Native Spirit Film Festival Review Series: Maasai Living Culture

Kooya Timan, leader of the Participatory Video project in Tanzania disputes “video technology is a very powerful thing because it connects people from one continent to another, one culture to another”. This profound observation appears in InsightShare’s documentary Maasai Living Culture which is a film that very much exemplifies Timan’s reasoning. It documents the relationship forming between the Maasai community and Oxford University Pitt Rivers Museum, due to the connection both groups have to Maasai objects of cultural significance. It simultaneously draws attention to the importance of film and media to awaken the world to a culture that is still living and breathing, despite its presence on top of a historical pedestal.

 

Pitt Rivers Museum displays a range of artefacts and when members of the Maasai community discovered that the museum was exhibiting objects from their cultural past, a unique knot was tied between the two. Unfortunately, rights of possession and the right to educate are quite often differing ideologies that will result in extreme conflict between Indigenous people and the museums that wish to deepen their cultural repertoire. In many cases, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, members of Indigenous tribes quite rightly want their cultural items returned to them, as they are direct descendants of those they originally belonged to. However, this documentary presents an alternative, where museum and community alike work together to both educate and keep an Indigenous culture alive. 

 

This is where the film gets its name. Living Culture refers to how the people of the Maasai community aim to facilitate the museum’s understanding of their artefacts. Instead of displaying these objects as relics from a story that has long been forgotten, the Indigenous community wish to shed light onto the fruitful history of their ancestors and how many of the artefacts still hold cultural significance today. It is an enlightening documentary that follows several community leaders from Tanzania and their experiences in the UK while working with the museum. It is an inspirational story of one culture understanding and helping another, providing a breath of fresh air to a world currently rife with division. 

 

Vibrant bursts of colour shine through the uplifting plans drawn by both parties and juxtapose with their patina imbued artefacts, illustrating how the merging of these two communities is already breathing new life into Maasai culture and indeed making it a living culture once more. Furthermore, illustrating how the words of Timan do indeed have substance to them, as InsightShare’s documentary is an example of how video technology reminds us that “Culture does not die, it is there to prevail”. 

 

It is an insightful piece of cinema that exudes both the beauty of the Maasai community and the ideologies that InsightShare stand for, as they aim to work with their Indigenous partners. It demonstrates how video technology has the power to “realign the narrative” of cultures that are feared to have been lost in the afterlife of museums and exemplify how future technologies can reincarnate aspects of our history.

 

Maasai Living Culture shows at 13th Native Spirit Film Festival 12-20 October 2019 2-4pm at The Court Room, First Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

Register here:

https://ilas.sas.ac.uk/events/event/20406

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/13th-native-spirit-indigenous-film-festival-opening-day-indigenous-electronic-arts-brazil-tickets-66462086891

 

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Review: Joker

★★★★☆

Beautifully Disturbing

 

Throughout the promotion of Todd Phillips’ origin story I had high expectations. After receiving an 8-minute standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, a series of dazzling reviews and releasing some stunning marketing material that did not spare an ounce of artistic flair, I was itching to see the psychological circus that created the most iconic comic book villain. After the film’s release, a few negative responses began to penetrate the media and my hopes for this film were slightly hindered. Of course I take the reports of disturbed cinema goers prematurely leaving the cinema with a pinch of salt and I often laugh at the controversies surrounding any film’s depiction of violence, Joker being no exception.

 

One piece of criticism that did worry me however, was one of my friends sharing that they thought the film was disappointing and did not live up to the hype that was painted onto the face of the film by the media. I do think this demonstrates how important film criticism truly is to most films, especially those that wish to go down the artistic route, it has audiences walking into the cinema with a preconceived idea of what they’re about to see before the lights even go down. This friend of mine also expressed their boredom by stating they played “spot the Super Rat” throughout, whereby she attempted to find the mutant rats supposedly taking over the streets of Gotham (little Easter eggs placed in many scenes) instead of watching the film. When I objected by saying that I didn’t spot any Super Rats and I’d actually forgotten about that aspect of the plot, she simply replied “I got bored and started looking for rats, you were so immersed you didn’t see any”. I think that perfectly summarises how film reception works. Everyone’s opinion is valid and at the end of the day, it just comes down to whether the story grips you enough to stop you from looking for Super Rats.

 

Luckily for Phillips, I didn’t see any Super Rats (because I’m sure he thinks the world of my opinion). Joker is the character study of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) and the suffering that drove a mental illness to the point of the mentally disturbed, catalysing the birth of Gotham’s most twisted super-villain, Joker. Arthur lives a rather soul destroying  life as a clown entertainer, living with his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy) in a dank apartment riddled with poverty. He suffers from a chronic illness where internal anxiety manifests itself in the form of uncontrolled laughter, his infamously eerie cackle interwoven throughout moments of bleak terror. Arthur dreams of being a stand up comedian as he feels his only purpose in life is to make others smile, whether that be through laughter or physically manipulating the face to do so. Audiences watch as the fragile Arthur spirals into insanity and through Phillips’ storytelling, we can’t really blame the poor guy.

 

Joker is a beautifully dark exploration of the trauma and tragedy that can eventually overpower innocence. Accompanied by a striking soundtrack, the film’s depressing haze encapsulating the story of our infamous villain will profoundly affect its audiences and make for a truly uncomfortable yet poignant viewing experience. Some have criticised the film for sympathising with a ruthless and sadistic character however I think this should be a point of praise. Phillips has left a mark on this already legendary figure and enhanced its psyche through adding complexity and empathy. My heart went out to Arthur through every beating, every betrayal and every cry for help, I just wanted him to be okay but of course we know that isn’t his fate.

 

The only reason I’m not giving this film 5 stars is because it has to be the most life-denying film I have ever seen and I couldn’t possibly bring myself to watch it again despite how beautiful it is in practise. I think that was Phillips’ intention, it’s a gritty portrayal of the bleak realities of the human race, we are a society imbued with poverty, crime and rage. Which is why the unjust concerns spreading throughout the media, declaring its glamorisation of violence, are just completely invalid because A) it is the most depressing film ever, there’s nothing glamorous about it and B) we watch this hostility everyday on the news, it’s real, it’s happening. Criticising a film for using these issues to add depth to its stories is a form of denial, denial that the real world is also a mess. Its narrative strikingly mirrors the riots occurring in many cities across the globe due to various political issues, whether it be corrupt governments or climate crisis. The word ‘art’ has been floating around critics’ descriptions of the film, in this case the phrase  ‘art imitates life’ has never been more fitting.

 

Phillips successfully channels Scorsese in this grubby city thriller, intertwining the likes of Taxi Driver with The King of Comedy to create yet another character driven investigation of the male psyche. In this deck of cards, Phoenix is the King. His performance is exceptional and for me, lives up to the legacy of Heath Ledger’s portrayal in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It would be futile comparing the two as they were both required to bring different qualities to the performance, however there is no denying Phoenix’s deep commitment to this intricate character. The method actor lost 52lbs for the role to appropriately convey the state of mental deterioration inflicting Arthur, to the point where it was manifesting itself physically. Fortunately, this self sacrifice paid off for Phoenix because ultimately, the beauty of this film lies in his meticulously heartbreaking yet genius performance. After all, this is a character study taking said character to new territories, and it would be nothing without its breathtaking lead.

 

Joker stands out amongst its fellow superhero flicks and for me, it lived up to its critical praise, primarily due to Phoenix’s unforgettable portrayal. Its desolate depiction of one person’s eventual surrender to the ostracising of a cruel and corrupt society is poignant, thrilling and far from a joke.

 

Native Spirit Film Festival Review Series: Throat Singing in Kangirsuk

Set in a small Inuit village in Canada, Throat Singing in Kangirsuk explores just that (the clue is in the name). Made by two girls aged 18 and 17 who identify as part of the Inuit community of Payne Bay, Eva Kaukai and Manon Chamberland take audiences on an enthralling audio and visual tour around their land. Drone technology is utilised to capture sublime aerial shots of Payne Bay throughout the four seasons and the hypnotic Indigenous art of throat singing provides a curious soundtrack, that grounds this visually stimulating piece of cinema in their cultural territory. 

 

Throat singing is a tradition common to many cultures such as Sardinian and Mongolian however, Inuit throat singing (or katajjaq) involves more of a duet style of performance. This is why Kaukai and Chamberland stand facing one another, dwarfed by the vast emptiness of the arctic in the opening frame of the film. It is clear this is not the only duet present on screen, as the film successfully blends people and nature, cinematography and music, sight and sound into varying duets that share a fundamental appreciation for this particular Indigenous community. Everything we see and hear during the film is an authentic portrayal of the custom, holding hands and holding back laughter for instance, as traditionally this breathing exercise would be an entertaining competition whereby whoever laughed or ran out of breath first, would lose. However, here there are no losers. The two may occasionally giggle but this only shines a light on the fun and creativity that exists in their culture. 

 

Kaukai and Chamberland worked with Wapikoni Mobile to create this unique short film. Wapikoni is a non-profit organisation who are concerned with educating the public on Indigenous culture through film and music. Therefore, what Kaukai and Chamberland have created is a perfect example of their work. It does not only give viewers an insight into the land of this community but goes deeper, channelling a musical performance that echoes centuries of Inuit tradition. Wapikoni stopped over in Kangirsuk and facilitated in the production of the film by providing the young girls with the equipment necessary to bring substance to their idea. Wapikoni also aspires to motivate young Indigenous people and give them a voice, in this particular project their voices are heard louder than ever before in the peculiar yet mesmerising symphonies of their throat singing. It is also especially refreshing to see such young female filmmakers paving their way into the industry with a bang.  

 

There are many striking elements that contribute to the beauty of Throat Singing in Kangirsuk. It is an eye-opening experience for the senses as breathtaking imagery and intense rhythms mould together with meticulous editing. It reminds viewers of the connection that lies between culture and land, it can be argued that although the seasons may change, nature changing with them, indigenous traditions like throat singing remain constant and will prevail for future generations. This audible spectacle breathes life into the images we see on screen and its impacts will remain with you long after their last breath. 

Throat Singing in Kangirsuk shows at 13th Native Spirit Film Festival 12-20 October 2019 2-4pm at The Court Room, First Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

Register here:

https://ilas.sas.ac.uk/events/event/20406

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/13th-native-spirit-indigenous-film-festival-opening-day-indigenous-electronic-arts-brazil-tickets-66462086891

Not So Guilty Pleasures: Twilight

Seeing as we’re talking about guilt in this post, I might as well fess up to neglecting my blog a fair bit lately. It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post so I’m really sorry for keeping you waiting (I know you must have all been in despair not having any new posts to read). There are loads of reasons behind this, mainly being my painstaking job search… university definitely doesn’t prepare you for that uphill struggle! My determination to find something meant I was busy filling out job applications and refusing to do anything else. I soon realised that I needed to take a break from it because it was really impacting my mood. If you think being ghosted by someone you fancy is painful, try being ghosted by about 50 employers. As a way of healing my ego I decided to watch my favourite guilty pleasure, the moody malnourished vampire flick Twilight. 

 

I’ve always loved the Twilight Saga – no matter how progressively bad it got with every film – but my favourite of the five has to be the one that kicked it all off (Breaking Dawn: Part One coming in close second because: wedding). For those of you who have avoided Twilight like the plague thanks to its terrible reputation and have no idea what it’s about, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) who has always felt somewhat of a black sheep, moves to the rainy town of Forks to live with her dad (side note: I truly realised my age when I started to fancy Charlie more than any of the younger ‘pretty boys’). Here, she meets Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) the angsty, dreamy, enigmatic vampire and his equally angsty, dreamy, enigmatic vampire family. That was probably a poor plot summary but if you don’t already know the story I quite frankly have no time for you. Basically, *spoiler alert* they fall in love and the rest of the films follow their sexy but quite frankly, toxic relationship (seriously, Edward is emotionally abusive… but he can recite Shakespeare off by heart so it’s okay). I’ve always considered this franchise to be a guilty pleasure because let’s face it, it’s hardly Citizen Kane. However, when I was watching it I started to think ‘Why is this a guilty pleasure when I don’t actually feel bad about watching it?’ and the answer to that is simple: it really isn’t that bad.

 

Nikki Reed, Robert Pattinson, Kellan Lutz, Jackson Rathbone, and Ashley Greene in Twilight (2008)

 

I saw an article a few months ago stating that Twilight had been voted the worst film ever made. These voters are probably the same people who think Avatar is cinematic genius or find Adam Sandler funny, they simply haven’t watched enough films to know their opinion is wrong. I thought I’d turn to my blog in defence of the Stephanie Meyer inspired franchise and explain why it should be given more credit. Maybe this will become a series where I defend certain films/directors/TV shows that are unjustifiably slated?

 

Say what you will about the other additions to the saga but my main beef is with the hate Twilight gets. In my opinion, Catherine Hardwicke gave the best direction out of all the filmmakers involved with the franchise and accurately visualised the overall mood and aesthetic emanating from the books. I would 100% consider myself a ‘Twihard’ as I went to the cinema for most of their initial releases, had posters of Edward Cullen all over my bedroom wall and of course read all the books (including The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner and Midnight Sun). From this perspective, what most people forget is the source material for the film wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, so Hardwicke had to do her best with what she was given, which was essentially a fan-fiction written by a woman lusting over a glittery man she once dreamt about. Hardwicke managed to create a feature length film from this idea that grossed nearly $400million worldwide, that isn’t bad for an indie movie.

 

Rachelle Lefevre, Edi Gathegi, and Cam Gigandet in Twilight (2008)

 

Secondly, the soundtrack is absolutely brilliant. It features music from Muse, Paramore and Linkin Park, not to mention Thom Yorke, Bombay Bicycle Club and Lykke Li making appearances in the later films. For me, the soundtrack is so poignant and will resonate with me for years to come which is why the film deserves far more love. Even the original compositions like ‘Bella’s Lullaby’ by Carter Burwell for instance are indisputably beautiful. Twilight is a film where narrative and music are inextricably linked, where each song collides effortlessly with each scene and fundamentally helps tell the story with a profound elegance. Apparently the Twilight soundtrack is the best-selling theatrical movie soundtrack in the US since Chicago and I can definitely see why, for what Twilight lacks in narrative substance, it more than makes up for in audible pleasure.

 

One main criticism I remember circulating amongst its viewers was the ‘wooden’ and ‘uncomfortable’ performances given by the cast, Stewart and Pattinson receiving the worst of the blow. I understand at first glance their acting might be questionable but when you get down to it, they were simply following direction and actually committing to the flaws of the characters. For me, Stewart and Pattinson were the perfect pairing for these roles and played them with the intention of making their viewers uncomfortable. What people seem to forget is Bella and Edward are suppose to be sad, awkward, sexually frustrated teenagers and that’s exactly how they played the roles. It’s not their fault they were given lines like “you better hold on tight, spider-monkey”.

 

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in Twilight (2008)

 

I won’t give the pair too much sympathy though, it’s hardly like they’re struggling to make ends meet as a result of the Twilight backlash. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Stewart has proved herself more than capable of delivering some stunning performances, from her captivating role in Personal Shopper, to her exhilarating portrayal of Joan Jett in The Runaways. Pattinson has also demonstrated his talents through his performances in High Life and Good Time, causing much anticipation around his performance in Robert Eggers’ chaotically surreal The Lighthouse and of course his controversial casting for the upcoming Batman film, creatively titled The Batman. Clearly Stewart and Pattinson have matured and evolved from their roles as anaemic horny teenagers but it’s also plain to see Twilight launched them both into the careers we associate with them now. So maybe we should cut them a bit more slack.

 

You might be thinking I’m slightly obsessive and that it’s weird I haven’t outgrown my love for this flawed yet flawless film, to some extent that’s true. However, my obsession with cinema is something I’ll never outgrow and is in fact something that just keeps growing with me. Twilight is a piece of cinema that has been given a bad rep and for me that rep is completely unjustified, technical talk aside, it’s a film I grew up with and the nostalgia that radiates from it will always mean it deserves more. With any luck, this post has made you reevaluate your views on some underrated films and made you think some of them are worth sinking your teeth into.

 

 

Native Spirit Film Festival Review Series: Guarding the Forest

Recently I have had the privilege to review films from the upcoming Native Spirit Festival who work to promote contemporary Indigenous cinema from across the globe. I have had the opportunity to watch and review some amazing Short films that simultaneously showcase Indigenous talent, as well as vocalise some extremely hard-hitting issues that would otherwise remain unheard. This is just one of the many reasons why it is crucial we show our support and recognition for Native Spirit. I will be able to share more reviews with you as time progresses, for now I am excited to share my review of Max Baring’s Guarding the Forest a film which should resonate with many of you now that there has been some (but not nearly enough) media coverage on the Amazon rainforest fires.

. . .

 

Filmed in Guajajara Indigenous territory within the depths of Brazil, Guarding the Forest is a revealing documentary that holds a magnifying glass up to the devastation spreading through the Amazon rainforest due to the much too common prevalence of loggers. We are all aware of the impact deforestation has on our planet however this documentary digs deeper into the direct social impact these atrocities have on local Indigenous populations and how members of the Guajajara community are fighting back. 

 

The Guajajara Task Force call themselves “Guardians of the Forest” and view themselves as warriors serving to protect Mother Nature and aim to negotiate with those who threaten her. The documentary exposes the politics surrounding the issues of deforestation and the eternal conflict between ecology and economy that affects the lives of so many. It highlights how although, what used to be a lush beacon of greenery, provides us with 20% of the world’s oxygen, many see the destruction of it as justified due to the realities of a ‘money driven’ world. It is a film that surveys the fight between “individual, economic, private interests versus interests of the collective rights of Indigenous peoples”. Following the election of President Bolsonaro and the power over land demarcation being transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture (an organisation whose main priority lies with farming) as opposed to the original organisation FUNAI (a foundation that aims to protect the rights of Indigenous people) logging has become far more of a cultural, as well as an environmental, threat.

 

Filmmakers put themselves on the Front Line of danger as they utilise footage of fire, explosions and chaos to accentuate the destruction that the Guajajara Guardians are frequently facing. Thus, making this documentary all the more shocking to its audience, as it provides a melancholic reminder of the war we have declared on our own planet and its people. An effective yet simple implementation of Google Earth imagery is woven together to visualise the severities of demarcation, as vibrant green fades to lifeless brown without a doubt clutching the fearful attention of viewers. With the film only being less than half an hour long viewers still gain an intimate relationship with the Guardians, as cameras follow them through darkness and barren forests illustrating the reality of their fight. It effectively presents a more personal connection to environmental issues that hits the viewer on a human level. 

 

This documentary does indeed emphasise the environmental crisis we are all facing collectively, however its main focus is with the Indigenous people of Brazil and the threats to their lives and homes. It also quite rightly sheds a light on the heroes that are putting their lives on the line in order to protect this precious ecosystem, something mainstream media is failing to do. Using an environmental issue that inevitably impacts the entire globe, to bring lesser known issues concerning Indigenous communities to the surface is a genius way of educating (especially Western) audiences on cultural matters, that would otherwise remain unexplored. As one of the Guardians so poignantly notes “Our culture is our life. It’s in our blood, and nature is always part of our life” and this thought-provoking documentary illustrates how deforestation is not only destroying land but is also destroying culture. 

 

Guarding the Forest shows on 12th October at 13th Native Spirit Film Festival 12-20 October 2019 2-4pm at The Court Room, First Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

Register here:

https://ilas.sas.ac.uk/events/event/20406

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/13th-native-spirit-indigenous-film-festival-opening-day-indigenous-electronic-arts-brazil-tickets-66462086891

 

Review: Once Upon a Time In Hollywood

★★★★☆

Unexpected

As someone who has an uncompromising love for Quentin Tarantino and his collection of legendary works, the idea of finally being able to watch one of his films in the cinema upon its initial release had me absolutely bouncing off the walls. The unwritten rule of any Tarantino creation is that it will have an 18 certificate and sadly little 17-year-old me was shunned from seeing The Hateful Eight back in 2016, just 4 months before my 18th birthday. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise and less said about that film the better. Naturally however, I had high hopes for his latest addition and with the likes of Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie looking undeniably yummy in their ’60s attire, how could I possibly be disappointed? The answer – I wasn’t.

 

Once Upon is a love letter to the Golden era of Hollywood. It was evidently Tarantino’s chance as an older and wiser filmmaker to pay tribute to his predecessors and the inspiration that drove him to his love affair with the movies. The Western, the war and the martial arts film are blended together in a bizarre concoction of gratitude for the years of cinema that paved the way for Tarantino. All of which are grounded within the nostalgic neon walls of 1960s Hollywood. Living within this fairy tale world is soon to be “has been” actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his consequently “never was” stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt) whose on screen chemistry without a doubt makes this buddy movie all the more watchable. Living next door to Dalton is the beam of sunshine that is Sharon Tate (Robbie) whose light shines down upon the future of new Hollywood, signifying the direction the industry is going in, leaving Dalton and Booth behind in the lifeless shadows of the filmic past. This represents a common anxiety that impacts many in the industry even today and could perhaps reflect Tarantino’s own anxiety about no longer being the new kid on the block, with a reputation for breaking the rules and taboos of the business.

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that Tarantino based Once Upon on the Manson Family Murders, which of course involved the brutal killing of the pregnant Tate and her several friends on August 8th 1969. Where this gives Tarantino the opportunity to showcase his identifiable traits as a controversial director, the narrative content of the film took me by surprise. It seemed to lack the more showboating Tarantino trade marks of relentless swearing, gratuitous violence and sex that we have all come to know and love. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, the film is imbued with the subtleties of Tarantino’s auteur reputation including his love of cinema, his satirical humour and his infatuation with women’s dirty bare feet (maybe not so subtle this time). It seems Tarantino has left his obsession with shock value behind in his latest film and instead given himself the strenuous task of telling a complex and at times uneventful story, riddled with heavy amounts of dialogue. He does so with the greatest success.

 

The way Sharon Tate was written has previously conjured up controversy due to her lack of lines and arguably one dimensional character, some accusing Tarantino of sympathising too heavily with his ‘victimised’ male characters. However, it is important to see Sharon Tate and her story as more of a framework, which is there to serve as an indicator of the current state of Hollywood Tarantino is trying to represent. Nonetheless, Robbie gives a sweet and bouncy portrayal of the young actress and audiences will fall in love with her, much like they did in real life. DiCaprio gives an immaculate performance as Dalton and illustrates his versatility through depicting the distress of a washed up actor, brimming with tears of helpless self doubt. However, if it is even possible, Pitt outshines DiCaprio with his laid back portrayal of Booth, his character says so much while saying so very little and it might just be one of Pitt’s best performances to date. A surprisingly noteworthy performance would be Margaret Qualley’s portrayal of Pussycat, a hippie who lives on the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch along with many of Manson’s followers. Her performance as a troubled youth effected by ’60s political angst is effortless, she plays the character with such charisma you can’t help but like her.

 

Once Upon surprised me with the direction Tarantino had chosen to take with his telling of events and I think that his talents as a storyteller have truly shined through here. It seems Tarantino has attempted to right the wrongs of Hollywood’s history in his script, illustrating the sheer power cinema has and will always possess. Potential viewers need to have patience and be prepared to hold their breath in contemplation rather than have it taken away in shock. Once Upon projects an unexpected telling of a well known story and its blurring of fact and fiction provides a hopeful vision of Hollywood’s future.

 

The Perks of Studying a Passion: 10 Films Discovered at University

I’d like to think that the majority of people who go to university choose their degree based on having a vague interest in the subject. People who choose to study history will likely want to learn more about the past, people who choose to study maths will likely want to learn more about numbers and even people who choose to study a vocational degree like nursing will still have chosen this path due to having a desire to learn more about a subject they love, the job at the end is just a bonus. Sadly, the niche and often underestimated film degree is one that does not guarantee a job at the conclusion of its study. What it did provide me with however, is a rather rich exposure to an abundance of films spanning from the silent era right through to the contemporary and that is something I can share with you. A job at the end would have been nice though.

 

This blog post is a very short summary of how studying cinema has opened my eyes to films I probably never would have chosen to watch on my own accord. I found it extremely challenging narrowing this list down to just 10 films, considering I had to watch several films a week for 3 years. The following 10 films may be ones you are already familiar with or you may have no knowledge of them at all, nonetheless I want this post to illustrate how my degree didn’t just deepen my knowledge of the subject but had a lasting impact on my attitude towards film. Overall, studying something I had huge interest in didn’t just give me a degree at the end of it, it gave me a burning desire to learn more. Hopefully, introducing you to these films will encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in something you never dreamed of watching.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

(Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

Anamaria Marinca and Laura Vasiliu in 4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile (2007)

Set in 1980s Romania during the communist rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a fascinating signifier of the Romanian New Wave with its evident realism approach. Two female students named Otilia and Găbița attempt to obtain an illegal abortion, as Găbița has fallen pregnant at a time where strict abortion laws had been decreed by a harsh dictator. Many have praised the film for its gritty representation of such a dark time for many Romanian women, a characteristic typical of the Romanian New Wave. At a time where women’s rights are being placed on a seesaw of political uncertainty, this film sadly still has cultural relevance today. It is a moving depiction of female friendship and an all too realistic critique of past and present society.

Baraka

(Ron Fricke, 1992)

Baraka (1992)

Baraka is one of the more unique and special films that appear on this list. It is a feature length wordless documentary simply yet intricately depicting the wonders and tragedies of our planet. It is a visually stunning piece of cinema and I am forever grateful to my degree for putting this on my radar because a “97 minute wordless documentary” wouldn’t normally fall at the top of my list of exciting must-see films. However, the sheer extravagance of this picture coupled with a deep exploration into every crevice of the Earth, takes viewers to incomprehensible places leaving them speechless at the power of cinema. Now that environmental concerns are higher than ever before, I urge you to watch this masterpiece because it will without a doubt enlighten you on the beauty of our planet and how we must save it from its decline.

Bringing Up Baby

(Howard Hawks, 1938)

Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Asta in Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are exceptionally funny in this screwball comedy. Based on a short story of the same name, Bringing Up Baby tells the tale of David, a rather angsty palaeontologist and his aim to secure a hefty donation for his museum but he encounters all kinds of slapstick mishaps when he meets Susan and her pet Leopard, Baby. Susan tries to pursue David but try as she might she always ends up getting him into trouble instead. It exudes a charming and timeless type of comedy that utilises its lead cast, Hepburn’s persona brings a breath of fresh air to the female characters present throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood and its often male-centric stories. For the younger readers, if you didn’t think old black and white films could be funny, give this a go and see if it changes your mind.

Cannibal Holocaust 

(Ruggero Deodato, 1980)

Salvatore Basile and Robert Kerman in Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

This next one is not for the faint hearted. I mean it. Please don’t partake in this if you have issues with watching violence, gore, animal abuse, rape, cannibalism … pretty much anything nasty really. I know I’m probably not selling this to you but underneath all of its controversies Cannibal Holocaust is an excellent film with a cleverly gripping story. This Italian horror follows Professor Harold Monroe into the Amazon rainforest, as he investigates the whereabouts of a missing documentary crew who were there exploring the rumoured monstrosities of an indigenous cannibal tribe. The film has been banned in over 50 countries and has triggered outrage from many, particularly with regards to its genuine mutilation of animals. Director, Ruggero Deodato was even arrested shortly after its premiere for obscenity. This picture isn’t for everyone but I thoroughly appreciated its underlying messages, do I think its exploitation of violence and rape was necessary? No. But have I intrigued you? Yes.

Dimensions of Dialogue 

(Jan Švankmajer, 1983)

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The last film may have been a perverse example of graphically surreal horror but you’ll be happy to know this next one is just plain surreal. If you read my first blog post about my top 10 most influential films, you’ll know I’ve always had an appreciation for Czechoslovakian director Jan Švankmajer. So with this in mind, maybe I would have watched this without the help of my degree but luckily I got to experience it on a large screen in a lecture theatre with my mates instead. The short stop motion animation is told in three sections: Eternal Conversation, Passionate Discourse and Exhaustive Discussion. There are many ways one could analyse this film, as it is certainly an artistic critique on societal relationships or evolution for example. However, it is primarily just fun and bizarre to watch as it fully utilises the possibilities and the rule breaking that comes with animation. The film is on YouTube and is under 15 minutes long, you won’t regret it.

Duel

(Steven Spielberg, 1971)

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As someone who hates action films and isn’t the biggest fan of Steven Spielberg, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this next film. Action thriller Duel originally premiered on American television as an ABC Movie of the week and was actually Spielberg’s directing debut. It is of no surprise that this picture was the one to catapult Spielberg to fame and begin his career as a Hollywood director. The film is essentially an extended car chase sequence between innocent commuter David and an anonymous hostile truck driver. I honestly think that plot summary encapsulates my worst cinematic nightmare and prior to watching it I was dreading having to sit through an hour and a half of futile engine revving and tire screeching. However, I am also a lover of a simple yet effective storyline and that is the beauty of Duel. This film effortlessly has you hooked from beginning to end. If someone who passionately hates action films and repeatedly yawns at car chases found herself on the edge of her seat, I guarantee you’ll love it even more.

Ex Machina

(Alex Garland, 2014)

Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina (2014)

Okay, give me a chance to explain why this one is on the list. Of course I’d heard of Ex Machina prior to being at university and I’m not exactly shining a light on some unknown masterpiece considering its an Oscar winner. However, I decided to include this in my “top 10 discoveries” list regardless of it being well known because as a film graduate I have a sinful confession to make: I don’t really like sci-fi (gasp – shocking, I know). 2001: A Space Odyssey was even a stretch for me to enjoy, so I never would have thought to watch Ex Machina in my own time. When a programmer named Caleb is selected to take part in an experiment involving the analysis of human qualities in an advanced AI, Ex Machina touches on many sci-fi motifs including the old favourites: “what does it mean to be human?” and “should we fear technology’s rapid development?”. This is all well and good, but it’s been done before. Nonetheless, Ex Machina spoke to me in ways other sci-fis failed to do because not only is it visually captivating, with stunning colour palettes and seamless visual effects but its utilisation of the classic noir genre to tell a story occupied with themes of the future, added far more charm and intrigue to a genre I personally find lacklustre.

Gilda

(Charles Vidor, 1946)

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I could just write “Rita Hayworth’s hair flip” as the justification for this addition to the list and leave it at that but I’ll try and dig a bit deeper. Gilda is a noir that really defines the Golden Age of Hollywood for me, set in Buenos Aires a gambler called Johnny is hired to work at a casino owned by a man named Ballin Mundson. Ballin befriends Johnny but it soon becomes apparent that Johnny has history with Ballin’s seductive wife, Gilda. The love/hate relationship the two share behind Ballin’s back provides a riveting story and the sheer glamour of the picture is enough to make anyone fall in love with it. My admiration for the film lies mainly on a superficial level as the captivating costumes, extravagant song and dance numbers and a deep obsession with Hayworth makes for a truly iconic film in my eyes and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Some Like It Hot

(Billy Wilder, 1959)

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Some Like It Hot was a film that completely took me by surprise. Going into university I hadn’t heard much about it before, the only thing I knew was that Marilyn Monroe was in it and at the time that was not enough to arouse my curiosity. After two musicians, Joe and Jerry, get into trouble with a mob gang, they are forced to leave the state. In order to keep their cover, they choose to join a band that is exclusively female and in turn disguise themselves as the lovely Josephine and Daphne. Their situation is further complicated when they meet the ditsy blonde bombshell (feminist icon, I know) Sugar Kane and both inevitably fall for her. Some may want to play devil’s advocate and say its treatment of gender blurring was handled carelessly and framing it within the subject of comedy was not at all progressive however this was the 50’s, we can’t have everything. The film was ahead of its time in my opinion and the type of humour the film operated on was in fact why it took me by surprise, it was refreshing to see a black and white film depicting two men having fun in drag.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

(Robert Wiene, 1920)

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To conclude, I’ve chosen a film that actually marks the first stepping stones of filmic history. After watching George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon when I was 16, I’ve always had an intrigue in the very early period of cinema. I found it so interesting that these time capsules existed where you could literally watch a part of history unfold on screen. However, unless you’re a real film buff, early silent cinema isn’t going to fall at the top of your bucket list. Even though I had an interest in it, I wouldn’t exactly be binge watching it. Nonetheless, I was very happy to watch The Cabinet of Dr Caligari as it exemplifies the surreal nature of German Expressionism that I have come to love. It is a dark and unnerving story about hypnotist Dr. Caligari, who uses a sleepwalker (who has been asleep for 23 years) named Cesare to commit murders for him. Not only is the story meticulously clever but it has some of the most striking set design I have ever seen. I strongly recommend this one to anyone who is a fan of Tim Burton as it bears many similarities to his work, reminding viewers that the past and present of cinema is not as distant as you may have first thought.