"The dog is by far the most prominent performer in the film, in terms of both his screen time and his centrality to the film’s compositional schema and great idea. He does simple canine things—he frolics by the edge of a pond, swims in the currents of a stream, rummages among leaves, rolls in snow, looks into the camera. And Godard’s camera follows him, impulsively, alertly, tenderly, as if seeking to film with a gaze akin to Roxy’s—not blank or uncomprehending but endowed with a boundless, self-subordinating sympathy... It’s as if Roxy were the agent of reconciliation—not of one merely lover to another but of Godard to the present day, to the rising generation. Near the movie’s end, in a scene (one of many shot in Godard’s home) that features Godard’s voice and a woman’s voice that I think I recognize as Miéville’s, there is a living room in which two empty chairs are placed in front of a TV showing only video snow, and Roxy is there. Even when there’s no movie showing and no one there to watch it, Roxy is there, the survivor of art and artists, their silent witness and the secret bearer of their best aspirations. It’s one of the great and piercing funerary moments in Godard’s films, an utterly unironic, tender testament of love." — Richard Brody, The New Yorker* An occasional column devoted to those books, movies and art works which would, on balance, better serve us by remaining unread, unwatched and unseen, based on the principle that our reactions to art in absentia can be every bit as rich and meaningful as to works demanding our urgent personal attention. Previous entries here, here, here, here, and here.
Oct 30, 2014
Oct 27, 2014
From my review of Interstellar for Intelligent Life:—
'The great magician of cinema is said to have nothing up his sleeve once the trick is unraveled, but both Memento and Inception, once you exhausted their ingenuity, summoned a melancholy worthy of Methuselah. The idea of losing yourself in a dream for fifty years, as Leonardo di Caprio did in Inception, was both awe-inspiring and terrifying, even if Nolan’s fans sometimes give every impression of wishing it physically possible. The emotion sprung by McConaughey when he hears how long he has been away is one I have never encountered in a film before: an entirely new compound of grief, loss, longing and terror at Time’s immensity. I’ve seen it addressed by poets but not $200 million blockbuster moviemakers. Nolan would appear to be the wild offspring Cecil B De Mille and John Donne. The poet who wrote Paradoxes and Problems and who once imagined in “one little room an everywhere” would surely have thrilled to Interstellar’s visions of galaxies bent and refracted, as if in a drop of water, by the space-time curvature around a worm-hole. There’s a mesmerizing plainness to the film’s images — they hit you right between the eyes. In every battle between truth and beauty, you feel, truth won out, and yet the results have a beauty of their own, like that of Higher Mathematics. The blur of light around the circumference of a black hole has the elegance of a Gerhard Richter painting. Many great directors have ventured here and foundered. Robert Zemeckis went into a worm-hole in Contact, which was also based on the work of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, and came back with a vision of a sparkling, astral beach on which Jodie Foster could face her daddy issues. Not even Kubrick could come up with a convincing human drama to match his stunning visuals: 2001 was simply too big for human agency or narrative — his most memorable character was a homicidal robot. But Nolan has thought through his moral universe. Up here, time is as much of a resource as space and fuel, a fact with radical implications for human behavior and motivation. In an ordinary Hollywood movie, the desire to see your daughter and the desire to save the planet would be one and the same. But what if you had to choose? Nolan uses relativity to drive a stake right through the heart of evolutionary theory: what if one man, protecting his nest, doomed the species? Hey, an Einstein vs Darwin death match! Who expected that in the blockbuster hit of the season?'
"The critic Tom Shone, in this film-by-film overview of Scorsese’s work, is alive to the mutating arc of his career – its tactical retrenchments, not just its maverick advances.... There’s a danger of drifting into blandness with this picture packed, coffee-table format: Richard Schickel’s Spielberg volume in the same series, for instance, mostly nodded along with the director’s own judgments. Shone is too vigorous a critic not to put up a fight. He calls Gangs “heartbreaking in the way that only missed masterpieces can be: raging, wounded, incomplete, galvanised by sallies of wild invention”. There’s lots of jazzy, thumbnail writing of this kind, compacted critiques you suspect Shone would merrily expand upon, given more space. His description of Barbara Hershey’s “flushed, hayseed beauty” in the early exploitation flick Boxcar Bertha (1972) is spot on.... Even writing about Scorsese demands a full pot of coffee on the stove – imagine making films the way he does. Shone on the “rich, strange and unfathomable” Taxi Driver (1976) cuts to the essence of what Scorsese is capable of: it’s when his meticulous formal control feels guided, not just by storyboards and perfectionist craft and memories of other movies, but a kind of demon inside, driving him to nightmarish and expressionistic peaks."
— Tim Robey, The Sunday Telegraph **** out of *****
Oct 24, 2014
1. Our Destiny Lies Above Us — Hans Zimmer
2. Run Time — Imogen Heap
3. Sugar Storm — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
4. Summertime — Annie Lennox
5. Up All Night — Owl City
6. Holograms – M83
7. Pets — Deadmau5
8. Likely to Use Something — The Belle Brigade
9. Telstar – Bill Frisell
10. Canto at Gabelmeister's Peak — Alexandre Desplat
Oct 20, 2014
'A new title created by Palazzo Editions has been announced for publication next autumn. Woody Allen: A Retrospective by film critic and author Tom Shone continues our hugely successful series on the world’s greatest film directors including Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski and, most recently, Martin Scorsese. The book will be released to coincide with Woody’s 80th birthday in December 2015 and will be published by Abrams in the US, Thames & Hudson in the UK and Knesebeck in Germany. More international sales are to be announced shortly.'
Oct 19, 2014
The New Republic has reposted my article on Scorsese and masculinity:—
'Goodfellas is convincing on so many levels — from the thrust and parry of the wiseguys’ talk to the flora and fauna of their clothes and apartments — that it’s easy to forget that underneath it runs a piece of wish fulfillment as plangent as that of Spielberg’s wish to be visited by aliens. As Scorsese put it, “It’s what I thought of these guys when I was six.” Underneath all the carpeting and double-breasted suits and double-lock collars is a dream of what it is to be pass muster with thugs — be invited in, to feel their hands on your back, hear their praise in your ears. The body language Scorsese recognised in Liotta was his own, growing up on the streets of Little Italy: antennae attuned to the first sign of trouble, anxious to avoid another beating from his elder brother, making everyone laugh by talking very fast, turning his nerves into comedy. And beneath the laughter, beneath the nerves, the theme running subterraneously through Scorsese’s childhood? Humiliation. It was a “humiliation” for his family to have to move back in with his grandparents on Elizabeth Street after an altercation with a landlord. Humiliation, too, was what he saw visited on the men he occasionally saw on the street; good men, working for the rackets, who “when the time came for them to do what they had to do, they couldn't do it,” so they just imploded. “They were humiliated constantly.” It is the thing the protagonists of his films fear the most, certainly in those he made with de Niro, that kettle drum of thin-skinnedness, who turns Taxi Driver into one long trawl for potential insults and affronts to Travis’s dignity — he picks them up like radio signals. It is the great Scorsese paradox, the source of so much comedy as well as tragedy in his work, that men capable of unleashing such violence do so at the daintiest of provocations: a misunderstood word (“mook”), a glance, the number of blueberries in a muffin. “It was outta respect,” says Henry Hill (Liotta) as he torches a parking lot in Goodfellas, and when Scorsese lost the best picture Oscar to Dances with Wolves in 1990, the thing that hurt him the most? "They put me in the front row with my mother, and then I didn't win"— the ultimate slap to an Italian male.'
Oct 17, 2014
"What makes the book worth taking home, however, is the excellent text... These words are by Tom Shone, a film critic worth reading whatever aspect of the film industry he talks about. (His book Blockbuster is a must). Talking about Scorsese he speaks the language of admiration. Most critics are at their best when speaking the language of derision but Shone has the precious gift of being carried away in a sensible manner, and of being celebratory without setting your teeth on edge."
Oct 13, 2014
From my review for Intelligent Life:—
'Not since the salad days of Robert Altman has a director packed a film with as much filthy talk, dark humor, Puckish satire and deep relish for human fault and foible as Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu does in his new film Birdman... A gleeful deconstruction of Hollywood superheroes and has-beens — a kind of Sunset Boulevard for the age of spandex — the film is constructed entirely from long, continuous takes, shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who prowls the enclaves of the venerable St. James Theater on West 44th Street with much the same stealth with which he penetrated outer space in last year’s Gravity. Here the stars on view are just as dazzling, from the collapsing supernova that is Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a wormy, preening method actor whose commitment to realism extends to getting drunk on stage, followed by actual intercourse; to the black holes of insecurity that are his costars, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a young starlet who may be pregnant with Riggan’s baby. “What are you going to do?” asks Riggan’s manager (Zach Galifianakis) as the forces of chaos lap the sides of his production. “I’ll think of something,” promises Riggan. “I’ll riff.” That’s the film all over, from Keaton’s sidewinding, live-wire performance to the virtuoso single takes to the skittering snare-drum soundtrack — this is cinema as jazz, with a view of life as one extended improv. Mexican directors would appear to be on fire right now, holding their own against Hollywood in much the same way that the French did in the early sixties — speaking the same cinematic language but refuses to play by the same rules. Birdman bears much the same relationship to Hollywood superheroes movies as Breathless did to the Bogart flicks which Godard soaked up in his youth, before breaking down their formulas and reconstituting them, freeform, as nouvelle vague bebop.'
From my piece on Scorsese and masculinity for the New Statesman:—
'Do you know how Scorsese came to cast Ray Liotta in Goodfellas? At the height of the controversy over The Last Temptation of Christ, the director took his film to the Venice Film Festival, and one morning, walking out of his hotel on the lido, he saw Liotta across the lobby. The actor’s audition tape had just arrived at his office back in New York. “I got the tape!” he called out. “I haven’t been able to view it yet!” Liotta came toward him, one of Scorsese’s bodyguards grabbed the actor’s arm and Scorsese noticed something interesting: the actor held his ground with the bigger men, but made them understand he was no threat. “Oh, he understands that kind of situation,” he thought. Goodfella.
If masculinity were a product, then Italian-American masculinity — florid, violent, hungry for respect, as thin-skinned as Italian sausage — would the brand leader, thanks to the movies. What does it say that a generation of men, asked to pinpoint a film that speaks to them as men, will quote lines from The Godfather or Goodfellas? A certain butchness has always attended the inner circles of auteur theory, which allowed the boy’s club of the nouvelle vague to swoon over the ritualized violence of Hitchcock and Hawks without embarrassment. Somehow, it’s harder to think of critics today wanting to apply the term “greatest living director” to one of our softer, feminized, beta males —a Spielberg, say, or a Woody Allen. Real auteurs don’t care about pleasing the crowd, or fantasy, or jokes. They give you a piece of their mind. They get their films off their chest, hewing them from the rock face of their impenetrable psyches. Goodfellas is convincing on so many levels — from the thrust and parry of the wiseguys’ talk to the flora and fauna of their clothes and apartments — that it’s easy to forget that underneath it runs a piece of wish fulfillment as plangent as that of Spielberg’s wish to be visited by aliens. As Scorsese put it, “It’s what I thought of these guys when I was six.” Underneath all the carpeting and double-breasted suits and double-lock collars is a dream of what it is to be pass muster with thugs — be invited in, to feel their hands on your back, hear their praise in your ears.
The body language Scorsese recognised in Liotta was his own, growing up on the streets of Little Italy: antennae attuned to the first sign of trouble, anxious to avoid another beating from his elder brother, making everyone laugh by talking very fast, turning his nerves into comedy. And beneath the laughter, beneath the nerves, the theme running subterraneously through Scorsese’s childhood? Humiliation. It was a “humiliation” for his family to have to move back in with his grandparents on Elizabeth Street after an altercation with a landlord. Humiliation, too, was what he saw visited on the men he occasionally saw on the street; good men, working for the rackets, who “when the time came for them to do what they had to do, they couldn't do it,” so they just imploded. “They were humiliated constantly.” It is the thing the protagonists of his films fear the most, certainly in those he made with de Niro, that kettle drum of thin-skinnedness, who turns Taxi Driver into one long trawl for potential insults and affronts to Travis’s dignity — he picks them up like radio signals. It is the great Scorsese paradox, the source of so much comedy as well as tragedy in his work, that men capable of unleashing such violence do so at the daintiest of provocations: a misunderstood word (“mook”), a glance, the number of blueberries in a muffin. “It was outta respect,” says Henry Hill (Liotta) as he torches a parking lot in Goodfellas, and when Scorsese lost the best picture Oscar to Dances with Wolves in 1990, the thing that hurt him the most? "They put me in the front row with my mother, and then I didn't win"— the ultimate slap to an Italian male.'
Oct 10, 2014
'A beautiful book on the Taxi Driver director's career by former Sunday Times film critic Tom Shone who relishes Scorsese's "energetic winding riffs that mix cinema history and personal reminiscence".' — Kate Muir, The Times
"Movie fans will be delighted to discover that Tom Shone’s lavishly illustrated new tome about the great man is no mere coffee table book. Shone expertly guides us through Scorsese’s long career, from the early years of film school and guerrilla film-making, to those classic movies of the 1970s and ’80s, and on to his more recent period. Scorsese’s own contributions and those of his collaborators are frequent, but Shone shows a fine appreciation of his subject, too. Describing Taxi Driver (1976) as having ‘the stillness of a cobra’ is both pithy and apposite.... Fascinating stuff." — Michael Doherty, RTE Guide
Oct 4, 2014
From my piece about Gone Girl for the FT:—
'The sex war was supposed to be over. Feminism had won all its arguments — moral, political, cultural — leaving only the legislative to catch up. “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders,” wrote Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In of a corporate landscape whose middle management is increasingly dominated by women, 40% of whom are now out-earning their husbands. On campuses across America, where young women now earn 60% of all master’s degrees, young millenials of both sexes sport “THIS IS WHAT IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” t-shirts. Feminism has become culturally ubiquitous, a pop cultural cliché, and while first generation feminists may turn up their noses at the sight of Beyonce dancing in front of a giant, lit-up FEMINIST banner at the MTV Video Music Awards, such ubiquity is a sign of how much part of the mainstream their arguments have become. These days, feminists looking for a fight with anything like the old fire have had to turn their attention to fresher geopolitical pastures, to Afghanistan, India and the like.
And then came Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn’s bestseller proved a feminist flashpoint when it was first published in 2012 and this week arrives in movie theatres trailing its own sulphur- cloud, thanks to an adaptation by Hollywood’s reigning prince of darkness, David Fincher. The film stars Ben Affleck as New York writer Nick Dunne, who loses his job and has to move back to his home town in Missouri, only to become suspect number one in a murder investigation when his wife Amy, a glacial beauty played by Rosamund Pike, goes missing. Taking it’s cue from the grisly domestic murder cases that hold American cable viewers goggle-eyed — Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, and of course, O J Simpson — the story unfolds in a glare of flashbulbs, TV lights and smart-phone image-grabs, as two-bit pop psychologist and body language experts deduce innocence or guilt from a passing smirk. As played by the burly, shifty-looking Affleck in jackets just a shade too tight for him, Nick is one of those guys who is most insincere when telling the truth and picks up suspicion like moss — a media whipping boy par excellence. That’s the film’s hook: How easy it is to frame someone in the court of public opinion. After the film’s premiere at the New York film festival last week, Affleck noted that it seemed to act like a gender Rorshasch test. “Most women journalists are like, what’s it like playing a jerk. Most of the men just go, ‘Yeah.'”
But that is only half the story. To describe the half that has kicked up controversy is not just to risk spoilers but to embrace them with open arms, so be warned. The movie’s many twists and turns eventually reveal a sociopathic villainess who is the architect of Nick’s downfall and whose m.o., when she is not framing innocent lunkheads for murder, is fabricated charges of rape. It is this that landed Flynn in the cross-hairs of feminists critics who have charged the author with peddling “misogynist caricatures”, and “a deep animosity towards women”. “Gone Girl is the wet dream of every misogynistic men’s ‘rights’ activist,” alleged Interrogating Media in a post entitled Gone Girl and the Specter of Feminism. Defending her book on her website, Flynn wrote, “I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains… The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side.”
Certainly, the movie’s timing could not be worse — or better, depending on your point of view — coming as it does in the middle of an ongoing conversation about sexual assault in the US military and on college campuses, where what Millenials quaintly refer to as ‘rape culture’ has prompted petitions demanding the cancellation of a Robin Thicke concert because the lyrics of his song “Blurred Lines” allegedly celebrate “systemic patriarchy and sexual oppression”. (The song has already been banned by more than 20 British universities.) Activists at Wellesley College, in Connecticut, recently demanded that administrators remove a statue of a naked sleepwalking man they said could “trigger” memories of sexual assault for victims. “To bring up a conversation about rape sets off everybody's discomfort buttons,” says Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women. “Rape is one of those crimes that generally includes only two witnesses, which makes it very fertile ground for imaginative fiction, especially when you're talking about interpersonal drama. It's like two-person Rashomon — it’s the ultimate he-said-she-said. To see the monster we all have within us, to show our little sexual monsters, is uncomfortable. We can have our brand new feminist ideas about workplace economics, equality, about reproductive rights, and so on, we can have all those ideas, but still have this voice within us telling us these really old ideas about how sex works between men and women. I’m not condemning the book. It’s a page turner, sold a zillion copies, I read it right to the end. You're going to have troubling gender elements in fiction, because these are the troubling gender elements in life, but it becomes far less liberating when you understand that they are trading on very, very old ideas about the power that women have to sexually, emotionally manipulate men. When you boil women down to only that, it's troubling.”
At the same time, says
Traister,“Gone Girl explodes marriage,” says Rebecca Traister. “And it explodes precisely the one kind of marriage that is still idealized, between white, urban sophisticated people that meet in mid-life. There are many marriage models out there but this is the one that is still viewed aspirationally: between white, beautiful, privilege educated New Yorkers. That is the picture of marriage that is sold to us, the one we all must desire. And that is the one the book vandalises. So there is a subversive argument being advanced about marriage in the film, that it's not an institution that can tame women any longer.”'
2. The Social Network
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
5. Panic Room
6. Gone Girl
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8. Alien 3
9. Fight Club
10. The Game
Oct 3, 2014
1. Electric Counterpoint: 1. Fast — Johnny Greenwood
2. One More Day — Lucinda Williams
3. Uptight Downtown – La Roux
4. You've Got Nothing to Lose — Michael Kiwanuka
5. B a K L — Loney, Dear
6. Head Underwater — Jenny Lewis
7. Return — Eno / Hyde
8. Pets — Deadmau5
9. minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix] — Aphex Twin
10. Waitress Song — First Aid Kit
Parade has the exclusive on some photos from my Scorsese book here. Above, directing Mean Streets with De Niro and Keitel.