Archive | October, 2014

#FirstWorldProblems: The Motion Picture – Joanna Hogg’s film ‘Exhibition’

23 Oct

Every so often a film comes along that seems intentionally designed to test the limits of its audience. In action movies, for instance, one can’t help but ask if Michael Bay is taking the piss with each successive Transformers sequel, wondering just how little plot and character development he can get away with, providing he fills the screen with explosions, giant robots and the pert bosoms of actresses half his age. Pretty much the same could be said of the art-house crowd and Joanna Hogg’s latest, if you replace explosions with shots of bespoke Swedish furniture, giant robots with vague dialogues about conceptual art, and Megan Fox with Slits guitarist Viv Albertine.

Exhibition follows two artists, H (played by real-life conceptual artist Liam Gillick) and D (Albertine), as they go through the process of selling their spacious London home. The film is made up of scenes from their everyday life, including dinner with friends from across the road and meetings with an estate agent, played by Tom Hiddleston. H works in an upstairs room (though at what, exactly, we never find out), while D spends a lot of time faffing about on a stool. And that’s about it.

Pictured: D (Viv Albertine) faffs about on a stool.

Pictured: D (Viv Albertine) faffs about on a stool.

To call the film plotless would be to invite comparison with a fragmented, dreamlike work such as Tarkovsky’s Mirror. Exhibition isn’t plotless. In offering us two fairly commonplace characters (at least in the middle class, affluent and mono-ethnic corner of London in which it’s set), and in presenting these moments from their life in chronological order, it reaches for a plot, without having the nerve to tell a story.

With its focus on the glacial, modern interior design of H and D’s lavish pad, Exhibition’s bum-numbing 101 minutes feel not so much like a movie as a particularly uneventful episode of Grand Designs. In its asking us to sympathise with D’s agony over having to move out of this dream home, the feeling isn’t so much one of a Brideshead or Il Gattopardo-style elegy, prompting our sympathy with the well-to-do in a time of crisis, but rather a big screen adaptation of the “First World Problems” hashtag and meme.

The real world, in which police sirens wail and bad things are happening elsewhere, is alluded to in the film’s admittedly excellent sound design, which does much of the heavy lifting when it comes to D’s character development. Albertine herself drifts through the role ghost-like, more or less a blank canvas, and apart from one – and only one – scene of confrontation (someone horribly working class parks in front of their garage) Gillick’s H is barely a character at all. Are their vague conversations about art meant to provoke thought or inspire contempt? I really couldn’t tell. If it’s the former, then culturally we’re doomed. If it’s the latter, then this is satire without teeth.

Ultimately, Exhibition is about very little of any consequence. Any interesting ideas (is D a little agoraphobic? When she searches every cupboard, is she checking for burglars or just looking at each one for the last time?) are abandoned almost as soon as they are introduced. This isn’t just a slow film, it’s a film in which nothing happens, and Hogg makes the mistake of thinking that these are one and the same, that an absence of character development, plot or suspense are the hallmarks of intellectual or artistic rigour. They are not.

"Shall we go into any detail about what it is either of us actually does for a living?" "Let's not."

“Shall we go into any detail about what it is either of us actually does for a living?”
“Let’s not.”

Adding to the frustration of having lost over an hour and a half watching this film – waiting for something, anything to happen – is the almost universal praise it received from the British press. Five star reviews in the Guardian and Times. Four stars from the Telegraph and Empire. Interestingly, once you stray outside the UK’s Londoncentric and incestuous cultural scene, the reviews cool off considerably, nowhere more so than in this bang-on assessment from the Village Voice. 

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with films that explore, or attempt to explore the middle and upper classes in an age of bleak austerity; characters from all backgrounds are worthy of attention. What grates with Exhibition is its navel-gazing. This is Kensington property porn masquerading as art, and at a time when so many are struggling to put food on their own tables, let alone keep roofs over their heads, that just feels appallingly crass.

5 Observations About Netflix UK

20 Oct

I’ve been signed up to Netflix UK for a little over a year. On the whole, I’d say it’s pretty good value for money. I have eclectic tastes, so there’s always something I’ll want to watch, and its abundance of sitcoms and US shows gives me something to do on my lunch breaks. After a while, however, you do start to notice some funny little quirks the site has. Such as…

1) It’s not as good as Netflix US

Don’t ask me how (it wasn’t entirely legit) but I recently had the opportunity to compare UK and US Netflix, and OH MY WORD. While Netflix UK has plenty of TV series and some good (if not particularly recent) films, US Netflix is like a different site altogether. “They have this?” you’ll say. “Already? And this?” We were able to watch films I had seen in the cinema only a month or so earlier. And there are so many movies. And it has a “Classic Movies” section, because it has so many movies that a whole section’s worth of them count as “classic”.

2) But that doesn’t mean it’s rubbish

Peter Finch in Network

Peter Finch in Network

One complaint I hear all the time (not least of all from my partner) is that there’s never anything to watch on Netflix UK. To which I say, tish, piddle and nonsense. Taking a cursory glance at the “browse” homepage, I can see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Breaking Bad, Pixar’s Brave, Annie Hall, The Fisher King, Blue is the Warmest Colour, The Secret in Their Eyes, The Shawshank Redemption, 9 to 5, Skyfall, Black Mirror, Pulp Fiction, the documentary McCullin, Network, and Downfall, all of which are excellent.

3) Hooligan movies are a cottage industry

Jesus… There are a lot of “hooligan” films out there. Whole sections of Netflix UK are awash with close-ups of snarling men with shaved heads superimposed over a red cross, invariably with titles like Rise of the Essex Lads III: Retribution. Still… I suppose it gives Craig Fairbrass something to do.

4) So that’s what Val Kilmer’s doing these days

As well as having ballooned, like some deep sea fish threatened by a predator, to about three times his normal size, Val Kilmer has been largely absent from the big screen for some time. The last mainstream movie release I can remember him appearing in was Werner Herzog’s not-quite-as-terrible-as-it-should-have-been Bad Lieutenant sequel/spin-off/remake/whatever, Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans. Other than that, well… I’ll let Netflix UK do the talking:

The most recent film on there I’d recommend (Wonderland) was made in 2003. Twixt is the latest offering from the truly tragic Francis Ford Coppola (I’ve watched 5 minutes of it, and it’s terrible), while The Traveler (2010 – 20% on Rotten Tomatoes) looks as if it was shot on a mobile phone. In 2002.

Great actors make occasionally shitty films, and sometimes their careers dry up. We all know that. But if any actor’s career demonstrates that there’s no harm in being easy to work with, it’s Kilmer’s.

5) You should never, EVER watch InAPPropriate Comedy

Following in the less-than-hallowed footsteps of Movie 43InAPPropriate Comedy is made up of comedy sketches, was written and directed by someone called Vince Offer and stars Adrien Brody, Rob Schneider, Michelle Rodriguez and (but of course) Lindsay Lohan. Quite how Offer managed to convince them (well… all of them except Lohan) to appear in this is beyond me. To give you a taste of just how terrible this film is, Brody plays Flirty Harry, who’s a bit like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, except the joke… get this… is that he’s gay and he flirts with people. And his catchphrase… brace yourselves… hold on to your sides… is, “Go ahead… Make me gay.”

Because Dirty Harry says “Make my day”, see? And “day” rhymes with “gay”.

"Go ahead, punk. Laugh at my career choices."

“Go ahead, punk. Laugh at my career choices.”

Having endured about 10 minutes of this shit before wanting to punch a hole through my laptop, board a flight to LAX, get in a cab, go to Adrien Brody’s house and kick him in the bollocks, then get back in the cab, go back to LAX and fly home, I can only assume that Vince Offer is a billionaire or a crime lord. Either Academy Award® winner Adrien Brody was paid a lot of money to appear in this film, or Offer kidnapped a close member of his family and wouldn’t let them go till Brody rocked up on set. Seeing as this is the actor who once dumped a girlfriend to get into character for The Pianist, I’ll assume it’s the former.

But despite my glowing recommendation, do not watch this film. Not even “ironically”. You can’t watch a terrible comedy “ironically”. If you want to laugh at a bad movie, check out Oliver “Downfall” Hirschbiegel’s Diana, which is also on Netflix UK, and which is fucking hilarious.

The New Literalism

2 Oct

It’s a fairly general trait of encroaching middle age that the world makes less sense and everything becomes more annoying, but I can’t be alone in thinking it’s been a terrible couple of weeks for common sense here in the UK, at least as far as the arts are concerned.

First there was Mantelgate Part 2. I’m calling it “Mantelgate”. I don’t think anyone else did. Mantelgate Part 1 came when Hilary Mantel, author of the amazing Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies, wrote a piece in the London Review of Books about Royal women that was misconstrued as an attack on the Duchess of Cambridge by a media desperate to chase the latest storm in a teacup, like Bill Paxton in a shit remake of Twister. Part 2 involved Mantel’s short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. Set in 1983 it depicts an incident in which an unnamed narrator – presumably based on Mantel herself – meets an IRA assassin hell-bent on killing the then Prime Minister.

Hilary Mantel (picture from the Telegraph)

Hilary Mantel (picture from the Telegraph)

The story is a fairly whimsical one, and explores the anger Thatcher inspired (and after last year’s hagiography-fest, it’s worth remembering that many people hated her), but which also cocks a snoop at her more comfortably off, suburban critics. It is not a textbook for how one might go about assassinating the late Prime Minister, and yet Tory peer Lord Bell thinks Mantel should be investigated by the police for writing the (fictional) story.

No sooner had that minor brouhaha died down than the Barbican chose to cancel Brett Bailey’s show Exhibit B (pictured at the top), a kind of theatrical installation featuring live performers, about the ugly 19th and early-20th Century practice of so-called “human zoos”, in which black Africans were paraded in front of white spectators as if they were animals. Birmingham-based blogger Sara Myers (who hadn’t seen the work) spearheaded a protest against Exhibit B, claiming it was “racist”, and the Barbican halted the show before it had begun.

Picture from the BBC

Picture from the BBC

Now, in the latest sorry chapter of idiots winning the day, Clacton-On-Sea council have destroyed some graffiti by Banksy (pictured above), because it was deemed potentially offensive and – yet again – racist. That the painting is taking the piss out of the anti-immigration lobby apparently flew over the council’s heads, and it’s worth emphasizing here that they didn’t say it was destroyed because it was graffiti, but because it might cause offense.

While Lord Bell has – so far- proven unsuccessful in getting the police to pay a visit to Chez Mantel, and while both the Banksy work and Exhibit B strike me as a little trite (though, in the case of the latter, it’s hard to form a judgment if you haven’t actually seen it), the three cases all speak of a wider problem; one of idiotic literalism.

It’s one of the hallmarks of a complete clod that he or she can’t tell the difference between art and life. Salman Rushdie learned this the hard way when the Ayatollah Khomeini couldn’t differentiate between a novel and a philosophical tract (not that the latter would have justified a death sentence). If Mantel can be grateful for one thing, it’s that the closest a British conservative (or Conservative) will get to issuing a deadly fatwah is writing an irate column for the Telegraph. 

If they're really pissed off, they'll set Simon Heffer on you.

If they’re really pissed off, they’ll set Simon Heffer on you.

As for the Banksy story, well… it’s graffiti. He must know by now – and hopefully has always known – that the majority of his works are ephemeral, and I always find it galling when some local authority expresses regret at painting over one by saying, “Well, if we’d known it was a Banksy…” An insult to other (and often better) graffiti artists, if ever I heard one.

The Exhibit B case is more concerning, but it once again demonstrates how an uninformed mob can silence artistic expression.

And how the word "privilege" has become the rhetorical equivalent of "no backsies". (Picture from the Guardian.)

And how the word “privilege” has become the rhetorical equivalent of “no backsies”. (Picture from the Guardian.)

The decision to cancel the show may have been the Barbican’s, but that decision was made under pressure and the fear of violent protest, disruption and worse, and all because Myers & Co can’t tell the difference between a work about racism, and racism itself.

If this is the way things are going to be, where do we stop? Do we ban Schindler’s List for its antisemitism, or Nabakov’s Lolita for its hebephilia? In the Mantel case enough people called bullshit for it to come to nothing, but if she had been a conservative author, would she have enjoyed the same level of support? The counter-argument for Exhibit B only came, in the pages of the Guardian and Independent after the show was cancelled. Unless the Left learns to defend freedom of expression, even when it disagrees with what’s being expressed, the literalists will win, and that means everyone else will lose.