The Abyss: The Deluxe Edition OST

abyss de ostIts funny how spoilt we have been over the past few years by soundtracks  being released in expanded/complete form. Some are more deserving than others of course, and I often give news of a release a curious double-take wondering why bother, as I guess the definition of ‘great’ is wholly subjective- we all have our funny preferences/favourites. For myself, I always liked both the movie and soundtrack for THE ABYSS, but never thought it was a score that would ever get an expanded release. It was widely considered a good score, but I doubted anyone would think it deserving of the deluxe treatment. Well, how wrong I was, and here it is, the first notable soundtrack release of 2014 (for me anyway)-Varese’s rather literally-out-of-the-blue THE ABYSS: THE DELUXE EDITION.

As might be expected the sound quality is a vast improvement on the original album from 1989, but the real surprise is the music itself and how the restored cues and sequencing elevates the score. The original disc was nearly 50 minutes long, which was quite reasonable for the time and covered most of the highlights of the score, but in complete form (something like 80 mins or more, with addl alternates bringing it to nearly two hours of music in all) it reveals itself as a rather varied and challenging work, mixing moments of ambience and suspense with precise (albeit rather ordinary) action scoring and quite melodious classical pieces. As a whole the entire thing just seems to work better than memories of the film or the earlier release would suggest, and its a more interesting score than I expected. The atmospheric, suspenseful ambient electronic pieces are very effective bookended by the more traditional melodious orchestral cues, and the whole score feels more balanced than on the original album.

Curiously I was struck by similarities with James Horner’s score for BRAINSTORM, particularly the main title (both the music and, in the film, the actual title reveal, are very similar to that of BRAINSTORM). For some reason I don’t recall this ever occurring to me before, but its blatantly obvious here, particularly as the main title here does not segue into the military drum music as it did on the original album.   Wouldn’t surprise me if Cameron hadn’t temp-tracked the film with some of Horner’s BRAINSTORM score as there are a few other moments in the score that are very similar (interestingly, Cameron had worked with Horner previously on ALIENS and perhaps Cameron originally intended to hire Horner for THE ABYSS?).

abyss original
The original, now utterly redundant, 1989 album.

Likewise there are some illuminating alternates that reveal a warmer, more emotional/traditional score that director James Cameron apparently rejected. The alternate version of  The Only Way coupled with Lindsey Dies indicates greater use of the film’s love theme which were dropped in favour of a perhaps more radical, ambient approach.  Both pieces are very effective and while its debatable which approach was best for the film (I prefer Cameron’s final version, but I can see how some would prefer the warmer approach Silvestri originally intended), its a fascinating glimpse at how differing pieces of music can effect a scene. I love this kind of thing, hearing how the composer originally saw a scene and what music he thought functioned better, before the director or producer gets involved as the film is being cut together.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent regards Alan Silvestri’s scores in general (although he certainly has his followers), but I really think THE ABYSS is revealed here as one of his finest works. Both the complete score and its many alternates included here reveal an ambitious score and how much effort Silvestri clearly put into it.

Although Silvestri seems to have been rather quiet of late, his work perhaps out of favour in Hollywood, I read recently that he has been signed to write the score for the remake of Carl Sagan’s COSMOS tv series. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been too impressed at the news, but listening to THE ABYSS and its varied score, I think it may turn out to be a bold and interesting development. We shall see.

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Cinema Memories

One of the things I miss about not going to the cinema so much these days is the memories that goes with seeing a great movie. Its not the same when its just putting a disc in a player and ejecting it when the film is over. The actual viewing experience can be the same, or even superior, considering how many morons frequent cinemas these days and how good HD transfers look on a quality screens at home. But I do miss the stuff that surrounds a cinema experience, the memories that stick around. Its not quite the same when it involves the postie delivering a film and you sitting down to watch it on an evening like any other.

For instance, I remember watching COCOON on an autumnal Sunday in town- I enjoyed the film and in particular the James Horner score (I was a big Horner fan back then), but as we walked across town afterwards to catch the bus home, we were fascinated by the silver crescent moon in the sky above us, wintry clouds scudding across it. The moon was such an iconic image in the film and it’s fine poster-art, it seemed like a real-life echo of the movie. As if the film experience was bleeding into reality. It was weird, and something that I always recall when seeing a crescent moon.

One of my strangest moments was with THE ABYSS. I saw it on a Saturday afternoon in high summer, on a glorious sunny day. I’d actually been in town that morning and bought the soundtrack in advance (I used to do daft things like that back then). I remember it being a fine hot day, picked up my friends and drove over to the local multiplex. Now, I really loved THE ABYSS, even its theatrical cut. It was such an authentic experience, the dark dank wetness of the thing, you know? It was like being there, down in the deep cold depths. How bewildering it seemed, then, walking back out to the car-park afterwards, out into the  bright, warm sunshine. It was like some kind of shock, a bewildering return to reality. I remember how disconcerting it seemed at the time. When I went to watch film again the next week, I went on an evening, and it seemed less alarming walking out into a cool dark night, it just felt right.

And of course there was BLADE RUNNER, with the feeling that I had somehow truly been to 2019 (how distant that date seemed back in 1982!). It remains my most intense cinema experience. I was walking around for days, weeks, months looking at the world with new eyes, seeing the slivers of Ridley’s future world in my reality, something that has carried on to this day. We are living in so much of that 2019 now. But back in that September early evening the world of 1982 was the one that didn’t feel real, I felt I’d left the real world behind in that ABC cinema. Maybe all these intervening years have been a slow return to that reality. We’ll never really quite get there, alas (flying cars!).

And then there’s the emotional ‘buzz’ that follows a great movie- I remember walking out of SUPERMAN 2 with John William’s fanfare ringing in my ears feeling like I could fly. Then coming back down to reality with such a bump. It was, after all, only a movie, the world didn’t have a Superman, and I couldn’t really fly.

Thats the magic of trips to the cinema that generations of filmgoers have experienced, an escape from their own humdrum reality, whether it be GONE WITH THE WIND or BEN HUR or STAR WARS or AVATAR. We’ve all walked out with the films and their ‘realities’  lingering in our heads. You might get something like that watching a film on disc at home, but not so intense a feeling as from the cinema experience. Mind, there’s plenty wrong with the cinema experience too- I much prefer watching films at home these days, but I accept the related memories just aren’t the same now.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition (2012)

tdkrFrank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, alongside Alan Moore’s/Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen, revolutionised American comicbooks in the mid-eighties. Bold, graphic and harrowing, and reflecting the real-life politics of the time, both works ripped apart the conventions that had held back the medium for years and their huge success revitalised the industry.

Curiously, they were both inherently filmic, almost like storyboards for a film.  Both used monologues/voiceovers and other movie techniques to tell their tale, the artwork using many cinematic tools such as consecutive frames ‘pulling-back’ into wide shots/reveals, dialogue sequences cutting to and fro with close-ups and over-the-shoulder views. Its curious though that now, decades later, with the superhero genre in such an ascendency at the cinema, that only one of those two seminal works –Watchmen– has ever been brought to life on the silver-screen, and even then with limited impact and success (though for the record, I loved it, particularly the directors cut- that the same Zack Snyder later wreaked Man of Steel upon us frankly astonishes me, appreciating Watchmen all the more) .

tdkr2But no The Dark Knight Returns. Until now, that is. Well sort of. TDKR here is not a live-action movie but a straight-to-video animated movie version of the graphic novel.

Of course, its easy to say that much of TDKR has been seen onscreen, as much of it was widely pillaged by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, albeit within the constraints of a more realworld scenario. Indeed, whilst watching TDKR it struck me a number of times just how much Nolan’s films really owe to TDKR, to such an extent that uninitiated viewers familiar with that trilogy may wonder what all the fuss was about when watching this. With the next Superman film bearing the title Superman vs Batman, I have to suspect this mining of the original material in the graphic novel is simply set to continue. Which raises the inevitable question, if film-makers insist on returning to Frank Miller’s work and taking this and that, why not just be open about it and adapt the whole thing as it is?

dark_knight_returns1A ‘proper’ live-action TDKR remains a great unrealised dream of a movie. This animated version, hamstrung by both  a necessitated PG-13 rating and a limited budget, is a frustrating experience. On the one hand, so much of it feels authentic, recalling the freshness of the work back when it first came out. It still impresses even in the hindsight of so many years, how bold and revetting the piece is, how it turns upside down so many of the Batman’s conceits that had been parodied over the years.

On the other hand, the limited animation does it few favours and the story still feels truncated even at (in this deluxe version) something like two and a half hours. The whole thing is too complicated, too intense, too multifaceted.  A cinematic treatment should be expanding it, not condensing it, using the graphic novel as a launchpad, investigating its themes and issues  further. A live-action HBO miniseries remains the ideal home for something like this, in just the same way Watchmen really needed similar treatment.

It makes a few mistakes. Most heinous is the decision to drop the first-person narration that runs through the work, putting us into Batman’s ‘head’ for the first time and learning why he does what he does. Having to ‘show’ us the content of these monologues either in action or spoken dialogue rather handicaps the whole thing.

Likewise the PG-13 rating dilutes the impact;  it makes something that should have the cold brutality of a Taxi Driver more akin to what the animation looks like, a kid’s comic. Which, yes, brings me to the animation. Perfectly servicable and at times even quite impressive, I would have preferred something more akin to the edgy, brevity-of-line of the original work in rich computer-graphics than the rather less-inspiring Saturday-morning tv look that this most often approximates (cgi animation doesn’t have to look 3D at all, but even then a look approximating that of Lucasfilm Animation’s Clone Wars series might have been preferable). I don’t care for any of the DC Animation films that have been done, to be honest, and this film betrays its origins (why the small head/huge shoulders ‘look’ that runs through al the character designs?) . Of course, all these creative decisions are all dictated by the budget so obviously inevitable. Within its limitations its not a bad job at all.

tdkr3But if TDKR succeeds at anything, it is simply that it demonstrates, post-Christopher Nolan,  there is still a need for a ‘proper’ TDKR someday in the future, when all the current/recent Batman cinematic treatments eventually wind down. Likely we’ll never get it, and this animated version will be the nearest thing we see. Sadly however, I have to say that when I need to get my Dark Knight Returns ‘fix’ again one day (I re-read the graphic novel every year or so) I’ll most likely return to the book rather than this movie.

Only God Forgives (2013)

ogf1Only God Forgives is either a brooding masterpiece or a pretentious calamity, I’m not sure which- or maybe it’s both.  I recall news from its premier in Cannes of people walking out mid-movie (I don ‘t know if it was true or not but having watched it I can understand it if people did walk). Some reviews from Cannes declared it a masterpiece and others derided it as meaningless nonsense,  so it even split that crowd, which takes some doing . For myself, well, I guess I’m split down the middle with this one after my first viewing- in its defence, it’s certainly the kind of film that demands a revisit in order to really be sure of ‘getting’ it. But whether films really should need that second viewing at all is another matter entirely.

Its a valid argument that Only God Forgives suffers from following on from Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous film, Drive, which also starred Ryan Gosling, if only because Drive proved so popular with a mainstream which Only God Forgives seems hell-bent on now alienating, and its fascinating to compare the two films. Drive was a stylish, powerfully effective thriller that remains one of my favourite films of the last decade. It was an arthouse movie dressed up as a standard Hollywood thriller, oozing style and cinematic magic.  It looked utterly beautiful, sounded beautiful, but beyond that surface gloss had a great story, great acting and some hidden depth.

Indeed in many ways Only God Forgives is an anti-Drive, which was likely a concious decision on Refn’s part (whether that was brave or foolish though is debatable). Even people who didn’t rate Drive would admit to it at least having had a coherent plot, whereas that can’t be necessarily said of Only God Forgives even by its fans. While  Drive had layers of subtext and melancholy, Only God Forgives is drenched in doom and despair, plot and subtext replaced either by enigmatic mystery or awful storytelling (depending on how much slack you’re willing to cut it). It lack’s Drive‘s substance, its character arcs replaced by a rather incoherent series of events that may or may not even be related, for reasons that are never clear, with hardly any sense of purpose or than to infuriate and confuse. It may be a great movie, it may be great art, it may be utter bollocks. I have an inclination to lean towards the latter as I disliked Refn’s earlier film Valhalla Rising for being pretentious bad storytelling but after Drive I’m prepared to cut Refn some slack.

ogf3So, where to begin? Lets look at what at least appears to be happening.  We are in Bangkok. Julian (Gosling) runs a boxing club with his brother Billy, but the club is a front for a drugs operation.  After a drunken night out searching for an under-age prostitute, Billy is found having raped and killed a sixteen year old prostitute, and is then murdered by the girl’s father under the allowance/encouragement of the corrupt police and its mysterious karaoke-singing Captain Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Soon after Julian’s mother (an unrecognisable but scene-stealing Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in Bangkok demanding bloody revenge on all those responsible.

Its easy to understand why that’s how the marketing sold the film (and thus alienated many eventual audiences afterwards). Because that isn’t necessarily what the film is really about.

Consider this alternative view. We are, literally, in Hell. All who dwell here are guilty of terrible crimes and misdeeds, deserving of punishment and/or begging for atonement, lingering in this neon-drenched Bangkok. Julian runs a boxing club with his brother Billy as a front for a drugs operation. We will eventually learn that both suffered from an abusive mother who likely had incestuous affairs with both of them- indeed Julian killed his own father due to his own feelings of jealousy and guilt (Julian in particular is obsessed with this guilt, literally seeing blood on his hands that he cannot wash away). Both boys are in Hell for their past lives and are looking for a way out, Billy taking the first and simplest opportunity. Billy actually states he is ‘going to meet the Devil’ and goes out, a night of violence culminating in the rape and murder of a Thai prostitute, after which he simply waits for the police to turn up, awaiting his punishment. Like Hell’s own footsoldiers, the police dutifully arrive, and the police captain like an Archangel of Death (or the Devil, or even, dare I say it, God Himself) pronounces judgement on Billy who, strangely, does not attempt to escape or fight back, simply allowing the dead girl’s father to beat him to a bloody death. Chang follows this with judgement on the dead girls own father for allowing his daughters to fall into prostitution, before retiring to a nightclub to relax singing at a karaoke (raising the bizarre question,  does God relax from His labours by becoming a karaoke?). Soon after, Julian’s mother Crystal arrives in this Purgatory declaring that the reprehensible, drug-dealing rapist Billy was actually her favourite, demanding bloody revenge on those who took her favoured son away from her whilst demeaning Julian at every opportunity,  particularly in front of Julian’s girlfriend to whom she criticises Julian’s manhood comparing it to Billy’s.  Cheerful movie this decidedly isn’t.

ogf2

So what’s the film really about? What’s actually going on? After just this one viewing I cannot possibly say. Clearly I need to follow up my 2014 Hitlist with ‘A List Of Films I Need To See Again’, and put this at the top of the list. On the plus side, it looks astonishing in HD, and has an utterly mesmerising Cliff Martinez score. But its hard to say whether there’s a really good film here buried under the apparent subtext (ala Mullholland Drive, say)or if its just really bad storytelling. My ‘view’ of what the film may be about might just be my imagination apologising for the films faults, in much the same way my ideas about Gravity’s final third may just be me excusing that film  for the many ‘conveniences’ riddling it.  Sure, Only God Forgives certainly looks gorgeous but so many films do these days, and I particularly dislike films that are all style over content. Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

Sir Run Run Shaw & Blade Runner

ladd_01Indelibly marked in the minds of all Blade Runner fans – indeed, likely burned into their retinas from so many viewings over the years- is the iconic image above from the very opening credits of the movie. ‘The Ladd Company in association with Sir Run Run Shaw...’  God, how many times I’ve watched that. More times than I like to admit these days, anyway.

I woke up this morning to the usual background drone of Radio 4 journalists reciting the news (I much prefer waking to the sound of people talking compared to a beeping alarm or some random music that might linger in my head and bug me all day)- only this morning my attention was immediately taken by hearing the familiar name Sir Run Run Shaw, with the news that he had died. An entertainment mogul with great importance in Asia’s film industry, Shaw had died peacefully at home at the age of 107. A resident of Hong Kong, he founded Shaw Brothers Studios, which produced almost 1,000 films and brought the kung fu genre into the mainstream, his films inspiring Hollywood directors like Quentin Tarantino and Andrew and Lana Wachowski.

I listened with interest to a summation of his career, and bless her heart, the journalist Juliana Liu who presented the short piece found time to mention that Shaw had also co-produced the sci-fi classic Blade Runner.  It was nice for the film to get a mention. In the great scheme of things, and in Shaw’s life and work, the film is likely just a minor footnote, but as its my favourite film and the reason why Shaw’s name registers with me so boldly at six am in the morning, well… I guess my feelings come from the remembering back when the film was a cult movie half-forgotten by the industry and movie-goers. Blade Runner for some years was almost like some secret love shared by certain geeks and movie-goers; its hard to explain now, now that the film is widely perceived as such a big popular classic.

In truth, while his name will naturally forever be linked to Blade Runner and be on the film’s title credits, Shaw’s involvement was mostly just  a financial one. During pre-production of the film, Filmways, one of the film’s early financiers, pulled out of the project, leaving Michael Deeley to round up replacement finance to continue the film. Deeley rounded up three participants, one of whom was Shaw, who invested some $7.5 million for foreign rights to the film.  Likely proved not a bad deal at all, in the long-term at least.

107 though. Good lord that’s a remarkable age. He saw so many changes during his lifetime in cinema alone, never mind world events.  Well then – a thought towards the passing of Sir Run Run Shaw, a man to which we fans owe some debt for there ever being a film called Blade Runner.

 

Cinema Paradiso (1988) Theatrical Cut

cinema1You can so easily get swamped by all the soul-less, money-grabbing amusement park rides masquerading as films these days and forget that there is a real art and magic in cinema. That there are such obscure concepts as plot, acting, characterisation, empathy, meaning… its not all loud explosions, frenetic action, effects-laden spectacle. Thank goodness then for films like Giuseppe Tornatore’s simply beautiful Cinema Paradiso.

I’ve come late to the party on this one. Dating back to 1988, I’ve only now finally watched this, thanks to Arrow Films recent Blu-ray, that features both the theatrical cut and the directors cut which, running nearly an hour longer, I haven’t seen yet.

Cinema Paradiso is a film about life, friendship, the passing of time, the loss of innocence, but mostly its a love story.  Set a just after the Second World War in a small, dead-end Sicilian village, a  little boy, Toto, enraptured by the silver screen dreams of his village cinema, befriends its life-weary projectionist, Alfredo. Toto’s father is missing from the war, and Alfredo has no children. The projectionist becomes a surrogate father to Toto, the two of them sharing a love for the cinema and the films projected there,  a love shared by the whole village that gathers to be swept away from their insular lives of poverty and hopelessness by the silver-screen dreams created worlds away.  The film is a poem for the life-changing joy and universal language of cinema, of cinema that means something.

The film has a perfect cast, a finely-judged screenplay, and a poignant score by the great Ennio Morricone. Anybody who loves movies cannot fail to be touched by this film; its the kind of film you can easily fall in love with, seduced by its laughter, sadness and joy as we watch Toto grow up, and witness what becomes of him and his cinema and all the villagers who flocked to the films. I won’t dwell further on the story; its twists and turns are a discovery every viewer should experience without any fore-knowledge.

I’ve no idea if the longer directors cut actually improves the film- is such a thing even possible? I intend to wait a few weeks before watching that version, I’ll let you know what I think then. For now, I’ll just prefer to recall this wonderful film as it is for awhile longer. In an age becoming increasingly Digital, this film is a potent reminder of a time when films were tangible things, things you could touch. Reels of film, dreams stored in steel cans, film which, thanks to the sorcery of a play of light, could suddenly become alive when projected onto simple screens.

I often wonder if the magic of films has been lost a little simply because they have become so mundane-  after all, films are everywhere now, we are no longer limited to that communal experience of watching a film in a darkened theatre. Now we can own all the films we like, watch them whenever we like, whatever parts of them we like. They have almost become disposable. In many ways film-lovers have never had it so good as we do now, but perhaps there is something to the argument that films have lost part of their magic by becoming so accessible. Cinema Paradiso is a reminder of a not-so distant time when films were something very rare and special, when you would perhaps watch a great film and then only have it replayable in your memory for years, something to be recalled and savoured. I myself remember those pre-VHS days of Christmas movie seasons on the BBC and ITV, looking for old favourites being shown over the Holiday Season, rare opportunities to revisit them like distant old friends arriving for another Christmas. Well, much of that simple magic has gone. Times have changed, eh?

 

Kick-Ass 2 (2013)

ka2We have been swamped by super-hero movies lately. Marvel alone have flooded the market with all manner of super-hero movies with resultant sequels. People don’t need to read comic-books to get their fix any more- a trip to the summer cinema or DVD shop in the Autumn can sate any comic-book fan’s needs. Its no mistake that the continued success of the genre has coincided with ever-more elaborate and fanciful special effects; indeed, one has to wonder is the superhero genre furthering the prevalence and sophistication of cg effects work (God knows individual effects artist pension plans have likely been entirely financed by superhero films alone), or is the cg work (bigger, louder with each outing) itself maintaining the appeal and viability of the genre? I’m still amazed the bubble hasn’t burst yet. How long can it be before audiences grow tired of cities being levelled in cg-cartoons?

The Kick-Ass films (I have never read, and have no knowledge of, the comics/graphic novels the films are based on) have a lineage dating back to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, seminal works that transposed the traditional super-hero archetypes into ‘real-world’ scenarios, stories about ordinary (albeit, lets admit, rather crazy) people dressing up in odd costumes to fight real-life crimes.  Lets face it, Bruce Wayne is a complete nut-job, a mega-rich guy with a deep-seated guilt complex trying to justify/find retribution for the deaths of his parents. Some millionaires would spend lives dedicated to charity and solving societies ills through philanthropy and generosity, whereas he dressed as a bat and beat the shit out of criminals likely themselves victims of their broken society. Was Batman ever the cure or did he only perpetuate the problem?

ka4Not that the Kick-Ass films look into it as deep as that. Kick-Ass, as the title implies, is more concerned with ultra-violence and knowing asides skewing comic-book traditions: the first film’s Big Daddy was an obvious Batman, but his Robin was a little girl that he knowingly took into deadly danger, and the titular Kick-Ass was a jerk, frankly. But the first film was certainly fun, with a fresh, albeit brutal slant on the genre. Sort of like how one might imagine a Tarantino superhero film would look. Or how Mad magazine would spoof a typical modern-day superhero movie.

Inevitably the second film, while offering more of the same, suffers from being, by definition, less ‘new’, losing the shock-factor of the first film. There’s also the feeling that its holding back it’s punches, a result from perhaps trying too hard to broaden its appeal towards the mainstream of the Marvel movies. This is understandable; Dredd was a great movie for fans of the comic but likely too intense for most mainstream audiences. Unfortunately this rather means that Kick-Ass 2 keeps few completely happy- its possibly more palatable than the first for Joe Public but that likely alienates some of the hardcore fans of the original (and the comic). I quite enjoyed Kick-Ass  2 for what it is, but there’s the feeling that it should have stuck to its guns (sic); it just feels a bit lightweight compared to the original, really. Frankly the central bad guy (the original Red Mist now retitled something unrepeatable here) has no sense of threat- in any superhero movie its often the villain who chews up the scenery and brings weight to the movie but here that’s sadly lacking to the detriment of the whole.

That said, it may have been entirely faithful to the comic so I can’t say if its the film’s fault or simply the source material. For all of its faults its still a fun ride and offers plenty of action. The story may not really ‘click’ the way the first did, and the central joke of the uber-violence may not be as funny as it was first time around, but its not bad at all and I’d like to see a third film to finish things off.

As with the first film, it may say ‘Kick-Ass’ on the title but it’s really Hit-Girls movie. Chloe Grace Moretz is as brilliant here as she was in the first, and I’d have preferred it to be just her story alone rather than be more concerned with Kick-Ass and his bunch of misfit heroes.  Moretz dominates every scene she is in and as she rides her bike into the sunset, I was left hoping that a third film goes on to follow her and leaves the other weirdo’s behind.  Just give her a decent villain next time.

ka3

 

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2002)

kubrick boxStanley Kubrick directed just 13 films during his near-fifty year career.

Ridley Scott has directed 21 films.

Steven Spielberg has directed 27 films (not counting his tv-movies).

I’m not sure what the above figures demonstrate. Are Kubrick’s films inherently better than those of Scott or Spielberg because he took so long crafting them? Does simply a fewer number equate to a better quality? Are Scott or Spielberg actually better directors because they get on with the job and produce so many good (some great, some poor, admittedly) films in their career? Would Scott or Spielberg’s films actually be improved if they had spent so long making them as Kubrick did? Is it more professional of them to actually do the work creating so many varied films, was Kubrick less of a professional because he took so long on projects? Or is Kubrick the finer director because he crafted his films meticulously like perfected works of art? Is that body of work more impressive for the high quality of those films than it might have been had he made more films, albeit with some of lesser quality? Was Kubrick the last of his kind working in cinema? Will we ever see his like again? Was Kubrick truly that great, or was he just the critics darlng and his films over-rated?

It figures that my first film of 2014 would turn out to be a documentary. On New Years Eve the 7-movie boxset Stanley Kubrick: Visionalry Filmmaker Collection arrived. I owned quite a few Kubrick film’s on Blu-ray already, but Amazon had a lightning deal on during Christmas week, selling it for £15 which was too tempting to turn down for a copy of Barry Lyndon (unavailable seperately here in the UK) or Lolita, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket. Turns out The Shining is a dfferent cut compared to my other Blu-ray for whatever thats worth, so thats not too bad a deal at all. But anyway, I decided to give the bonus disc (itself originally from the A Clockwork Orange release, I think) a spin first and watch the A Life in Pictures doc. Itself near two hours and thirty minutes long, its a considerable piece of work, and while even at that length it may not be as in-depth and rich as it could have been, or viewers would like, it is a fine overview of Kubrick’s life and work and an excellent addition to this box set.

Watching it I had the distinctly reinforced impression that Kubrick was an enigma, a flawed genius. What made his films so great, their sense of perfection, their finely crafted style (he often shot 30, 40 takes of individual shots, proving something of  nightmare for some actors), was also something that made them curiously flawed (very often there is a coldness, a sense of distance from what is happening, when watching one of his pictures, not helped by an often glacial pace). I have to admit that I admire Kubrick’s films but don’t really love them. But they are endlessly fascinating and reward multiple viewings in a way that few other films do. I have the impression that, over the years, rewatching Kubrick films is like watching them for the first time, you often get something new out of them. There is just something weird about them.

A Life in Pictures is fascinating. I was amazed to discover that, for all his notoriety for preparing his films in huge detail to the nth degree with incredible amounts of research, when on-set he often didn’t seem to have a clue how to shoot the scenes, often letting the actors do their own thing and working out the shots over so many, many takes until he got what he wanted. Wheras, say, Hitchcock also planned his films meticulously, but on-set always had a storyboard at hand or in his head, knowing how he was going to shoot everything. Kubrick oddly seems to have had more in common with someone like, say, Terrence Malick, which I didn’t expect- almost creating everything on-set ad hoc. Curious indeed.  Two immediate questions came to mind; how Kubrick would be able to function today the way the industry works now, were he still alive, and  related to that, what the hell would he have come up with, having access to a toolset such as the cg technology we now have?

Very interesting documentary. And I’ll get to watch Barry Lyndon in HD soon!

The 2014 Hitlist

Here’s a list of films on Blu-ray I have STILL to watch that escaped through the net during 2013, which will HAVE to be watched during 2014- it may take awhile for some of them but mark my words, they WILL be watched and (hopefully) reviewed:

1) Betty Blue (there’s two versions on the Blu-ray, theatrical and director’s cut, if anybody knows which is the best version to watch, let me know!)

2) Cinema Paradiso (again, there’s two versions on the Blu-ray, theatrical and director’s cut, if anybody knows which is the best version to watch, let me know!)

3) Only God Forgives

4) Cleopatra

5) Heaven’s Gate

6) The Maltese Falcon

7) Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Deluxe Edition

8) Harry Potter 8-Film Collection (well, I’ve seen films 1-3 before when they first came out, but I need a refresh after all these years before I tackle the remainder so it’ll be a Harry Potter movie marathon sometime soon)

9) Lolita (possibly the last Kubrick film I have yet to see)

10) Marnie (one of the few Hitchcock’s I have yet to see)

I’m very curious, and also rather guilty,  about many of those. And adding onto the list those films I’ve actually seen before in years past but not yet in HD-

11) Lawrence of Arabia

12) Perfect Blue

13) Barry Lyndon

14) Full Metal Jacket

15) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

16) Big Trouble in Little China

17)Universal Monsters Collection (8 films!)

18) Vertigo

19) 12 Angry Men

20) Brides of Dracula

There’s a few more but I draw the line there; twenty titles with two box-sets amongst them. Plenty to be getting on with, alongside the numerous titles I’ll inevitably pick up as the year progresses. We’ll see how it goes…