A Nocturnal Vertigo

noct12017.44: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

This film may not be perfect, and it may not completely reach for what it strives for, but goodness me, I have to salute the ambition behind it, which is a rare enough thing to find in film these days. If anything it is this very ambition that may undermine it- crafted like a work of art as much as a mainstream movie, the film is exquisitely shot and framed but there’s a sterile coldness to much of it -likely deliberate- that distances the viewer from it (although it’s certainly not as emotionally detached as a Christopher Nolan film, say). Just getting through the main title sequence would be too much for some (and what it even adds to the film, or says, is a matter of conjecture).

Suffice to say that this film is no less than a modern-day Vertigo; a romantic, psychological thriller laced with awful sadness, regrets and loneliness that may leave you thinking about it for days. To complain that it doesn’t reach the heights of Vertigo (sic) is of course nonsense- Vertigo is a timeless classic that we may never see the likes of again. At least Nocturnal Animals aims high enough to deserve comparison – a fine compliment as it is.

noct2Nocturnal Animals is structured as a film within a film within a film- a fascinating puzzle to explore and obtain meaning from. In a sterile environment of empty spaces, Amy Adams is Susan, who lives a life of wealth and comfort as an art dealer, with a luxury home, beautiful (if increasingly distant) husband, servants and personal assistants. She seems to have it all- but seems to be realising she lacks fulfillment. A package arrives one morning containing the proof copy of a book written by her ex-husband, Edward, entitled Nocturnal Animals, which is dedicated to her. Having a quiet weekend whilst her husband leaves on business to New York (we soon learn this is a cover for his affair with a mistress), Susan reads the book, and we witness her minds-eye picture of the book as a film within the film. This book/film is a noir-ish pulp potboiler of tragedy and revenge in which she pictures her husband as the protagonist and her younger self as his wife. Bookended throughout all of this are her recollections, triggered by reading the book, of her past relationship with her husband -how they met, their affair and how their marriage painfully (for him) ended,  a timeline which is almost third film in itself. The difficulty in weaving these three timelines so well, so each informs and reveals things about the others, is something that deserves some consideration, and it’s  quite a feat that it works so well and that we always seem aware of ‘when’ things are happening, what is real and what is the book’s fiction. Actually, now that I think about it, that ‘real’ is pretty much subjective in itself, as the reality is Susan’s reality, the past as she sees it, just as the book is how Susan sees that. Revelations slowly unfold until we arrive at a painful finale that is both discomforting, frustrating and yet somehow perfect. There is a revenge in the real-world just as there is in the novel.

Amy Adams. What can I say? Another amazing performance which, like the same years Arrival, deserved but somehow didn’t get a nomination. Perhaps there is some truth to the theory that having two deserving performances actually did her a disservice by spitting her vote?  Nonetheless these two films have raised her to some kind of remarkable level of craft and leave me keenly anticipating any film she appears in.

Special mention to Abel Korzeniowski’s beautiful, soulful score- as major a character in this film as Herrmann’s score is to Vertigo, performing much the same function. It’s a haunting work that is sparse but incredibly powerful. Korzeniowski is some kind of genius at this kind of stuff, whose romantic, haunting and yearning music served similar duties in the excellent Penny Dreadful tv series. It reminds me of John Barry as well as Herrmann. If only this quality of music was the norm and not the exception to film-scoring these days! This is of the quality we used to get in the 1970s, richly emotional, layered scoring. The film would be much lesser without it.



Penny Dreadful Seasons 2 & 3 OST

penny2I’ve been listening to the soundtrack cd of Penny Dreadful‘s second and third seasons, a welcome antidote to all the Christmas songs that have assaulted us over the past few weeks. This 2-disc set only arrived a few days before Christmas, continuing an odd and coincidental tradition of mine of having a soundtrack turn up just before the Holidays (years past, it would be soundtracks like Jerry Goldsmith’s Freud score or the Star Trek TOS soundtrack box-set arriving just before Christmas that would give me cause for celebration).

The Penny Dreadful music, composed by Abel Korzeniowski, is a beautifully moody and atmospheric score. Horrible Gothic sadness, is how I’d describe it- calm and reflective moods and passionate, lovely passages of romantic interludes punctuated by brutal horror. Its a prime example of television music being more sophisticated and richly rewarding than the big-screen scores we get now in cinema. There are absolutely quite extraordinary moments in this score. Even people unfamiliar with the series would get something out of this music; it stands as a work of gothic music seperate from the series that spawned it and is an example of great scores still being written (just not for movies,the majority of the time). Indeed it’s likely my favourite score release of 2016.

I’m so glad this was finally released. The season one disc came out a few years back, but for some reason the second season soundtrack was not released when that season aired, and with the show being abruptly (and undeservedly) canceled after season three, I had doubts we would ever see it. Fortunately on the heels of an Emmy nomination (it didn’t win, alas) Varese Sarabande belatedly released seasons two and three together, which actually works well as a listening experience.

So anyway, it’s hardly seasonal music, but there’s nothing wrong with that when you are driving to work at seven in the morning on cold wintry mornings when all the neighbours are all still in bed on their Hols- this stuff  really gets you in a fine creepy mood for the chores ahead whilst thinking about everyone else enjoying their holiday.

No, I’m not bitter. Ho Ho.