Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Cousins’

Easy Rider (1969) didn’t chronicle the end of the decade/era, and the death of hope and optimism that the 1960’s promised, but it certainly symbolised it. It could be argued that the loss of hope wasn’t followed by despair, but by a new more measured hope with less lofty ambitions, a more weary even cynical hope, but hope none the less. And this is what we saw on the big screen, the cinema of new Hollywood. In truth, a child of the 70s, I saw it on late night TV, and VHS in the 80s and 90s. The Watergate scandal of 1972 may have ground zero for the political and conspiracy thrillers of the time, films like The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), but the spirit, or lack thereof found a place on screen before that, it found it on the road!  There has always been a link between cars and movies, the two were invented around the same time, and both found popularity in the United States, a country built out of exploration, and a country built on a dream; and as Mark Cousins reminded us The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a (2011) “movies look live our dreams”.


While there had been movies about cars and drivers before, the road movie as we know it was born in the 70s, buit on a foundation from the Golden Age of Cinema. We are not talking the capers of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), or the various Gumball/Cannonball movies (various movies from mid 70’s to mid 80s), I am referring to the existential road movies like Two Lane Blacktop (1971), and Vanishing point (1971). Existential movies, where to drive is to live, to stop is to die. Kowalski (Barry Newman), the hero of vanishing point is just driving, we never understand why. He drives for the sake of driving the way we live for the sake of living.  If you don’t know the film, the plot of the film revolves around a man delivering a car 1,200 miles from Denver Colorado, To San Francisco.  He has a week to get there but for reasons never explained is compelled to do it in a couple of days.  There is little plot, and almost no explanation, but flashbacks give us an idea of what is going on.  The Driver (James Taylor) and Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) in Two Lane Blacktop may not have names but they have more of  purpose, or do they.  They cruise around looking for action in the shape of drag races like the subjects of a Bruce Springsteen song, but when we look a little deeper, they have no purpose, they are racing for money to fund their lifestyle, so they can continue racing.  They are not the unwilling or repentant criminal looking for one last job so they can go clean, they are living day to day, a modern take on the hunter gathers of our past.  But does that make them any different to anybody working a day job, as Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt from Fight Club ((1999) said nearly 30 years later “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”.  Are they closer to the breadline than the average wage earner, or do they have a fallback? Both films have an other-worldly character enhanced by uncertainty and ambiguity,  this was lost in the 90s, made for TV remake of Vanishing Point, everything they gave Kowalski by way of motivation, stripped away a layer of meaning from the subtext of the movie. 

Although most associated with America, the genre isn’t exclusive to the nation. By the end of the 70’s the angst and desire had been forgotten, swallowed up by “blockbusters”.  Australian filmmaker George Miller fussed the road ideas of the road, if not the road movie itself with a dystopian future.  For a more recent generation, their knowledge of the Mad Max franchise may not stretch beyond the fourth, and most recent instalment: Fury Road (2015), but it started long before that in 1979. Inspired by the fuel crisis and economic crash of a few years earlier the first film depicted the beginning of society crumbling. Max, the movies “hero” first hits the road for revenge, but by the end of the first movie, he disappears down the road.  Not with the glory of a cowboy riding into the sunset, but a long and dark road, as a man with nothing, and nothing to live for.  Max’s only option for survival it to live, to exist, and he can find this simplicity, only after he has lost himself on the road.  A generation later, the characters of Fury Road think they can find hope, redemption, or even eternity on the road, for most none of this is true. 

Both as surreal and mainly masculine genre, director Chloe Zhao gave her a new take, and grounded and more real take.  Nomadland is loosely based on Jessica Bruder none fiction book of the same name we see real life people living a nomadic existence.  This, like many other road movies was exist in the traditional heartland of the western genre, but this isn’t a pioneering story of A to B, of someone with a destination. It is the story of a person not looking where to live, but how to live.  As the world gets smaller, and cars have begun to lose importance in the world, we may think the days of the road movie are numbered.  I don’t think they are, we may see a day were they become nostalgic chronicling relatively recent past rather than telling their own contemporarily stories, but in the hands of talented filmmakers, this artifice will not prevent the real story, one that is lingering beneath the surface. 

Read Full Post »

Any British film fan of a certain age will have fond memories of Moviedrome. For those who don’t, it was a film series shown on BBC2 between 1988 and 2000 dedicated to cult movies. More than just series of films, Moviedrome featured an introduction originally by director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker) and later by Mark Cousins.

In the first two years, as an impressionable 12/13 year old I had my first experience of: The Wicker Man, Big Wednesday, The Last Picture Show, Barbarella, Johnny Guitar, The Parallax View, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Fly (1958), The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, D.O.A. (1950), The Thing From Another World, The Incredible Shrinking Man, THX 1138, Night of the Comet, The Big Carnival aka Ace in the Hole, Alphaville, Two-Lane Blacktop, Trancers, Five Easy Pieces, Sweet Smell of Success, Sunset Boulevard.moviedrome_web-large

Then in the third year something interesting happened. Alongside movies I had never seen – Yojimbo (my first Kurosawa movie), Something Wild, Carnival of Souls, Manhunter (the first and still the best Hannibal Lecktor movie), Badlands (my first Terrence Malick movie) and Performance – they started showing movies I had already seen and loved such as: Assault on Precinct 13, Brazil, Get Carter, The Terminator, An American Werewolf in London, The Beguiled, Rumble Fish and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Many of the films shown are well known if not that well seen. But then others really blindsided me: despite being 27 years old at the time, Sergio Corbucci’s spaghetti western Django had never been shown in UK cinema’s or on UK network television until its premier on Moviedrome in 1993.

 This continued into the fourth season with one of my all time favourite genre/B movies Mad Max II shared a double bill with Orson Welles’ bizarre documentary about fraud and fakery, F for Fake. It was around this time that they started showing more themed double bills including The Day of the Locust / The Big Knife, Alligator / Q – The Winged Serpent, Wise Blood / The Witchfinder General, but the one that stood out for me was the David Cronenberg double feature Dead Ringers and Rabid. To the best of my memory, this was the first time I had seen a Cronenberg movie, I quickly looked out all the other s and have been a fan ever since. The real appeal of the series isn’t just the movies I got to see, it was the introductions by Cox. A man passionate and knowledgeable about movies, particularly genre movies. This you must remember was at a time before the internet as we know it. A time when information about older movies wasn’t as freely available and copy of Halliwell’s Film Guide was as close to IMDB as existed at the time. Listening to Cox talk about Cronenberg’s body of work and in comparison to other horror directors and revelling in its wideness and the “vicious horror lurking behind the most mundane things” certainly gave me a greater understanding of what made certain horror movies disturbing.

Alex Cox’s final season of Moviedrome came in 1994 after a seventeen week run, many of them including double features, Cox ended with Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich’s seminal noir thriller adapted from Mickey Spillane’s novel of the same name. the movie features an interesting maguffin that Cox borrowed for his 1984 movie Repo Man. The interesting thing about the timing of this movie on Moviedrome, was that it was still fresh in my memory a few months later when I saw another movie that also borrowed the idea, Pulp Fiction. It was around this time that I started studying film at university as part of my degree course, many of the films on the watch list had been movidrome films.  The series seemed to have come to an end in 1994 but was resurrected in 1997 with Mark Cousins introducing and choosing the movies. His choices often seemed more recognisable or mainstream, or was it that I was so immersed in film by this time a had already come across them? None the less the choices were always interesting and as Cousins promised they were “movies you won’t forget”.Alex_Cox_Mark_Cousins_Mark_Ker_original (2)

Since its cancellation in 2000 there has not been anything like Moviedrome on British television. Nothing, including film courses at university has ever introduced me to such a breadth and depth of weird and wonderful movies. Mark Kermode has dabbled with the formula providing movie introductions on his blog and to Film4’s Extreme Cinema season, but this is far from the scope and impact of Moviedrome. All I can do is that Alex Cox, Mark Cousins and BBC2, and appeal to BBC or any other channel to do something similar.

You can see a list of all films shown on Moviedrome HERE

Read Full Post »