Together
Patas Arriba
Relatos salvajes
Clouds of Sils Maria
Still Alice
The Experiencer (Michael Kohler)^
Cabiri (Michael Kohler)^
White Bird in a Blizzard*
Love and Bruises (Lou Ye)*
Coal Money (Wang Bing)*
Kommander Kulas (Khavn)*
The Tales of Hoffmann
Entreatos (João Moreira Salles)^
White God
Insiang (Lino Brocka)*
5000 Feet is Best (Omer Fast)*
Bona (Lino Brocka)*
Aimer, boire et chanter
May I Kill U?^
Bande de filles
Appropriate Behavior
The Golden Era (Ann Hui)+
Gemma Bovery+
A Hard Day’s Night+
The Divergent Series: Insurgent
De Mayerling à Sarajevo (Max Ophüls)
Marfa Girl
When We’re Young
Timbuktu (Sissako)
La Sapienza (Eugène Green)
Serena (Susanne Bier)+
22 Jump Street+
Undertow (David Gordon Green)*
Delirious (DiCillo)*
Face of an Angel
Cobain: Montage of Heck
Wolfsburg (Petzold)
The Thoughts Once We Had
El Bruto (Buñuel)*
Marriage Italian-Style (de Sica)*
Force majeure
Workingman’s Death*
The Salvation (Levring)
The Emperor’s New Clothes (Winterbottom)
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Life May Be (Cousins/Akbari)
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
The Falling (Carol Morley)
Far From the Madding Crowd (Vinterberg)
Cutie and the Boxer^
Samba (Toledano and Nakache)
Mondomanila, Or How I Fixed My Hair After Rather A Long Journey*^
Phoenix (Petzold)
Cut out the Eyes (Xu Tong)
Producing Criticizing Xu Tong (Wu Haohao)
Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa)^
Accidental Love (David O Russell)*
The Tribe
Unveil the Truth II: State Apparatus
Mad Max: Fury Road 3D
Abcinema (Giuseppe Bertucelli)
Tale of Tales (Garrone)
Tomorrowland: A World Beyond
Coming Attractions (Tscherrkassky)*
Les dites cariatides (Varda)*
Une amie nouvelle (Ozon)
Ashes (Weerasethakul)*
Jeunesse dorée (Ghorab-Volta)^
La French
Inch’allah Dimanche (Benguigui)
San Andreas
Regarding Susan Sontag
Pelo Malo*
The Second Game (Porumboiu)^
Dear White People*
Spy (Paul Feig)
L’anabase de May et Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi et 27 années sans images*
Punishment Park*
Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto (Miguel Gomes)*
Black Coal, Thin Ice
Listen Up, Philip
Future, My Love*
Lions Love… and Lies (Varda)*
De l’autre côté (Akerman)
Les Combattants
London Road
West (Christian Schwochow)
Don Jon*
Mr Holmes
The Dark Horse*
Slow West
El coraje del pueblo (Sanjinés)^
Scénario du Film ‘Passion’ (Godard)*
Filming ‘Othello’ (Welles)*
Here Be Dragons (Cousins)*
Lake Los Angeles (Ott)*
Amy (Kapadia)
Magic Mike XXL
It’s All True
I Clowns*
The New Hope
The Overnight
Sur un air de Charleston (Renoir)*
Le sang des bêtes (Franju)*
Chop Shop (Bahrani)*
Plastic Bag (Bahrani)*
Love & Mercy
Terminator Genisys 3D
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
The Salt of the Earth (Wenders/Salgado)
Mondo Trasho*
Le Meraviglie
True Story
Eden (Hansen-Love)
A Woman Under the Influence
River of No Return (Preminger)
Love (Noé)
Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse
Ant-Man 3D
Today and Tomorrow (Huilong Yang)
Inside Out
Fantastic Four
99 Homes
Iris (Albert Maysles)
52 Tuesdays*
La isla mínima
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Sciuscià (Ragazzi)
Hard to be a God
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Mistress America
Precinct Seven Five
The Wolfpack
The President (Makhmalbaf)
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis
45 Years
Straight Outta Compton
Osuofia in London*
Osuofia in London 2*
Idol (Khavn)*
Diary (Giuseppe Andrews)^
American Ultra*
La última película (Martin/Peranson)*
Pasolini (Ferrara)*
Les Chants de Mandrin^
Odete (João Pedro Rodrigues)*
Hermanas (Julia Solomonoff)*
Taxi Tehran (Panahi)*
Mystery (Lou Ye)^
Lecciones para Zafirah*
Ulysse (Varda)*
Excitement Class: Love Techniques (Noboru Tanaka)*
Speak (Jessica Sharzer)*
Image of a Bound Girl (Masaru Konuma)*
The Color Wheel*
Jimmy’s Hall*
Shotgun Stories*
El color de los olivos*
Fando y Lis*
La Giovinezza
The Lego Movie+
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone+
Ruby Sparks+
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Johnnie To)+
La loi du marché+
OSS117: Rio ne répond plus+
Irrational Man
Une heure de tranquillité (Patrice Leconte)
The Lobster
Goodbye, Mr Loser
Fac(t)s of Life^
No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
Legend (Brian Helgeland)
Mia Madre (Moretti)
Mississippi Grind
Sangue del mio sangue (Bellocchio)
Botón de nácar (Guzmán)
Storm Children, Book 1 (Lav Diaz)
Umimachi Diary (Hirokazu)
Lamb (Ethiopia)
Saul fia
Ceremony of Splendours
[sic] (Eric Baudelaire)*
The Makes (Eric Baudelaire)*
The Martian
Anime Nere
Crimson Peak
The Lady in the Van
Steve Jobs
Manufraktur (Tscherrkasky)*
Lancaster, CA (Mike Ott)*
The Ugly One (Eric Baudelaire)*
The Program (Stephen Frears)
Everything Will Be Fine 3D
Agha Yousef
The OBS – A Singapore Story
Eisenstein in Guanajuato
Letters to Max (Eric Baudelaire)*
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2
My Lucky Stars (Sammo Hung)+
Dragons Forever (Sammo Hung and Corey Yuen)+
The Crossing: Part One (John Woo)+
John Wick^
Junkopia (Chris Marker)*
The Reluctant Revolutionary*
How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?*
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga^
The Shaft (Chi Zhang)^
Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974*
Um lugar ao sol (Gabriel Mascaro)*
The Story of My Death (Albert Serra)*
Juntos (Nicolás Pereda)*
¿Dónde están sus historias? (Nicolás Pereda)*
Golden Embers (Giuseppe Andrews)^
Cartel Land^
Outer Space (Tscherkassky)*
L’Arrivée (Tscherkassky)*
It Follows*
At Sundance (Michael Almereyda)^
Aliens (Michael Almereyda)^
Woman on Fire Looks for Water*
Fantasma (Lisandro Alonso)*
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation*
Adela (Adolfo Alix Jr)*
Point Break 3D
Another Girl Another Planet (Michael Almereyda)^
The Rocking Horse Winner (Michael Almereyda)^
Foreign Parts (Paravel and Sniadecki)*
Star Wars Uncut*
Warrior (Gavin O’Connor)*
Evolution of a Filipino Family^
Lumumba: La mort du Prophète^
The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner^
L’échappée belle+
Legend of the Dragon (Danny Lee/Lik-Chi Lee)+
Magnificent Scoundrels (Lik-Chi Lee)+
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens 3D
Devil’s Knot (Egoyan)^
Anatomy of a Murder*
Two Lovers^
Elsa la rose (Varda)*
My Winnipeg*
Surprise: Journey to the West
Mur Murs (Varda)*
In the Heart of the Sea
Sunset Song
Il se peut que la beauté ait renforcé notre résolution: Masao Adachi (Grandrieux)*
Black Mass
Mr Six

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock, USA, 2011)

American cinema, Blogpost, Documentary, Film education, Film reviews, Neurocinematics

There is not necessarily that much to say about POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, in that the premise of the film is pretty simple.

That is, Morgan Spurlock, he of Supersize Me (USA, 2004) fame, has made a film that exposes to what degree product placement – or what we might call just plain advertising – is a common practice in the film, television and new media industries.

I hope that such people do not exist (because they’d have to be what I might uncharitably term morons), but we can hypothesise that not everyone already knows this. And if not everyone already knows this, then bravo Morgan Spurlock for bringing it to our/their attention.

Beyond that, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is not necessarily as brilliant as all that. And I’d perhaps even go so far as to say that it is disingenuous.

The Review Bit (in which – enviously? – I reproach Morgan Spurlock for thinking that a wink and a smile mitigates the trick he is playing on me)
The film is smart and ironic, sure – but its disingenuous nature comes through when Spurlock takes (seeming) swipes at bizarre North American corporate practices, such as the weird psychoanalytic branding exercise that he goes through early on in the film.

We see Morgan subjected to countless questions that seem to go on for hours – and after being grilled in this intense manner he is told – entirely anticlimactically – that he/his brand is a combination of intelligent and witty (I can’t remember the exact phrase – but it was cheesey).

My point is that if Morgan expects us (as at least I seem to think that he does) to laugh, somewhat bitterly, at how people can make money selling transparent clothes to the Emperor (psychoanalytic branding that tells anyone with a modicum of self-awareness what they probably know about themselves already), then why does he not expect us already to know precisely the other ‘insights’ that his documentary reveals – namely, that advertising is everywhere?

In this way, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is not really about advertising, but about Morgan Spurlock – and his access to the beautiful classes (even if he has not in fact ‘made it’ in ‘real life’).

The film claims that he is not selling out but buying in. To be honest, I think that both of these terms pertain to the same logic of capital-as-justification-of-one’s-existence that Spurlock might not necessarily critique, but the critique of which is surely a strong part of his No Logo-reading target audience.

Spurlock might aim for ‘transparency’ – but this in itself is problematic. As pointed out to me in the past by an astute former colleague, if something is transparent, it is invisible. While Spurlock might make apparent something that advertisers themselves have for a long time been wanting to make as apparent as possible – namely their brand – Spurlock also seeks to make transparent – i.e. invisible – his very conformity with the practices that his film might otherwise seek to critique.

Irony and humour are aplenty in the film, as Spurlock seeks to make a doc-buster that is corporate sponsored in its entirety while being about the prevalence of corporate sponsorship. There seems no room in this world for gifts or sacrifices, or any of those things that might otherwise suggest a spirit and sense of community beyond the quest for material profit. And for all of Spurlock’s success (and his failures) in getting money from the brand dynasties, it does seem to lack, how do I put it?, soul.

The Simpsons Movie (David Silverman, USA, 2007) opens with Homer shouting from an onscreen audience that the Simpsons Movie within the Simpsons Movie that he is watching is no better than the TV show, and a rip-off. Similarly, Wayne’s World (Penelope Spheeris, USA, 1992) has a protracted sketch in which Wayne (Mike Myers) explains how he will not sell out to corporate sponsorship while simultaneously advertising a host of products from pizzas from trainers.

In other words, Hollywood has been pretty up-front about the fact that it has been peddling advertisements to us/short-changing us in the form of films for a long time. Hell – although I am here shifting slightly into the realm of the online viral, but some ‘advertainments’ – such as Zack Galafianakis’ wonderful Vodka Movie – are pretty good.

In this way, Spurlock does not take his film to the level of, say, the Yes Men in their critique of contemporary corporate practices. In their far-too-little-seen The Yes Men Fix The World (Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno and Kurt Engfehr, France/UK/USA, 2009), there is a scene in which the titular Yes Men try to convince a gathering of corporate bigwigs that they could make a shitload of money by, literally, repackaging shit back to consumers (that’s vaguely how I remember it, anyway – perhaps someone can correct me if I’m wrong). Hollywood also does this – but given that shit stinks and causes disease if not carefully disposed of, sometimes it’s good to rub it back in the noses of those who deposit it, as per the Yes Men. In comparison, Spurlock just seems to enjoy wading through shit to get to the silver screen a little too much.

Anyway, now to…

The Real Blog – not about but inspired by the so-branded Greatest Movie Ever Sold
At one point in Spurlock’s film, he talks to Martin Lindstrom of Buyology, which is also the name of a book about marketing and its effects on the brain.

Lindstrom shows to Spurlock images of his brain while watching a Coke commercial.

Lindstrom explains that at a certain moment in the commercial (it is not made particularly clear which moment, since Spurlock – like many neuro-whatever evangelists – tries to blind us with ‘science’ rather than a precise explanation), Spurlock’s brain releases dopamine, which suggests an addiction of sorts – inspired by the commercial. That is, or so the film seems to suggest, Spurlock underwent the same effects of a ‘Coke high’ thinking about Coke – which in turn suggested his avowed desire for a Coke at the time of watching the advert – as involved in actually drinking a Coke.

What is not clear from this is whether Spurlock’s ‘addiction’ is to Coke, or at the very least to its effects, or rather to images that can spur desire through their very presence for that which they depict.

My critique of the lack of clarity offered by Spurlock and which I extended to neuro-evangelists is not because, Raymond Tallis-style, I wish to dismiss ‘neuromania.’ Indeed, I personally think that neuroscience has enormous amounts of insight to offer us.

But I am not sure that the right questions are being asked of neuroscience at present in order for us fully to understand the implication of its results.

I have written a few papers, published and forthcoming, on what neuroscience might mean for film studies, particularly in the realm of images attracting our attentions through fast cutting rates, through the exaggerated use of colour, and through various acting techniques (associated predominantly with Stanislavski’s ‘system‘ and Strasberg’s ‘method‘ – which are of course different things, but I group them together because the former spawned its offshoot, the latter). And it is this area of studying film that I wish to pursue further – and on a level of seriousness far greater than that more playfully adopted for a previous posting on sleeping in the cinema.

This will sound quite outlandish – particularly to academic readers – because it is a crazy, Burroughs-esque proposal. But I think that a neuroscientific approach to cinema will help bring us closer to answering one question, which I formulate thus: can there be such a thing as image addiction?

Why is this an important question to ask/answer – and what does neuroscience have to do with it?

It is an important question – at least in my eyes – for the following reason: there is a long line in film studies history of people who argue for and against (predominantly against) the possibility that humans can or do mistake cinematic images for reality. This question, however, is all wrong – even if slightly more interesting than it seems easy to dismiss.

Far more important is the following: it is not that humans mistake films for reality (or if they do, this is not as significant as what follows), it is that humans commonly mistake reality for cinema.

What do I mean by this? I mean every time we feel disappointed that we are not in a film. I mean humanity’s obsession with watching moving images on screens at every possible opportunity such that life – and even ‘slow’ films – become boring and intolerable to people who must have their fix instead of bright colour and fast action. I mean the widespread aspiration to be on film, or at the very least to become an image (what I like to refer to as ‘becoming light’) on a screen (the final abandonment of the body and the ability to be – as an image – in all places at once [travelling at ‘light speed’]). I mean our inability to look interlocutors in the eye because we are too transfixed by the TV screen glowing in the corner of the pub. I mean – and I know this sensation intensely – the sense of immersion and loss of self that I feel when I watch films.

This is what I call image addiction.

But why neuroscience?

Because neuroscience might be able to help show to what extent – be it through conspiracy or otherwise – moving images and their accompanying sounds literally wire our brains in a certain fashion, such that we do all (come closer to) thinking in exactly the same way, repeating the same bullshit mantras to each other, dreaming only minor variations of the same things, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. If we adopted a psychoanalytic – instead of a neuroscientific – discourse – we might realise that the literal wiring of our brains is heavily influenced – and perhaps even relies/historically has relied upon – ‘fantasy’ of other kinds beyond the cinematic, and which we might even more broadly label the ‘culture’ in which we live.

But a neuroscientific demonstration of how this is so (if, indeed, it is so – this is only my hunch at the moment) might then open up debate on every philosophical level: ontologically, to what extent is reality determined by fiction? Ethically, how many images, of what kind, and using what styles, can or should we see if we want to retain some sense of a mythological self that – impossibly in my eyes – is ‘untouched’ by the world (be that by cinema in the world or the world itself that contains cinema) and belongs ‘purely’ to us? Indeed, this might open up debate not only about which ontology and which ethics, but regarding the entire issue of both ontology and ethics – and how historically they have been framed…

For those interested in what academic researchers do, I am trying at present to create a network of scholars interested in ‘neurocinematics’ (which is not to deny that various scholars are already working on these issues in their own ways). I am sceptical that I will be successful in attracting funding, not because the idea is not ‘sexy’ but because I am not sure, at present, whether I know enough neuroscientists to work with, and I also figure I might be too much of a no-mark academic to land a plum grant from a funding institution that has never heard of me. But I shall try nonetheless.

In conclusion, then, Lindstrom’s comment to Spurlock is unclear, but it raises the issue that I think is at the heart of where I want my academic research to go (even if I want to retain strong interests in other academic areas, predominantly film studies, and even if I might ditch all of this to write and/or direct films if anyone ever gave me the money to do so beyond my breaking my bank account every time I put light to lens – my filmmaking being my own desire to become light): is Spurlock addicted to what is in the image, or to the image itself? Can we separate them? Does looking at Coke can yield the same effect as looking at the stylised Coke can in the image (i.e. it is the properties not strictly of the can, but of the can in the image) that trigger the response of which Lindstrom speaks…

I suspect that both the advertising and movie industries are funding this kind of research as we speak. If the corporate giants can go straight to your brain, they will do. Inception (Christopher Nolan, USA/UK, 2010), then, becomes no lie (not that inception/influence of some sort has not always been in existence – as I argue here). In some sense, then, such research is morally indispensable; what I mean by this is that if corporate giants discover and protect methods of accessing the brain directly, then it is up to academics to let humans know how this happens, to make them aware of ‘inception,’ to bring people back to that most unfashionable of approaches to studying film, ideological critique.

In some senses, then, this is simply the rehashing under new paradigms the same old questions that have been banging around since cinema’s, ahem, inception, and even before. Only the stakes are now higher.

Might I say that a full neurocinematic programme might simply prove according to some scientific paradigm what many of us have known all along?

Wait a second, isn’t this also what I accuse Morgan Spurlock of doing with The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, accusing him of being a self-serving hypocrite for doing something that I myself seem to want to do?

Maybe Spurlock’s film is better than I thought, then. Maybe it is important and ingenious, because of its invisible transparency, not in spite of it.

There probably is no academic study that is devoid of corporate sponsorship somewhere along the line these days. There certainly will be even less if the politicians do not open their ears at some point and listen to what people are beginning literally to scream at them with regard to higher education and other issues. That is, that is must be as free of outside interests as possible, even if the quest for true objectivity is impossible to achieve.

Indeed, if we are talking about the possibility of corporate – or even gubernatorial – brain control (which is not the same as mind control, I hasten to add, though one could lead to the other), then we need to know whether it is possible, how it might happen, and what we can do about it. Before our bodies are all snatched away by the light (note: even now I cannot escape movie references) of the screen and before we are all turned into dependent image junkies who need the images just to feel alive – the over-dependent equivalent of the good, small dose that a movie like Perfect Sense (David Mackenzie, UK/Denmark, 2011) seems to offer – as written about here.

Two Quick Thoughts for Friday – With Herzog

Blogpost, Uncategorized

Thought 1:

Gilles Deleuze writes of the shift from the society of discipline to the society of control:

“A control is not a discipline. In making highways, for example, you don’t enclose people but instead multiply the means of control. I am not saying that this is the highway’s exclusive purpose, but that people can drive infinitely and ‘freely’ without being at all confined yet while still being perfectly controlled. This is our future.”

The genius of Werner Herzog comes to mind, since he has been making films in the jungle and in the wilderness for longer than most filmmakers.

But while Herzog no doubt was ahead of the curve, others are now on it, as we arguably see a shift away from the road movie with its ill-informed myth of freedom – from the Beats to Easy Rider – to a more desperate search for freedom from control as witnessed in Into the Wild and 127 Hours.

How interesting that madness and danger are everywhere in the wilderness. Maybe there is no escape.

Thought 2:

We are in the world. At no point in our brief existence can we look at the world from a separate vantage point such that we can identify it correctly. At no point does it not have an effect on us in the same way that we have an effect on it.

With-ness (after Jean-Luc Nancy): we are fundamentally with each other in this world. At no moment in time are we without others, no matter how alienating certain experiences that we do have can make us feel.

Perhaps for cultural reasons, we suffer from the illusion that we are not with each other, that we are not together.

There is a paradox here that needs explaining. Culture is the product of human society; that is, culture is the product of being with others, of not being alone. Culture is something that fundamentally, therefore, we share.

To say that a culture could produce a sense of alienation, then, is contradictory.

What produces the sense of alienation is the decision taken, somewhere, by someone, to say that ‘this is my culture’ and ‘that is your culture.’ Inevitably, because we are in this world together, we are with the world and with each other, these supposedly separated cultures come up against each other. Of course they come up against each other: the fundamental with-ness of the world cannot isolate or, as per the above thought, control men for long enough.

And so this thing, culture, which some humans feel makes them feel part of a society, is the very same thing that causes conflict – precisely at the moment when cultures are drawn together, not necessarily as they should be, but as they cannot but be.

In other words: there is only one culture, and when mankind tries to argue otherwise, it acts in a fundamentally uncultured fashion. Clashes of culture are proof of with-ness; dividing culture into cultures is the source of the clash.

The ‘one culture’ of which I speak is not this or that particular culture; it is all cultures. It is the plurality of cultures. With-ness fundamentally needs plurality; if we were all the same, we would not know that others were there for us to be with them. In other words, celebrate difference. It is the one true thing that we all share. Difference is our culture.

The relation to cinema: I wonder whether this is why almost all of the most moving films are for me films that involve acts of altruism. I shan’t give examples; but altruism is at its core an act of with-ness, it is communal, common, compromise, complicit, and complicated.

Sacrifice is even greater than altruism, and moves me yet further when I see it rendered well on film. Sacrifice: to make (facere) sacred, or other (sacer). To make oneself other (to sacri-fice oneself) is an act of such paradoxical with-ness that it is overpowering.

To tie these two thoughts together: these are thoughts for Friday. Not just for the day, Friday (today), but for the man whom Robinson Crusoe called Friday, that human that proved to Crusoe, had he eyes to see it, that we are always with others.

Although he’s not made a straight adaptation of it, the spirit of Robinson Crusoe sits in Herzog’s films. In The White Diamond, Graham Dorrington tells Mark Anthony Yhap about how the children in Guyana cannot see his airship because, like the aborigines failing to recognise James Cook’s ships in New Zealand, it does not register in their visual vocabulary.

Aside from the possible/likely apocryphal nature of Dorrington’s story (if he is referring to Maoris, they were seafarers before Cook arrived, so this cannot be true), only one thought seems to come to mind: what is it that Dorrington cannot see? Does Dorrington even ask himself – as he fails truly to register the man with whom he is speaking? – this question?

In my understanding of the film – but perhaps this is Herzog’s trickery – Dorrington does not seem to ask himself this question, as indeed he romanticises and almost fails to see Yhap, who otherwise hijacks Herzog’s film and becomes the centre of Herzog’s attention.

It is a pity that we have to go, after Leshu Torchin, into the cinema’s cave of forgotten dreams, to get a sense of with-ness, both with those around us and with those from our past.

But either way: if cinema can help to see that we are always and forever with others, then cinema may unite us yet.