Why Jordi Kerr adores… UNITED STATES OF TARA

17 Sep

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE…, where we encourage folks from all around — be you a writer, or not a writer, or a filmmaker, an artist, a domestic (y’know, like Magenta from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW), a critic, an armchair critic, or someone who just loves to talk about film — to pen a love letter to whatever film or TV object of brilliance you choose! It can be a film, TV show, episode, scene, shot, actor, director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor, stuntman, studio, phase of career, period of time… anything you like, as long as it’s from film or TV. With the internet at large overdosing on snark and painful “irony”, WHY I ADORE… is an antidote to all that. It’s a place where you can love the hell out of something/someone without killjoys shouting you down or taking the piss.

If you want to contribute your expression of filmic/televisual love to WHY I ADORE…, just email me your contribution to whyiadore@gmail.com! Keep it under 2500 words, include pics if you like, and don’t hold back! Send ’em through now, all are welcome!

Today’s Adorer is whimsical wordsmith JORDI KERR, a freelance writer/screenwriter who has penned everything from articles and reviews for magazines/newspapers, to episode synopses for TV shows on DVD! Find out more about her at her website, right here! Jordi is about to rock us with her love for another gem from what I’ve long termed “The Greatest Television Network in the History of the World”, HBO, anchored by one of our very best acting exports…

…times four.

I adore UNITED STATES OF TARA, from its paper pop-up book opening credits, to its bass-pumping closing credits.* It’s what’s got me talking at parties, whispering down office corridors and badgering my loved ones. (We’re talking serious levels of badgering here – my partner knows all twenty-four episodes of the show, despite having only seen a quarter of them.)

For those of you that never stray near the ABC, missed the 2009 Emmys, the 2010 Golden Globes, and the awe-inspired hype of the dearly devoted, UNITED STATES OF TARA is the tangled tale of Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) trying to manage her Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID — new language on the block for Multiple Personality Disorder), and its effects on her family – husband Max (John Corbett), children Kate (Brie Larson) and Marshall (Keir Gilchrist), and sister Charmaine (Rosemarie DeWitt). It is the brain-child of Diablo Cody (of JUNO fame), and counts Steven Spielberg among its Executive Producers. If that isn’t enough to piqué your curiosity and get thee to the DVD store**, read on for my three key TARA adoration factors.

1. Toni Collette’s acting ability.

Starting with the obvious, the source of most of the awards for TARA – Collette as a DID sufferer is a master of body language and linguistics. The woman is able to swing from “regular” Mum, wife and artist, Tara, who’s just trying to hold it all together, into the 16 year old trash-talking, inhibition-free T; the 1950s Southern housewife Alice; and the beer-swillin’, crotch-scratchin’, Vietnam veteran, Buck. And that’s just Season 1.

In my younger years I was impressed by the acting scope found in such flicks as Double Switch and Freaky Friday. With Tara, you’d better hold onto your Xanax, because it will fuck you sideways.

2. The humour.

TARA is packed with quips that sting with wit and irreverence, just the way I like. For example, during the family meeting following a public-outburst by Tara’s alters, the disgraced and increasingly drunk Charmaine contributes this to the discussion:

Charmaine: Well this is fantastic. Tara thinks she’s a rottweiler or something. Congratulations, Marshall, you finally got that dog you always wanted.

Marshall: Shut up.

Kate: Dad, can you please install a lock on my door. I just realised that I don’t want Mom to come in and pee on me.

Max: She’s not going to pee on you.

Charmaine: No, not if you walk her regularly.

(Season 1, Episode 10: ‘Betrayal’)

Teen daughter Kate (think Daria sarcasm with Quinn attitude) gets a lot of the one liners…

‘Why can’t Mom be manic-depressive like all the other Moms?’

…And they’ve got Patton Oswalt as secondary character Neil, for Chrissake.

As well as the verbal, there’s also the visual. From the pleasure of seeing Toni Collette in drag as Buck, to the appearance of a new alter in Season 2, TARA is teeming with sights that make me smile.

One of my favourite visual gags happens when Buck makes an unexpected appearance before Max and Marshall:

Max (to Buck): You’re not going to the gun range without us. That’s our guy thing – us three.

Cut to:

3. The ballsy script.

This is where Tara really pounds my heart into gravel. It, more than any other TV show, has amazed me. (And yes, I am including the big guns – like DOCTOR WHO and MAD MEN – in that comparison.) As someone with more than a passing interest in scriptwriting, I usually find it very easy to guess where a story is going. Not so with TARA. There is a particular point at the end of Season 2, Episode 10, where the appearance and actions of an alter, backed by the rocking beats of Florence + The Machine, made me gasp – complete hands-to-mouth astonishment. I can’t name any other tv show that has inspired this kind of physical response in me.

TARA is not afraid to show a family in crisis. It is not afraid to show people at their worst, and also at their best, without delving into the sappy or the trite. It is peppered with pill-popping, dope-smoking, cunt-munching and fist-thumping – and it balances this with the grace to show Tara as a character that is the sum of all her parts, neither victim nor survivor of mental illness.

If you like your drama seasoned with comedy and mystery, stalwart with fine acting, you’re in luck – the therapist is in.

(In Australia, TARA screens Wednesdays on ABC1 at 9.30pm.)

*In particular, note the use of the Eels’ Love of the Loveless in the credits of both the pilot episode, and the Season 1 finale.

**An online store at any rate – so far Season 1 of TARA has only had a DVD release in Region 1.

– Jordi Kerr


Why Perri Cummings adores… BRITISH TELLY

26 Aug

We’re back!

Sorry we’ve been away so long — a two-week hiatus turned into four weeks due to unforseen circumstances (read: disorganisation) — but we are back and fully loaded with cinematic/televisual love to share! So, kick your shoes off, stretch out on the recliner, get cosy in the armchair or grab a spot on the floor, order a drink and get ready to get adoring…

This week’s Adorer is none other than PERRI CUMMINGS, a Melbourne-based actor and writer whose credits include CITY HOMICIDE, BLUE HEELERS and NEIGHBOURS, as well as over two decades of professional theatre, from famed physical theatre company Tropic Sun to outdoor Shakespeare theatre company OzAct. Her sporadic musings can be found on this here Twitter feed. Today, Perri lavishes love and affection upon not a single show or genre, but a state of mind…

(Now excuse me while I nick out for a lager and chips, my gyro cheque arrived today…)

Let me clarify: we are not talking about ARE YOU BEING SERVED, or the latest geriatric murder mystery, but I love good English television with a passion that has me constantly checking the BBC website and trawling Amazon UK for my next fix. This addiction started early; I would sneak out of my own bedroom and crawl commando style into my parents room  to watch Monty Python from under their bed. While at University I discovered Mike Leigh’s early work at the BBC and this was the beginning of my real loyalty to great UK telly. I’ve always been a theatre geek and will search out obscure, not-on-DVD television movies and series to watch the likes of David Thewlis, Alison Steadman, Emma Thompson, Ciaran Hinds, David Morrissey, Phillip Glenister and John Simm. If their names appear in the credits, I’ll be there!

But in recent times, my love of the English has been rekindled by the Holy Writing Trinity. The first of whom is Paul Abbott – the creator of the highly underrated CLOCKING OFF – only one season so far has made it to DVD, but I’m still waiting… I’m still waiting! Wonderful working class social realist one hour drama with each episode set around a different person that works in a garment factory. Then, the beautifully dark and funny SHAMELESS; first season still my favorite. Departing from his working class themes, there is the intriguing STATE OF PLAY – but his writing always has a political edge and, here, he gives it free reign. (What the Americans were thinking when they decided to try to make their own version, I do not know. Other than THE OFFICE, I’m not a big fan of the American remakes – worst case scenario being COUPLING, where they kept the lines and removed all the humour! Now I hear they have SPOOKS in their sights – eugh! – Please watch the original, stick with it… it just gets better and better with each season… I’m not addicted… I’m not!!!)  But back to my point. *ahem*

Number two in the Holy Writing Trinity, is the father of social realist English working class TV: Jimmy McGovern. Everything I watch that was created by this man makes me a better writer. It’s all so good that you watch once, immediately rewind and watch again. CRACKER – joyfully dark, with the story coming from the flaws in the characters – so much to love. THE LAKES – a slow build in season one, leading to a must-watch train wreck of a climax, again the characters weaknesses and loyalties are their downfall in such an unexpected yet inevitable way. The second series is lightning fast and really relishes the dark side of the characters, set up in series one. Darker, more tongue in cheek with a touch of the macabre – so good, so very very good! And, of course, THE STREET’s individuals, living in a small suburban street all with a story, an exploration of genre, style, acting – each episode is like a satisfying meal; you have to sit and digest it for a while before you are ready for the next. It’s accumulative storytelling, where you slowly get to know the characters on the street, so each episode has a greater and greater impact. It also has a stellar English cast for each season – including David Thewlis playing identical twins!

The final member of the Holy Writing Trilogy is the magnificent Steven Moffat – you had me at PRESS GANG! A children’s show that I watched and loved as an adult – he wrote every episode and set him up as a storyteller to watch, with a real gift for character-driven comedy and clever machine-gun dialogue reminiscent of a good 1940’s screwball comedy. COUPLING – the sitcom for my vacuous, image obsessed but still completely endearingly clueless generation (X in all it’s befuddled glory). And the magnificent JEKYLL; a classic with a modern sci-fi twist, so theatrical –so much fun. Do I have to say I am hanging out, and I mean checking Amazon every day, for SHERLOCK!

Add to this the odd costume drama that goes beyond pretty words and pretty frocks – my favorite examples are BLEAK HOUSE and NORTH AND SOUTH – although Richard Armitage may have something to do with the latter.

Then there are the clever absurdist comedies – from the Pythons to the TOWERS to the BOOSH to the CROWD. Plus SPACED and GREEN WING, of course.

If you, too, are addicted to yummy UK TV, or can think of a gem I might have missed, twitter me, twitter me now! As I said – I’m not addicted!!!

– Perri Cummings

(Actor and Writer for Australian Telly)

Why Shannon Marinko adores… THAT TRACKING SHOT IN CASINO

23 Jul

Welcome back to this week’s WHY I ADORE…! Come on in, plonk yourself in your favourite chair and order your preferred beverage from our ever-lovely wait staff, as we unfurl another lovingly crafted ode to cinematic brilliance.

I should let you know, though, WHY I ADORE… will take a two week holiday after this issue. Here in the town of Batmania — otherwise known as Melbourne — where WHY I ADORE… HQ is located, ’tis the season for film adoration, as that Christmas for film lovers, the Melbourne International Film Festival, is upon us! So, between various life commitments and seeing a formidable swag of films at MIFF, time to put together the blog will be scarce. But don’t fret, for we will be back in all our loving glory on AUGUST 12TH!

But now, we have something really special. Today’s Adorer is writer/director/reviewer/movie fiend SHANNON MARINKO, who, with previous Adorer Lee Zachariah, co-hosted/co-created/co-directed the award-winning, mostly-fondly-remembered, cult movie TV show THE BAZURA PROJECT on Channel 31 here in Melbourne! Today, Shannon takes us through his delirious love for a tracking shot that hits harder than a repeated baseball bat to the head…

Okay, this is my favourite ever shot in the history of cinema.

Not an easy choice to make either; there’s quite a few to choose from.

And, actually, I suppose I should clarify – when I say “the history of cinema”, I mean “MY history of cinema”.

So that narrows it down a bit too.

But why this shot?

What makes it so special?

Why does this shot specifically make me tingle so?

Well, if you’ll let me stop asking rhetorical questions, I’ll answer. Jesus…

First, if you haven’t seen CASINO – what’s wrong with you (apart from the obvious)?

The ONLY excuse I will accept is if you’ve been blind for the past 15 years or more.

And even then, I still don’t think you’re trying hard enough.

CASINO is a masterpiece.

Two hours forty minutes of pure cinematic joy.

I do think it’s criminally neglected though, by both the big-knob critic set, and the humble film-fan rabble (which side are YOU on?).

Everyone instinctively focuses on the Holy Trinity of TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS – with good reason, of course.

But as John Lennon said: “All We Are Saying Is Give Other Scorsese Movies A Chance” (I think that was a B-side; you may not have heard that one).

Anyhoo , back to this tracking shot.

Ahhhh – Scorsese tracking shots.

They’re so identifiably HIS. Particularly their pace.

There’s that great one in TAXI DRIVER where Travis is talking to Betsy on the lobby phone.

There’s three great successive ones in his “Life Lessons” segment of NEW YORK STORIES, with each track a step closer to Nick Nolte’s canvas.

I remember going to see KUNDUN and thinking to myself, “How the hell is he gonna put a tracking shot in this film?”

Sure enough, there’s one in it, and it’s fucking gold.

He just has a way with the horizontal.

It’s such a hard shot to use well too.

It’s like a zoom; it’s not a natural movement for humans – to walk sideways but face straight on (all the crabs in the house say “HO!”).

It’s awkward, unnatural.

And you have to be a great director to be able to pull them off in a justifiable way.

Kubrick loves a good track. Wes Anderson too.

But Marty’s got the patent, as far as I’m concerned.

Kubrick can have the zooms, Wes can have The Kinks, Marty’s got the tracks.

So, what were we talking about?

CASINO, right.

I guess I should set the whole thing up somewhat.

CASINO is based on a true story (an ACTUAL true story, not like that HURRICANE rubbish) about the Las Vegas casino industry in the 1970s & 80s, when most of the casinos in Vegas were owned and run by the Chicago mafia.

De Niro plays a gambling doyen who’s been sent out to run the Tangiers casino (based on the Stardust casino).

And Pesci plays the muscle sent out to protect the Tangiers from other rival mob outfits looking to case the joint, shake ‘em down and other euphemisms for theft I have no right to use.

Eventually, Pesci gets banned from entering any Las Vegas casino, due to his… unorthodox work practices. De Niro and Pesci meet in a bar outside the Las Vegas city limits to talk about the ban.

PESCI: Let’s say, for instance, I wanna go into a restaurant which happens to be in a casino, to get one of those sandwiches I like.

DE NIRO: Forget it. You can’t even set foot in the parking lot. That’s how serious it is.

PESCI: (PAUSE) In other words I’m fucked.

DE NIRO: In so many words, yes.

Pesci is unperturbed.

PESCI: Well I gotta do something. I gotta do something. They ain’t getting rid of me. They’re not getting rid of me. I’m staying here. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em.

Then BAM.  Very hard cut. Almost stepping on the end of that “’em”, with Pesci in mid-skol, and we’re into this tracking shot.

Wow – that cut accentuates Pesci’s “Fuck ‘em” so perfectly too.

Fuck you – I’m not even gonna finish my syllable.

What the fuck are you gonna do about it?

Nothing – that’s what.

And with that cut, The Rolling Stones (of course) kick in with “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?”

What a perfect riff to further emphasise that “Fuck ‘em”.

Less bombastic than something by, say, AC/DC or Led Zeppelin.

It’s got more style to it.

‘Cause Pesci’s got style, motherfucker.

You want to tell him he doesn’t?

And what’s in the frame? What’s the first thing you see?

A cattle skull.


It’s such bravado. The arrogance of Pesci’s character. Such an ultimatum. A gauntlet being thrown down.

“They ain’t getting rid of me.”

Charlie Watts’ drums kick in. Jagger’s “Hey!” in the background. The tracking continues. We go past a cigar store Indian.

Wait a minute – cattle skull, cigar store Indian, untreated wooden walls. Have we suddenly gone back in time eighty-odd years?

Is this the Old West?

Damn right it is.

Shoot first, then shoot the guy who asks the questions later.

Pesci’s voiceover tells us that he since he can’t go back into casinos, he’s started to do some things of his own, things that nobody else thought of doing.

That is – stealing from all the rich PEOPLE in Vegas, instead of trying to steal from the all the rich places in Vegas.

“So I brought in my kid brother Dominic…”

And there’s Dominic in the frame. The exact centre of the frame as he says that.

We see Dominic through a window – he’s standing inside a building – but there’s reflection coming from outside.

It’s daylight, and you can’t see in too well.

But there’s a shard of shadow shooting diagonally across that window.

And that shadow allows us to see Dominic’s face clearly, and precisely in time with the voiceover.

That’s not an accident. None of it is.

That’s fucking filmmaking.

How do you light that, by the way?

How do you get such perfect exposure inside and out in the same shot, but it’s not over lit?

Ah, Bob Richardson – God bless you and your love of overblown, overhead lights.

Beautiful focus pulling in this shot too.

From the skull and the Indian to Dominic and Frank Vincent (again with that perfect shadow).

And then… we finish on Pesci.

So tight on his face, such perfect balance in that right half of the screen (how can something so unbalanced still feel so completely balanced?).

What a look on his face too.

It’s the look that comes right after that “Fuck ‘em” in the previous scene.

When you know you actually CAN and ARE gonna fuck ‘em.

And that’s it. That’s the whole shot.

I see this shot and every time I giggle like a schoolgirl. Every time.

It truly is the shot of a storyteller.

It’s incredibly economical, supremely stylised and yet absolutely essential.

How does he do that?

How can he do all those things at once?

Ah. Scorsese FOUND a way.

Now go and watch the whole film again.

It’s filled with moments as genius as this (I was very close to writing about the “Ain’t Superstitious” cheating sequence. What a masterclass of filmmaking that is).

And if you still think it’s “GOODFELLAS Lite”, we’re gonna take you out back, put your fucking head in a vice and… well, you know.

“Charlie M!”

– Shannon Marinko

Why David Black adores… THE STATION AGENT

15 Jul
Welcome back! So great to see you after our short hiatus — for which I apologise — but we’re back and ready to roll with more film and television love from our Adorers at large! So grab a beverage, recline in your favourite chair, and achieve total comfort as we fire up another edition of WHY I ADORE…!

This week’s Adorer is actor and writer DAVID BLACK, who is joining us all the way from London, England! David is one quarter of UK comedy ensemble MR. CARRUTHERS PRESENTS, who blog here and can be watched here! Additionally, to gain an insight into the man himself, you can find Dave’s blog here. But today, Dave is going to wax rhapsodical about a small film with a big heart, with an even smaller, gigantically brilliant, leading man…

I love THE STATION AGENT, but in telling you about it, I feel like I’m betraying something. I knew nothing about this film when I first watched it, so to come to it with no expectations and be so rewarded was a wonderful experience. What I have written below is so full of spoilers that, if you haven’t already seen the film, I would be robbing you of the same experience. In fact… if you haven’t already seen the film, go and watch it now…

THE STATION AGENT captures something. Something intangible. It feels like a film about a long sprawling school summer holiday, but for adults. That makes it sound like a “STAND BY ME with experience”, which really doesn’t do it justice.

We are presented with a very unlikely trio: The fantastically named Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage) is an initially laconic dwarf craving the life of a hermit, Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale) is a gregarious and relentless optimist with a lust for life and Olivia Harris (Patricia Clarkson) is a woman left damaged by the death of her son.

Despite occurring less than six minutes into the film, the death of Fin’s friend Henry is so affecting because Paul Benjamin has provided us with such a grounded and real character. Henry is the only person we encounter in Hoboken who doesn’t regard Fin differently. As a parting gift, Henry leaves Fin an isolated train depot in Newfoundland, New Jersey and seeking an opportunity to be left alone Fin starts walking.

Peter Dinklage’s assured characterisation as Fin is the core of the film. We witness people’s treatment of him as an oddity: staring, pointing and making comparisons to Snow White’s magnificent seven. His stoicism in the face of this is not a suit of armour, and nor is it emotionless. He simply treats it as a fact of life. The expression on his face when Patty at the Good to Go takes a photo of him is not surprise or indignation, but resignation. He just pays for his goods and starts walking.

A lot of this film is walking and it is Fin’s long walks along the railroad’s ‘right-of-way’, and a beautifully simple musical score from Stephen Trask, that set the tempo of the film. The stark lines of the railroad cutting a swathe through the verdant green of the New Jersey countryside, and the forgotten and rusting bridge over a island that looks like it could be paradise. “I’m a good walker, bro,” Joe tells Fin. He isn’t, but it doesn’t matter. The triumph when Olivia enters the frame behind Fin and Joe is magnificent.

When alone they would each be stuck in a rut, the three friends make things happen for each other. Joe inflicts his company upon Fin, who initially resists and then begins to enjoy it. Joe invites Olivia to walk the right-of-way with them. In giving Fin her camera, Olivia turns his interest in trains from passive to active, but if it wasn’t for Joe he wouldn’t have taken up trainchasing.

During the train chasing scene, Joe’s enthusiasm is unbridled and infectious. Fin’s guard is down and he is living in the moment for the first time in the film. He and Joe are thundering alongside a “fucking huge” train in Gorgeous Frank’s Hot Dog Emporium, and Fin is sat filming from a less-than-safe-looking ‘lounge’ chair. He turns the video camera on himself and takes the first carefree and unselfconscious shot of Fin that we see. He relaxes here and remains relaxed. Over the next couple of scenes, gone is the intense and taciturn Fin of old and in his place is a man who tells jokes, smokes a joint and opens up to Olivia about how he feels about being a dwarf.

This is a film about relationships in which no one talks about relationships. We learn about the trio’s attitudes to each other not through what they say, but how they say it. If you take one away, then the other two don’t quite function. When Joe’s ill father needs him and he leaves the other two eating, they have almost nothing to say to one another. Just as without Fin, then Olivia and Joe would never be friends. He is so earnest that he brings her sarcasm to the surface.

Whilst saying grace at the table:
JOE: Who wants to say it?

And whilst Joe is cooking at Olivia’s house:
JOE: Hey Olivia, you got a garlic press?
JOE: How can you not have garlic press?
OLIVIA: Still no.

The same is true when Olivia withdraws and the other two venture into territory that makes Fin uncomfortable, which ultimately sets him back on the path towards turning the train depot into a hermitage.

The three women in Fin’s life all want different things from him. Olivia doesn’t realise she needs friends like Fin and Joe, Emily (Michelle Williams) seeks solace from her boyfriend’s world with him and Cleo (Raven Goodwin) simply wants him to share his love of trains with her classmates. That the simplest of these is the one he resists, makes no sense to Cleo.

When the trio is broken up it hurts, it actually hurts. Finn drinks away the pain and has a train related near death experience which seems to put things in perspective for him. Despite her earlier protestations, he visits Olivia again and discovers she has made an attempt at a suicide. Ironically, this is what it takes to bring them back together. Fin calls Joe and, as a pair, they drive to pick Olivia up from the hospital. There is no reconciliation scene, no admission of feelings, just an implicit tone that this was difficult, but more importantly that it was necessary. With our trio reunited, Fin takes Cleo up on her offer to speak at her school about the history of trains. And blimps.

I love every inch of this film: I love every time Fin checks his pocket watch, every time Olivia swears, every time Joe says Café Con Leche. By the third act of this film, you know how Café Con Leche tastes.

I love that they get away with Olivia running Fin off the road. Twice. I love the way Cleo says “Bee Cayrefull”. I love that, after fighting with Emily’s boyfriend, Fin gets home and the door won’t shut and he slams it, when a lesser film would have had him punching the walls or some nonsense. I love the look on Fin’s face when he realises the Hot Dog Emporium and its lounge are missing. I love the way that Fin makes his Tom Thumb gesture. Twice. I love the way that boy says, “blimps are cool”. I love that the final scene is our three characters simply enjoying each others’ company.

The frame is always richer for having all three of our trio in it, but there isn’t a bad performance in this film. The music is wonderful, the landscape is beautiful. In fact, everything seems so right that it makes the fact that this is a debut film all the more astonishing.

When the credits rolled the first time I saw this film, something happened that’s never happened before or since. I wanted to watch it all again, straight away.

– David Black

Why Glenn Dunks adores… Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO

24 Jun

Welcome back to WHY I ADORE…! This week, in addition to the usual lush surrounds and plentiful beverages of WIA HQ, we’ve built an extension on to the place… A hotel/motel, if you will. 13 rooms, 13 vacancies…

This week’s Adorer — or, should I say,  concierge — is Glenn Dunks, a Melbourne film writer who is better known to film lovers for his excellent blog STALE POPCORN, which both challenges and amuses with discussion and analysis of any and all cinematic topics, both serious and frivolous, prevalent and obscure. Glenn’s blogs are always wonderfully written and incredibly well-researched, whether he’s breaking down a scene, analysing a movie poster, or crushing on a hot actor from the 1980s. But today, allow Glenn to show you your room, as you settle in, relax…

…and take a shower…

The last mainstream experimental film.

That’s the way I see Gus Van Sant’s controversial remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal masterwork Psycho. The 1960 original recently turned 50 years old so it’s only fitting that it has been on my brain a bit lately. However, unlike a lot of people, my brain also tends to flitter towards Van Sant’s version. I don’t consider it perfect cinema like I do Hitchcock’s version, but I think the remake presents an entirely different viewing experience. A successful one, too. Something akin to watching David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, actually, wherein I sit there with shocked curiosity. Just what is Gus Van Sant doing and why is he doing it? To take a theory from Nick Davis of Nick’s Flick Picks, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is like his own personal take on Andy Warhol’s soup can series of artworks.

I consider the 1998 Psycho to be one of the most fascinating films of the last 20 years. I know many people throw scorn upon it, ask “how dare it,” and call the idea of a Psycho remake “blasphemous,” yet I doubt even those people could say it failed to achieve Van Sant’s mission to provoke discussion, thought and – in some cases – madness. If nothing else, Van Sant probably made his version of the tale of Norman Bates so that nobody else could. To prove how utterly fruitless it is to do it, even as a “shot for shot” (it largely is, but there are some discrepancies), and to prove that just because a movie is in colour, and lit in bright neon lights as “NEW,” doesn’t make it better, which is a belief many young audiences seem to have.

I look at Psycho circa ’98 as an experimental film. It is rare to find an experimental film emerge from Hollywood, but here it is. Directed by a recent Oscar nominee with a cast of recognisable and acclaimed actors, it certainly reads as a mainstream project – and it debuted at #2 at the box office behind Pixar’s A Bug’s Life before rapidly descending down the chart – but anybody who considers this a mainstream offering is sorely mistaken. It is, however, hilarious in retrospect (I was too young at the time to fully appreciate it) to think that audiences were lining up to purchase tickets to this movie (I did; I saw it with my mother, who somewhat enjoyed the experience) that amounted to nothing more than a director playing with his filmmaking tools and trying to mess with them as much as possible.

Speaking of “recent Oscar nominee” Gus Van Sant, am I the only one who sees this as the ultimate “fuck you” to audiences and the Academy? Having spent years making fringe movies about queer or decidedly off-colour topics, such as My Own Private Idaho, To Die For and Drugstore Cowboy, many must’ve thought, “Isn’t it lovely that Gus Van Sant guy is making movies I can actually watch?” That Psycho came immediately after Van Sant’s mainstream breakthrough with Good Will Hunting is not to be taken lightly. Much like he followed up Finding Forrester with the two-guys-get-lost-in-the-desert-and-then-one-of-them-dies-and-that’s-about-it Gerry, Psycho, I feel, was a palate cleanser for Van Sant. He had broken through with a movie starring a pretty Matt Damon and a dramatic Robin Williams (of all people) and retaliated by producing and directing a remake of one of the most beloved films of all time.

One of the things that Van Sant clearly did to truly infuriate people was the casting. Who he cast is just as fascinating as anything else about this project. Anne Heche as “Marion Crane” is an interesting one. Much like Van Sant, Heche was openly out in Hollywood and her casting came at a time of much breakout success for her. Perhaps Van Sant just cast her because her at-the-time famous cropped hair was similar to Leigh’s original ‘do, or maybe he found particular irony in the casting of an out actress in a role that involves running away from a city that she finds herself particularly difficult to be herself in (Marion suggests she and her lover, Sam, go out of town so they can be public with their love affair, you see?). Why did they cast Vince Vaughn in the role made famous by Anthony Perkins? Certainly against type, and one aspect of the remake that I admit doesn’t work, although I think there’s a strangely compelling similarity between the personas of Vaughn and Heche. They fit together like two odd peas in an odd pod; it’s just that Vaughn isn’t particularly good. I am not sure how anybody can not admit that actors with the stature of Julianne Moore, William H Macy, Philip Baker Hall and Robert Forster wanting to take roles in this movie is intriguing. And what of Viggo Mortensen who, some way somehow, made two Alfred Hitchcock remakes in one year (the other being A Perfect Murder, remake of Hitch’s Dial M for Murder).

And then there are the technical aspects. It’s actually quite impressive to watch Psycho and see John L Russell’s black and white cinematography replicated so well by the brilliant and gifted Wong Kar-Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle, or to hear Bernard Hermann’s famed score replicated by Danny Elfman. The film certainly looks lush and is filled with bright, immaculate colours and, in fact, the movie is as much an experimentation of colour than anything else. How about the green of the opening credits, Marion’s orange bra (no longer simply white for good and black for evil), or her hot pink suit and, pardon the perv, the fleshy pink of Viggo Mortensen’s bare arse are just some that leap out within the first five minutes alone. And then what about Marion’s bright orange dress and parasol? The green dressing gown, the bright red of the blood or of Julianne Moore’s hair and the neon blue of Viggo’s car? All add to the vibrancy of the movie.

I also cannot deny that I think Anne Heche is fantastic in her role. Heche has a harsher on screen persona than Leigh did in the original, which tends to actually make her more believable as Marion Crane. Where the original set her up as clearly good at the beginning and bad by the 30 minute mark (again, note the colour of the bra Janet Leigh wears), Heche’s Marion comes off as being far more seduced by the idea of the money and the romance before realising her idiocy. Heche’s Marion knows she’s in deep shit. Perhaps that comes from knowing from the outset what Marion does, and that there isn’t such a need to present to the audience a faux nice girl whose misfortune is the big shock we never saw coming.

There’s just something about Anne Heche, even the tone of her voice, that makes me wish her career hadn’t flatlined after the glorious run of movies such as Donnie Brasco, Wag the Dog, Six Days and Seven Nights and this here Psycho. In fact, if one pays careful attention, you can see a poster for that Harrison Ford co-starrer in the scene where Heche’s Marion visits the car dealership, which adds an altogether different layer of texture onto the film. What world does this movie live in and why can’t I visit it?

I think there’s something to be said about the passing of time with this film, too. A good 38 years had gone by between Hitchcock’s original and Van Sant’s take, and I think this remake acts as the most glowing and praiseworthy critical assessment of Hitchcock’s film that has, can and will ever be. People have spent decades studying this film and yet no piece of film criticism can come quite to the level of outright lust for Psycho that this remake presents. Gus Van Sant loves Psycho. There is a reason he remade it “shot for shot” and it’s because he thought it couldn’t be improved upon. Van Sant even set the movie in the modern times to prove how timeless Hitchcock’s Psycho is. There is truly nothing that can be done to improve upon it, so Van Sant didn’t bother. He merely took Hitchcock’s blueprint and reproduced it. Now nobody in their right mind will ever consider doing it ever again and in another 50 years when Psycho turns 100 we will still be able to discuss it without the taint of some silly young upstart music video director thinking he had the balls to take “a new spin” on it. I enjoy the more modest sequels to Psycho that were produced 23 and 26 years after the original, but even they tarnish the legacy of the original more so than the remake. The remake is love.

For me, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is a beguiling art project and, like the best art, I could stare at it all day. I can tell it is a forgery – if you want to use art lingo – but that doesn’t stop it from being an equally impressive display of filmmaking in its own right. It is fluid and impeccably designed and no other director before or since (to my knowledge) has been so upfront about their obvious case of Copycat Syndrome. Considering a good 70-80% of the films today labelled as “original” by their authors are arguably inspired by others, isn’t Van Sant just being open. Open like he wishes the characters here could be to one another, but who are ultimately let down by their own inadequacies. And that’s why I adore Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

Lastly, as anybody who reads my blog Stale Popcorn will be able to tell you, I adore (there’s that word again) movie posters. The one aspect that Gus Van Sant’s Psycho truly surpasses Hitchcock’s original is in that department. The 1960 original has a plain poster, whereas the 1998 remake has carte blanche to revel in the film’s big scene – Hitchcock, not wanting to spoil anything simply has his cast assembled on the 1960 poster – and turns this blood red bloodbath (bloodshower?) into the central focus of the poster. With Anne Heche’s body perhaps exemplifying the “sexier” version of the film that was being sold (it is not sexier, just flesh-toned) with her fingers that look like claws and that cheeky tagline, I adore that almost as much as the movie itself. Psycho ’98 is one of my own personal treasures that I will adore for completely different and alternate reasons that I adore Hitchcock’s version for. And I think Gus Van Sant would be happy to know that.

– Glenn Dunks

Why Thomas Caldwell adores… DAVID LYNCH

17 Jun

It’s cold out there, isn’t it? Well, come on in, pull up a couch and grab a drink as we launch into a new edition of WHY I ADORE…! Apologies for the week’s absence, but I can assure you, this week’s issue is a bumper cinematic love letter that more than makes up for the week away!

This week’s adorer is film critic/academic/writer and all-round-man-about-town (“one suave fuck”, one might say) Thomas Caldwell, who delivers incisive, passionate and insightful reviews of motion pictures via his excellent Cinema Autopsy blog. He also pens reviews for The Big Issue and can be heard on both The Breakfasters & Film Buff’s Forecast on 3RRR 102.7 — not to mention, he spins movie-related tunes on the graveyard shift for that very station — as well as The Casting Couch on JOY 94.9. This week, Thomas goes into detail about his love for one of the greatest filmmakers alive…

…except he delivered it on a microcassette recorder. And he kept calling me “Diane”…!

My relationship with David Lynch started badly. I would have been maybe 8 or 9-years-old at the time when repeat viewings of the STAR WARS films had developed a taste for science fiction and fantasy. Being able to appreciate 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY certainly suggested that I was capable of digesting more serious cinema, so my parents and I figured we’d give DUNE, Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, a go.

Big mistake.

I wasn’t so much concerned with its significant narrative flaws and stylistic inconsistencies, as I was too busy being horrified at its grotesqueness. In particular, the scene where Baron Vladimir Harkonnen works himself up into an orgasmic frenzy and then rips out some poor attendants heart plug gave me nightmares for weeks.

It wasn’t until I was 17 that I would have my next encounter with Lynch and, although it was under very dubious circumstances, it was a defining moment in my film-going life. I was going through a phase where my growing love for cinema and petty teen rebelliousness meant that I saw as many transgressive and controversial films as I could sneak in to. During this time I was set up on a blind date that involved the poor girl, our mutual friends and me all going out together a couple of times to see films. I used the first occasion to see A CLOCKWORK ORANGE again and, on our second ‘date’, I decided we all had to check out a restored print of this strange cult film I’d been reading about called ERASERHEAD. Clearly the dates weren’t a success and I never saw that girl again, but seeing ERASERHEAD for the first time was amazing.

Never before had I experienced a film that was like a dream, or to be more precise – a nightmare that I could not wake up from. The strange acting, industrial wasteland setting, creepy soundtrack, moody cinematography and macabre story about a deformed baby culminated in a genuinely unique experience. It was funny, disgusting yet strangely beautiful, with a transfixing, dream-like power. Most importantly, it felt genuine. At the time of making ERASERHEAD, Lynch was freaking out about becoming a father and the film expresses those anxieties, plus a whole lot more to do with male sexuality, in a way that felt disturbingly familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. ERASERHEAD is not a film that you can necessarily ‘get’ or ‘decode’ on a literal level (although I certainly tried in one or two undergraduate essays), but it is a film you understand on an emotional level.

And that’s the core to what I adore about Lynch – the emotional reality of his films. So very few directors craft their films so lovingly and expertly to generate something that resonates on such an emotional level as David Lynch. This emotional reality will always fulfil me more than any literal reality, and films with the ability to generate images and sounds to tap into something subconscious will always impress me over films that attempt to replicate objective reality. It is also for this reason that I get frustrated with the way so many other people respond to Lynch’s films, and I find that people who constantly carry on about how weird he is, or assume that he must be on drugs, are just as irritating as people who think he is being deliberately confusing just to annoy them.

My love affair with Lynch continued about a year later, when I finally got around to hiring all the episodes of TWIN PEAKS on VHS to watch over summer. I was aware of TWIN PEAKS from when it originally screened on television, but never gave it much thought, although I did love that distinctive theme song sung by Julee Cruise. I had never taken television seriously as an art form and, with the exception of the various Dennis Potter written miniseries and telemovies that I had seen, I regarded television somewhat snobbishly as a lesser medium. That all changed when I watched TWIN PEAKS, ploughing through episode after episode about the small town asking itself, “Who killed Laura Palmer?”

The incredible blend of soap-opera, melodrama, murder mystery, police thriller, sit-com, horror and science fiction was unlike anything I had ever seen before and, honestly, unlike anything I have ever seen since. TWIN PEAKS both conformed to the traditional structure of conventional television narratives and completely messed with them. It was serious television, but also parody, and through watching TWIN PEAKS, I finally figured out what post-modernism was really all about! But most importantly, it was filled with wonderful characters that I just fell in love with. It was a show that had the ability to terrify me and move me to tears, often in the same episode. The second season did dip in quality midway through, but the first season is masterful and the very final episode is still the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen on television.

My love of TWIN PEAKS led to me seeking out the prequel film TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME and Lynch’s earlier film, the suburban-gothic film noir BLUE VELVET, which thematically and stylistically paved the wave for TWIN PEAKS. Like so many others I loved BLUE VELVET and when I had the privilege of interviewing Dennis Hopper I was thrilled to hear him talk about how much he loved playing the primal force that was the Frank Booth character. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME was not a film I warmed to right away, because it was so different to the television series, but after subsequent viewings it has become one of my favourite films by Lynch, with its terrifying and upsetting portrayal of sexual violence within the family.

Years later, my undergraduate degree culminated in an honours thesis on Lynch, which incorporated all the work I had done on gender in both my Cinema Studies and Political Science majors to conclude that BLUE VELVET and the TWIN PEAKS film and television series were texts that very accurately reflected the horrors and destructiveness of physical and sexual violence within the family, and the social and cultural conditions that allow for such violence to occur. It was a pretty horrible thing to write considering the sort of research I had to read on actual domestic violence, but the resulting thesis, titled “Shadow Of A Twisted Hand Across My House”, is still something I am very proud of.

Before all this I also caught up on Lynch’s two other feature films to date, THE ELEPHANT MAN and WILD AT HEART. THE ELEPHANT MAN is still one of the most beautifully sad films I have ever seen, and it certainly demonstrates the sincere, sentimental and compassionate side of Lynch that is often overlooked when people focus too heavily on his ‘weird and dark’ side. Lynch would again express this side overtly with the very sweet THE STRAIGHT STORY. WILD AT HEART, on the other hand, is a mixed bag since overall it feels a little bit too self-aware and guilty of “Lynch doing Lynch”, but it also contains some of his best work. The strange and sad scene featuring Sherilyn Fenn playing a girl in a car accident, with Chris Isaak’s haunting “Wicked Game” on the soundtrack, is amazing. Sad, dark, violent and beautiful – it is a moment demonstrating Lynch at his best.

The final key film in my love affair with Lynch is LOST HIGHWAY; the first film of his I saw in the cinema during its original theatrical release. I saw it on opening day and had already negotiated with one of my lecturers that my finally essay for her film noir course would be on LOST HIGHWAY. I can’t remember being more excited at a screening than I was seeing LOST HIGHWAY for the first time. Even the people who sat behind me muttering, “Let’s see what misogynist Lynch does this time,” didn’t dampen my spirits. (For the record, accusing Lynch of being a misogynist for disturbingly portraying violence against women, is like accusing Steven Spielberg of being a Nazi for portraying the Holocaust).

From the opening image of hurtling down a highway at night, with David Bowie’s “I’m Deranged” on the soundtrack, LOST HIGHWAY transfixed me with its mysterious and sexy story about a man whose irrational and destructive jealously makes him literally transform into another person. The resulting essay melded what had become my obsession with LOST HIGHWAY with my love of film noir and my recent studies in Lacanian psychoanalysis. “Lost in Darkness and Confusion: Lost Highway, Lacan and film noir” would eventually become the first article that I ever had published.

In later years, I have continued to adore David Lynch, but probably not so feverishly as I used to. I loved MULHOLLAND DR. and had a wonderful time when I first saw it, discussing it long into the night with some fellow Lynch enthusiasts whom I’d become firm friends with. I wrote the entry on David Lynch for Senses of Cinema’s Great Directors database, which I titled “The Evil That Men Do”, and after that I decided I had finished writing about him for the time being, and didn’t do so again until I wrote a short review of INLAND EMPIRE.

When I saw INLAND EMPIRE, I was living in France and was bemused at how differently people regarded Lynch, compared to how they did in Australia. In Australia, when I have been asked what sort of films I like, I often mention Lynch as my favourite living director. The response I get is either, “huh, who’s he?” or “oh, that weird guy who must be on drugs and deliberately makes films nobody understands”. In France, when I told people that Lynch was my favourite living director, the response was frequently a shrug with the reply that went something like, “But of course, everybody who loves cinema loves David Lynch, that is not a very original answer”.

I suspect my passion for David Lynch’s films will never quite reach the same heights as it has in the past and even after spending a day at the outstanding Lynch exhibition during my final week in France, I had a feeling that I was, perhaps, moving on. I will always love his films and I do revisit them frequently, but I’m not expecting to have the same giddy excitement over the release of anything new of his like I used to. But that’s OK, as I will always remember neglecting my date to surrender to the world of ERASERHEAD at a midnight screening, walking like a man possessed to the local shopping centre to buy the TWIN PEAKS soundtrack after having my mind blown apart by the final episode, and almost bursting into tears at the sheer joy of LOST HIGHWAY exceeding every possible expectation that I had for it. So… I guess I do still adore David Lynch.

– Thomas Caldwell

Why Alicia Malone adores… AMELIE

3 Jun

Welcome, one and all, to this week’s edition of WHY I ADORE…! Firstly, I’d just like to thank everybody who has contributed unabashedly affectionate articles to the blog so far — Simon Miraudo, Lee Zachariah, Ahren Morris and this week’s guest, whom I’ll introduce in a moment — and all who have passed on their compliments, comments and intentions to pen future entries: it’s all massively appreciated. Without your appreciation and interest, we’d just be another lonely overuse of bandwidth, but with you, we’re a real haven away from the negativity of the internet that’s so popular with the kids (and jaded adults!) these days. Okay, enough prattling from your host, and more of what you’re here for: expressions of love for the film and television gems that capture our imaginations and keep us coming back for more, heart undaunted.

Today’s Adorer is none other than ALICIA MALONE, a TV presenter, movie reviewer and chocolate fiend who can make a genuine claim to the throne of Queen of All Media, as she can be seen/heard on Pay TV, hosting PREMIERE on FOXTEL’s Movie Network Channels; on free-to-air, talking movies on Channel 9’s The Morning Show; on radio, on Triple M drive and Mix FM breakfast; via the interwebs, on SCREENER on whatsplaying.com.au and her always fabulous Twitter musings; in print, in Filmink Magazine AND — so I’ve heard — occasionally performing the Single Ladies dance in front of strangers at parties. (Where does she find the time??)

Today, Alicia lets us in on her love affair with Paris, where she’s traveling to soon to study writing, see the sights and, perhaps, discover her own “fabuleux destin”…

My first blog for WHY I ADORE… (or “POURQUOI J’ADORE…” in this case) is dedicated to one of my favourite films, the French movie AMELIE. Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “oh, she’s just trying to sound all arty with her subtitle-y choice”, let me assure you: my love for this film started long before it was considered ‘cool’ to like it. I first saw AMELIE when it was released in 2001. And I can honestly say that something changed inside me between when I walked into the cinema, to when I walked out of it.

I fell in love with AMELIE as soon as the film kicked off with the quirky introduction to her parents. Amelie’s mother likes ice skater’s costumes, but dislikes sheet marks on her face in the morning and, probably, suiciding tourists falling on her head.

And just like Amelie, when I looked back at the faces watching the film I saw my same expression of wonder reflected back at me, as we were all dragged into her wonderful world.

The gorgeous Audrey Tautou plays the grown-up Amelie, an outsider and dreamer, working at “Les Deux-Moulins” café in Paris. When she discovers an old box filled with childhood trinkets hidden in her bathroom, Amelie decides to track down the owner and return the precious memories. Her good deed fills her with a huge sense of satisfaction, so she starts to invent all sorts of quirky plots to help people, and occasionally seek revenge.

But there’s still one thing missing in Amelie’s life…romance. And though she’s a great matchmaker for others, she can’t quite bring herself to take the leap and face the man of her dreams – the mysterious Nino, who rescues ripped up photo booth snaps and tapes them back together.

My favourite scene is when Amelie can’t quite bring herself to say hello to Nino when he comes to meet her at the café. When he leaves, she turns into water, melting and spilling onto the floor. I think we can all relate to that feeling! It’s that terrible moment of being scared to take a chance with love. You could find everything you’ve dreamed of, but then you very well could have your heart smashed into a million pieces!

AMELIE is a fairytale of sorts, with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet injecting an energetic sense of magic to the story (a ‘joie de vivre’, if that’s not too wanky to say…)

I love all the little details of Jeunet’s strange characters, as well as the distinctive look of the film – the rich grading, the different editing techniques and the wonderful short fantasy sequences. And of course, the film wouldn’t have been the same without Audrey Tautou; her beautiful elfin face and big eyes convey so much, you don’t need to read the subtitles to know what she’s feeling.

I’m not sure what it was, but something inside me changed after seeing AMELIE. I walked out of the cinema and felt an overwhelming love for French film, a desire to try and help people, find love, embrace my own quirkiness and visit Paris. And in July, I finally get that chance. The first place I am going? To Les Deux-Moulins, the café where Amelie worked. And I will have a crème brulee, enjoy cracking the top with my spoon, and search for my own photo booth man.

– Alicia Malone