Film 2016

Is there something, I wonder, that happens as you get older which leaves you feeling more and more difficult to please; that means you are more likely to appreciate things from the past, possibly but not necessarily encountered before, over what is new? It seems, if 2016 is to be trusted, to be increasingly so.

No doubt, the two most original and exciting films I’ve seen this year were made in the 1920s: Eisenstein’s Strike from 1925 and Murnau’s Sunrise from 1927. The Eisenstein, which I hadn’t seen before, was showing as part of a season of his work at the small and independent Close Up Film Centre in Shoreditch; the Murnau I had seen several times but never as gloriously as at this screening, with magnificent live organ accompaniment, at the Regent Street Cinema.

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That I saw these and other classics in the repertoire was due in no small part to my daughter Molly’s growing interest in film and film history – hence a terrific noir double bill of Tourneur’s Out of the Past and Wilder’s Double Indemnity; Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story, and, more up to date, Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue and Three Colours Red.

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Against those, little holds up. American Honey had a terrific performance by Sasha Lane and Andrea Arnold is a really interesting director, but it’s about 30 minutes too long; Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake had most people falling over themselves in its praise, but, while its heart is 100% in the right place, its function as parable drains it – until the final third – of any real tension or complexity – this despite  a compelling performance from Hayley Squires; Arrival simply didn’t, as far as I was concerned, and there’s a whopping cheat, surely, two-thirds of the way into the plot? Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson were charming, both celebrating innocence in quite different ways, but I have to say I found the deliberately repetitive and low-key movement of Jarmusch’s narrative, following Adam Driver’s bus driver through his fairly boring daily routine, pretty, well, boring, and, as for the poems he writes en route (the work, apparently, of Ron Padgett), all I can say is don’t give up the day job too soon. The new Dardenne Brothers film, The Unknown Girl, is ponderous and pretty unbelievable; the latest Woody Allen, Café Society, a strong contender for the worst of his career – until the next one comes along, that is.

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Two films stood out most strongly for me, both, in differing ways and different contexts, taking as their subject girls and women suffering from and struggling to overcome male domination, violence and abuse. Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang centres around a family of five girls growing up amidst the claustrophobia and abuse of a rural Turkish family; Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents takes place immediately after WW2, in and around a Catholic convent in Warsaw in which some of the nuns are pregnant as a result of rape by Russian soldiers. Sympathetically directed and convincingly acted, both films are moving, deeply disturbing, and, against the odds, ultimately uplifting.

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I’ll also confess to liking David O. Russell’s Joy a whole lot more than perhaps I should, but any movie that can have me so desperately wanting someone to succeed in selling her self-designed mop on the shopping channel must have something going for it. Probably Jennifer Lawrence.

Otherwise, the films that have held my attention most strongly have all been documentaries: Marcie Begleiter’s Eva Hesse – probably the best film about an artist I’ve seen – Laura Israel’s Don’t Blink – Robert Frank; Sara Fishko’s The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, and Gianfranco Rosi’s excellent Fire at Sea, contrasting the traditional lives of the families living on the Italian island of Lampedusa with the hopes and desperation of refugees fleeing there from Africa – two different, barely compatible worlds.

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Barry Hines: 1939 – 2016

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Barry Hines

In sad retrospect, I’m pleased that, talking about the Resnick novels at Bromley House Library in Nottingham this Saturday just past, and asked about influences on my work, I mentioned, alongside a small number of other social realist writers, the novelist and dramatist, Barry Hines, who, unbeknown to me, had died the previous day.

A teacher of English and Drama, I’d just moved  on after three years at Heanor-Aldercar Secondary School, in a small, principally mining town in South-East Derbyshire, to take on a similar post in less industrial Hampshire, when Hines’ first novel, A Kestrel for A Knave, was published in 1968. Set in South Yorkshire, the novel, and Ken Loach’s well-known and cherished film adaptation, Kes, released a year later, struck me forcefully their ability to render a world entire unto itself without ever being patronising or over-sentimental, but with hard-truth, understanding and compassion.

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As it happens, we’d watched a DVD of Kes at home only a few weeks before – a first time for our daughter – and despite familiarity on my part, it had still engendered tears (and laughter) and, most of all, anger. Exactly, I think, as Hines – and Loach – would have wanted.

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What I didn’t spell out at Bromley House, but should have, was the importance of Ken Loach’s two-part television drama from 1977, The Price of Coal, written by Barry Hines, to my preliminary research for Darkness, Darkness, the Resnick novel  partly set during the Miners’ Strike, which I’m in the process of dramatising for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives Theatre.

Both Kes and The Price of Coal were produced by Tony Garnett, and there was a time, some few years ago now, when the Resnick novels were optioned for television by Garnett’s production company. We’ll do what we can to get your books to the screen as well as they deserve, Garnett said when we met. It never happened. (It rarely does.) But what if it had … ?

Charlie Resnick’s Beginnings

A week ago now, as part of the Derby Book Festival, I was at Mickleover Library, taking an amble through the beginnings of the Charlie Resnick series, beginning with Lonely Hearts and finishing, as it did last year, with Darkness, Darkness. Along with answering questions as well as I could – and there were a good many – I read from both of those books, starting with Charlie’s first ever appearance, one of the cats sitting on his head as awakes, and ending with his attendance at the funeral of a former miner, both friend and one time foe.

Beginning to end, 1989 to 2014, and, for Charlie, on the surface anyway, not a great deal seemed to have changed. At the end, he’s not so very different to how he began …

He was an overweight man in his early forties, whose narrow eyes were bagged and tired, and who couldn’t find the time to drop his tie off at the cleaners.

… just older.

If only to remind me of those far off days when, as a teacher, I would ask whoever was sitting at the end of a row, to pass along the handouts to their colleagues, I did the same here – the handout at attempt to show the principle influences that went into Resnick’s creation.

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Social Realism to the right, Police Procedurals to the left …

Any questions on a postcard – or the contemporary equivalent.