In the fierce lead of Beasts of the Southern Wild, the child and the performance are one – and when all three feet of this mean six-year-old turn in mid-march to stare down the Aurochs, if you’re at all like me, your breath is going to catch in your throat.
October already. September seemed a matter of days. At some point in there, for example, I met Roger Ebert – quite briefly of course, though somehow I keep flashing back to that moment. Maybe this is because it happened so fast, and that in a month of consistent temporal compression, something which means quite a lot to me on a personal level is threatened with being reduced to a single blip – a single byte of data. I met Roger Ebert. It was lovely. It was perfect. And my artifact of the event remains perfect, shrinkwrapped, in a pile of things I have no time to go into, on the desk in my old bedroom at my parents’ house, behind drawn curtains.
Misadventures in dizziness - round one, and round two. The film festival – round one, and round two. Peterborough. My birthday (?). The apartment. The job. That was September.
And my persistent, hacking cough, which - I must admit - was quite fun to take with me into a screening of Contagion, and sit in the back, and scare the shit out of everyone. While I won’t say that Contagion does for unwashed countertops what Jaws did for water, it is a nicely structured film to produce a profound sense of unsettledness. The first two thirds of the film are stalwart drama – with a twist, which I’ll get into in a minute – but there comes a tipping point around the end of the second act, whereupon Contagion becomes speculative fiction. This produces the unsettled feeling I mentioned. Contagion lays bare how very easily our world would roll over to lie on its back.Read more
To all comers: the fifth single seat from the front, in the left wing of the Isabel Bader, belongs to Matthew Brown for ever, and I’d appreciate a sticker or plaque to this effect. From that perch I saw a great one on Monday night - Position Among the Stars. The film was in no way what I was expecting, a nearly-2-hour documentary chronicle of a small, poor family in modern Indonesia. As such it is a terrific family drama, and we become absorbed watching these people negotiate their lives through trivial in-and-outs which are quite often extraordinary or delightful.
But beyond all this, the film punches us repeatedly with jaw-dropping visual touchpoints, and becomes a mesmerizingly vivid ride. We watch a mosque dawn over a church, paralleling Islam’s overtaking Christianity in the region, thanks to a genuinely ingenious reapplication of track-zoom. A seeming starfield, for the opening credits, resolves itself into the drops of dew on a field of grass as the gain turns up and the cosmos melts away. A boy runs through the back-alleys of Jakarta with two hangers of stolen clothes streaming over his shoulders, becoming freer and freer with every step. A train trolley is powered by a motorcycle running in reverse – and that one, you’ll have to see to believe.
I like the short doc Flying Anne a lot; it’s a winsome portrait. Anne, who looks like she lost a fight with a bag of flour, has Tourette’s, which in her case causes her to lick things compulsively and – a bit more visually engaging – twirl around sometimes as she walks. The film stages her sense of isolation and then her process of overcoming that isolation; a date with a boyfriend who thinks she is beautiful is a real highlight, particularly when they go down a waterslide tube together which, from the inside, looks like fire and stars.
Flying Anne was paired with How Are You Doing, Rudolf Ming? and here, we have found Emily Hagin (Zombie Girl) a boyfriend. Rudolf is a perfect little psycho: he enjoys setting traps (“It’s great to see things turn bad for some!”), doesn’t play well with others (finding his siblings playing with his markers, he throws a hell of a temper tantrum), and when the director asks him if he ever contemplates his own death, Rudolf does it on the spot – perhaps for the first time.
But more to the point, Rudolf makes films. They are not films as you and I know them, but rather hand-drawn frames, scribed onto long ribbons of semi-translucent paper, which Rudolf then feeds through a projector lamp and narrates (and provides sound effects) as he advances the film frame by frame. When he first does this in How Are You Doing, the audience burst into applause the moment he was done. It’s a lunatic thing to see, this red-haired, freckled, 11-year-old tyrant throwing all his guts and glory onto a makeshift cinema screen. No videotape, no editing, no special effects: just markers, paper, and Rudolf’s bent little soul. Maybe all the things that make us horrible must go into all the things that make us great? When the End Times come and the world has ceased to beat, this kid will be the king of a new age of cinema.