Tuesday, 29 August 2006

The King Never Smiles

The King Never Smiles
Paul M Handley's unauthorised biography of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, The King Never Smiles, is unique in that it does not subscribe to the conventional hagiographic view of Bhumibol's reign. The book cannot be sold in Thailand, due to the country's lese majeste law, which prohibits any criticism of the King, the Queen, or the Crown Prince.

Handley writes in his preface, "Some Thai readers will view my critical portrayal of their sovereign as a destructive attack. Yet in all I have never had any purpose but to satisfy my own curiosity and then to tell a more complete story of Bhumibol's life and tenure on the throne."

[Lese majeste is broadly interpreted, strictly enforced, and harshly punished in Thailand. Bail is denied for lese majeste suspects, trials are held in camera, and the maximum sentence is a jail term of fifteen years. Material subject to a lese majeste investigation cannot be quoted or published for legal reasons.]

Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Depth Of Field

Depth Of Field
There have been analyses of Kubrick's career by individual writers, and monographs on his individual films, though Depth Of Field: Stanley Kubrick, Film, & The Uses Of History (edited by Geoffrey Cocks, James Diedrick, and Glenn Perusek) presents, for the first time, an anthology on Kubrick's films and themes by a broad range of authors. The impressive list of contributors includes Kubrick's script-collaborators Frederic Raphael and Diane Johnson, Kubrick biographer Vincent LoBrutto, and veteran film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.

In his essay The Pumpkinification Of Stanley K, Raphael punctuates extended classical allusions with occasional references to his disappointment upon viewing Eyes Wide Shut, the film he co-wrote. He is unrepentant regarding the criticism he received for his self-serving memoir, Eyes Wide Open.

The most bizarre essay is Death By Typewriter, in which Geoffrey Cocks homes in on tiny, insignificant details in order to demonstrate (unsuccessfully) that The Shining is actually a metaphor for the Holocaust. Cocks demonstrates an obsessive interest in trivial minutiae; for some unclear reason, he wants us to realise that the number seven recurs throughout the film, in increasingly obscure and unlikely manifestations. Hilariously, he suggests that, in A Clockwork Orange, the line "You see that shoe?" is a deliberate echo of "You see that, Jew?". (In Annie Hall, this kind of paranoia is played for laughs: "Not 'D'you eat?', but 'Jew eat'".)

The book provides a useful opportunity to explore Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, with the benefit of hindsight, reassessing its initial critical response. (Kubrick's films often received mixed reviews on first release, only to be re-evaluated several years later.) Tim Kreider does this most successfully in the final chapter, Introducing Sociology.

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Snakes On A Plane

Snakes On A Plane
It has Samuel L Jackson shouting at people! It has airborne peril with no pilot and no windows! It has a Jurassic Park-style tense manual electrics reboot! It has so-bad-it's-good B-movie dialogue! Most importantly, it has [ahem] snakes on a [ahem] plane. It's Snakes On A Plane (directed by David R Ellis) - it does exactly what it says on the tin.

The Libertine

The Libertine
In Laurence Dunmore's The Libertine, Johnny Depp plays John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and scandalous Restoration poet. Rochester wrote some of the bawdiest poetry in English literature, and his life was as debauched as his art.

The Libertine, though set in the 17th century, does not follow traditional period film conventions (a la A Cock & Bull Story). It could hardly be described as a costume drama; it has none of the restrained formalities of the genre. Ornate sets are replaced by murky taverns and dark back-streets.

Also, the camera is frequently hand-held, which, combined with Rochester's atheism and amorality, gives the film a feeling of contemporariness in both style and tone.

Monday, 21 August 2006

A Cock & Bull Story

A Cock & Bull Story
Tristram Shandy (arguably the first work of post-modern art, 200 years avant la lettre) is one of those 'unfilmable' novels, like Naked Lunch and Ulysses, or, for different reasons, Lolita. Those novels have all been filmed, of course, though they can still be described as unfilmable. The film versions of Naked Lunch and Ulysses were unable to reproduce the novels' anarchic streams-of-consciousness. Kubrick's Lolita was a masterpiece, and was scripted by the novel's author himself, though it replaced the book's erotic travelogue with comedy and social satire. (The later remake had fewer censorship problems, though it lacks the merits of either the novel or the original film.)

Now Tristram Shandy has been filmed, too, as A Cock & Bull Story (by Michael Winterbottom). The novel's formal eccentricities haven't quite been replicated in the film version, though its unique narrative style has been successfully transferred and even expanded.

The novel is ostensibly autobiographical, with Tristram Shandy recounting the events of his life, though he is side-tracked by numerous digressions and he frequently interrupts the narrative in order to comment on the very process of autobiographical writing. This structure has been retained by the film, which stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (both TV comedians). Coogan, playing Shandy, steps in and out of character throughout the film, alternating between Shandy, Shandy's father, and himself.

The film's 'in period' scenes (replicating the 18th century novel) are outnumbered by contemporary sequences in which Coogan and Brydon comment on their performances and, backstage, the producers review the rushes and rewrite the script as they go along. Thus, we see Coogan in the make-up trailer preparing for a scene, then performing it on the set, then turning to camera and commenting on the material. We are even shown him being interviewed for a supposed extra feature to be added to the film's DVD.

The funniest scenes are the improvised mock-rivalries between Coogan and Brydon. As they banter backstage, Brydon (are his teeth off-white, or yellow?) and Coogan (why don't his shoes make him seem taller?) both parody their own insecurities. Hilariously, Brydon even imitates Coogan's TV character, Alan Partridge, and Coogan spends much of the film in a futile attempt to disassociate himself from Partridge, the character that made him famous.

A Cock & Bull Story has deliberate echoes of other 18th century period films (it shares music cues with Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, for instance), though, more surprisingly, it has much in common with the films of Woody Allen. In Annie Hall, for example, the adult Allen observes and comments on re-enacted scenes of his childhood. The similarity is most striking in Stardust Memories, in which Allen plays a neurotic film comedian, an exaggerated version of himself. (However, Allen denies any autobiographical element, and feigns surprise when critics associate him with his Stardust Memories character.) A Cock & Bull Story and Stardust Memories both end in the same way, with the actors in a screening-room watching the film and, as it finishes, assessing its quality and discussing their own performances.

Thursday, 10 August 2006

Die Besten Filme Aller Zeiten

Cinema
The German magazine Cinema, in its July issue, has published a list of the 100 greatest films ever made, based on votes from readers:

1. The Lord Of The Rings I-III
2. Pulp Fiction
3. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
4. The Matrix
5. The Godfather
6. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
7. Fight Club
8. Titanic
9. The Godfather II
10. Forrest Gump
11. Gladiator
12. Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith
13. Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi
14. Sin City
15. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
16. Braveheart
17. Schindler's List
18. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace
19. Seven
20. Terminator II: Judgment Day
21. The Silence Of The Lambs
22. The Godfather III
23. Kill Bill I
24. Once Upon A Time In The West
25. Die Hard
26. American Beauty
27. Star Wars II: Attack Of The Clones
28. Ice Age
29. High Noon
30. Alien
31. Leon
32. Brokeback Mountain
33. Dirty Dancing
34. Amelie
35. Dances With Wolves
36. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
37. The Shawshank Redemption
38. Saw
39. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
40. Some Like It Hot
41. Gone With The Wind
42. Once Upon A Time In America
43. King Kong
44. Moulin Rouge!
45. The Big Lebowski
46. The Blues Brothers
47. Donnie Darko
48. Casablanca
49. Crash
50. Back To The Future
51. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
52. From Dusk Till Dawn
53. Pretty Woman
54. Memento
55. Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire
56. The Usual Suspects
57. Die Hard II: Die Harder
58. Walk The Line
59. Monty Python's Life Of Brian
60. Dead Poets Society
61. Shrek
62. Garden State
63. Kill Bill II
64. Lost In Translation
65. Scarface
66. Aliens
67. A Clockwork Orange
68. Heat
69. Saving Private Ryan
70. Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone
71. Spider-Man
72. Apocalypse Now
73. Blade Runner
74. Spider-Man II
75. The Thirteenth Floor
76. Die Hard III
77. Batman Begins
78. Face/Off
79. Shrek II
80. Taxi Driver
81. The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
82. Cruel Intentions
83. The Sixth Sense
84. LA Confidential
85. Lethal Weapon
86. Love Actually
87. 1492: Conquest Of Paradise
88. Life Is Beautiful
89. Psycho
90. The Terminator
91. Murder She Said
92. City Of God
93. Million Dollar Baby
94. Reservoir Dogs
95. GoodFellas
96. Snatch
97. Armageddon
98. Big Fish
99. Finding Nemo
100. Independence Day

The magazine previously surveyed its readers in 2000, when their #1 choice was Schindler's List. What's surprising about this new list is the embracing of entire trilogies: Die Hard I-III are all included, as are The Godfather I-III. (Die Hard II-III and The Godfather III are usually [and rightly] ignored in such lists.) Uniquely, all six Star Wars films are included: not only the original trilogy (Star Wars IV-VI) but also the disappointing later trilogy (Star Wars I-III). With so many sequels and trilogies given individual entries, it seems strange to lump the Lord Of The Rings trilogy all together as one entry. There is a general preference for more recent films, as in most polls derived from public votes: King Kong is the Peter Jackson remake, and Scarface is the Brian de Palma remake. Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy. Note also that Crash is the Paul Haggis Oscar-winner, not the scandalous David Cronenberg film, and Titanic is the James Cameron version.