Oct 27, 2015

Attachment theory and the movie audience

'Great artists are not supposed to think of their audiences, of course — that is supposed to be one of the signs of their artistry. But film is a mass medium, which puts all filmmakers in a relationship of some sort with the audience, be it grudging, respectful, delighted, neglectful. In 1970, the American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, working off research by British  psychologist John Bowlby, devised something called the ‘Strange Situation’ test, designed to gauge the varieties of attachment between infant and their mothers. Infants between 12 and 18 months were placed with their mother in a small room, and observed through one-way glass.  Then, 
(1) A stranger joins mother and infant. (2) Mother leaves baby and stranger alone. (3) Mother returns and stranger leaves. (4) Mother leaves; infant left completely alone. (5) Stranger returns. (6) Mother returns and stranger leaves.
Ainsworth found infants falling into three categories. The first, which she characterized as having a ‘”secure” attachment style, were distressed when the mother left, avoided the stranger when alone, but were friendly when the mother was present, using her as a ‘base’ to explore their environment. This almost perfectly describes a hit-maker like Spielberg, whose films are an almost exact simulacrum of that mixture of safety and fear a child feels when it is scared, playfully, by a parent.  When he makes a film that doesn’t go over well with the public, like 1941, he tends to   internalise the public’s reaction (“I’ll spend the rest of my life disowning the movie,” he told The New York Times upon its release), but he also recovers quickly: 1941 was followed by Raiders of the Lost Ark. His confidence returned by that movie’s success, he was emboldened to tackle the “whisper from my childhood” E.T. In other words, Spielberg uses his public the way the secure infant uses his mother, as a safe base to launch further explorations. Bowlby and Ainsworth’s second category was “Ambivalent” Attachment. When the mother departs, this type of child is extremely distressed, avoids the stranger, showing fear, and then ambivalence when the mother returns, remaining close but resentful, maybe even pushing her away. This is Woody Allen, whose antennae to the conflicts between his own needs and those of his audience is acute.  “There’s no correlation between my taste and public taste,” he has said.  Indeed, in a variant on the old Groucho Marx gag, quoted in Annie Hall, about not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member, Allen often distrusts, or downgrades, any film of his that has gone over too well with the public —whether Annie Hall (“nothing special" ), Hannah and Her Sisters (“a film I feel I screwed up very badly”) or Manhattan (“they’re wrong”).  He is the infant who makes a show of turning its back on its mother as a show of independence.  The  third and final category was “Avoidant attachment”. The infants in this category showed no sign of distress when the mother left, was okay with the stranger, playing normally, but show little interest when the mother returns — maybe just a look or a smile — showing no preference between their mother, a stranger, or an empty room.  One thinks of a filmmaker like Kubrick, or the more austere end of the European arthouse — Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noel, or Michael Haneke whose films, Funny Games, The Piano Player, Amour, intentionally put the audience through the grinder in their unflinching depiction of onscreen cruelty. There are no cutaways, no reaction shots, no judicious framing devices that give the audience an out, just the uneasy prospect of our own spectatorship, reflected back to us. “By its own nature, film is rape,” says Haneke. “You can't avoid it. Film is always about manipulation. The question is to what end for what purpose, especially when you come from a German language background. What is the purpose of my raping them? In my case, to make them aware of how they are being manipulated, to make that manipulation visible so that they can reflect on it and they can become independent and form their own perspective or opinion.  The film doesn't take place on the screen, the film takes place in the audience's mind. There's not a single film that I make, but there are as many films as there are viewers who watch them.”'  
From my piece about movie audiences for Intelligent Life

Oct 25, 2015


'“I suppose I had better get some clothes on,” says Erica Jong, flitting barefoot across the floors of her   Upper East Side apartment, whose living room has been temporarily taken over by the Times photographer and his assistant. Jong has spent the last 40 minutes having her hair and make-up done and is wearing in what appears to be a black negligee. “I could do the interview naked but one reaches a certain age,” she says. “I come from a very bohemian family. It bothers me not to all to walk around here naked... I honestly thing getting older is such a trip. I think we all go through a period of, ‘Oh my god, I have to pee all the time,’ or ‘Oh my god, my beloved is going phew, because he's taking medication,’ and the pharmaceutical companies are not our friend. If you get past that, and we all do get past it, we discover that beyond that rage, there is the best time of life.” This is slightly surprising, certainly delivered with more enthusiasm than her book, I tell her. It seems so full of rage against the dying of the light — ‘age rage,’ to use her own term.  “Look, I sit in California with my adorable nephew Zane who's a young actor. I look at him and I think, if I were 40 years younger I would jump on his bones. Wouldn't it be awful? It would be incest. He's my brother's son's kid. I'm not going to at on it. I'm not a lunatic, but I feel the pleasure of looking at a beautiful young man who is 15 years old. Why not? You feel. All your life you feel. I'm not interested in incest, by the way. It's not my thing. I'm not interested in B&B. Not my thing. I thought 50 Shades of Grey was appalling. An appalling piece of shit. Appalling. It wasn't even copy edited. Anastasia, she has an orgasm, she goes, ‘Holy cow!". I have never met a woman anywhere in the world who said, ‘Holy Cow’ when she had an orgasm. Or said, ‘Holy shit.’ Have you ever met a woman who said, ‘Holy shit? when she comes? I'd kick her out of bed.” And there, in that long, winding digression — candid, verging on scandalous, but packing a terrific comic sting — you pretty much have Erica Jong, feminism’s embarrassing aunt: the one who shows up to your 15th birthday and over shares about her sex-life. At 73, she is a formidable presence, a legendary voluptuary as adept at conquering with words as she is with her flesh, her  ballsy-broad manners brooking little interruption as she scoots from one train of thought to another,  her blue eyes blazing as she lest off one f-bomb after another. She’s like a cross between Gloria Swanson and Eddie Murphy. ' — from my interview for The Times Magazine

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

'So now we know. The Force has awoken. And it’s female. The third and possibly final trailer for the new Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, dropped at 7:08 pm Pacific Standard Time on Monday night and planet earth went nuts. The trailer took just 23 minutes to hit 1 million views on Facebook, and within a couple of hours had generated 390,000 tweets, — that’s 17,000 tweets per minute, or “283 freak outs per second,” as the beancounters at Wired magazine calculated. The film hits theatres on December 18th, but fans for whom the rescuscitation of the Lucas space fantasy franchise amounts to nothing short of a reboot of their childhoods,  immediately fell to digesting every large morsel contained in the two-and-a-half-minute trailer, with its remix of familiar elements: stormtroopers on ice, Sith lords in rain,  TIE fighters in close combat, and  x-wings turn up spray over a lake. But the headline news for a saga that has always been seen as skewing overwhelmingly towards young boys: Star Wars has gone fem. “Who are you?” an off screen female voice  asks of British newcomer Daisy Ridley. “I’m no-one,” replies Ridley, which is Jedi screenwriting code for  “a no-one who is going to turn out to be a very big someone at some point in the story.” Ridley plays a character called Rey, a ship scavenger on the planet Jakku — a kind of intergalactic second-hand  car-dealer — who stumbles across the Millennium Falcon and its crew. “It’s true, all of it,” says the unmistakable gravelly tones of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. “The dark side, the Jedi, they’re real.” Even more telling, though, is the gender, and identity, of the woman instructing Ridley in the ways of the Force. “The Force, it’s calling to you,” says someone who sounds suspiciously like the twinkly-toned Carrie Fisher, “Just let it in” — a sentiment more commonly associated with conferences celebrating the earth-mother deity Gaia, or Wings-era Paul McCartney, than the clash of light-sabres or march of empires...' – from my piece for The Sunday Times

Oct 17, 2015

Woody Allen: A Retrospective reviews contd

“No American dramatist has done more to document the pleasures, pitfalls, and withdrawal pains of imagining the world other than it is,” Tom Shone writes in the text accompanying Woody Allen: A Retrospective, a luxuriant photo history of Allen’s work. “Dramatist,” as Shone knows—and amply demonstrates—could be replaced by “fabulist,” “comedian” or “auteur.” The singularity of Allen’s persona—the mussy hair and owlish spectacles, the mournful oblong face, the weirdly energised droopiness—obscures his protean nature, and the many stages he has restlessly passed through. The thread that connects Allen’s work is the vision of American city life as secret paradise, the site of conquest and ego-enriching romance rather of corrupting sin. It is a familiar theme for the American Jewish artist. Saul Bellow was a prince of the city. So was Norman Mailer. Woody Allen is a third... Shone rightly praises Zelig (1983), also done in the style of a documentary. Its hero is a chameleon-cipher who randomly moves through history, slipped into actual newsreel footage of the great (Babe Ruth, F Scott Fitzgerald) and the malignant (a Nazi rally)... Shone observes shrewdly that Zelig is heir to the great comedians of the silent era, “as voiceless as he is faceless… a silent ghost, unable to voice complaint or ‘kvetch’, only to mimic and please.” Ten years ago, I was in the audience when Allen was interviewed on stage by Janet Maslin, formerly the chief film reviewer for The New York Times, who at one point asked him to comment on comedies from Hollywood’s golden age. He was dismissive of many classics: Bringing up Baby and the collected gems of Preston Sturges were all stale rube jokes; Some Like It Hot was laboured female-drag. Whom did he like? Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Judy Holliday. The only humour that mattered, he said, was city humour. All his favourites come in city flavours: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando." — Sam Tenenhaus, Prospect

On my iPod, Oct 17th: Outfit

1.  On The Water, In The Way — Outfit
2. Homecoming — Josh Ritter
3. 3AM — RAC
4. Bad Blood — Ryan Adams
5. What Do You Mean? — Justin Bieber
6. Automatic Part 1 — Jean-Michel Jarre and Vince Clarke
7. Souvenir – Orchestral Maneuvres in the Dark
8. E*MO*TION — Carly Rae Jespen
9. Majorette — Beach House
10. Feel You — Have You In My Wilderness 

QUOTE of the DAY: Del Toro on Spielberg

'It’s preternaturally nimble with such grace in the way it’s staged. It’s so brisk. It’s so breathless. It’s so apparently effortless and so damn fluid. The hardest thing to accomplish on film is to make time stand still, or make a story completely fluid. Those are two truly, truly difficult things to do, and they mostly come most naturally through the narrator’s voice. Spielberg seems to me supernaturally suited for the story of Catch Me If You Can. It’s in my opinion one of the nimblest movies with fantastic performances... he does what Stanley Donen did so well. He’s brisk. He is muscular. The way his narrative flows is just almost miraculous and so beautifully staged. As a filmmaker, you want to see it dissected and savored the way you would if you had a sumptuous meal in a restaurant. Little by little, you taste the coriander, then you think, how did you get this far in a life without these cloves? The more you chew on a movie like that, the more you discover the subtle flavors and the materials it’s made of.' — Guillermo del Toro, Deadline Hollywood

Oct 14, 2015

Woody: A Retrospective Reviews Cont.d

"The British critic and journalist Tom Shone wrote the above-average text for an Abrams book on Martin Scorsese last year – it was a tribute that managed to recognize the wildly varying quality of a great filmmaker’s body of work. Shone and Abrams have collaborated again on a new over-sized volume “Woody Allen: A Retrospective” and it is another sharp examination of a long and bumpy moviemaking career... “A Retrospective” takes us through each of the films, with lots of new anecdotes about their creation, and fresh insights into their positions in Allen’s body of work. Shone is quite harsh when it comes to that terrible turn of the century lull that produced such indifferent films as “Hollywood Ending” and “Anything Else” but he also charts Allen’s return to peak form in several pictures made within the past decade. The book is a must for Woody Allen fans." — Joe Meyers, Connecticut News  
"Sharp, smart... Shone doesn't just follow critical orthodoxies. He makes his argument beautifully. It's the brain food Allen's rich career deserves." — Ian Freer, Empire

Oct 12, 2015


'We know from the way she grips her clipboard and pulls her skirt down a half inch when Brian wants to sit in the Cadillac with her with closed doors that she understands how easily a blonde Cadillac saleswoman with a buttered look that might be a Beach Boys girl twenty years later can be stereotyped. Her every gesture is decent, anxious but friendly, and every one of them is as telling as the astonishingly right clothes she wears. (Costumes by Danny Glicker.) Melinda is not rich.  She could not afford her own Cadillac, even if she drives one for work. She has clothes that are pretty, neat, stylish but budgeted and they speak to a woman of forty-one who has not had the kindness and hope drained out of her yet, and who is determined not to look fast or easy.  "Love & Mercy" is an old-fashioned film, I know, about a woman saving a troubled man, not simply because she loves him, or likes his music, but because she possesses a nuanced detailed power of sympathy that waits for someone who needs rescue and who has taken up the odd challenge of selling Cadillacs as a way of finding him.  There is something of Doris Day with Sinatra in "Young at Heart" here, or of Elisabeth Shue with Nicolas Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas."  We are not accustomed to such generosity, or to stories that place so much value in love or such belief in rescue. Melinda could have been a sentimental stooge. She could have been a mere sexpot or a bimbo. But she has the moral force of Cary Grant saving Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious," and it comes from the assurance with which Pohlad knows he only needs to photograph Melinda’s face thinking about Brian and the fairytale ordeal in which she must overcome the dread spirit of Eugene Landy. Her scenes are with Cusack (who is brilliant) and the chemistry in which their two ardent but wounded and uncertain faces dip closer together is deeply touching.' — David Thomson on Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy