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Last Night in Soho (2021)
What a stinker
Did the mafia leave a severed horse's head in Edgar Wright's bed to make him hire the writer? The script is so bad I feel like I dreamed it. That's all I want to say, but now I have to add this to meet the required word count.
20th Century Women (2016)
Style as substance
Beginners is one of my all-time favourite movies and when I first watched this follow-up it seemed to me Mills had found it a hard act to follow. Even now, three viewings in, I don't think it's quite as good, but, as the repeated viewings suggest, it's a definite grower and I'm finding its own qualities emerging more and more from the predecessor's long shadow.
Both films are, in a large part, portraits of a late boomer/Gen Xer's parent, each being a figure on the cusp of major societal change. In Beginners it was gay liberation, seen via a father coming out late in life. Here it's the women's movement, somewhat ambivalently embodied by a mother who works for a living, plays the stock market, and rents a room to a punky photographer but still isn't sure she wants her son reading the feminist literature that photographer supplies.
Mills was already a very successful graphic designer before he made feature films, and these films feel like a designer's movies. It's partly that Mills has virtually created his own language, apparently by deciding that, rather than just providing inspiration, huge chunks of his mood boards could simply go directly into his films. It's a bit like the way former documentarian Pietro Marcello uses historical footage in his fiction films, but, much as I love Marcello's work, Mills' use of found material is actually more interesting, variegated, reflective and insightful.
The designer in him also shows in that Mills, meditating on historical change, treats much of an era's style, completely correctly in my view, as substance. On the one hand, we are Mcluhanesquely shaped by our historical moments' tech and media and the types of representation to which they give rise. On the other, clothes and attitudes can express, in sometimes astonishing condensation, an era's mood, as here where punk is revealed to be the perfect adjunct to Jimmy Carter's Crisis of Confidence speech.
What, by the way, are we to make of a punky kid decrying pretty music for covering up society's corruption in a film as pretty as this one? Maybe we can say that, while he clearly respects it and the new forms to which it gave rise, punk's anger is not necessarily Mills's - and nor is the film's prettiness, much of which comes from the mother, brought up in the depression and now using her self-accumulated funds to inhabit a palatial Victorian home decked out in polychrome walls.
Such colliding historical attitudes, expressed via style, are everywhere here and a large part of what makes the movie's magic. The things expressed by clothes, music, décor and objects mean something to the characters and they mean something to many of us, and at least one of Mills' achievements, in my view, is to deftly put his finger on and affirm that often rather nebulous-seeming significance.
Lost Holiday (2019)
If there's a way to make privileged, glammy young drug abusers sympathetic, this decidedly isn't it. They're more like minor a-hole antagonists we might encounter in the story of someone actually relatable: callous, cynical, narcissistic, not nearly as funny as they think they are, dangerously irresponsible and determinedly wasting everything they've been given in life, from good looks to cash to basic health.
Putting them centre-stage makes for a very strange viewing experience. Was the writer doing a sort of self-portrait, imagining in his own druggy delirium that we'd fancy them as much as he does himself? Feels like it.
One can only hope that, if this was the case, with the movie done, it held up a reflection to him he finally couldn't ignore, partly just because, party because there is at least a little potential here. True, the story isn't really about much thematically and the primary motivation for the two leads to embark on solving a mystery rather than going to the cops is pathetically weak and could have been stronger, but what follows is fairly well constructed and, with slightly different characters engaged in these shenanigans, could even be amusing.
As someone who's spent some time in DC and its suburban Virginian environs, I also just enjoyed seeing this on film. I also, unlike some reviewers here, really liked the low-budget indie look of the thing.
Guess the template
The older woman is totally into her mastery of the dark arts. The younger one isn't sure she wants her powers, but if she has to have them, she'd like to be able to use them for good. And the men in their lives are essentially idiots. Name that show.
'Bewitched,' right? OK, maybe it's not intentional, but it seems strikingly similar. And here you can even tell the two leads are witches from their pallid features and dark hair and clothes.
At any rate, it all seems very convincing as a depiction of a reality TV set and is extremely watchable. My main issue is that it peaks too early. Starts off feeling both hellish and genuinely critical, but quickly descends into not much more than a really well-written soap. At that point the only remaining wider interest is in noting that the writers are essentially practicing the same manipulations on us as their fictional show runners are practicing on their audience: relentless conflict, powerful antagonists, reversals, betrayals, hot actors, hot sex, and the vicarious, sore pleasure of repeatedly learning that much of what glitters is a gilded cage. But then, maybe that last part applies to sitting on the sofa glued to this stuff too, except you're not even getting any exercise.
As Zizek says, 'Enjoyment hurts.' Watch out for those dark arts, folks.
Depois a Louca Sou Eu (2019)
Great little movie
Feels a lot like what Billie Piper was going for in her recent 'Rare Beasts' - a comic, essentially expressionist portrait of a woman with severe anxiety - except that - Sorry, Billie - this one is actually watchable, relatable, funny and insightful, both about the protagonist's condition and the prescription pill habit it leads to.
Starts off mugging just a little too hard, feeling a bit like a Jeunet and Caro, but I'm glad I didn't let this put me off. Once it settles down and gets into its stride, It's pretty much pitch perfect, and lead actor Débora Falabella has both great charisma and great range.
Carax decidedly has form here, but even in his work it's rare to find a movie simultaneously so shallow and so narcissistically convinced of its own brilliance. I feel skin-shrinkingly embarrassed for everyone involved.
For a current film that does a proper, convincing, funny, fascinating and all-round beautiful job of portraying an unhappy genius, watch Martin Eden instead.
Den vita katten (1950)
Nonsense, but not without interest
The story doesn't make sense and commits the cardinal clunkiness of requiring an add-on scene for convoluted exposition after it's basically wrapped up ('There's still a few things I don't quite understand...').
But for 1950, the depiction of nihilistic bohemian junkies seems fascinatingly ahead of its time and gives us a wonderfully poisonous antagonist.
I'm just a little concerned that, to convey this evil, a cat may really have been shot dead on screen.
That seems to be what Dutch people say to wish each other well, but maybe it's used with especial frequency here where the desirability of success, especially in the hellish vapidity of social media, is perpetually, ironically thrown into question.
Brilliant show, often as subversive as Seinfeld and at its best equally funny, occasionally funnier. Even if it wasn't so well-written and engaging, it would have a special place in my heart for the ruthless way it exposes and lampoons grosser male attitudes to women - attitudes decidedly not those of the very likeable and interesting main character, Toon.
Other than that, sort of an aside, but I can't help noting that some of the publicity images, including the primary one on IMDB, make Toon more, shall we say, conventionally attractive than he actually is. Given that this show is primarily a satire of precisely this kind of PR fatuity, this feels a bit like a punch in the stomach. His actual face is fine, guys. FFS.
Small Apartments (2012)
Glad I stuck it out
Seemed annoyingly weird for the sake of it at the start, so much so I nearly switched off, especially as I hate the acid colour grading and still wish it hadn't been used. But this really ends up having so much going for it: clever, engaging, frequently very funny, ultimately humane, and with a brilliant cast. Standout is Billy Crystal, who also has probably the funniest scene in the film, but pretty much everyone, known or not, does a fantastic job and Johnny Knoxville shows he can really act. Also, not sure 'refreshing' is the right word, but it's nice to see this crummy, oppressive, decidedly non-idealised LA, complete with a pervasive, poisonous coating of smog.
Russian Doll (2019)
Season 2's difficult second album syndrome
S1 seemed so perfect and contained that news of an S2 routinely perplexed people. I think people were right; there was nowhere really to go. Lots of back story filled out here - with the primary magic now being time travel, it's basically all about back story - but, somehow, it feels like we didn't need it terribly much. There are, I guess, good and dutiful points being made about understanding what previous generations went through and how that shaped us, especially our spiky bits, but in practice I just don't feel it all with the intensity and enjoyment that I did S1.
The Queen's Gambit (2020)
Show about addiction is addictive
I don't mean that as a compliment. More like David Foster Wallace is looking down from heaven and saying, 'Told you so.'
Sure, the narrative craft pushing us to binge here is skilful. But what does it give us? A story about a person who, in the aftermath of severe trauma, turns both to chess and to tranquilliser dependency - and the trances the latter induces are her route to mastery of the former?
Wow. OK, but surely one doesn't have to be moralistic about drugs to know that, even if this were plausible, it's unlikely to end well - or if it does, surely to get to one's true happy ever after, ultimately the crutches must be kicked away, the demons faced and the withdrawal hell fully shouldered.
Is it too much spoiler to say that none of that happens? The fact that it doesn't is the key to the particular storytelling narcotic being peddled here: the trauma and drug dependency are no more than required seasoning, a pro forma yin to the yang of the success fantasy on show, the dark that enables the light of otherwise almost totally untrammelled, world-dominating stellar triumph - complete with dazzling vintage stylings, attractive love interests and friends and, ultimately, the complete support and submission of all one's heroes. We can, in short, let ourselves deliriously enjoy it all because the dark side is being dutifully alluded to, even if it's barely doing anything more than adding to the glamour.
Strong stuff, then. Watch out for the comedown, kids. And maybe note that being hooked on Netflix content isn't even something you can spuriously romanticise.
Happy Anniversary (2018)
One of these days we ought really, finally to get another Office Space-style corrective to all this in the form of a rom com set in flyover country. Or is it only possible now to fall in love amidst the falsely normalised privilege of the cultural capitals, where everything is always new and bright?
But as long as we have to be in LA, it seems we could do much worse than be there in the company of the very funny Ben Schwartz and the charismatic Noël Wells. Too bad Joe Pantoliano, despite the real-life lineage suggested by his name, cannot do the Italian accent. That was weird. But other than that, written and directed by Jared Stern, the story is simple, well-told and funny. The female protagonist's mother, appealingly played by Annie Potts, even has a good psychological point to make for those of us trying to avoid the bad marriage mistakes of our parents.
Martin Eden (2019)
Eden is a paradise
I loved this and couldn't really ask for much more, which is why 10 stars, though I'll admit to a flaw further down. But in stark contrast to most of what's coming out on the art-house circuit, it knows how to look good, hang together and intellectually stimulate, and it does all three with amazing aplomb.
Feels, really, like some great art-house work I'd somehow missed from the sixties, though it's better even than some of those classics: beautifully shot, formally inventive, veering Brechtianly from realism to transparent artifice and taking on big political and philosophical questions with intelligence and wit. In several passages from the protagonist's writings, it even manages the trick of using literary language well in film and makes it look easy, which it isn't.
I guess I'm sort of saying it feels like sixties Godard, except that it allows itself a lyrical, even classical beauty Godard would have routinely rejected. It's more like Bertolucci after he sloughed off Godard's influence, maybe, or Visconti.
But the Godardian trace remains in that the poetry of the imagery is mockingly undercut both by the artifice, especially the found historical footage used for scene setting, and by the protagonist's various incarnations. Initially an uneducated ship's crewman landed among the wealthy, he does the standard job of fictional characters in such situations, bringing a little earth and humour to the brittle Brahmins. Then, self-educated at a superhuman rate, he becomes the flawed and misdirected avatar of the film's epic note, aggressively propounding neo-Darwinian radical individualism, Nietzschian 'blond beasts' and all, alienating the rich liberals who had taken him in. Finally, in his sort of third age, having flicked off the fascism this might have seemed to be leading to like a fly, he returns to earth and is effectively buried by it, sickened by everything and, in particular it seems, by the gruesome logic used to maintain class inequality.
Standard line seems to be that the third section drags or is otherwise weak. Seems fair. I think it's that the narrative thread gets lost. The first two parts are about Martin discovering culture and then struggling to achieve success in it and be able to marry his sweetheart. It's engrossing and carries us along. The third section jumps ahead to his world-weary later years and loses the cause-and-effect connective tissue: we never really get to see how the disillusionment sets in or why.
So, yeah, that's the flaw, but personally I don't care, there's still tons to enjoy in the third section and the whole is still a masterpiece standing head, shoulders, groin, knees and toes above the usual rubbish. It also really makes me want to read the Jack London original and even Herbert Spencer, problematic though his writings are shown to be here.
Friends and Strangers (2021)
Eric Rohmer is one of those figures like Godard, Francis Bacon or Pinter who is not a good influence on younger artists. He's just too distinctive and the creative liberties he takes, which seem like revelations when you see them in his stuff, just end up looking like laziness in the work of the young pretenders. Really, that's what they are, coming not out the specific needs of the artists and their work, but copied dumbly from the master.
It might help if some of the many Rohmer wannabes could work out a little more clearly what their needs and wants actually are. Rohmer always seemed to know: his work is almost always about something. Hell, he even began his filmmaking career with a series of self-described 'moral tales.' The copyists seem to have missed this, only noticing the long takes, muted colour, walking around and the endless talking. Those things, on their own, it turns out, are not going to make your movie.
Here, about the most the writer seems to have to say is, 'Nowt so queer as folk.' We are asked just to enjoy the random foibles, interspersed with static shots of scenery. It would all be inadequate anyway, but a great deal of the dialogue is not as well observed as it means to be and the actor playing the lead is not quite up to it, though there's enough there that I hope he'll grow as a performer, not quit.
OK, there's a little hint of deeper significance in a mid-point exchange in which this protagonist's friend challenges him to face up to the recent trauma of his ex cheating on him. But the events around this mostly have little to do with this experience, and even less to say about the dangers of suppressing feelings, which the protagonist seems determined to do.
My own feeling is, I'm depressed by it all, really bummed. It's so pervasive in art house movies, this endless business of good bits with nothing to say. The thinking is so muddled and just so wrong. These writers all need to take a tip from Samuel Johnson: 'Young writers should go through their work and cross out all the good parts.'
Sniegu juz nigdy nie bedzie (2020)
Style over substance
Carrying a massage table and wandering out of mysterious woods, our hero, Zhenia, enters a Polish government building, meets an official in a wood-panelled office, renders him unconscious with a massage/hypnosis and signs his own residence permit. The official has a record player in the office and, as Zhenia leaves, the needle drops of its own accord and music starts.
We are surely in the presence of some magical being, here to do great and/or terrible things, right? Well, not really. All he does is become the house masseur for a gated community of McMansions with unusually tasteful interiors. He seems to be good at his job, even very good, but the only time he does actual magic is back at his drab, tower-block bedsit, and all it is is moving a glass across the table with his mind.
The trick is surely a reference to Tarkovsky's Stalker, in which the stalker's child does the same, and perhaps the point is that Chernobyl, where Zhenia grew up, is an awful real-life version of that earlier film's Zone - an area that looks like ordinary countryside, but is under some kind of mysterious, likely sinister enchantment.
It's all very intriguing, the cast of characters is comically and vividly drawn, both in terms of writing and acting, and visually it's a masterclass, every frame an absolute beaut.
But what's it all for? There's a touch, as another reviewer notes, of Pasolini's Teorema, and of the classic old short story The Distributor. But where those are about the interloper in a community determinedly bringing ruin, Zhenia, by comparison, and the film's writers, seem to lack any clear sense of purpose.
The only point seems to be a letdown: Zhenia, unable to save his mother, who appears to have died of cancer after Chernobyl, realises - particularly when one of his clients also dies of cancer - that he's not going to be able to save anyone here either. But it's not like he tried all that hard and why, anyway, did he make his focus this little enclave of privilege in Poland of all places? Sorry, but if the aim is to say something about the horror and tragedy of an event like Chernobyl, this in no way cuts it.
Maybe the point is more to say that, in the face of the world's traumas, and of serious illnesses like cancer, our modern social-media-driven culture of wellness treatments and candy-coated minimalist interiors is, well, a tad pathetic, precious and, at worst, prone to magical thinking. And, if so, well, OK, but the argument seems obvious to the point of being trite, and the consequences of the wrongheadedness don't hit home hard enough to seem to matter much.
I'm thinking it wasn't all completely thought through, and the result is, for all the brilliant detail, this thing drags terribly as it goes on.
You realise seeing stuff like this the greatness of directors like Kubrick, Lynch, Tarkovsky and Fellini, able to do the stunning visuals, but also marry them with a brilliant story. Elsewhere in the lesser reaches of the arthouse universe, the more common reality is as here: a ton of promise, but ultimate disappointment.
Sweet Thing (2020)
Like the scrapbook of a genius
A film that feels almost a physical object in its beautiful, rough-edged handmade craftsmanship, splicing together colour and black and white footage, complete with wipes, veering from blurry hand-held closeups to wide shots with an almost relentless dynamism that miraculously never loses narrative clarity.
There's not much else like it, except possibly some artist's film, but maybe it sits somewhere between the minimalism of early Jarmusch (who is thanked in the credits) and the inventive lushness of Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The latter, being Schnabel, is just a little overcooked. Rockwell, like the third bear in Goldilocks, gets it pretty much just right.
The story is equally perfect - a sort of neo-Dickensian odyssey of waifish strays in desperate search of a safe berth in the ever-unpredictable homes of adults who can be everything from monstrous abusers to fonts of loving kindness.
Absolutely everyone in it plays their parts superbly and the soundtrack is the best mix tape ever.
How is it that a great and touching work of art like this has zero chance of getting Oscar recognition while deeply flawed efforts by better known directors make the roster? It ain't right, damnit.
Domangchin yeoja (2020)
The film that lost its balance
A film in three sections, the first of which was easily 10 stars for me. Not really like anything I've ever seen, though the long takes, simple framing and meandering but always engaging dialogue is reminiscent of Rohmer. Also as in Rohmer, the abundant chatting gives the characters plenty of space to reveal the peculiarities and even little aggressions behind their seemingly bland, friendly normality. What's really new is how effortlessly, almost inexplicably funny all this is. I was just delighted by this part, by its originality, sheer, rare intelligence and perfect subtlety. Virtually nothing else in cinema now reaches these kinds of heights and, watching on Mubi as I was, where one is all too aware of this, I was feeling immensely relieved: 'Finally, something good.'
Then the second section starts, our 30s female protagonist visits another friend and a sinking feeling set in as I realised the comedy was gone and wasn't coming back. Was I just in it for the yuks? No, damnit, the funny part was also the smart part that had something to say, and the writing of which was like a delicate high wire act. After that, the film kneecaps itself with its own self-conscious, humourless pursuit of profundity, and where part 1 was subtle, the lunging at the depths is almost embarrassingly blunt.
It's like the film is dumping on the first section, on its own best part, telling us it was all just a bit of fun before we got to the serious, important, grown-up stuff. But look how banal that stuff is. Did we really need to meet the second friend to learn, yet again, that the single life is hard, or the third to learn, again yet again, that marriage is often no better? Did we, in particular, need the protagonist's repetition in each of these sections of the same info about her life with her husband? Yes, it arguably takes on new inflections each time, but the first was already weird and easily the most interesting, precisely because it was delivered as if it was perfectly fine.
It's all reminiscent of the lesson anyone learns if they take a decent improv class: those things you think you need to do to justify the piece are done out of insecurity and are bad.
Cinema du yuk
Is this what life in France now feels like - an endless whirl of random, motiveless violence committed by completely boring and depthless characters in the bland environs of sodium-lit car parks, underpasses, night clubs, industrial estates and institutional buildings? What, frankly, happened to the country over the last twenty or thirty years to make this peculiarly unappealing mode of storytelling so common there?
Maybe the filmmakers are all thinking of Godard, who, in his heyday, certainly had his own propensity for both longueurs and lurid violence. But Godard, being a great artist, used even boredom with discernible purpose and alternated it with passages of playfulness, formal invention, intellectual argument and homages to other great artists, writers and filmmakers.
Maybe the tedium and ultaviolence in more recent French fare is all of a piece, the blood and guts being there to compensate for the filmmakers having nothing to say.
Or maybe - probably - the problem is that French filmmakers reacted against the romanticism and high style of both the French new wave and it's shallowly commercialised offspring the cinema du look, and ended up in a sort of masochistic dead end. Too blocked to allow themselves even a whisper of pleasure in either aesthetics or imagination, but still caught up in a certain post-revolutionary French notion of rebellion, all they were left with was these dumb, blunt-force shock tactics.
Deep Water (2022)
Ben Affleck is...America?
It really all does seem to be some clunky metaphor. Ben Affleck plays a guy who's got rich off military-grade weaponry (imperialism) and appears to endorse his wife's infidelities (freedom ), but actually kills or threatens anyone (any little country) who takes his veneer of liberalism as license. In the end, he murders a guy who wants to do housing projects for the poor (socialism) and the writer who tries to blow the whistle (radical intellectualism), and it seems we're asked to believe he'll get away with it all even though his guilt is ludicrously obvious.
That last bit's a large part of the problem, or indicates it: for a metaphor to work, it really helps if the story that conveys it makes sense just as a story.
Other than that, I still haven't figured out what the snails are supposed to mean, if anything.
Stella Dallas (1937)
How to be good
Not much to add to other reviews here, except that this is a little miracle of storytelling largely proving you can have a great compelling story without an antagonist. If there is one, it's the relatively abstract matter of societal convention and class mores, but every single prominent character here, even Stella's bad-boy drunkard buddy, is basically decent, and most are supremely good, selfless and loving.
Yet it all still works, and so beautifully - gripping, full of jeopardy and deeply moving. Maybe it's that we're constantly seeing characters faced with difficult moral choices, particularly around whether to understand and empathise with others, and plausibly making the right ones, but the difficulties persist right to the end.
Les Grands Mythes (2014)
Brilliant, but maybe not for younger viewers
I love this series. It makes clear what so many other tellings of these stories does not. Firstly, you get the connective tissue between most of the stories, meaning they mostly work as one big explanatory myth - not just of creation but many other aspects of life. Plus, you get the key characters' backstories and motivations. Be warned: one hell of a lot of those motivations turn out to be sex, meaning that, while not in any way depicted salaciously or pornographically, a lot of this might be a bit much for, say, under-10s.
My personal reaction: pending further learning, all this means this is now my favourite cosmology, presenting us with the uncomfortable notion that a terrible madness composed of lust and vanity maybe at the heart of and inseparable from the life force. No wonder the Greeks gave us the conjoined opposites tragedy and comedy.
Boiling Point (2021)
I'm missing 2 per cent
This film's making feels like a metaphor for the environment it depicts: a relentless hand-held one-shot choreography around an overbooked restaurant engaged in its own perilous and stressful attempt to maintain precision. Unfortunately, for me, the metaphor extends further than can surely have been intended: a celebrity chef dining at the restaurant declares the food to be two percent off perfection and orders a bit of seasoning - zatar - not in the original dish. I think the film is missing its own zatar.
And it really was so close. It's not just the technical feat of the shooting that's impressive. It looks great, performances are excellent and the script does very solid work not only on character and dialogue, but, up to a point, story, cleverly drawing together multiple strands to put a tightening noose around the protagonist's neck.
I think the main problem is, while it may be plausible, in story terms, answering the question, "How the hell's he going to get out of this?" simply with "He isn't" feels like a dull cop out. Maybe more than that, though, the down ending feels oddly unearned, dependent much more on the character's substance abuse problems - which we only learn about just before they do for him - than the more carefully woven plot threads making up the noose.
It's like a bad god deus ex machina, like the writers simply didn't know what else to do to resolve it all. And maybe the hard truth is, while what's missing feels small, it would have taken major smarts and/or work to figure out what it should have been.
I had high hopes for this. The trailer made it look beautifully shot, subtly disturbing, dreamlike and intelligently written, with Stewart nailing the Diana impersonation to a T.
Unfortunately none of this was born out by the actual film. The reality is that a lot of the considerable detail, both visual and verbal, dissolves into mulch via dull colour and camera work and a wordy script striving for significance from the words more than the events, but not always easy to hear.
Besides that, it's oddly hard to care too. The atmosphere does appear stultifying and oppressive, particularly to Diana, but maybe it's that she herself, as portrayed here, isn't sufficiently sympathetic to make us want much more for her. Also, for all the odd, wishy-washy and entirely unconvincing hints that the royals might murder her at some point, the only real issue she faces is her sons being forced to go pheasant shooting when she'd really rather they didn't - a matter she takes care of quickly and without much difficulty.
It's all a burdensome and badly stacked bundle to carry for Stewart, appearing in almost every scene, but I'm afraid she doesn't seem like she'd be up to it even if the script was better. She cannot do either the accent or Diana's very distinctive manner. Her oscar nomination for this would feel like a travesty if the oscars didn't have such form in this respect.
The usually excellent Timothy Spall is even worse as a posh military man hired to keep the unreliable Diana in check. He doesn't even seem to know how an upper class courtier would pronounce 'ma'am,' a word he has to say repeatedly, and much of the rest of his dialogue is delivered with odd inflections, almost as if he didn't understand it. Jack Farthing is much better and seems all too accurate as a chilly, emotionally constipated Prince Charles. Sally Hawkins as Diana's chamber maid is simply so good that it's like you're watching a different film while she's on screen.
'A fable from a true tragedy' is the oddly worded intertitle that begins all this. Such a claim would feel self-regarding even tacked onto a better film. Here it just seems to indicate lack of self awareness, or like it's desperately trying to make real the mythic/fairytale quality the filmmaking itself failed to achieve.
By the way, I'm pretty sure there were no KFC drive-throughs in the UK in the '80s or early '90s and certainly none in London, but the screenwriter is English. I guess this was the only way he could get Diana and her boys their pop meal of the people anonymously.
I get why people think Sarma has to have been in on it with her manipulative husband Anthony because the manipulations he's said to have subjected her to sound so absurd. What I don't see is what the motive would have been for her to ruin her life and business just to feed his gambling addiction. Also the doc includes ample recorded evidence of phone calls in which she argued desperately with him about his demands for money, even if she ultimately acceded to them. It does seem pretty clear she was being manipulated, bizarre as it all is.
Given the mind games said to be at work here, it's a real shame the documentary makers didn't include interviews with psychologists or shrinks. Absent that, I'll hazard my own theory, which I think at least makes more sense than seeing Sarma as an out-and-out deliberate crook.
It's clear that, in huge debt as she already was when she met Anthony, she married him not for love but on the promise that he'd get her out of the hole. I think this was his leverage in the demands that followed. She felt guilty enough about trying to use him financially to unconsciously allow him to punish her. The onslaught of his demands, torturous though it was, was a distraction from the guilt - a sort of obsessional state for Sarma, not unlike addiction. It's especially extreme, but it's not that different from self-harming behaviours many of us engage in without knowing why we can't stop: over-eating, alcoholism and addiction, OCD, stupid rows with our partners, self-woundig and many more examples down to just spending too much time dumbly scrolling, liking and swiping.
Let them who are without irrationality cast the first stone, and watch out that the stone-throwing doesn't become your own addiction.
The Andy Warhol Diaries (2022)
Did we really need another Warhol doc? Yes, and this is it.
A class act on all fronts.
First of all, from the credits on in, it looks sumptuous. The use of digital technology is far more aesthetically sophisticated than pretty much anything I'm seeing from Hollywood and shows, like only one or two other films I'm aware of (the neo Giallo 'Amer' is one) that digital at its best can make a vital, valuable contribution to movie imagery. We even get a sort of implicit origin story for all this in a couple of clips of Warhol trying early computer drawing programmes, once with instruction from Steve Jobs. The leap from that to this doc is something like that from kid's drawing to the high Renaissance. Here, the tech is used to seamlessly weave together an extraordinarily rich array of filmed source material available on Warhol with modern-day interviews and give the whole a lushness at least equal to that of film.
The digital finishing touch: with the permission of the Andy Warhol Foundation, Warhol's voice has been computer simulated to read the diaries - and just as the computerised imagery achieves warmth, the voice, the seeming summa of Warhol's stated desire to become a machine, has a surprisingly human quality, its hint of melancholy entirely right for the diaries.
This little irony of Warhol finally becoming a machine but the machine achieving feeling is almost a metaphor for the story being told here, for the likely discovery of what being a machine meant to Warhol as a man. In an almost aggressively gleeful flouting of Barthes' 'Death of the Author,' the doc is primarily about Warhol's personal life, especially his long-term love relationships with men. Excellent as Barthes' argument is in many ways, we might note at this point that he was himself a gay man in a homophobic time, who may have had his own reasons for wanting to keep the author's biography in the shadows.
This is the question being asked here: how much was Warhol's brilliantly constructed artistic persona - machinelike, detached, asexual - born of a need to hide or at least make palatable his homosexuality? As discussed here, this is not a reductive question. It more than allows for the fact that, as all art is artifice, the need to veil certain messages can actually enrich the work, and also for Warhol's work still to be read through other lenses. Nevertheless, given the way the persona played itself out in the work, I think the series makes an incredibly strong argument that this is a question, and an area of his biography, that Warhol scholarship cannot ignore, that the personal likely mattered to the work even in terms of the way it was hidden by the work.
Fortunately, for the filmmakers and the viewers, it also, by its nature, makes for a fascinating, touching human story.