Le Samuraï

An old post from an old blog

Are intellectual teenagers still into existentialism? or have we exited that age? is it all about theory now? Students downing Badiou and Laruelle to the strains of Tristan Murail? If so, they’re right to. It seems more intellectually demanding, more crazy, more of a shibboleth between the old fucks and the young guns, more of an induction to the modern age than the rudimentary post-romantic shoulder-shrugging of existentialism.

But

I liked Camus a lot.

And I don’t really buy that ‘not real philosophy’ thing.

It may not be real philosophy, but it’s real something, and that something’s very appealing when you’re a teenager: a post-romantic sense of the isolated individual, indifference to conventional social mores (which in return punish that indifference or contempt), misery, nausea and anxiety as necessary corollaries of a universe without epistemological and ethical certainty. Each of these provided serious explanations. it was useful. I could do with something like it now. Nobody understands me. Life’s so unfair. They were self-help manuals, shit self-help manuals admittedly, self-help manuals for people who couldn’t help themselves, but self-help manuals nevertheless, which not only explained why you were so fucking miserable, but why in fact you were some kind of hero for being so fucking miserable. I needed that!

But I picked up The Myth of Sisyphus again recently and was bored out of my mind, so that avenue’s shut. because for a teenager existentialism wasn’t so much about truth, it was about image – how to mentally position yourself in the world, how that looked. So if there’s one thing that french existentialism can be thanked for, it’s cool french films, because that was how the theory became flesh. It reversed the unglamorous polarity of the solitary teenager.

I went to see Le Samuraï when I was 16. The old Lumiere cinema in st martin’s lane, now a gym or something god-fucking-awful like that.

It was a big screen, with lots of soft grey seats ranged in arcs. There were three people in the cinema – me, a cycle courier about five rows in front of me, and a sleeping businessman, two rows behind and about five columns to the left of me.

I remember the setting and the film vividly. the film had a big impact. I got it on dvd, watched it several times.

Anyway, I watched it again the other night. i remembered it well (I said a couple of the lines before they were delivered on screen). How did it stand up?

That’s the opening frame. anyone who’s lived by themselves in a studio flat knows how the inside of your head becomes that flat. look at that first frame again – that’s the inside of someone’s head.

What you can’t see here is that just at the end of this opening the camera moves back and forth in the room, so you get the sensation of looking in a doll’s house. it produces a sense of artificiality, we are looking into this film, as you would look into a doll’s house. By a psychological trick that I don’t really understand, when you do that – emphasise the artificiality – you widen the sense of looking at something universally applicable (we all stand outside it) and less like we’re viewing the specifics of a documentary. Does anyone else get that? I don’t know, it seems a bit rarefied. I’m not sure I’ve articulated it enough.

Once again, you get a strong  sense that the room is a psychological state. for Melville, the director, rooms are like traps. They’re where you end up. There’s a terrifying scene in another of his films, Le Cercle Rouge, where the alcoholic marksman is beset by visual hallucinations in a bout of delerium tremens. rooms are bad. rooms are cages. and to extend the parallel of course, the inside of your head is also a trap, it’s where you end up, in the end.

If we didn’t get all that, Alain Delon keeps a songbird in a cage. Throughout the film, the songbird represents the state of delon’s being. I’m calling him Delon btw because his actual name in the film is Jeff Costello, which for a modern english viewer is too laughable to use without smirking.

One of the things I didn’t pick up the first time I watched it is that delon is a dandy. He’s a dandy in the Beau Brummel sense, that is, he dresses not to stand out but to fit in, and does so with an aesthete’s minute attention to detail.

This impeccability of course makes him stand out.

Props tho to his fixer, here sporting what i’m calling his gesang der jünglinge sweater

The dandy thing comes into sharp focus at one point in the film, where, in a bid to evade police, delon takes a route to 1, rue Lord Byron. That reference immediately clicked with something Kingsley Amis had written on James Bond:

the fact is that, inside that conservative dark-blue worsted suit and under the same skin as a bearer of the hardly-earned double-0 prefix, there lurks an intruder from another age. we can identify him easily enough by adding in at this point some of the accounts of the physical impression given by Bond, his looks and what people feel they signify.

and with the warmth and humour of his eyes extinguished, his features relapsed into a taciturn mask, ironical, brutal and cold.

the table was becoming wary of this dark englishman who played so quietly, wary of the half-smile of certitude on his rather cruel mouth. who was he? where did he come from? what did he do?

Well, he started life about 1818 as Childe Harold in the later cantos of Byron’s poem, reappeared in the novels of the Brontë sisters and was around until fairly recently in such guises as that of Maxim de Winter in Miss Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. The Byronic hero – Byron’s sentimental and humourless idealization of part of himself rather than any kind of real Byron – the Byronic hero is lonely, melancholy of fine natural physique which has become in some way ravaged, of similarly fine but ravaged countenance, dark and brooding in expression, of a cold or cynical veneer, above all enigmatic, in possession of a sinister secret.

This is delon in le samuraï, and that 1 rue Lord Byron made it easy to identify that this is how were are at least partly to view delon – as a romantic hero.

The paradoxical or absurdist idea of singular anonymity conveys itself in another aspect of delon’s appearance in this film – he never makes the slightest attempt to disguise himself:

At one stage the police ask him to swap his hat and mac with two other people in a line up. He and his dispersed pieces of clothing are identified immediately. Even in disguise he is only the image of himself. This has certain consequences for the film. he can never expect to go unnoticed and so must avoid being seen.

The film is a single action, and everything in it tends towards its completion. this spartan exclusion of the unnecessary is matched by the script: the dialogue is extraordinarily spare, even for a noir, even for a Melville noir, and all of it can be taken as both content and explication, like the passing comment to a group of poker players –

je me perdre jamais. jamais vraiment. 

(I never lose. never truly/completely)

These statements compel analysis after the final reel, for a film which is, like the expressions of the actors in it, motionlessly opaque. There are no tells. facial expressions are an attempt to engage sympathy, to encourage the belief in an outer and an inner where the apparent former can be explained by the suggested latter. even the slightest expression of feeling offers, therefore, reason, and reason has no place in this fatalistic and absurd world. once again, the spareness encourages this sort of extreme analysis, and in that sense, is cognate with Camus’ sparse algerian, sun-bleached and desert presentation of the absurd. we are presented with a singularity.

I wondered because of this, while I was watching, whether this was a reductive film, but the fecundity of speculation required by the viewer I think puts a reverse on that accusation.

There are, after all, plenty of other things to enjoy about this film. the palette is marvellous – all dull greys and washed-out blues:

It’s nearly always raining. No matter the dirigiste economic exertions of the government, the Paris represented here is the fucked up paris of the ’60s – the massacre of the algerians in ’61, the barricades in ’68, a year after Le Samuraï was made.

Some of the images have almost the appearance of a Caravaggio painting:

The film also contains one of the great chase scenes in any film, across the Paris metro:

The chase is predominantly successful because it intensifies to a point of climax the film’s two principle notions of uncertainty and visibility. for delon, a great deal apparently hangs on his ability to correctly identify people from their impassive externals (their internal or hidden life here is not a spiritual or emotional one, incidentally, but one of persecution). For the police, the singularity of delon is either visible or not. the film solves these two strands by re-encrypting an image posed in The Third Man. This keeps the audience in a state of suspense until the end of the film, but the resolution of that practical riddle only pushes the uncertainty about what was known and intended back into the labyrinth of the metro and beyond.

I’m still not sure I’ve located the decisive moments, or understood entirely the motivations of Le Samuraï, and I think that’s how it’s supposed to be – that ambiguity born of its minimalist resistance to interpretation is paradoxically its richness. And as I’ve suggested, I find it rich in other ways. It’s Melville’s best film I think, tho not his best trailer – that would be this:

It’s still a good film, I still really like it. If i call it my favourite that’s probably only for the usefulness in conversations of having a favourite, and I’m not sure that it hasn’t been surpassed for me these days by The Maltese Falcon, a very similar film in some ways, even more remarkable in those ways and others, perhaps.

But there is one thing about this film:

fuck me it makes you want to smoke.

2022 Redux

2022 has been a bit of a dog.

Alright let me pour this little cognac and break it down for you1 I just discovered that this is in fact a 2021 joint, but you remove it from my significant 2022 listening over my dead body

Screenshot 2022 12 20 at 18 27
Screenshot 2022 12 20 at 18 28

My conclusion at the end of the year is that I’ve been suffering from a form of anhedonia and chronic, mild/medium, depression. Drink took up more of a role than it should have, I think to tackle the anhedonia, which led to considerable fatigue and ofc probably made the if-that’s-what-it-is anhedonia worse. My social manner was careless, sometimes borderline deplorable, and discouraging to forming new acquaintance, my already middling intellect very weak2 its natural state is C-, it can reach fairly high on occasion, but this year dragged relentlessly at a skiving, bedridden U. It was something of a relief to realise, 2/3rds of the way through that this seems to be a mode i go into from time to time, much of my teenage years for instance, which the natural intellectual ebullience of teenage years mitigated. but as i get older it feels more existential, more a symptom of decay rather than personality, emotions wan to the point of expiry, still protecting a battered and beleaguered heart by rolling up in a ball, cutting cords that should not be cut. Viva Las Vegas.

This all needs to be corrected or at least worked on to the extent it can be. They who strive upwards the angels can save, as the Goethe epigram to Under the Volcano goes. Resplendency in 2023. Let’s do it. And in the interests of identifying what I’ve enjoyed so that I may enjoy more, and better, in 2023, Here Is An End of Year List…

Oh before I do that, an interview with Svetlana Alexievich I read earlier this year, where she said something that captured an important criteria for the things I like. It’s the central paragraph, but I’ll quote the whole thing because it’s so forceful:

SA:

In Chornobyl Prayer, there is this story from the wife of a dying liquidator about how he’s dying horribly. When she wants to approach him at the hospital, they don’t let her. They tell her, “Forget that it’s a human being you love; it’s matter that needs to be deactivated.” I was struck by her words—her texts—and captured them. It was on the level of Shakespeare and Dostoevsky.

The things that people said were unique. These were texts from some new life of another world that is approaching very fast now. We have Chornobyl, coronavirus, the revolution, war. We are approaching a new reality for which we are not prepared. But Chornobyl is beyond all that because of the cosmic scale of the catastrophe, cosmic in the sense that it’s a shock to our understanding, our worldview. It’s something entirely new.

Why is this theme so important to me? Because when people can’t understand what’s really happening with their mind, you have to listen to the language of their bodies, how they speak about it themselves, how they try to translate their feelings into words. The body is also a text, so I tried to combine two texts: culture, which didn’t really help me much in this situation, with the text of the body.

These were texts from some new life of another world that is approaching very fast now. Svetlana Alexievich’s work operates beyond and at the margin of the new reality, as does Diego Garcia (see books: below), so does, for instance Alex Ward’s music, particularly last year’s Gated, dealing with moods and emotions that are unfamiliar only because they are not yet hackneyed, using modes and methods designed to framebreak, violently if necessary, inherited models. This is art enables us to retune our antennae to pick up the ‘odds and ends of messages coming out of nowhere’ (Kipling, Wireless) from the future.

Ok, The List:

The Book

Three books on a beech table, The English Understand Wool is on top, with a colourful, childlike cover, a picture of slices of cake. Under it is Gerald Murnane's Last Letter to a Reader, with a muted grey cover, and Diego Garcia, with Fitzcarraldo edition's characterist dark blue cover for fiction.

Helen DeWitt – The English Understand Wool

It’s a very short book, barely even a novella. I read it sitting on a bench in Cádiz’s Plaza Mina to the sound of fountains and children playing football.

A leafy, sunny square in Cadiz
Plaza de Mina, Cádiz

It forms a loop, beginning and ending at the same point. Its manner is as its narrator: precise, fastidious about the right terminology, fastidious about the differences between one thing and another, and how a thing should be done, how one should approach a thing. The sentence cadences are succinct and didactic, the effect in such a brief piece is lapidary. Within its short chapters lie gins, traps, nets, so that you reach the end, sit back, consider some of the book’s aspects, and rapidly find yourself considering the transmission of culture, the nature of understanding, the acquisition of knowledge, and the moral framework which these entail, before going back again to read the text once more and find where, exactly, these considerations might lie in its deft, light, and poised prose (HDW is an exceptional prose stylist – Swift is a good comparison, they both relish the interplay of sly meanings). It is so short that, like a pop song, you can play, rewind, and play, finding the ‘best bits, and delight in the detail and the phrasing.

The concepts with which Helen DeWitt plays cover a wide ground of thought, across literature, language, coding, heuristics, probability, business, getting things done, and anthropology, to name a handful. These are not all the standard inputs to literary work, and they provide tensions, rules, systems, motivations and structure to the behaviour of her protagonists and to the world they perceive and their management of it. It’s all very lightly done, with anything superfluous removed. Although an insight from reading the more clearly satirical Lightning Rods, the comparison that springs to mind is still Jonathan Swift, in eg A Tale of a Tub, where he is managing multiple implications, references and sometimes contradictory meanings in single sentences. That tension in concision is present also in DeWitt’s writing, and also provides the springs of the humour of her writing. These areas of knowledge bring freshness to the prose and thinking.

To take one example, I was pleased I had read Ernest Goffman’s Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face to Face Behaviour before reading TEUW. Goffman subjects the notion of ‘face’ (as in ‘saving face’) to minute scrutiny and analysis, and it seems to appear very lightly a couple of times in the book, and perhaps contributes partly to the crucial motif of mauvais ton, literally ‘bad tone’ but a better translation would be ‘bad form’. As that translation will indicate, its an expression of class snobbery, though a largely benevolent one – behaving meanly to the people who serve you in some way would be mauvais ton for instance. The motif sits at the centre of some of the dynamics in the book: class v cash, the notion of terroir as a form of cultural knowledge, transmission of knowledge and the optimal syllabus for this.

Helen DeWitt is interested, and her books are interested, in the methods and manner of doing things well, and the tools that relate to that. I won’t land the dreadful word Important on her, but this brings a fresh joy to the writing, and a sense that someone is engaged in the current world and our theoretical and practical understanding of it, combined with a strong artistic sense (across the arts), and most importantly with writing that makes you look up from the page and sit back in sheer pleasure.

Also

Gerald Murnane – Last Letter to a Reader

I picked this up in a very rainy Sydney, along with the 2019 edition of his never-properly-published novel A Season on Earth. As far as I can tell, it’s only fairly recently that you’ve been able to buy Murnane easily outside of Australia, so I use my intermittent visits to pick up the Giramondo editions. The ontology of imaginative and real places in fiction and memory is both process and subject for Murnane. In Last Letter to a Reader he re-reads his books and writes about what he remembers of his feelings during their composition, what he thinks he meant, what strikes him now, what he discovers in writing down the nature of the experience of re-reading his books. That may sound painfully refined, but it’s not; it’s a very good, colloquial, easy-to-read introduction to his writing, thoughtful about finding meaning in the act of writing.

very wet view through a window of a crossroads, the pavement and road glistens
A f’ing wet Sydney

Natasha Soobramanien & Luke Williams – Diego Garcia

A very good, perhaps surprisingly good book. The narrator is a ‘we’, proxies you assume for the actual authors, a couple drifting in Edinburgh, in a sort of precarious post-student life I remember very well, suffering from a form of hypersensitised post-GFC and creative anomie. Periodically the narrative will bifurcate into a double-columned page, when they are apart from each other. The subject of the book, addressed both obliquely and directly, is the forced expulsion of the Chagos Islanders in 1965 as part of the creation of a US Air Force base on the Mauritian island of Diego Garcia, among others, and the last British colony, The British Indian Ocean Territory.

The yoking together of these two worlds shouldn’t work. at all. As described it looks morally wildly self-indulgent for one thing – connecting two people living in London and Edinburgh. But it does work. it’s very well written for a start, with a strong sense of material surroundings and cultural artefacts, with a fluid prose style to convey this well-selected contemporary bricolage of post-GFC culture.

But the overall reason is the book’s purpose: to describe a connexion between brutal colonial displacement, migration, the places people will go, the experiences there, the people you will meet and with whom you’ll interact, and overall an experience of ‘emergencies happening at different speeds’ (to take a line describing a visit to A&E).

One half of the we is Mauritian, which provides one simple part of the equation. But in general, the notion of sagren – Sagren, to the Chagos refugees, a mix of nostalgia, desperation and overwhelming sorrow – a sickness for home so intense it can be deadly – is connected to anger. These feelings are applied to the sense of being dislocated in a time of ‘Emergency’, to the creative and financial state of the two narrators, and the life-story of Chagossian they meet for a short while on the streets of Edinburgh, all coming together to present a sense of the current state of things, whose axis is the Walter Benjamin quote silently injected in the text here:

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.

It’s adventurous, daring writing with a sense of what it wants to do with that formal sense of adventure, and it’s well-written so that it carries it off without feeling like… to use a critic’s phrase ‘a partially successful experiment’. I was hesitant about using that phrase, but it’s useful because it allows me to describe the book correctly: it’s a wholly successful experiment, which covers terrain that will surely become increasingly relevant: how countries manage more widespread migration, both economic and that of refugees of some sort or another.

Currently we would rather see migrants die, immiserate them to the point of suicide, or force them via restricted routes to death purely because we do not choose to have the moral capacity to help. (Hey, Suella, what’s your KPI on suicides in detention? Deaths in the channel? Presumably 0 is not an optimal discouragement index score for you?)

More generally, Stephen Bush put it well earlier in the year:

Refugee policies are easier. We can say with extreme confidence that anyone in Ukraine has a compelling case for wanting to leave it, so governments can streamline the process by allowing anyone with a valid passport to treat that document as a visa. And we know what refugees need to make a better life for themselves in a new country: support for their mental and physical health needs, free and easy access to the labour market and help integrating into a new country, usually but not exclusively in the form of language lessons and somewhere to live.

Your country’s ability to do these things is a pretty good test of how effectively governed it is. If your planning and housing system doesn’t have enough flexibility and spare capacity to accommodate some refugees, you almost certainly have a sclerotic planning and housing system. If your community colleges can’t provide them with good enough language skills — people who were already working and living perfectly happily in another country — to enter your labour market, you almost certainly have a very bad adult education system. And if your political class doesn’t have the wit to allow anyone with a valid Ukrainian passport visa-free access to your country, then you almost certainly have a low-wattage political class.

If your country cannot do any of these things, congratulations! You are almost certainly the UK and you are almost certainly heading for a second successive lost decade.

https://www.ft.com/content/8e941a78-4d4f-4bdf-9e3a-2f290ab342ac

The Film

Flux Gourmet (dir. Peter Strickland)

Flux Gourmet is a film that takes the relationship between food and sound partly explored in Berberian Sound Studio much much further. In doing so Strickland creates conceptual spaces for exploration that might otherwise be unmappable. It is also an amusing ‘what if’ whimsy where ‘sonic catering’ is an artistic space with many artistic collectives vying for bursaries, funding and attention, as well as creating a slightly satiric kink out of the modern socialised fetish seen on food programmes for capturing the sound and sizzle of cooking as something sensuous, extending that into the mundanity of the bourgeois in the supermarket via a series of mime scenarios.

That is the space the film creates and in which it operates, but the main dynamics are where and how this mixture of sensualities are digested and absorbed, and what if you are incapable of digesting them, getting acidic flux (comparable to the sonic flux which is a source of artistic and dramatic contention in the film) and flatulence. The mode of the writer and recorder is meticulously captured in a brilliant performance, again, v delicate and underdelivered, from Makis Papadimitriou. Strickland reverses the vulnerable Englishman in the Italian setting of BBS, with Makis suffering social discomfort in an absurd English mixture of rigid dinner party performance (after dinner speeches are given by each of the collective, each of them excellent), and avant-garde resistance and fetishistic subliminal reaction to those social rules.

The other ruleset in this space is performance and ‘backstage’, where audiences show their gratification in post-performance orgies. What intimacies are available in which spaces, where do we… where are we able to… reveal ourselves, our intestinal and gustatory beings, our sexual fetish – what is the interplay in these spaces, what freedom created, what constraints at play. What role does the private performance of writing and recording have? What is the internal, what the external? Stones (played by Makis, and no Strickland is not frightened of the grotesque or heavy handed joke), sits, a slightly malevolent shadowy outline in the glass panelled toilet, undergoing who knows what malevolent transformation under pressure of these culinary, artistic and social dynamics.

The sound, as you might expect, is extraordinary, spacious, dense, discrete – the writer and recorder’s flatulence is barely registered, the speech of the actors is beautifully captured – that speech in itself nuanced, from Asa Butterfield’s slightly dreary and shy wealthy dropout London, to Gwendoline Christie’s poised, over-rich, and melodramatic depth, and ofc Fatma Mohamed’s crisp, autocratic, ironic voice (god, she and her voice are beautiful). Birdsong and field recordings fill the night and the ‘thinking walks’ the collective go on. The sonic performance and malevolent background miasma of recorded food is also exhilarating and appropriately vicsceral. So yes, the sonic space is, as ever, as rich as the pictorial, dramatic and scripted matter.

The overall effect is to create an unusual mood, a space for new emotions and interactions to be at play, allowing the discovery of something new and unfamiliar.

The Music

Sprints – A Modern Job EP

I don’t know, this is hardly the best or most interesting music released this year, but something about its full-throated, youthful, dublin exuberance hit the spot. It is perhaps a form of nostalgia, but it felt fresh enough to bypass feelings of ‘why are people still doing the exact same thing 30 years on?’ feeling I get from most indie music These Days.

I should have listened to more Alewya, who as far as I can tell released several flawless EPs this year. I’ll rectify that over the festive period.3I didn’t, but did get some tickets for her later in the year

It’s a long time since I’ve listened to music as obsessively as I once did, my listening better classed as skimming these days, but here is a playlist of tracks that have in some way stuck with me, no particular order though Calm Down was a clear favourite of the year, and SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY close behind it.

My god so much indie here. What’s going on.

Oh, and in an otherwise ok I suppose album, The Voltarol Years, Half Man Half Biscuit recorded one of their best ever songs, Oblong of Dreams, a love letter to the Wirral, with the characteristic mix of the mundane, the pastoral, death and the available sublime just at the end of a local field path, all coming together to provide that peculiarly uplifting compassion that for me is their hallmark (more than their ‘humour’).

Albums not represented here, among others.

Deadly Orgone Radiation – Desecration of Form

(Get well soon, James)

OXBOW & Peter Brötzmann – An Eternal Reminder of Not Today / Live at Moers 

Oren Ambarchi – Shebang

Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn – Pigments

Lady Aicha & Pisko Cranes Original Fulu Mziki of Kinsasha – N’Djila Wa Mudjimu

Soccer Mommy – Sometimes Forever

$ilkMoney – I Don’t Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don’t Feel Like It Anymore

Television

This was nearly universally bad, from what I saw. Incredibly conservative4MES sums it up very well in the track Systematic Abuse: ‘it is the same’. However, the prison scenes in Andor were very strong, perhaps because they had their origins in the ’70s film THX1138. So that’s my 2022 vote.

Otherwise, watching the original BBC Edge of Darkness from 1985 was my television highlight. As someone on Twitter said, it does not let up, and is dense with meaning and thought, with substantial direction and the acting, especially Bob Peck of course.

Food

Nandine 

It felt like being a goddam prince visiting a distant land eating at Nandine. The quality in detail was exceptional, from mezze to baclava. I exited the building transformed, almost exuberant, such is the power of a good meal.

a plate of roasted aubergines on a thick orange sauce, with green and red leaves on top
A full plate of richly spiced kurdish food, with sea bass, onions, peppers and tomato

40 Maltby Street

Transformative in a different way – does what a restaurant should do: restore you, but not just in terms of nourishment. Eating three well-constructed, lightly imaginative dishes and taking their recommendation on wine leaves you feeling spiritually and mentally restored too.

My Friends Don’t Like Me, They Don’t Like the Way I Do  

I struggled to maintain social relationships this year – my response to my mental state is to withdraw.

But thanks to those who were in some way a part of it: Dave, Alex, thomp, chuck arrowsmith, gyac & darragh (for Dublin inter alia), tracer hand, ronan, sean, tim, cis, mark s (and the wider ilxor slack cru) carmen, hew, jules, matt, aliya, colleen, calum, jack, james, jem and ofc the infinitely patient comrade alphabet.

as always the people who insist on sticking around for some reason, despite the intermittent communication and erratic manner, are the best part of me.

Bring on 2023.

Berberian Sound Studio

Repost of an old tumblr entry, prompted by exchanging some mild pleasantries with Toby Jones this morning at the local market.

berberian sound studio was the best film i’ve seen in years (and I like it even more this morning), because of

  1. its spatial and physical representation of sound to create a tangible psychic landscape within which the events of the film take place.
  2. the remarkable way which the film allows its sonic & psychical content to constitute the reasoning and plot of the film. yes, the clue’s in the title, but it still seems an artistically daring thing to do (the film is rather runic) and requiring exceptionally brilliant execution to
    work, which it gets.
  3. its mapping of the whole frigid anglican male v
    catholic kitsch schlock v genuine evil. i did half wonder whether the whole virginal and pure anglican male thing was slightly played out or in danger of being trite (wicker man, yes, but also wolf solent by john cowper powys, arthur machen’s earnest young post-victorian men, disorientated in fin de siecle aestheticism). But
    for several reasons this isn’t the case. Toby Jones is great, for a start, with his mole in wind in the willows features, also, the film avoids triteness by playing the role subtly, its only an element of the film, not the point. there’s also a scene… no, that’s another point. but there is that always interesting exploration of the
    strength of purity against corruption, and how
    puritanism itself is intensely corruptible, more so than more pragmatic spiritual states, which in fact, by being less corruptible, are more secure. just with regard to that point about ‘genuine evil’ by upping the tangibility of sound in the film, something to the appreciation of evil, itself intangible or difficult to capture. it’s as if the viewer’s radar has been readjusted to appreciate the taste of things in a film that would not normally be portrayable. there is a subtle sense of how madness comes creeping in on the back of evil, how they work together. i’ve since seen reviews which say that gilderoy goes ‘mad’, i think that’s an exceptionally simplistic approach to take to this film – it’s also taking a non- literal film very literally – nevertheless, madness, or rather mental unhingeing, plays its part.
  1. the documentary of box and leith hill. a brief and wonderful scene that played straight to my heart and mind. my heart, because it’s some of the countryside i love most (was it cobbett who said that dorking was reputed to have the sweetest air in england – before
    the M25 of course). my head, because of the way it located the battles going on in the sound studio and in gilderoy’s head in english pastoral – it was both a moment of sweet respite, and a representation of the malign or sinister pastoral of john cowper powys, machen, also john ireland – the dismembered rural, the something nasty in the woodshed, the rustic earth as inimical to human civility. so yes, this was pure catnip to me. maybe i’m overplaying it as a consequence, but this is a very associational film (brief memories or
    moments of reality flash up in gilderoy’s head,
    stimulated by momentary verbal or imagistic
    associations).
  2. it being, in my experience, a very accurate portrayal of how italians and english work together.