Author Archives: michaeljglass

125 – The Clock

Something a little different for us today, as we visit the Tate Modern to view Christian Marclay’s 24 hour long video art installation, The Clock. It’s a looping supercut of clips from film and television that involve clocks, watches, and people telling each other the time, synchronised to the real world. If you watch it at 8:10pm, it’s 8:10pm in the film too. Supported by London’s White Cube gallery, some 12,000 clips were assiduously located and assembled over three years by Marclay and his team of six researchers to create The Clock, and since its first exhibition in 2010 it’s been popping up every now and again. We jumped at the chance to see it.

The Clock‘s scarcity, ambition, and strength of concept have arguably been partially responsible for its uniformly positive reception since 2010. We, however, find plenty to criticise, including a certain imperial flavour to the overwhelmingly Anglo-American choices of source films, not to mention the whiteness that pervades the entire project and lack of imagination displayed by its reluctance to explore outside the canon. If one of the ideas behind the piece is to draw commonalities between cultures and eras, as Mike suggests, then this is a failure not just to please our sensibilities but to achieve its own purpose. The few non-English language clips that do intermittently show up serve only to highlight their own absence.

There’s also a discussion to be had about the piece’s presentation. On the one hand, with the film housed in a vast, purpose-built room, entirely darkened, with sofas lined up in perfect geometric alignment, it’s an unadulterated joy to let the time fly by, even when you know full well that you’ve been stood up for two hours because no seat is available and the artwork itself has been counting the minutes, mocking you. José decries the dismissive, contemptuous treatment cinema receives in art galleries, on which he has also recently written – https://notesonfilm1.com/2018/12/22/the-museums-disdain-for-cinema/ – but finds The Clock‘s presentation in this respect faultless. On the other, likely for the sake of a smooth viewing experience, the source clips have all been cropped (and in a few cases, stretched) to fit the same aspect ratio, a decision that we feel shows disrespect for the images and people behind them that far outweighs any benefit it has as to unifying them.

There are, though, ways in which Marclay manipulates the source material that we find valuable. Indeed, the entire piece assembles clips from thousands of films, and editing is what it’s all about. When The Clock edits clips together along thematic lines, such as when we see people in different films, places, and eras all taking their seats for concerts and plays at the same time, and when it indulges in formal exercises, cutting together car doors slamming or people smoking, it qualitatively changes its source footage into something different, achieving interesting and sometimes simply swoony effects. At other times, a character in one film will pick up the phone and speak to a character in a different film (often in a different era), the piece using humorous juxtaposition to connect them. And the piece constantly edits and mixes its own soundtrack, using the source films as a basis and typically fading between them, again smoothing the viewing experience, and occasionally building a soundtrack that sits behind an entire section of clips, binding them and creating something new, such as the anticipation generated by Run Lola Run‘s soundtrack as the film chases down noon. It’s at these times that Mike is most impressed, seeing a marked difference between when The Clock is a film and when it’s a film project, finding that too often is it the latter. But those moments of filmmaking are quite fantastic.

The Clock is a singular work and one we’d urge anybody to see given the chance, but with room for significant and fair criticism. Keep an eye out for it.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

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124 – The Favourite

Greek weirdo Yorgos Lanthimos, whose off-kilter thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer divided and provoked us a year ago, brings us The Favourite, a wild dramatisation of the power games surrounding Queen Anne’s bedchamber in the early 18th century. It’s his first feature on which neither he nor his usual partner Efthymis Filippou is credited as a writer, and that might account for its liveliness compared to his previous work, which tends to offer significant downtime in which the audience can ponder what it’s seeing. The Favourite moves rapidly and fluidly, the shifting dynamics between Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz’s Lady Marlborough, and Emma Stone’s Abigail Hill constantly exciting, with their plans always subject to change depending on who knows what about others. And on top of the intrigue, it’s really, really funny.

The Favourite offers us a brilliantly cast and even more brilliantly performing female trio, picking on a rare historical moment in which all the most important and influential people were women. (The men are all secondary, made physical jokes of, with their extravagant costumes and makeup outdoing the women’s.) Sex is always on the table and made to mean different things to different people: to Marlborough and Abigail it’s a tool to be used to manipulate and control the Queen, to whom it offers intimacy and emotional satisfaction she deeply craves and is allowed to feel she doesn’t deserve. The film doesn’t offer titillation, nor does it wish to shock or surprise with its depictions of sex or even the concept of the lesbian relationships. It’s actually quite remarkable how the film so casually avoids making it superficial and gratuitous.

We take our time to appreciate the cinematography, extraordinary wide-angle and occasionally fisheye shots that render characters, particularly the Queen, tiny playthings in a ludicrously ostentatious doll’s house. Mike remarks upon the way status is conferred by placing characters above and below each other and shooting at extreme angles to emphasise; José picks up on the costuming and its relationship to gender, mentioning in particular his admiration for Nicholas Hoult’s self-effacing, generous performance as Robert Harley, impressed by his willingness to make himself a feminised figure of fun.

There’s so much more we loved and we’re effusive throughout the podcast. And again. It’s a really, really, really, really, very very funny film indeed.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

123 – Roma

Much to Mike’s disdain – he throws tantrums about Netflix films – we settled in with a KFC to discuss Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a semi-autobiographical film about the live-in housekeeper to an upper middle class Mexican family. Carefully composed and inflected with a neorealist aesthetic, it’s been making countless year-end lists and is being touted as potentially Netflix’s first Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards, so Mike wasn’t allowed to say no.

The film is remarkable for depicting modern-day indigenous Mexicans, people to whose existence many outside the Americas might not have ever given any thought. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma’s star, is a non-professional actor of Mixtec and Triqui origin, and simply her appearance is interesting, let alone the film’s use of Mixtec language (Mike gets this name wrong at first but don’t hold it against him) and its development of the indigenous population as lower class workers. We consider the use of black-and-white imagery – José questioning what it brings to the film – and the ways in which the sound design and long panning shots attempt to place the viewer within the film’s environments. Mike explains a prejudice he holds against “personal” films, and José considers Roma‘s place alongside Cuarón’s previous work, and the melodrama of the birth scene.

Mediático, a film and media blog focused on Latin American, Latinx and Iberian media, took an immediate and deep interest in Roma and marshalled eight academics to each write a short essay on the film, and we refer to some of the points raised throughout the podcast. The dossier is well worth reading, will enrich your experience of the film, and can be found here: http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/mediatico/2018/12/24/introduction-to-the-special-dossier-on-roma-alfonso-cuaron/

(The links to the essays are on the right hand side of the webpage.)

In addition, the dossier refers on several occasions to Richard Brody’s review of the film in The New Yorker, in which he is critical of the lack of a voice given to the main character and finds the film asks more questions of the world it depicts than it answers. We refer to this, too, and you can read it here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-front-row/theres-a-voice-missing-in-alfonso-cuarons-roma

As for us? We find areas of interest, things to both agree and disagree with, in all the articles we read. José was deeply riveted by Roma despite a reservation or two and continues to see Cuarón as a great director. Mike was less interested, admitting that had he been watching the film alone, he would likely have turned it off before the halfway point; an issue with watching things at home that isn’t as pressing at the cinema (he wouldn’t have walked out of a screening). But that’s a tantrum for another day.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

122 – Aquaman

DC’s search for a cinematic tone continues to lurch between monochrome gravity and Technicolor frivolity, James Wan’s Aquaman firmly occupying the latter end of the spectrum. Although Mike has long been amused at how feeble is the concept of a superhero whose power is fish telepathy, the film has a good sense of humour about itself (even if some of the specific jokes are a little clunky) and hugely enjoyable freedom in its design, the giant seahorses a particular charm.

We discuss what’s to like and dislike about the film’s visual design and action, its message that violence is the least good solution to any problem, the welcome wisdom and calmness brought by Willem Dafoe and Dolph Lundgren (yes, really), and its adaptation of Arthurian legend and how it fits into a recent spate of films and television programmes fascinated with monarchy, bloodlines, divine rights and so on.

Jose is overall more reserved than Mike but still announces that he enjoyed himself, and the golden rule holds true: the key to happiness is low expectations.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

121 – Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins is back after a mere 54 years since the first film. The kids have grown up, life has grown difficult, and a magical undying supernatural flying nanny is precisely what they need.

What they don’t need are new ideas. Mary Poppins Returns copies the structure and concepts of the first film almost to the point of parody, today’s Disney operating in a world in which people apparently want low-effort, straight-up nostalgia (as their spate of CGI-laden remakes of their animated classics can confirm). However, the film has its charms, in time the songs may become memorable – one can rarely tell on first viewing – and children are sure to love it as previous generations loved the last.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

120 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

It’s colourful, friendly, packed full of visual energy and wit. It’s also light and just a little forgettable, like a straight-to-video movie that’s made it onto the big screen. But we had a good time and find lots to praise about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

119 – Disobedience

Rachels Weisz and McAdams soar in this delicate, passionate, complex drama of social pressures and forbidden love. Set in the North London Jewish community, Disobedience tells the story of two women whose love for each other is reignited when one returns home following her father’s death.

Everything is rendered complex, nothing is simple. Weisz’s anger at having been cast out of the community, McAdams’ subjugation and repression into a way of life she doesn’t desire, and Nivola’s denial and ambition are all expressed deeply and combine in intelligent and subtle ways. José is spellbound by the depth of feeling from the very beginning; Mike feels the lack of context early on is disappointing, seeing the film’s clichés rather than its originalities. And we share a certain reservation as to the film’s visual qualities, Mike suggesting the Jewishness of the story is reflected in its understatement, but again there is complexity present in its aesthetic and we appreciate its coherence.

We also like the seriousness with which the film treats its setting, the lack of condescension with which it depicts Jewish ceremonies and customs, Mike in particular finding it exciting to see authentically represented all manner of occasions and nuances of English Judaism. And the synagogue’s choir sings beautifully.

Though we don’t agree on everything, we are deeply moved and find it an enriching film. It’s very much worth your time.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.