Beyond C.I : Aesthetica, Africa and more…

Cinematic Investigations may have appeared a little quiet in the last months of the year, but elsewhere this writer has been toiling for other outlets, viewing a Scottish showcase of African film, Pabst and Brooks, queer documentary and shorts galore.

Striking mine workers on koppie two days before massacre
Miners Shot Down

First up I took in seventeen films at Africa in Motion Film Festival in Edinburgh (24 October – 9 November), where the theme ‘Looking Back, Reaching Forward’ provided the opportunity for screenings of little seen older titles The Blue Eyes of Yonta and Come Back Africa. Post-apartheid South Africa was also a notable focus in three documentaries, which you can read about in my report for Sight & Sound, here.


Within the same month, I also visited York for Aesthetica Short Film Festival (6 – 9 November), which  showcased the city’s fascinating historical and contemporary venues as well as some outstanding examples of short film. Amongst the eighty-three films I saw, my highlight’s were Sasha Litvintseva’s Alluvion and Sam Firth’s Stay the Same, which you can read about, amongst other fine cinematic works, in my report for Sight & Sound, here.

For CineVue, reviewing G.W. Pabst’s 1929 Diary of a Lost Girl  was a delight, albeit a creepy one, and more satisfying still was the opportunity to view the work of Travis Mathews, perhaps best known for teaming up with James Franco for a reimagining of the lost 40 minutes of footage from William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), titled Interior. Leather Bar. That project aside, it turns out Mathews is a very sensitive filmmaker, determined to bring the lives of gay men to the screen through his ongoing project, In Their Room. 

In Their Room: Berlin

Coming very soon will be my own annual review (avid readers will notice this was absent in 2013!) where I will select my highlights from 2014, including shorts and features, new releases, restorations and retrospectives. In the meantime, you can read my contribution to CineVue’s Top 20, which, tallying contributions from all their writers, reveals the best films receiving a UK premiere this year. Published in two parts, the second will come out on Monday 22 December but first up, you can read about one of my pick’s, Concerning Violence, which gets in at no. 20.


“Pretend you’re in a movie” Spring Breakers in review.

WARNING: SPOILERS. Harmony Korine’s latest cinematic offering following such simultaneously celebrated/reviled recent flicks, Mister Lonely (2007) and Trash Humpers (2009) has provoked some predictable tirade’s from journalists seemingly interpreting Spring Breakers based purely on the amount of flesh it displays. What’s interesting about that point of view is that it judges the characters where the film itself does not. spring_breakers1

Centering on the hedonistic activities of four female college student’s, who – having pooled their resources and come short – rob a chicken restaurant and head to Florida to join the ‘Spring Break’ party – Korine’s film is a lurid, day-glo, noisy affair, making much of the post-Disney rebellious personas of his stars, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. The opening scenes present either a hell or heaven on earth – depending on your perspective – all naked bodies and beer-swilling guys accompanied by the dub-step/trance onslaught of Skrillex. Indeed Gomez’ character is a Christian (her name is Faith) seen at church group before joining her colleges pals, but the opportunity presented by readily available drugs and sexual liberty isn’t what tests her moral integrity. spring-breakers-handcuffed

After being arrested, Faith, Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a self-styled rapper/dealer boastful of all his ‘shit’ – money, weapons, every colour of shorts (Franco and Korine reportedly based Alien on Riff Raff). Where her friends are elated by the freedom this new allegiance brings, Faith is uncomfortable with the expectations she perceives Alien to have in return, and in one of the films more intense scenes, refuses his persuasion tactics, despite how fervently he insists that he just wants to have ‘fun’.

What’s so consistently engaging about Spring Breakers is how Korine maintains a certain distance, and thereby non-judgemental approach to his characters. Candy, Brit, Cotty and Faith seem familiar, in that they behave in a way that we might have come to expect from particular cinematic/pop-cultural ‘types’; and their posing for Alien suggests learnt behaviour based on what they might expect from a ‘gangster’s’ moll, or groupie, even, and this double assumption means that the viewer is ever questioning how seriously to take all this brightly coloured mayhem. spring-breakers-ski-masks

What eventually transpires proves that wry incredulity is perhaps the right approach all along, as the characters actions become more implausible; the final scene a beautifully constructed fantasy of almost arbitrary violence. Before their chicken-shack hold-up, Candy encouraged her cohorts to ‘pretend they’re in a movie’ (one of the film’s less effective moments) in order to get in the frame of mind for ‘armed’ robbery, but a later flashback depicts the episode as raw and disturbing – their manic, graphic, verbal fireworks having the desired – terrifying – affect on their victims. By the end, Candy and Brit enact the kind of overblown computer-game styled killing spree that they perhaps imagined all along.