This blog will contain mild spoilers about Nocturnal Animals.
Yesterday The Observer published a piece of apparent film criticism by not-a-film critic Victoria Coren-Mitchell, deciding to spoil the Tom Ford film Nocturnal Animals because she was so outraged by it. She only recently watched it after it received 9 BAFTA nominations (the film was released in UK cinemas Oct. 14th 2016).
Coren-Mitchell’s main concern is the film’s “gynophobic” depiction of women, from the opening art-show scene to the fictional-within-the-film depiction of the deaths of Laura and India Hastings, who are characters in a book written by real-within-the-film’s Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) and read by Amy Adam’s Susan Morrow.
Her point of view isn’t exactly invalid. As she seems to out-right fail to acknowledge, plenty of other critics have also expressed similar views, only she seemingly didn’t bother to seek them out previously, even though she wishes she’d “read a column with a spoiler in it, because then” she wouldn’t have watched the film.
Personally, I enjoyed the film. I don’t think it’s a feminist masterpiece, but it’s hardly trying to be one (have you seen Tom Ford’s perfume adverts?). Coren-Mitchell compares the opening scene of over-weight women performing at an art show – which we’re supposedly meant to find grotesque – and the beautiful presentation of Laura and India Hastings’ bodies when they’re found – which we’re supposedly meant to find beautiful. I couldn’t disagree more, personally, with her reading of the film. I think the opening sequence is beautiful and confrontational, while the prettily presented bodies of Laura and India are just as grotesque as if they’d been found tastefully covered up or gorily flayed. That’s my reading of the film, and I don’t believe Tom Ford is quite so much the air-headed aesthete that he’s made out to be by Coren-Mitchell here.
For me, Coren-Mitchell’s article is just yet another in a countless line of would-be tastemakers espousing about the perils of ‘some people’ who enjoy ‘this sort of thing’. Coren-Mitchell writes a lengthy, snooty paragraph at this apparently monolithic mass of audience that “is excited by dead, naked women” as though such a thing actually exists. I watch a lot of films which feature dead and naked women, but do they excite me? No. Do I like all those films I watch? No. Was I the sort of person Coren-Mitchell was envisioning when she wrote that paragraph? Probably not.
The most obvious comparison I can make to Coren-Mitchell’s article is James Quandt’s article in ArtForum which coined the phrase of ‘New French Extremity’. While that phrase came to be associated with all manner of gory French films in the 00s and beyond, Quandt’s particular gripe was that his beloved ‘art cinema’ was increasingly making use of tropes found in horror or action films – such as extreme sex and violence. He cites filmmakers like Bruno Dumont and Catherine Breillat, and of course Gaspar Noe, in his argument, wondering why these talented filmmakers needed to resort to such filth. Similarly, Coren-Mitchell is not beyond acknowledging that “everybody involved in this film is talented”, she just wishes she’d “been watching them do something else”. Well, there you have it. You don’t like that you were hood-winked into watching a Southern Gothic thriller in what you thought was going to be an artful domestic drama, when really it can happily be both at the same time because genre is fluid and a film can be many things to many people.
Coren-Mitchell’s argument isn’t exactly helped by her silly comparison of Nocturnal Animals to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which she claims “never got these back-slaps”. Fine – Tobe Hooper’s classic didn’t get 9 BAFTA nominations nor 5-star after 5-star review. But what it did get was a UK premiere at the London Film Festival, where it was hand-picked and presented by three major (and mainstream) film critics, Alexander Walker, Nigel Andrews and Derek Malcolm. Reviews of the film were mixed, not vitriolic, and it was the BBFC that fervently objected to the film. Coren-Mitchell seems to be confusing film critics with censors, which likely says a lot about her attitude towards film. If she wanted to provide a more pertinent example, she could have chosen Straw Dogs, which a number of UK film critics (in 1971 at least) really did want censored. But Straw Dogs is likely too respectable a film, by now, to have popped into her mind as a throw-away example in a rant about a film she didn’t like.
Ultimately, it seems Coren-Mitchell’s biggest gripe is with the reviewers and awards-givers who have been heaping praise upon a film that she personally sees and “gynophobic death-porn” (an opinion she’s entitled to). Well, perhaps here the problem then is not that Nocturnal Animals is intrinsically “repulsive,” but maybe that Victoria Coren-Mitchell might want to invest less in the importance of awards shows (I didn’t like Birdman much but I can’t say I felt outraged at its 10 BAFTA nominations), and try taking an interest in a more diverse range of film reviewers other than the white men found in British broadsheets (the only ones she quotes in her article). Maybe then she’d have seen all of the things she wanted months ago, when other people were writing about them, much more eloquently than she’s done now.
Over-hauled the website a little bit. As always, I intend on keeping it better updated this year! We'll see how that goes...!
Wedi diweddaru'r gwefan 'ma rywfaint. Fel yr arfer, rwy'n bwriadau cadw pethau wedi'i diweddaru'n well blwyddyn yma, ond gawn ni weld...!
This year's Wales One World Film Festival has been and gone so I wanted to jot down a few words about it! The festival takes place every year across Wales, including a week with us at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
Most exciting for me was hosting the Q&A session after the screening of Yr Ymadawiad, a brand new Welsh-language film by Gareth Bryn and Ed Talfan. The screening was packed out, and the Q&A went really well, thanks to Gareth and Ed being very entertaining and eloquent speakers!
Overall the festival was really well-attended and people always seemed to leave the cinema happy with what they'd seen. The WOW programming team did a really great job. What's really nice about events like this is seeing the same faces appear day after day. There's a real sense of community about it!
I only saw some of the films the screened, and they were all excellent - the aforementioned Yr Ymadawiad, but also Tharlo, from Tibet, Our Little Sister, from Japan, and Arsenal, Aleksandr Dovzhenko's 1929 anti-war film which featured excellent live musical accompaniment by Bronnt.
Looking forward, as always, to next year's event....!
The BAFTA Awards nominations have just been announced and they seem like an excessively safe set of nominations, though I'm pleased to see Carol and Bridge of Spies tied for the most number of nominations with 9 each. I haven't seen a lot of the films nominated, but I'm sad that Legend didn't get more of a look in with BAFTA, and likewise The Lady in the Van, bar Maggie Smith's deserved nomination as Best Actress.
I think I'm rooting for Carol in the big categories, though I'm surprised to see that Rooney Mara is nominated as Best Supporting Actress, rather than Best Actress. Surely that film was as evenly a two-hander as possible in a film with a single-character title? I'm rooting for Mad Max: Fury Road for pretty much all the technical awards (except for maybe The Revenant for Sound), and I'm disappointed to see BAFTA didn't take a punt on nominating it in any of the big categories. If it's so technically brilliant - with 7 nominations - surely it deserves recognition further up the list too? Particularly for George Miller.
As I say, there are many films nominated that I haven't seen, so I suppose I can't fully comment on the competition just yet but, overall, it seems to be a relatively unsurprising list. I'm rooting for Aberystwyth-lad Taron Egerton in the Rising Star category, of course, though I would not be at all upset to see John Boyega take it, nor even Bel Powley (you can vote HERE)!
The full list of BAFTA nominations is available HERE. The awards are due to take place on Sunday, 14th February (how romantic!).
I had an absolute treat last night, for my last bit of work before heading home for Xmas tomorrow. We screened the BFI's new re-release of Doctor Zhivago, and to a busy audience to! I know I've seen the film, or certainly parts of it, in the past, but I recalled so little it was as though I was watching the whole thing for the first time.
I'm so pleased I had the opportunity to experience it on the big screen! Ours is hardly the biggest cinema screen in the world but even so the vistas were spectacular. I really enjoyed the film, and I'm glad to tick it off my 'why haven't I watched this yet' list. I've enjoyed a lot of David Lead films when I was younger (I'd often watch them when they screened on TV at Xmas time!), but somehow missed out Zhivago.
One of the most interesting things about the screening was watching people react to the four-and-a-half minute overture that opens the film...it really throws people! It got me thinking about re-releases, too, as in this particular version the BFI logo played first, followed by the overture, then the MGM (the film's original distributor) logo, then the opening titles. Would people have reacted differently without that first logo? Would we have exhibited it differently (house lights still on a bit, rather than full down)? The film also included and intermission, and while I intended on keeping the house lights down for the 30-second or so 'intermission' card, the audience clearly really needed the intermission as many of them were up on their feet as soon as that card appeared, so up the lights went with them!
I spoke with one lady after the film who hadn't really enjoyed it, finding it too over-blown, but I must say I found myself quite engrossed in the melodrama of it all. Given that the film's release formed part of the BFI's Love season, I was expecting a bit more schmaltz from the film, so I was pleased that actually, although overall melodramatic, the romance played out in quite an under-stated way.