Saturday, November 30, 2019

Posters / Stanley Kubrick / Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Shut review / Chilling secrecy, quaintly soft-porn sex

Eyes Wide Shut review – chilling secrecy, quaintly soft-porn sex

Stanley Kubrick’s last film, starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise as a warring, sexually obsessed couple, is fascinating and disquieting

Peter Bradshaw
Friday 29 November 2019

yes Wide Shut, now on rerelease, is fascinating, flawed late Stanley Kubrick, his final film before his death in 1999 at the age of 70. It was adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, or Dream Story, published in 1926 and originally set in Vienna. The film is a tale of sexual obsession among modern-day Manhattan’s wealthy and powerful classes and I originally valued it for its satirical potency, formal control and dreamlike self-possession, all of which are bound up in a certain kind of deadpan absurdity and soft-porn seriousness.

Eyes Wide Shut, by Stanley Kubrick (1999) 
Opening scene (with Nicole Kidman & Tom Cruise)

Tom Cruise plays Bill Harford, a well-off New York doctor with a fashionable clientele and a magnificent apartment in Central Park West, happily married to beautiful Alice (Nicole Kidman) a former art gallery director, now a stay-at-home mum to their young daughter. (In the book, they are Jewish, an important part of the doctor’s alienation. Not here.) Unsettled by each other’s flirtatious behaviour at a swell party given by a wealthy patient, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), and by a consumption of champagne and weed, they later have a furious row in which Alice defiantly confesses her lustful thoughts for a certain other man in her past, and Bill then finds himself on a nighttime odyssey, searching for extramarital adventure and gatecrashing a sinister masked orgy, to which he gains admittance by murmuring the (ironic) password “Fidelio”.

 Ready for anything? Kidman and Cruise. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros

This revival comes with a brief documentary short about the film, Never Just a Dream, with interviewees including his longtime collaborator, executive producer and brother-in-law Jan Harlan — but not his widow Christiane, and not his most important collaborator, screenwriter Frederic Raphael. It might be time to reissue Raphael’s 1999 memoir of working with Kubrick, Eyes Wide Open, in which Raphael amusingly hints that the tense mood of Cruise’s cab ride out to the creepy orgy mansion was inspired by his own minicab journeys from St Albans railway station to the famed seclusion of Kubrick’s Hertfordshire country home for script discussions.

Nicole Kidman
The title, Eyes Wide Shut, was Kubrick’s, and in my original piece, I wondered whether it related to the idea of imaginary sexual transgression being as potent as real, waking transgressions. In dreams you see and know things clearly, with your eyes wide shut. It’s only now that I can see another comparison that was always under my nose: Malcolm McDowell’s eyes being clipped wide open in A Clockwork Orange, being forced to watch something horrible. There are other visual echoes, such as the eerie emptiness of the elevator lobbies like those in The Shining – which are part of the film’s artificiality and theatricality, mocked a little by the film’s denigrators at the time, but a part of the hallucinatory effect. Then there is the party scene at the beginning, like something from The Shining, where Alice meets her predatory Hungarian suitor (Sky du Mont) who could almost be a ghost. Kubrick’s use of Stravinsky’s Waltz from his Jazz Suite shows his sweet tooth for mainstream classical-music themes, and his predilection for softcore female nudity is a characteristic thought a bit dated in 1999.

Perhaps what we felt was contrived was that orgy scene, although it is disquieting and strange in the Hammer-horror way that originally impressed me. But by 1999, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho had upped the ante on these ideas of Manhattan super-wealth and depravity, and in comparison, Eyes Wide Shut seemed a tad quaint. Yet now, in the age of Epstein, we can see that it was not so far-fetched to imagine elaborate clubs in which the rich and powerful can disport themselves and exploit the vulnerable. What comes across even more strongly about Eyes Wide Shut now is its chilling emphasis on ruling-class secrecy. This film inspired Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (2004), itself underappreciated at the time.
Cruise and Kidman heartfelt and fervent performances (although the flickering black-and-white moments showing her imagined sexual indulgence don’t work). There are tears, and Cruise in particular lays himself open in that fiercely committed way that he tries everything as an actor. Did their actual marital disputes resemble what happen in this film? Maybe. They were divorced two years after this came out, with much gossip about whether the film had accentuated their discontents. Pollack’s performance as Ziegler is thrillingly cynical and disillusioned.
 Eyes Wide Shut is released in the UK on 29 November.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Mia Wasikowska / ‘After a while acting leaves you feeling hollow'

Mia Wasikowska

Mia Wasikowska: ‘After a while acting leaves you feeling hollow'

The Australian star of Alice in Wonderland on her new film, a feminist take on Punch and Judy, and why her costumes need pockets

Mia Wasikowska / Madame Bovary

Kate Kellaway
Saturday 16 November 2019

ustralian actor Mia Wasikowska trained as a ballet dancer in her teens before switching careers. In 2010 she was the highest-grossing film star in the world after playing the lead in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and starring alongside Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right. She has since starred in Jane Eyre opposite Michael Fassbender and as the writer Robyn Davidson in Tracks. Now she plays Judy in Judy and Punch, Mirrah Foulkes’s unruly, subversive, feminist take on the traditional puppet show.

Mia Wasikowska: ‘I’ve an underlying anxiety when overseas.’ Photograph: Taylor Jewell

How was it working on Judy and Punch?

It was a rough shoot. Low budget Australian film-making is full on. We had babies, dogs, horses, puppets – so many uncontrollable elements – but got through it. Melbourne weather is notoriously horrible and [meant] we were unable to drive down to the location – an artist’s estate. The cast and crew had to trudge down a very steep slope and we were stuck there for a couple of days.

Classics corner / Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner / Review

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner – review

This early feminist classic is also an enchanting tale

Lucy Scholes
Sunday 18 March 2012

ylvia Townsend Warner's first novel (published in 1926) begins with 28-year-old Lolly Willowes being sent, "as if she were a piece of family property forgotten in the will", to live with her brother and his family after the death of her father. She is "so useful and obliging" but after 19 years finds her senses dulled and her mind "groping after something that eluded her experience".

Escape beckons when she decides to move to the village of Great Mop in the Chilterns. And here, this satirical social commentary takes a turn towards the fantastic as Lolly sells her soul to the devil – "a kind of black knight, wandering about and succouring decayed gentlewomen" – and becomes a witch.
Lolly's own realisation of what she has done strikes with the rapidity and venom of "a snake-bite in the brain", just as the novel sharply undercuts its genteel appearance to reveal a dark and visceral heart riddled with gloriously uneasy images (a young woman eats "with the stealthy persistence of a bitch that gives suck").

Lolly Willowes calls for "a life of one's own" three years before Virginia Woolf's impassioned cry for a room. "We have more need of you," she explains to the devil. "Women have such vivid imaginations, and lead such dull lives. Their pleasure in life is so soon over; they are so dependent upon others, and their dependence so soon becomes a nuisance." With its clear feminist agenda, Lolly Willowes holds its own among Townsend Warner's historical fiction, but it's also an elegantly enchanting tale that transcends its era.

Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes is 'a great shout of life'

Sylvia Townsend Warner

Books of defiance

Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes is 'a great shout of life'

Defying the genteel harness of Edwardian spinsterhood, this novel’s heroine instead becomes a witch and dallies with Satan himself

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1926 novel Lolly Willowes is an act of defiance that gladdens the soul. Put simply, it’s the story of a woman who becomes a witch – but it will subvert any expectations prompted by that synopsis as gleefully as it subverts every theme it touches on: gender roles, family love, social convention, religious propriety.
Born into a stuffy, self-satisfied family who are content to stay in the Victorian era while the world changes around them, Laura Willowes is a dreamy young woman with no interest in marriage. On the death of her father, it seems quite natural that she be “absorbed into the household” of her brother Henry and his wife Caroline “like a piece of family property forgotten in the will”. In their London home, she becomes indispensable “Aunt Lolly”, forever obliged and obliging to others, the only sign of her self-will the extravagant hothouse flowers she sneaks into the mean territory of her small bedroom each winter.
Until the day Lolly’s inchoate longing for solitude and rural seclusion – the urge to be “standing alone in a darkening orchard” – crystallises in the snap decision to move to a small village in the Chilterns, Great Mop. “‘I’ve never even heard of the place!’ said Henry conclusively.” But for once Lolly comes to her own conclusions and in the face of her family’s amazed disapproval off she goes: to escape her obligations, to gain that all-important Room of One’s Own – and to attend bacchanalian witches’ sabbaths and conduct matter-of-fact chats on hillsides with Satan. Lolly characterises him as “a kind of black knight, wandering about and succouring decayed gentlewomen”, seducing a spinster’s soul “when no one else would give a look at her body even!” As Sarah Waters puts it in her excellent essay, he “pays [women] the compliment of pursuing them and then, having bagged them, performs the even more valuable service of leaving them alone”.

The novel, Townsend Warner’s first, was a hit, but she was dismayed to see many take its aura of genteel whimsy and oh-so-English fantasy at face value. Admirers, she complained to a friend, “told me that it was charming, that it was distinguished, and my mother said it was almost as good as Galsworthy. And my heart sank lower and lower; I felt as though I had tried to make a sword, only to be told what a pretty pattern there was on the blade.”
For there is steel in Lolly Willows, though much of its bite and danger is hidden, even from Lolly herself. There is the ancient power of myth and landscape, the dark woods and lanes through which Lolly blithely strolls and which feel as though they could swallow her up at any moment. Satan is an understatedly ambiguous figure; a “loving huntsman” he may be, as the subtitle has it, but has Lolly simply passed from the possession of one male to another? And almost entirely off the page we sense the seismic social upheaval of war and economic turmoil, the slaughter of a generation of young men, the long-standing systematic repression of women that is only slowly beginning to lift, and seemingly too late for Lolly. Only once does she cast her plight in terms of political anger: “If she were to start forgiving she must needs forgive Society, the Law, the Church, the History of Europe, the Old Testament … the Bank of England, Prostitution … ”

Lolly doesn’t forgive the unforgivable; she simply walks away. Henry and Caroline, she realised in London, “were half hidden under their accumulations – accumulations of prosperity, authority, daily experience”. As Townsend Warner puts it in what is one of my favourite passages, for its sure-footed mix of mundanity and exaggeration:

They were carpeted with experience. No new event could set jarring foot on them but they would absorb and muffle the impact. If the boiler burst, if a policeman climbed in at the window waving a sword, Henry and Caroline would bring the situation to heel by their massive experience of normal boilers and normal policemen.
Stripped of convention, of safety and habit, Lolly opens herself up to a different reality. She defies society as well as everything society has raised her to be. Her future is uncertain, but it is free, and the novel that houses her is a great shout of life and individuality.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Martin Scorsese / Digital de-ageing could replace make-up

Martin Scorsese: digital de-ageing could replace make-up

Martin Scorsese
In our November 2019 issue, Martin Scorsese discusses the new work in digitally ‘youthifying’ Robert De Niro for his new film The Irishman – and speculates that it could become a more significant tool of illusionism than traditional tricks of hairdressing and make-up.
The Irishman sees Martin Scorsese re-uniting with his old star Robert De Niro to tell the story of Frank Sheeran, a World War II soldier turned mafia fixer who was assigned to handle relations with the powerful union boss Jimmy Hoffa (played by Al Pacino) and later claimed responsibility for Hoffa’s disappearance and death. 
For our November 2019 issue, Scorsese sat down with Philip Horne for a generous three-and-a-half-hour interview covering mob culture, power and politics, his history with Al Pacino, why he made the film for Netflix, what he learned from his Bob Dylan documentaries and much more. One revelatory topic was the filmmakers’ groundbreaking work with digital ‘youthification’ technology to allow De Niro and his fellow septuagenarians to play their characters across 50 years of American history.

Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Al Pacino

In the section of the interview excerpted below, Scorsese explains the fine details of facial analysis and animation that he, his editor Thelma Schoonmaker and the visual effects team led by Industrial Light & Magic’s Pablo Helman found was required to preserve the actors’ performances and emotions as the de-ageing technology rolled back the years from their faces. Given more practice and perfection, could this – rather than “prosthetics and that sort of thing” – become the standard for telling film stories that cross the decades? 
Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino

Philip Horne: About the use of ‘youthification’ in the film. You were quoted as saying at an earlier stage, when I think you weren’t happy with the first version, “Does it change the eyes at all?”
Martin Scorsese: That’s the second time I’ve heard that as if it was a negative thing. Actually not.
What I was saying was: “That’s the job, that’s what we have to do.” In other words, you keep the eyes, but even if you keep the eyes, there’s much more to that: there’s the crow’s feet, there’s the bags under the eyes, there’s the eyebrow. There’s the way the light hit. So every frame you see, there’s infinitesimal work that’s been done. Ultimately, it’s about the performance and about the character.
I knew the sort of picture it has to be. I said, “I can’t have the actors, these actors, with mechanical objects on their heads” because they’re not going to do it, it gets in the way.
But then Pablo came back to me and said, “I think I’ve figured a way.” And he made the… I guess they’re called contacts; little pieces of fabric or something that really were invisible. And you know, you could be wearing it like, round here [indicates his face], and at a certain point you’re talking to a person, you’re not talking to a machine.
The challenge, as they say these days, was to take those elements and keep the person, not lose them in something that is cleaned up. It’s really about keeping that character, keeping those emotions and their faces alive.
The Irishman (2019)
In one scene where De Niro’s younger, for example, and he’s talking to some people and he has to convey a kind of vulnerability and a haplessness – making him younger, a couple of times we noticed, made him look like he was threatening them.
Now why’s that? The line around the mouth. So, let’s go into the mouth, work on that.
A week later they bring it back. “No, it still looks like he’s threatening.” Well, maybe the eyes have to be fixed – around the eyes.
I’m going for what the performance is. Ultimately, we felt that we regained through the youthification process the vulnerability in that moment.
Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino

So it makes you look very closely at the actual way that facial expressions work?
Yes, at every aspect of the face. And then of course as the actor moves in the frame, the light changes. So a few frames this way – you’ve got to put some texture here… and so you’re really creating, recreating, the performance, in a way, with the basic truthful elements of the actor, and protecting those.
We stumbled through that. We said, “What about trying this? What about that?” It would come back a week later, we would say, “It looks a bit funny here, or there.” And so we’d go back. We did that with every shot, with Joe Pesci and with Al too. It’s a learning experience.
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa
Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa
In a way, I look at it as… well, there’s the convention in cinema of the use of make-up. If you look at an older film, there was an acceptance by the audience where the hair is powdered, or you know that that’s make-up and that the moustache is fake. But you went with the illusion.
I always remember the great Dick Smith, and the old-age make-up he made for [Dustin Hoffman’s 121-year-old character in] Little Big Man [1970]. Or the make-up in The Elephant Man [1980]. Where’s the heart? Where’s the performance? It’s there, because John Hurt was great. But I know that’s make-up, so as a viewer I go with the illusion. I give you something back so I can get something from the world that you’re trying to depict for me and the characters.
It’s another level of that, I think. And ultimately, it might be superior in the long run, to creating an illusion. Rather than having to apply prosthetics and that sort of thing. Mind you, we did a great deal of make-up on the film too.

Do you think this system will have an effect on other films that are made?
I think so. Obviously, it may have an effect on films that are trying to create more of a futuristic world. But it’s as good as the people doing it, really. Pablo and his group and ILM were amazing; and we were – myself and Thelma – on them to work in the slightest, the most scrupulous way.
One of the key things was, I didn’t want to make a film dealing with this subject-matter, and this character – and where we were taking him, to the very end – and have half the film working with younger actors that were supposed to be Bob, supposed to be Joe, and supposed to be Al. I just didn’t.
And so you may find that now that’s something that is doable: actors playing themselves younger – or older. This is a first time and there is an element of cost. But I think the more it’s used, the more the cost will become reasonable.

Ford Madox Ford / The saddest story

The saddest story

Ford Madox Ford's personal life was deeply complicated, made worse by his own indecision and economy with the truth. No wonder unreliability, shifting identities and the turmoils of love and sex are the hallmarks of his greatest novel. Julian Barnes admires The Good Soldier

Julian Barnes
Saturday 7 June 2008

n 1927, The Good Soldier was reissued as the first volume of a uniform edition of Ford Madox Ford's works. In a dedicatory letter to Stella Ford, the novelist explained that his "tale of passion" was a true story heard a decade previously from the character he calls Edward Ashburnham, but that he'd needed to wait until all the originals were dead before he could write it. He claimed it as his best book, and asked, uxoriously, that Stella accept not just this work, but "the general dedication of the edition".

Julian Barnes / A tribute to Parade's End by Ford Madox

Julian Barnes: a tribute to Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End, adapted for the BBC by Tom Stoppard, is a masterpiece saturated with sex and features 'the most possessed evil character' in 20th-century fiction

Friday 24 August 2012

n 1927, Ford Madox Ford compared himself to a great auk: that clumsy North Atlantic penguin, hunted to death by the middle of the 19th century. The occasion was the reissue of his first masterpiece The Good Soldier (1915) – his "great auk's egg" – which he had published at the age of 41. Even back then, he maintained, he had felt like an "extinct volcano", one who had had his time and was all too willing to hand over to the "clamorous young writers" of the rising generation. But those new voices – Imagists, Vorticists, Cubists – had been blown away by the first world war, and somehow he was still around. And so, to his own surprise, "I have come out of my hole again" to write more books … Such weary, genteel valetudenarianism was typical of Ford, and probably didn't help his reputation. When he died, in 1940, Graham Greene wrote that it felt like "the obscure death of a veteran – an impossibly Napoleonic veteran, say, whose immense memory spanned the period from Jena to Sedan".

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Julian Barnes / I was wrong about EM Forster

Julian Barnes: I was wrong about EM Forster

Put off by A Passage to India in his teens, the author has rediscovered a wry, sly and subversive writer

Julian Barnes
Friday 2 December 2016

f reading is one of the pleasures – and necessities – of youth, rereading is one of the pleasures – and necessities – of age. You know more, you understand both life and literature better, and you have the additional interest of checking your younger self against your older self. Occasionally I will reread a book in exactly the same copy as I first did decades previously: and there, in, say, a student text of a Flaubert novel, I will find all those annotations which now, initially, embarrass. Key passages underlined, exclamations in the margin of “Irony!” or “Metaphor!” or “Repeated image!” and so on. And yet often, naive and excited as they seem, these comments are pretty much ones I might be making – if not so explicitly – several decades on. That younger reader wasn’t wrong: it was ironic, it was metaphorical, it was a repeated image. I don’t think you are a more intelligent reader at 65 than at 25; just a more subtle one, and better able to make comparisons with other books and other writers.
Sometimes you change your mind about a writer. Perhaps, when you first read them you were only pretending to admire what you’d been told to admire. But also your tastes change. For instance, at 25 I was more open to writers telling me how to live and how to think; by 65 I had come to dislike didacticism. I don’t want to be told how to think and how to live by, say, Bernard Shaw, or D H Lawrence or the later Tolstoy. I don’t like art – especially theatrical art – whose function seems to be to reassure us that we are on the right side. Sitting there complacently agreeing with a playwright that war is bad, that capitalism is bad, that bad people are bad. “You don’t make art out of good intentions,” is one of Flaubert’s wiser pronouncements.