Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Picturehouse’

I, Daniel Blake, Greenwich Picturehouse 29 October

October 29, 2016



Grey Street in the rain

This film is about a 59-year-old carpenter who suffers a heart attack and so is no longer able to work.  He is judged not sufficiently incapacitated to receive Disability Allowance, so has to go through the demeaning pretence of looking f0r non-existent jobs.  He makes friends with a young single mother who has been sent a long way from London because it is cheaper than housing her family there and who has her benefits sanctioned because she got on the wrong bus in a strange town and arrived late for an interview.

I have to admit that I did cry during the film, though not as much as the two women sitting next to me, and it wasn’t all because of the I want to go home feeling.  They got the Newcastle accent right, and also the way people speak to each other, which is a different thing.  When the dialogue and actions were allowed to proceed from the characters and their actions it was actually very moving.  There were some shots of Newcastle in the rain, YESS!!

The essay that Loach was determined to write was probably quite correct at a factual level, but it didn’t really mesh with these characters.  In particular, what Daniel needed was clearly some advocacy from the CAB, a Welfare Rights group, or even Age UK.  Now he might not have known that, but after spending two years in a homeless hostel in London Katie certainly would have.  I approve of making ordinary people the central figures of films and plays, but depriving them of agency isn’t the way to do it.  And I was irritated that St Daniel had to be burdened with demonstrating appropriate attitudes to black people, gays and people with mental illness.  Then I start asking myself what kind of a joiner he had been.  If he was employed, he should have been eligible for sick pay.  If he was self-employed, it’s hard to see how he could have managed to remain totally incapable in the face of modern technology.

Did he call the gay black training-shoe entrepreneur the ‘tycoon of Byker’ or similar?  That didn’t look like Byker to me…But the Evening Chronicle has helpfully published a map of the locations.

It is to the credit of director Ken Loach and scriptwriter Paul Laverty that having stupidly decided to include a scene of archetypal Dostoevskian degradation they clearly had no idea what they were talking about–there are some things you just have to be a bad man to get right.

Toryboy (with Q and A), Greenwich Picturehouse 15 March

March 16, 2012


This documentary followed film-maker  John Walsh as he abandoned his lifelong Labour affiliations after working on a Gordon Brown vanity project, then went through the new open selection process for Conservative candidates and stood in Middlesbrough and tried to confront Stuart Bell the sitting and inactive Labour MP.  There were also some animated sections explaining how UK elections work, depicting Stuart Bell reading from a self-penned pornographic novel, and we saw how John and his sidekick Other John came to terms with Middlesbrough and being Tories.

I think the film just about stayed away from bash-the-working-class deprivation tourism, but it’s not clear that anyone would have gained any impression of Middlesbrough other than Featureless Northern Shithole.  It’s also not clear that it had any argument put forward other than ‘Desperately Seeking Stuart’.  John Walsh was certainly extremely engaging–both in person and on film–and you could see why selection panels would have gone for him.

It was also hard to see what kind of a Tory he was in the post-film discussion.  He said quite rightly that what Middlesbrough needed was a good Labour MP.  When asked whether there were not equally useless Tory MPs in the shires, he answered that there if people had problems they could afford to hire someone to sort it out, while in Middlesbrough they couldn’t now that Government grants had been whittled away and so they relied upon their MP doing things for them.  So Middlesbrough needs an active Labour MP and  lots of public money–nothing to argue about there.

Actually I don’t think anyone had a kind word to say Middlesbrough or its inhabitants during the course of the film, unless 15 seconds of Chris Rea were meant to provide the positive side…

People in the audience were quite shocked to learn that John Walsh had spent £ 15,000 of his own money seeking election, and it would have been £ 30,000 if it had been a winnable seat.  I don’t remember him having a convincing answer to how normal people could become Conservative MPs, or indeed how he was doing anything other than aping Michael Moore.

You can buy a download of the film for iTunes here.

Dreams of a Life, Greenwich Picturehouse 24 December

December 24, 2011


This film is about Joyce Vincent, a woman who died alone in her flat around Christmas 2003 and remained undiscovered until 2006.  Since she was apparently a popular clever pretty young woman it was difficult for it not to be unbearably affecting.  But the film managed to deaden its impact by a confusion of approaches.  We had interviews with people who had known Joyce (friends, flatmates, colleagues–not her family).  We had reconstructions of scenes from her life and of the grisly process of clearing up her flat.  We had something of ‘Desperately seeking Joyce’ in the form of a whiteboard attempting to piece together her life and a taxi driving around with an advert appealing for information on its side.

I think that what you need is hard facts containing raw emotion, but there was neither here.  It would have been possible to at least establish what she did for a living and when–instead we were left in confusion as to whether she had a responsible position in the Treasury Department or was she just a secretary?  I suppose establishing the facts might have been a little difficult in the face of determined obstruction from her family.  But surely not impossible.

Then the film ended with a reconstruction of her last hours, but since they hadn’t decided what they thought had happened to her it wasn’t very convincing.  T S Eliot did it a lot better:

When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.

In fact, Joyce Vincent seems to have been an absolutely typical heroine out of Jean Rhys, which once more gives me the feeling that this has been done before as well as better.

The question of time continues to worry me.  We learn that Joyce Vincent was 38 when she dies in 2003, so she was born in 1965.  The former boyfriend who relates holding a 21st party for her and then regrets not having saved her when she stayed with him later on is surely being too guilty–assuming she was in her mid-20s when they broke up that was ten years in the past.  More importantly perhaps, the colleagues and acquaintances interviewed are more or less Joyce Vincent’s contemporaries so they look pretty bad when contrasted with a beautiful 27-year-old actress in Zawe Ashton.

It is just not the case that the very young woman we saw being  played by Ashton died alone in her flat.  First of all she got older and at an age when she might have learned better she had a relationship with a violent man so that she was in a Women’s Refuge and then in her final flat.  So I feel the film is just being dishonest–it insists on showing us a beautiful young woman to engage our sympathy.

We Need To Talk About Kevin, Greenwich Picturehouse 31 October

October 31, 2011


What follows is my reaction as someone who had read the book and indeed seen Morvern Callar, one of director Lynne Ramsay’s previous films.

Ariustotle raises the question somewhere about tragedy:  How can something that would be distressing and disgusting to witness in real life be exhilarating and ennobling on the stage.  Well here the problem was that if you’d read the book you had already been these characters and done these actions, so all that was left was a tedious repetition of what you already knew from the inside, and for me it was just boring and annoying.

There were of course many enjoyable things that had been cut:  most of Kevin’s sense of humour and in particular the diabolical letters he writes to lure his victims to the school gym for instance.  And he didn’t seem to be an  alien and distanced character in the way he did in the book–though that’s because there you see him through the eyes of his mother while here he’s on a level with the other characters you see on screen.

Lynne Ramsay perforce had less of Spain to show on screen than in Morvern Callar, and the insects were restricted to ants crawling over an abandoned jam sandwich, except that they were joined by a real live fly crawling across the Greenwich Picturehouse screen (and sometimes flying from spot to spot on it).

I would have left half-way through but willpower had somehow deserted me.

I enjoyed the music.

That's a trusting kid sister...


Bobby Fischer Against The World, Greenwich Picturehouse 24 July

July 25, 2011


The structure of this documentary was fine:  fit the backstory of Bobby Fischer (and of chess) into the run-up to the famous 1972 match with Spassky and the match itself,  then cover what became of him afterwards.  I was certainly struck by how good-looking  Fischer was in his prime, and by the way he sounded like an articulate and educated man in interviews (unfortunately all of that was to change quite radically).

But there were lots of things left hanging:  most obviously some interviewees were never identified that I noticed.  There was one guy talking about Fischer coming to dinner and then no longer being welcome because of his loony anti-Semitic views.  Was that the Asa Hoffman we saw earlier? I wondered.  No, he spoke of his wife Joan [Bobby’s sister] dying, so it must have been Russell Targ I suppose.

Then there were the points the film really should have covered and didn’t.  For instance, towards the end we saw the deteriorated wreck of Fischer wandering round Reykjavik and haranguing the Icelandic neurologist whose name I forget.  He was followed around by a Japanese woman, completely unremarked-upon in the film, who must have been Miyoko Watai, Fischer’s suppositious wife.

I’d have liked to have known more about Fischer’s older sister Joan, who suffered the same disturbed upbringing but had the protective effects of being female (and also, according to the film, a different father).  As well as wondering how she turned out, I would have thought that an older sister who must at least have helped bring him up would have been Fischer’s best chance of a normal human relationship.

They should have asked Nikolai Krogius (the psychologist in Spassky’s team) whether Fischer would have been better looked after on the Soviet side, I think the answer is certainly yes.  Why didn’t Spassky claim the match by forfeit?–He had more than one occasion to I think.  He must have been under orders to play and win, poor man.

So who would you look to if you wanted to explain Fischer by comparison?  Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann were men of similar abilities from the same milieu but were spared the disastrous upbringing, which is more reminiscent of Truman Capote or a number of other American writers.  Then there’s Lee Harvey Oswald–turned out better than him, anyway.

but yet the pity of it, Iago!

Farewell/L’affaire Farewell Greenwich Picture House 30 April

May 1, 2011


In general

It is the beginning of the 1980s; in Moscow, an intelligence officer called Grigoriev and played by Emir Kusturics has lost all patience with the system and is passing material to a French engineer (called Froment and played by Guillaume Canet).   Since Grigoriev is working in a central bureau concerned with overall assessment he has a lot of good stuff, in particular showing that the entirety of Western intelligence has been compromised; since Froment is an complete outsider and off the spy radar he thinks he might get away with it.

I certainly enjoyed it, especially perhaps the shots of Soviet-era Moscow, which was all a bit too clean and orderly for my liking perhaps.  I was glad to see that the French characters spoke French and the Russian characters Russian.  Kusturica (a Serb) clearly wasn’t a native Russian speaker–the explanation given was that he was from Moldavia–but he portrayed a very Russian character.  The American characters  spoke English!–I don’t think that the home audience would have stood for a French-speaking Reagan somehow. We also enjoyed a reappearance from the very lovely Ingeborga Dapkunaite as Grigoriev’s wife.

Things that worried me and *SPOILERS*

This is supposed to be a top-secret intelligence establishment and people can just wander into the filestore when they feel like it (or feel like extramarital sex)?  Certainly when I worked in an entity that ran agents in hostile organisations, the very idea that there might be a complete uncoded list of all of those agents would have been unthinkable.  Also anywhere dealing with any kind of sensitive information you just don’t leave files hanging around on your desk.  And you need to stop the operatives screwing each other, or rather having relationships with each other–you never know who has access to what .

I wouldn’t have called that wolf thing by Alfred de Vigny a poema–surely it’s a stikhotvorenie–and it’s rather reminiscent of Vladimir Vysotsky anyway.  Surely wolf, as opposed to poodle say, is Russian more than French?

La mort du loup  with translation here.

Karamazovi Greenwich Picturehouse 23 March

March 24, 2011


This is a Czech film (Petr Zelenka, 2008) about a theatre company from Prague rehearsing a performance of an adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov in Nowa Huta, a semi-operational Polish steelworks.  Apart from some exchanges at the beginning about a descendant of Dostoevsky coming to an international conference in the hope of getting a Merc out of it, that’s about it.

Except that as happens in these cases, the action bleeds out from the playing area into the actors and the spectators, in particular one of the maintenance man who is undergoing a severe personal trauma and is also drawn into the world of the play.  Kasia, the Polish representative whose idea all of this is, says that the idea is to bring people together and that turns out to be true all too true.

It all works very well (helped by the strength of the underlying material):  the play itself, the answering desolate grimness of the steelworks, the actors’ competitive egotism and their differing responses to signals from the real world.

Well done to the Greenwich Picturehouse for putting on something both different and worthwhile!

Norwegian Wood Greenwich Picturehouse 13 March

March 17, 2011


Toru and Naoko

It looks like what you thought of this film depended on whether you’d seen the book by Hiruki Murakami and on how you liked that.  I had read the book but was by no means a total believer.  And when the film started with Kizuki gassing himself rather than with the song I wondered whether this was an effort to save money on royalties.  I felt bored.

A lot of the things I remembered best had been left out–Reiko’s story (and wrinkles), Hatsumi and Toru playing billiards, Midori explaining how she had taught herself to cook, Toru feeding her father in hospital, Toru describing how he had to wind himself up at the beginning of each day…

Midori (wearing green!) and Toru

A lot of the psychological development and examination of relationships was substituted by footage of storm-tossed landscapes thrashing soulfully.  That was reminiscent of Tarkovsky, as was Toru’s unheeding wandering among crowds of protesters.

The actress playing Midori ( Mizuhara–apparently a model rather than an actress) was painfully, radiantly beautiful when I thought the plot depended on her being the girl next door and Naoko being the beautiful one.  Everyoner was beautifully dressed as well.  In terms of acting, this Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) didn’t appear schizophrenic to me–more a case of the pretty mental illness that you get in books and films and that doesn’t correspond to any recognised diagnosis.

The film did grow on me as time went on.  I was pleased with the recognition that sex sometimes just won’t work even for keen healthy young people.  There was a truly Chekhovian moment in GPH when Reiko came to visit Toru in the apartment he had rented:

–So you were planning to live here with Naoko?

–I need to do the washing-up.

(Raw coughing from the row behind.)

I did at least seriously consider crying at one stage, and we did get to hear the Beatles song at the end.