GENTLE APOCALYPSE RECOMMENDS: TEEVEE & FILM

A short list. Tends towards depth in pop form which stills, rather than pop in deep form which moves.

British Teevee

Working-class sex-filthy life-loving Dennis Potter musical-epic. The Singing Detective and Lipstick on your Collar are delight-giving too as is Dennis Potter’s final interview, just before he died.

Can be watched several hundred times. Grown Ups (set in the town and decade that I went to school) is another acutely observed story of people pushed to the edge by the compulsions of others.

The problem with Mike Leigh’s stories is that they never quite resolve, kind of dribble off (like his favourite films - the Tree of Wooden Clogs for example, which amazes with the accuracy of its mood, but doesn’t seem to know why). Anyway, something happens in Leigh’s films, which changes the flavour, but nobody gets very far - not that it matters much when you’re watching Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan in Happy Go Lucky or David Thewlis in Naked.



Bleak House
Late Dickens is a bit of a slog. His best novel is David Copperfield which, despite its preposterous ending, is richest with life. The best film and teevee adaptation of his work though, is this. The director was a prat, but the actors do justice to the extravagantly odd characters. Worth watching for Philip Davis (one of the best actors in the world). Martin Chuzzlewit is good too.

Sense and Sensibility
Another period piece and not teevee, but I’ll put it here. This one is as good as the book. Its almost identical, with gorgeousness.

The Prisoner
Story of number 6, arrested and taken to The Village where number two attempts to persuade, bully and brainwash him into revealing the reason why he ‘resigned’. But number 6 ‘will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.’ 

Starts magnificently, trails off in the middle to finish with the most bizarre two hours in television history.

Chris Morris’ comic assault on the news. Not, as so much satire, assaulting the story of the play, or the players, but the theatre itself. Sample headlines: Exploded Cardinal Preaches Sermon From Fishtank, Sacked Chimney-Sweet Pumps Ex-Boss Full of Mayonnaise and Fist-headed Man Destroys Church. 

Lots of weak moments, but makes The Onion look like a joke.

Help
Superabundant mind-slinging display of kaleidoscopic comic acting from Paul Whitehouse who plays forty odd psychotherapy patients to Chris Langham’s single shrink. Highlights include a screaming buggered lisper, a fruity under-appreciated teevee cook and a magician who can actually do magic. 

Scandinavian Film

Festen (The Celebration)
Interesting to compare Festen, which is a low-fi masterpiece, Gosford Park, not quite as good, but also artistically truthful and ‘I am Love’ which was a pile of shit. All three are about upper class dinner parties, but the first two take responsibility for what it means to be upper class. That’s not to say that artistic truth equals social realism or being punched in the head for two hours by Ken Loach (Raining Stones), Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) or Cristian Munglu (4 months, 3 week and 2 days) counts as satisfaction, because it doesn’t but Festen and Gosford Park do not side step the horror of wealth, or its point in story.

As It Is in Heaven (Så som i himmelen)
A successful international conductor return to his remote Swedish home town where he gets roped in to leading a local choir. Maybe the best film I have ever seen, although I haven’t seen it twice yet, so the first time might have just been how I was feeling at the time.

Another choir story. This one a Norwegian documentary about a male-choir in a down-at-heel fishing village. Lusty raging hymns sung against a range of epic backdrops alternate with sheepish admissions of personal failings. They end up in Russia where they all find new wives.

A Russian captain and Finnish sniper in the second world war end up being cared for by a Lapp woman. None of them speak each other’s languages, have no idea what each other is verbally communicating, yet understand each other perfectly.

The Steam of Life
Documentary. Finnish men sit around in saunas talking about their love-lives. Good bear moment.

The Seventh Seal
Bergman’s films are so dreary and bleak - except this one, which is all about death and existential despair. Not exactly pop though.

Four Shades of Brown (Fyra nyanser av brunt) / You the Living (Du Levande)
These two are mixed up in my mind. Both are kind of hit and miss, but you will enjoy if you can see the humour in third-degree burns and clinical depression and such.

Babette’s Feast (Babettes gæstebud)
When liberal reviewers write that a film is ‘achingly beautiful’ and ‘sensuous’ a wanky montage of fabrics and flesh-tones usually follows. This is an exception. ‘An artist is never poor.’

French Film

Going Places (Les Valseuses)
Although, they don’t get anywhere do they? which leaves a micro-feeling of ‘so what’ around the chops. Still, two hours of freedom fills the sails and makes me want to become an amoral handbag snatcher again.

The Taste of Others (Le Gout Des Autres)
A rare French film that is full of talking, but in which something happens.

Jean de Florette / Manon Des Sources

German Film

Mostly Martha (Bella Martha)
Another good food film. Sniffs at the borders of slick middle European banality, but, watching a cold woman melt you can forget the furniture shop soundtrack.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Story of oldest cave painting in the world. This film goes goes down into bellymind basement, where the external sun can never shine, and makes you want to venerate with paint.

Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)
Hard to believe that angels wear pony tails, and its another sloppy bourgeois montage of arty moments making up a story, but those moments are good and I wish Bruno Ganz was my other uncle.

American Film

Crumb

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Trust
And other early Hal Hartley films, especially Simple Men and Amateur.

Maria: Can you stop watching TV for a moment?
Matthew: No.
Maria: Why?
Matthew: I had a bad day. I had to subvert my principles and kowtow to an idiot. Television makes these daily sacrifices possible. It deadens the inner core of my being.

Good love stories are rare, alas. The Notebook was alright, if you could see through the thunderstorm of vomit. 

Unforgiven
I can act this film in toto, taking all the parts.

Cool Hand Luke

Little Miss Sunshine
Written by Michael Arndt, who also wrote the best film of 2010, Toy Story 3.

Why do writers get about one percent of the credit that directors get when, with the actors, they are responsible for ninety nine percent of the film’s quality? The only thing a director can do is get in the way.

American Beauty
A bit slick, but great moments.

Man on the Moon

Men-men issuing strings of poetic profanities in the service of mammon. Somehow or other we care.

David Mamet, the writer, before he became a flabby pedant, was fairly brilliant. His collection of essays ‘A Whore’s Profession’ is jewelled. Also recommended: Oleanna.

Twelve Angry Men

Harold and Maude

Magnolia
All about coincidences - here are some more (fairly well attested I believe).

Animated Shorts

I go for strong stories and semi-mythic weirdness in my animated shorts rather than ball-and-stick affairs, garish mood-pieces or slack-drawn paeans to grandmothers. For example:

Andreas Hykade

Particularly Ring of Fire and Love and Theft

Das Rad

The Monk and the Fish

Don Hertzfeldt

Particularly Everything Will be Okay and the first four minutes of Meaning of Life.

Night and Day

Best pixar short.

The Big Snit

Kind of horrible, really, but I like the identification of domestic love disharmony with thermonuclear war.

Hello

Pretty cheesy, but talking well to women in corridors is a subject close to my heart.

Others

Last Night
Light Canadian drama about the last day on earth in which a guy walks around talking to people, including David Cronenberg who plays a fellow working at the gas company who has decided to spend his last day alive making sure everyone is warm. 

Tokyo Story
Heavy and slow. Basically a big long Japanese sigh.

Dirty Pretty Things
Another good love story.


The Life of Others
French, actually, but nevermind.

The Prestige
A few blockbusters are watchable. This is good on the male brain, with a funny ending, although Christopher Nolen’s films tend to be soulless, flat, money-loving wanks. I like the idea of good science fiction and super hero films too - but in fact they are rarer than good love stories. The systematic buggering up of Philip K Dick novels upsetting. V for Vendetta was passable, although God knows why they cast Natalie Portman.

Princess Mononoke
Best Miyazaki animation. No goodies or baddies, but decisive sense of good and evil. The former incredibly weird the latter depressingly familiar.

Monsoon Wedding

Nights of Cabiria
No matter what you think of it - keep watching. The end will - provided that you are alive - reduce you to a puddle of joy.

Some honourable mentions:

Source Code (decent recent sci-fi), Youth in Revolt (light coming of age film), Dangerous Liaisons, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors, K-Pax (cheesy and weak, but some nice moments), Stalker (weird slow Russian sci-fi about water - definitely not everyone’s cup of tea - not quite sure its mine), To Live (Kurasawa’s best), 2001, Wall-E, the best (meaning worst) horror film I’ve seen was ‘The Grudge’ (the Japanese original - Ju On) but I would only recommend that if you want an opportunity to practise the evacuation of grotesque images, The  Shining (fun more than creepy - great soundtrack), Aguirre Wrath of God (pointless, but awesomely so), Shoah, Koyaanisqatsi, The Up Series (documentary following lives of ordinary people filmed every seven years since the sixties - first two episodes are best - after that slow descent into mediocre horror), Being There, Amelie, Monty Python, Withnail and I, Network (which gets a bit tiresome), Take Shelter (for an absolutely lovely freak-out scene).

I’m going to write and direct films myself when I grow up, so if you’re an out of work actor or musician or technician or something like that who rings to the site, or perhaps if  you know of any superb Nicaraguan musicals or Azerbaijani comedy splatter with a profound philosophical subtext or such and like, please get in touch also.