New Films Seen This Week
Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
What a loss it was for cinema when Alejandro Jodorowsky failed to get a single film made for over twenty years, and what a joy it is for us that he is now back behind the camera. Endless Poetry is the second film in a planned trilogy about his own past, and it picks up exactly where The Dance of Reality left off. Young Alejandro moves with his family to Santiago where his stern father insists that he must study towards being a doctor, but Alejandro aspires to be an artist, despite his father's repeated insistence that anyone who dabbles in the arts must be a “faggot.” Alejandro falls in with a bohemian band of artists, finds a muse (who leads him by the cock and is played by the same actress who plays his mother), and has a series of Fellini-esque encounters and adventures, which unfold in a collection of episodes that just about adds up to a narrative. Endless Poetry sometimes feels like an old man rummaging through his memory banks and tossing whatever he finds onto the screen, but this is a clearly deeply personal endeavour for Jodorowsky as well as being a family affair (both father and son in the film are played by the director's two sons), and as wayward as it can appear, the film feels grounded in truth. Even in some of the most outré moments, such as Alejandro's romantic encounter with a menstruating dwarf, Jodorowsky and his committed cast find something real that gives it an emotional weight. Jodorowsky is both reviving and reshaping his past here, and the director appears onscreen himself at numerous points, including towards the end of the film, when he movingly orchestrates a reconciliation between father and son. He is 87 years old now but his direction is full of youthful verve and spirit here; he has great fun with the theatrical mise-en-scène (I loved the shadowy ninjas who stealthily move props around the characters) and, with the help of Christopher Doyle, he fills the screen with vibrant colours and eye-catching compositions. By the end of Endless Poetry I was eagerly anticipating the promised third instalment in this trilogy, but one wonders how and when we'll seen it; after all The Dance of Reality never received UK distribution and Endless Poetry was only funded thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. We've failed Alejandro Jodorowsky enough times over the past couple of decades. He deserves the support required to bring this extraordinary late project to fruition.
Rep Cinema Discovery of the Week
Pink Floyd: The Wall (Alan Parker, 1982) Prince Charles Cinema, 70mm
For all of the surreal and spectacular images and memorable music in Pink Floyd: The Wall, my favourite moment came late in the film from an unlikely source. Bob Hoskins, playing a rock star's manager, bursts into a hotel room to discover his client comatose, having trashed the room and shaved off his eyebrows. What can you say in a situation like? Bob responds with an inimitable, “Fuck me!” It's one of the few moments of dialogue in a film that is otherwise driven by The Who's songs, with a loose story being woven into it concerning rock star Pink (Bob Geldof), who is plagued by his memories of his childhood and his fear of nuclear war, and who eventually goes insane. The Wall is a visual expression of Roger Waters' lyrics, and the imagery that Alan Parker and the animator Gerald Scarfe concoct between them has a visceral, grotesque edge that often still feels bold and striking. From the dead and dying bodies on the battlefield of World War II to the iconic sequence in which schoolchildren are fed through the meat grinder, from Pink's hotel breakdown to the climactic puppet trial, the film's individual sequences each have a distinctive style and mood but are assembled by editor Gerry Hambling – the film's real star – into something that hangs together better than you might expect. Seeing The Wall on a 70mm print (that looked really good, aside from a little colour fade) emphasised Parker's often inspired shot composition and movement of the camera, and I found the whole assault on my senses more invigorating and overwhelming than I ever could have imagined. Of course, this being a 1982 Alan Parker film adapted from a 1979 Pink Floyd album, The Wall has inevitable dated in places, but parts of it still feel chillingly pertinent. Certainly, the image of a fascist mob marching down the street in a quiet English suburb slapping “Britannia Rules OK” stickers onto car windows seemed to send a noticeable chill through the room at this screening.
Rep Cinema Rediscovery of the Week
Short Cuts (Robert Altman, 1993) ICA, 35mm
This is a very long film to be screened by the London Short Film Festival, but as part of the festival’s focus on Raymond Carver screen adaptations, it made sense to show Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, which is essentially a collection of short individual tales woven into a extraordinarily rich and expansive whole. This was the first Robert Altman film I ever saw, catching it on BBC2 one evening about 20 years ago with no knowledge of who Altman was, and I was instantly bowled over by it, having never seen a film that sprawled in this way, containing so many characters, so many stories, so much life. It has been superseded in my affections by many other Altman films in the subsequent years – including his other great ensemble movie Nashville – but nevertheless, this was a welcome revisit, and a reminder that Altman made films like nobody else. The film feels relaxed in its construction – there is none of the strident, propulsive energy of the later Altman-influenced Magnolia here – but it is constantly moving, with camera always probing and shifting curiously around these characters and the editing skilfully sustaining a consistently involving rhythm as it flips between its numerous stories. It’s a sensational feat of filmmaking, but Altman would surely have been the first to tell you that this is an actor’s picture. More than anything else, Short Cuts is a fascinating examination of human behaviour, and Altman is always alive to capturing moments, reactions, gestures or line deliveries that reveal subtle details of character. Clear standouts include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Frances McDormand, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore and particularly Lily Tomlin and Tom Waits, but almost everyone is doing good-to-great work, and – given the size and range of the ensemble – the cohesive level of performance they achieve is remarkable. Not every performer here benefits from having the same richness to draw from in terms of their own plot or motivation, and Short Cuts has more false notes and unsatisfying payoffs than Nashville or Gosford Park, but taken as a whole cinema experience, and as a representation of Robert Altman’s unique philosophy and style, it’s still something special.