Disturbing Movie Scenes #3: In the Bedroom

 

3. In the Bedroom: Bang

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Yes. With a one word description I have made a film called ‘In the Bedroom’ sound even more like a porno than it did before.

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G’night folks! And if you’re driving tonight don’t forget your car!

It might seem strange putting a film like this so close to the top of the list. After all, across this magical couple of weeks I have discussed the likes of drug abuse, graphic close ups of teeth being pulled, real life tragedy, Nazi’s, knowledge of certain death and doom, more Nazi’s…But sometimes certain films get under your skin and stay there and with that we come to In The Bedroom.

Set in a small fishing community, the film begins with the character of Frank dating Natalie, a single Mother with two young sons. Frank is only 20 so his Parents have feelings about him considering throwing the next step in his career away to stay in Maine to be with Natalie. The main feeling haver is Ruth Fowler, his Mother, who disproves of his relationship altogether.

I love the subtle way this is shown in a scene where Natalie asks Ruth if she can do anything to help as the hostess prepares a meal and Ruth asks her if she could help by passing a bowl. That is sitting right next to her. That level of passive aggression, like she is insinuating that this is the only sort of thing Natalie could handle, rings very true and is one of a million reasons why this film feels so grounded in reality.

So many films get this wrong and have characters be obviously bad-mannered while other people in the scene act oblivious. If in real life someone was all ‘Isn’t that right Nancy?’ It’s Natalie’ ‘Whatever’ You’d be aware that person was being hella rude. Have you ever heard anyone say ‘whatever’ about someone’s name outside of a film?

But how many people do you know who throw out little cutting remarks dressed up in pleasantries, and you KNOW it was a dig but you know if you repeated it to anyone they in all probability wouldn’t hear the problem?

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‘Get this: Bitch asked me to pass her a bowl!…It sucked…cause…I hate passing bowls…Shut up it was hurtful ok?’

Frank’s Father Matt is a bit more understanding of the couple but still has his reservations about Frank giving up on his education. He tells Ruth they have to let the relationship run its course and not interfere.

I like films that explore the theme of family, the complexity of these intimate connections and the roles they play throughout our lives. The major downside to such films is they have to walk a very difficult tightrope and not turn into a play. Theatrical timing and long speeches about nature vs nurture and the like rarely does well when depicted on the screen without respite. I watched the movie Carnage a couple of years back and was shocked by the way the 4 characters just kept returning to the same location with very little justification other than clearly this is how it was done on the stage. The pacing and the dialogue was that of a play making the whole thing seem very unnatural and it took me out of the viewing and made me hyper aware I was watching some stagey shit.

In the Bedroom, not based off a play but a short story, manages to avoid that particular lobster trap by showing more than telling, allowing the tension between the characters to build naturally and casting the right people to portray the more heightened emotions with just a look.

Oh man, is the casting sublime in this film. Out of the 4 leads, 3 of them got nominated for oscars and it is easy to see why. Marisa Tomei as Natalie is a fantastic two fingers up at the people who acted all outraged when she won an Oscar for her awesome work on ‘My Cousin Vinny.’ Also, off topic I know, If one of her fellow nominees did a more enjoyable scene than the bit in that movie where she talks about the deer hunting, then I will personally go to Tomei’s house and take the Oscar back myself, but I doubt it.

Then there is Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek who are so fucking good in this film that it is a reason all by itself to watch it. If the rest of the film was just clowns juggling dead mice while whistling ‘I know a song that will get on your nerves,’ In the Bedroom would still work as long as those two were right there nailing every moment-Watching them play off each other is like listening to a sublime, otherworldly violinist-the emotions are right there in the work: Beautiful, delicate and exhausting.

The buzz about their performances was the reason I bought the film. The critics raved and even though the film won none of the 5 Oscars it was nominated for people obviously went to see it as it made a huge profit and I believe is still one of the highest grossing films from Sundance and is the highest grossing film to not crack the top 10 in any given week. An odd honour, certainly but still amazing when you think about it. I can only assume people thought it would have a lot of sex in it.

I swear that’s not why I bought it. I was promised some nice acting and a gripping story. Super. That’s was all I needed to know. Nothing could have prepared me for how I felt next…Actually that’s hyperbole. I expect if someone had said: ‘You are going to find this emotional as fuck’ I would have accepted that as adequate preparation. Nevertheless if you don’t want to know a key plot point that sets in motion many of the major moments in the film, look away now:

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So one person in this story I have not mentioned yet is Natalie’s Ex Husband Richard who is not happy about the Mother of his kids dating Frank either. Maybe he and Ruth could be friends…Anyways, it is clear he is and was abusive to Natalie. Frank tries to be reasonable with him and it doesn’t go well.

There is only so many ways I can say that the film feels real and is believable. But my God, this scene…The moment where Natalie and Frank believe Richard has gone only for him to return banging on the door was like torture to my senses: I knew this was bad. And so do they. Frank tells Natalie to keep the kids upstairs while he talks to Richard who comes in without an invitation or anything. We leave the guys downstairs and the director (the marvellous Todd Field) follows a deeply shaken Natalie who tries to insist that her kids read a story even as the shouting below grows louder…

Natalie heads downstairs and we hear a gun shot. She jumps. I jump. She screams. Oh dear. Frank has been shot…Then the camera does something unexpected…

You know I’m struggling to type it. The moment was so unpleasant, so shocking to me, that I had to pause (on a different frame obviously) and leave the room and shake it off. I must have walked around my purple flat 4 times before I could go back and finish the film, my breath all dodgy from the shock.

 

 

The camera zooms in on what Natalie is looking at and we are treated to a close up of Frank’s face. After it’s had a bullet in it. It’s made worse by the fact that the camera refuses to dwell on it. It moves away quickly, making you wonder if you imagined it was as horrible as all that. Did I really see an eyeball blown from his socket? For a long time I wasn’t sure. I was so unsettled by it I didn’t watch it again until just now. It wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered but it still upsets me.

And then there is the way Richard just slowly walks away and sits down quietly at the table, possibly processing the action he has taken to correct what he views as a humiliation, an injustice. I have just realised how this comes back later in the film. God this film is actually quite good.

The next scene starts with Matt (who is a Doctor) looking at an X Ray of someone’s head and for a pathetic second you might think Frank somehow survived and just has to wear an eye patch like an old timey pirate…Only of course that isn’t the case.

Now we have the grieving portion of the film that demonstrates so successfully why a loss like this can be so catastrophic for a family-Ruth and Matt don’t know how to be, don’t know how to talk and there are so many great moments…In a moment of quiet after Franks’ funeral Matt (or should I say Wilkinson) does one of my favourite movie cries, Ruth slaps Natalie in what was, according to Spacek, real contact with Tomei’s face, and the couple finally let it all out in what is one of the most intense and brutal fights I have ever seen, with the kind of dialogue that could only be spoken between a married couple who know each other so well. It is relentless and truly wonderful acting.

Richard is charged with manslaughter only, as his lawyer claims he acted in self defence and Natalie’s nervous testimony fails to convince. Ruth sees him while shopping and later reports to Matt that he sneered at her. I have read a few interpretations of this where people have decided that Ruth is manipulating Matt into action via lies but I always feel that Ruth sees what she expects to see from the man who took her son from her. The fact that Richard looks ashamed to see Ruth and doesn’t acknowledged her at all, may well have been lost on her in the anguish of the moment. But that is another reason why In the Bedroom works-The audience can make their own mind up about the characters.

I am not sure how I feel about where all this leads. The film doesn’t offer much by way of closure and you are left with the feeling that while Ruth and Matt may be able to save their marriage they might never be able to find peace in a world without their son.

In a devastating piece of work, exploring grief through the eyes of middle aged parents, I can honestly say Frank’s fate resonated with me deeper still. There are those out there who use violence and pain to control people with the same casualness that I use a knife and fork to eat a steak. I can’t understand them and they frighten me. People who survive domestic abuse of any kind never come out unscathed and it is often when the relationship is over that the nightmare begins. In the harrowing moment where the camera lingers on the mutilated face of a 20 year old who a minute ago was walking around trying to be brave, I was reminded of all that can be lost when you try and stand up for yourself and for those you love. It’s not always worth it. But you often don’t know that till after it is too late.

This is not the place for any deep final thoughts on why this leaves me feeling so vulnerable and afraid. My personal experiences have come out to play more than once in this set of posts and will again before it is over. But not here. Some things are not for the eyes of others. Some things have to stay behind closed doors because they can’t really be processed in front of an eager crowd. But they happen. That person you know? You know the one? Yeah that person…wearing a mask. Each and every time you see them. Underneath, their face might not even be whole and you would never guess it.

It’s just a film. But for a long time I couldn’t get the image of Frank’s broken body out of my heart.

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Tomorrow Morning…A man has a heart to heart chat with his son #2

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Disturbing Movie Scenes #4: Dancer in the Dark

4. Dancer in the Dark: Not the Last Song

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Why do I do this to myself? What was I thinking the day I said: ‘You know what? I could go outside and talk to people and smell the roses and see the Great Wall of China but I’d rather rent the Lars Von Trier musical with Bjork in it. No way that can go wrong! Nopety nope!’

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IT WENT SO WRONG!

So what happens when you take Von Trier, an avant garde film maker most closely associated with the Dogme 95 movement (In a nutshell: handheld camera, no technical trickery…I recommend Festen) whose work is not exactly known for being mainstream and Icelandic singer song writer Bjork whose work is not exactly known for being mainstream and combine them? One fuck of an awkward film set apparently. Von Trier isn’t exactly know for being kind to actors and this was Bjork’s acting debut.

Keep in mind this is what happens when you simply welcome Bjork to Bangkok:

So it might not surprise you to learn that she began each day on set telling the Director she hated him and spitting at him. Apparently this was as part of her morning routine as brushing her teeth. Which I presume she does with a snowflake wrapped around a wish because she is fucking Bjork:

She is grateful grapefruit. That is all.

She also abandoned the set for several days leading to the film nearly shutting down, what with her being the main character and all. But then she came back. Phew, I guess? Von Trier has said he had planned to give himself a cameo in the film in a scene where a guy chastises Bjork’s character in the cinema. But he was so afraid his hatred towards his leading lady would end in blood if he tried to play the scene that he cast someone to do it in his place.

So how much fun was this for everyone else? Cabaret legend Joel Grey had a small role and in a recent interview claimed the only reason he decided to do the film was to meet the great French actress Catherine Deneuve and he couldn’t give a flying fuck about Bjork or Von Trier. He was also baffled when he recorded his song in a tiny hotel room bathroom with no second take. That’s dogme for you. Deneuve herself reported the process of making the movie was unpleasant because of the terrible two and I get the impression she doesn’t send out Christmas cards to them despite being happy with the end result.

To be honest Dancer in the Dark is more famous for all this bullshit behind the scenes than for the film itself. There might be a reason for that. The plot revolves around a woman named Selma who is going blind and scrimping and saving to pay for corrective surgery for her son’s vision as he has the same degenerative condition. However she is fired from her factory job and robbed by a police officer she considered a friend. Even after he screws her over big stylee via lies and theft she agrees to mercy kill him and let his secret debt die with him even as his wife is already reporting Selma for stealing back her own money. So Selma is arrested and stands trial, deliberately withholding evidence so the ‘victim’ is not disgraced and so her Son, Gene, can still use the money to keep his eyesight. Oh and 40 minutes in it becomes a musical. Cause Bjork.

Are you reading that thinking it sounds like bollocks? Yep me too. Strip away the arty farty stuff and the impressive cast and you have what sounds like one of those ‘this week on a very special episode’ things…This was part of a triology of films Von Trier did based around women who are naïve but brave and it is a bit…Ugh. Just writing that made me barf. I hate naïve but brave people. They suck. They are idiots. I don’t fucking care what happens to them…Or so I thought…

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Basically I hate films where characters behave horribly (like the prison guards) and/or stupidly (like Selma) just so we can reach the end game the director has decided on. It always feels forced and often just not that fun to watch. Films don’t have to be realistic, hell there is singing and dancing and the Emcee is there dancing with Bjork for the love of just go with it, but I hate it when I am screaming at the characters to stop acting like knobs and just sort out the misunderstanding via a simple conversation. And sure, it all might have a deeper meaning about American healthcare, xenophobia and the death penalty but none of that stuff is worth the price of the philosophy degree if you don’t want to spend the full running time in this universe.

But the big question is of course: Can Bjork act?

But before all that-Would you like to see/hear the awesome Peter Stormare fail to locate any musical notes successfully in this Oscar nominated song about Selma’s dwindling eyesight? If your answer is ‘Oh God no! What the fuck made you think I was going to say yes to that?’ you will hate this film. Trust me on this one:

Where were we? Ah yes Bjork’s acting. Well despite the useless plot which annoyed me…Oh did I mention she showed up at the Oscars that year dressed as a swan and left eggs on the red carpet?

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Excellent. Oh sorry I got distracted again.

Anyway the verdict is in: Bjork is very, very good. Bjork is great. Bjork is better at acting than you. Bjork does 12 more acting than you. Seriously, I know you think a lot of your acting but Bjork is just…

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Her work in Dancer in the Dark is captivating and it is a shame she hasn’t done more acting. But for the sake of her spit supply, which I assume she keeps in a music box shaped like a lemon, maybe it is for the best. The fantasy sequences where she tries to block out reality and play in the world of the musicals she loves is something I can relate to and it makes my heart ache and there is some really great music to be enjoyed from these scenes.

And then the film came to the end…

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Spoilers ahead…And horror…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So Selma is to be put to death and stands behind her decision to use her recovered money to help her son and not to get a better lawyer. As with Sophie’s Choice I think part of the reason I find this so hard to handle is that it does happen. People get sentenced to death, like, a lot. I’m not going to start talking about why capital punishment is backwards and wrong but y’know…it is. The idea that your death could be decided in such a way is one that frightens me more than I can say.

So Selma is hung. But first she faints to the ground sobbing in fear so is forcibly strapped upwards. I didn’t know they did that. How awful. But of course they have a system…they would need one. Then when the hood is placed on her head she screams that she can’t breathe.

This is what disturbed me most of all. In the last moments of your life, knowing your death was coming, would you complain that you were unable to breath? Yes. Probably. How could you prepare yourself for that moment? How could you accept and understand that there would be no words that could change or stop this? How can people be brave? Selma has made her choice but when it comes to the moment of her death she can’t believe it is really happening to her. Then she screams for her son. By this point I was ready to swap places with her, such was the agony of watching this play out…The intensity was brutal.

This is where all that dogme style stuff kind of works because this scene, despite the asinine plot and the tap dancing earlier, feels very very real. The grainy camera, the lack of fancy shots…It does not feel like you are watching fiction. Bjork’s performance is devastating and the way she is strapped down, the cold, quiet space, the stark contrast between her stricken friends and the hardened professionals who do it by the book, it all feels like a real execution…Until she sings of course but because I don’t think they’d let you do that in the real life…Or maybe they would If it was a good tune:

Selma, having learned that Gene will grow up seeing it all, calms down and sings about this not being the last song-But before she finishes: Wham. Fuck. Over. I’m left with nail marks in my face and pain in my weakened heart. I am not kidding. My face hurt as the credits rolled because I had actually clawed at my own cheeks without realising. Bjork made me bleed. That is something I have in common with a couple of reporters and Von Trier and I assume the pixies that violate her nightmares with threats to evict her from her own brain.

So yes, Bjork even beats Meryl to my prize of ‘most disturbing acting performance in the last 10 minutes of a film ever’ That’s better than the Cannes Film Festival best actress prize right?

I hope she is grapefruit grateful wherever she is.

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Tomorrow…A family drama with a title that sounds like a porno breaks my concentration…#3

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Disturbing Movie Scenes #5: Sophie’s Choice

5. Sophie’s Choice: The Choice

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Oh what are those cheeky Nazi’s up to now? Remember the singing in pick #16? Weeel it is about to get a bit more intense. Oh and spoilers:

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Sophie’s Choice is kind of a notorious weepy, a film adapted pretty faithfully from a novel, that follows a trio of friends/lovers in 1940’s New York. Stingo, played by Peter MacNicol, is a young writer fresh off the bus who falls in with a sexy young couple named Nathan and Sophie. Nathan is temperamental but charismatic so is obviously played by Kevin Kline. And then we have the Polish Catholic beauty Sophie, played unforgettably by the one and only Meryl Streep, who Stingo is attracted to but who is tied to her jealous lover. You’d be forgiven for believing the choice will be which man she will go for based on that description.

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It’s not.

She is intelligent and kind and all that jazz but let’s not beat around the bush: Girlfriend has seen shit. She chats to Stingo about her past and we learn along with him the meaning of the title.

There is a great theme in the movie about how we experience suffering. Both Stingo and Nathan are in their own way bullshitters who struggle with reality. Stingo wants to be a great novelist and believes he has some insight into life by virtue of this wish alone while Nathan, who is mentally ill, is threatened by everyone and always ready to lash out, especially at Sophie. Why is he threatened by her? Perhaps because her pain eclipses his own. He has turned his back on God, life and love while she struggles on and it would seem he feels weak in comparison…He initially seems to be a foothold for Sophie to grab on to but it turns out he was quicksand the whole time.

If any of you were lucky enough to have talked to someone who lived during World War II, you may have noticed that their attitude towards the era is one of ‘well we just had to get on with it’ as though the death of millions was a delayed train. Neither Stingo and Nathan are ‘let’s just get on with it’ people but Sophie is trying…It doesn’t go so well though and after sharing a night of passion with Stingo she returns to Nathan and they commit suicide together. Despite the lull of drugs, drink, sex and an unexpected second chance of life in 1940’s Brooklyn, the past can’t be forgotten, the pain can’t be ignored and nothing was ever the same again.

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We learn that Sophie was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp with her two young children following the death of her Husband and Father. But why, I hear you cry, she is a blonde haired, blue eyed Catholic? Sure, sure but she tried to smuggle food to her sick Mother…So you understand. Their hands were tied.

I am stalling. Can you tell? Well fuck you, I’m not done yet…

Sophie’s Choice wasn’t really a film I enjoyed and I feel it falls under the category of a movie that would not be remembered if it were not for the lead performances (it is essentially a three hander, two of whom were making their film début from the theatre) especially The Streep.

Ah Streep. When I call her one of a kind, I am not kidding. She is a charming, personable, unpretentious individual who holds the distinction of being one of the most decorated actors of all time in terms of shiny prizes. She often makes cheeky references to this in her acceptance speeches, demonstrating she is fully aware of her reputation as someone who gets honoured by various academies every time she dons a wig and a silly accent. She understands your frustration, she gets she is not ALL that. But she is something.

Is the hype supported? Kind of…Yes. Like a lot of actors of her generation who are well known for their tour de force performances in some of the best regarded films of all time, she has become a bit shouty in later years. It is sort of like watching a ballet dancer who can no longer grand jete like she could in her youth so instead clomps heavily around the stage but still somehow sticks the landing, like the moves were beautiful the whole time and we were just looking at them wrong.

I feel like I am patronising the great Streep with faint praise but I think it is just a fact. She eats scenery like a fasting Pacino on opening night but she will still bring the house down. However, the earlier work…There are times when I struggle to watch her as she slides from role to role, waxy and smooth, natural and alien, blank and full of pain, angry and resigned, never quite right but always true. Nobody can touch her and nobody could try.

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Plus she looked like this in Manhattan. This was the first film of hers I saw. I quite wanted to have the sex with her please thank you.

Sophie’s Choice seems like top award bait, what with her speaking Polish and German and there are Nazi’s and crying and sex scenes…Classic oscarbation. But Streep’s work is almost too good for such silliness here. It seems like an insult to offer her nothing more than a shiny trophy for her troubles.

What I am trying to say is…Sophie’s Choice might be a cliché answer for the question ‘what is one of the most disturbing moments you have ever seen in a film?’ but sometimes the clichés are true. Streep is brilliant at the acting. That can’t be disputed after watching the film.

But she is still not the MVP of my nightmares. That honour goes to an actress named Jennifer Lawn. But before I talk about her let’s talk about concentration camps.

I was going to provide you with a picture of a puppy or something to try and help you get through this with me but you know what? Fuck that. Let’s get real. I may not know history very well (do I have to tell you that Battle of Hastings story again?) but I don’t need to sugar coat it. It can’t really be done. It wasn’t that long ago and it really happened. This kind of thing still goes on.

Ok…So have you ever heard of Die Endlösung der Judenfrage? Well it translates into one of the most horrible things I could ever have imagined: The final solution of the Jewish question. I just had to write that with my fingers because it was an actual plan that lead to the deaths of more people than my brain can currently picture. People did that to other people. Did what? Well put European Jewish people in slave labour camps with horrific conditions and carried out mass extermination using gas chambers.

When people arrived from the train to Auschwitz they were divided into two groups. If you were sent to the right you were a labourer. To the left and it was immediate death.

ADN-ZB Das faschistische Konzentrationslager Auschwitz Eine Gruppe Juden aus Ungarn nach der Ankunft in Auschwitz im Sommer 1944.

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Das faschistische Konzentrationslager Auschwitz
Eine Gruppe Juden aus Ungarn nach der Ankunft in Auschwitz im Sommer 1944.

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So in this fictional account of a real event, Sophie is waiting nervously with her kids when she gets the attention of a Nazi. Now I am sure Nazi’s were people too, with their own families and idiosyncrasies that made them human but one look at this guy and you know where this is going:

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It doesn’t mean it can be stopped. Sophie is told only one of her children may live. Just like that. Despite her Catholicism, despite her obvious efforts to please and for seemingly no other reasons besides being a bit evil, the guy tells her that either she picks one or they both die.

So, seemingly in a moment of panic, she asks them to take her Daughter away and keeps hold of her Son.

Jennifer Lawn plays the unfortunate Eva here and it is her screams that wreck me every time I watch this scene. Which isn’t often. But I played it just now to check the link and I cried. Not proper big tears but the kind of crying that starts because of the distress of someone else. Watching her being carried off, screaming for her Mum, still clutching her teddy is one of the most horrifying things I have ever looked at on purpose. I may not be a parent but the sound of those cries had me in the foetal position on my bed for several minutes after the film ended.

But it hasn’t been dreamed up. As with Burnt by the Sun the impact is all the sharper because it comes from a very real place. Little girls with teddy bears were murdered as part of a collective in small rooms fit for this purpose. And what does it mean for the boy and woman left behind? To forgo living and to merely be? Can any art really capture that experience?

How does a person live with that kind of pain afterwards? All over the world there was grief and destruction on so many intricate levels, so much loss with no chance of recovery…

And they all just had to get on with it.

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Tomorrow…an Icelandic singer meets her maker. #4

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Disturbing Movie Scenes #6: Psycho

6. Psycho: The Face That Wouldn’t Harm a Fly

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I’m putting this here because this whole post is a massive spoiler for the 1960 classic Psycho, a word I still can’t spell after writing about 40 times in this post. If you don’t know how it ends…What is it like being 4 years old? Which kind of dirt tastes best? How did you learn to read so quickly?

‘Just go inside’

‘I’m going’

‘You’re not though…’

‘I am…’

‘Oh God this is just like the film I’m losing it…’

This was a conversation I had with myself right after I watched Psycho for the first time at the age of 13. I was trying to return to my room. My house was a bungalow and the walk from the living room to my bedroom was a couple of strides at most. I stood outside my bedroom door, but I couldn’t push it open. It was late. I had stayed up to watch it on TV with my Dad. Now I needed to go to bed because that is what you do when you have done everything you are going to do in a day. Yep. The day was dunzo. So why was I still standing outside my bedroom door?

Deep breath.

I am not sure what I was expecting. I pushed the door open and clawed on the light. A good start. Still couldn’t go in though. Still I argued with myself and picked my nails. What did I think would happen? It was like my feet were stuck. I still remember how it felt to be too afraid to go into my own bedroom. It felt…kind of great. I knew I had discovered something important about myself and how I felt about this film continues to inspire me.

Over the years I subjected several unsuspecting friends to the movie Psycho. They would make fun of the terrible falling down the stairs effect-

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Rightfully so.

-and the old fashioned editing/sound mix/acting style. For a long time me and my friend (the same one who recommended Sleepaway Camp) would begin every conversation with ‘Oh God Mother…Blood…Blood!’

But, 9 times out of 10, the ending would get them too. I remember one friend, who had been sceptical that she would enjoy it seeing as we had already watched The Ring and Red Dragon without becoming terrified, viewed the final moments of the movie from the literal the edge of her seat before shrinking back in and saying quietly: ‘Can you turn the light back on now please?’

The scene in question is NOT the shower scene. It’s not even the scene where Mother is discovered. But before we get to it, let’s talk about the film called Psycho. Or even better let’s let Alfred Hitchcock talk about his new thriller, the biggest risk of his career that had the biggest pay off:

Yes. That is a 6 minute trailer starring the director talking about the plot of his movie while touring the viewer round the set.

Famously Hitchcock worked hard to keep the film flowing as he intended it for audiences going so far as to ban late comers from screenings due to the nature of the twist that by this point it is nearly impossible not to be aware of:

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I wonder if she makes it?

The plot begins with Marion Crane and her decision to steal some money (her underwear goes from white to black-she’s gone bad folks!) and head out to see her man. She does a terrible job of not being suspicious while buying a car and while on the road starts to imagine people reacting to her choices. I love that scene because of Janet Leigh’s great face as she imagines the guy whose money it is accusing her of flirting with him. With the music and the lights and the rain and her intense eyes, it would be easy to imagine she is the psycho of the film’s title.

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But then she pulls up to the Bates Motel. We meet the nervous, unassuming taxidermist Norman. Ok. Call of the search then. We’ve found our guy. He talks about how his best friend is his Mother and how he would never lock her up even though she abuses him. He talks like this to a person who he has just met. It is awkward. So even though the ‘nervous skinny dude with mama issues’ wasn’t a stock villain in the early 60’s it still doesn’t take a massive leap of faith to imagine Norman is going to murder Marion. Hell when the detective shows up to investigate Marion’s disappearance, it takes Norman about 40 seconds to make it clear he knows a lot more than he is saying.

Oh yeah did I mention Marion gets murdered? She does. This was unexpected for various reasons at the time but yeah…Not even half way through our lead character gets the stab from what seems to be Mother Bates.

An hour or so and another body later, Marion’s Sister and Boyfriend learn the truth: Norman wasn’t simply covering up for his Mother. He was dressing as her and performing the murders AS her. Norman is overwhelmed after the well preserved body of Mrs Bates is discovered in the cellar.

We get a rambling, much maligned scene where a psychiatrist explains to us the film we just watched and the fact that the ‘mother side’ of Norman, the more dominant personality, has now taken over completely.

And then it comes. Alone in a bare room, we hear Norman/Mother’s inner monologue. And Anthony Perkins gives one of the best performances I have ever seen using just his face.

You see, casting is important. Psycho was remade shot for shot in 1998 by Gus Van Sant in a move that still baffles people to this day. To my memory of watching it, the only changes that were made, and I mean the ONLY changes, besides it being filmed in colour, are when Norman is spying on Marion he is clearly masturbating (like his name!) instead of it only being implied and when the Detective is falling down the stairs a bunch of random imagery appears on screen. The 1998 version is bizarrely terrible for a number of reasons. But it is a fascinating experiment that demonstrates the fact that you can’t recapture what makes a film work simply by copying it. Vince Vaugn, an actor who permanently looks like he is about to fall asleep due to eating too many chicken wings in front of the Super Bowl, is no Anthony Perkins.

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‘Being a killer makes me sleepy and bored…’

Enough of that. Back to the original.

So Mother Bates discusses the fine mess Norman has got them into and declares that she will sit quietly to demonstrate how err, nice she is, and won’t even swot the fly that has landed on…

The smile. There is no other facial expression that has both haunted and fascinated me through most of my life like the one Anthony Perkins gives at the end of this scene…

It fades into Mother’s skull (pause to see) and then cuts to Marion’s car being pulled out of the swamp. It is a triumphant, terrifying ending and I adore it even as I shiver at the sight of pure madness grinning about how sane they must look to an outsider.

I am not going to get into the depiction of psychosis/MPD/schizophrenia. All I know is the look Perkins gave the camera at the end freaked me out so much I couldn’t bring myself to go to bed after seeing it. I started to imagine what a person would have to go through to learn to smile like that.

By the time I sat down and watched Psycho I was aware that Norman was the killer. I was aware that Marion dies. I knew they find the body of Mrs Bates in the cellar. The only twist left for me was the final moment, the twist being: Dude be crazy. There is no going back for Norman now.

Until the sequel. Yep. That was a thing. With Perkins in it too. What a world.

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Psycho is still a brilliant film. And that face STILL scares me. Looking it up just now made me go into fight or flight mode. Seriously. I actually just heard a noise downstairs…God I hope that was the post because now I have to go shower…

This isn’t a bit. I’m actually quite nervous now.

Oh, 47 minutes. It took 47 minutes for me to go into my bedroom that night.

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Later tonight or tomorrow depending on how work goes…We learn your Mum probably does have a favourite child after all with #5

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Disturbing Movie Scenes #7: The Wicker Man

7. The Wicker Man: Nobody is Coming

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Yes I am going to be talking about the original film. Obviously there is a lot to say about the remake and in all honesty I wouldn’t NOT recommend it. Sure you could watch Citizen Kane or Birth of a Nation or Lawrence of Arabia this weekend, but if you want to bend your mind in a way you never knew it could break, settle yourself down in front of this magnificent train wreck:

Why would shark be his first guess?

Why?

Why?

Someone answer me! I feel so alone!

Anyway…

But let us return now to the 1970’s Wicker Man which is an oddball in its own right. Is it a B movie? A Scottish musical? An X rated horror starring the ever insane Christopher Lee? Why it is all that and more my friends!

This was a hard film to put out there and it has been torn apart and put back together more times than (looks up easy target list) Cher. It tells the story of a police officer named Howie who journeys to a Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Along the way he is disgusted by the openly sexual behaviour of the residents, their disregard for his Christian beliefs and their worship of Pagan Gods hacks him off so much that he leaves a bad Trip Advisor review for their Inn.

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‘Crude and offensive. Would not stay again. Jesus FTW’

Ok, what he actually does is challenge their bullshit in an attempt to uncover the truth about the missing teen. But of course he gets more than he bargained for…

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Pictured: Wacky hijinks.

But let’s not pretend this is a regular movie. Lots of characters in films get more than they bargained for…This film is something else: Christopher Lee sings about kettle sex, hand candles, children happily scream the phrase phallic symbol, Swedish sex symbol Brit Ekland is dubbed in three different ways making her appearance in this film nearly pointless (her speaking voice, singing voice and body are all done by a double. Not the same one neither.) and in the unedited version a pub full of people sing a song in reverence of a young lad losing his virginity. Admit it. You’d love it if while you were getting laid for the first time your whole village was downstairs singing a stunning Celtic ballad about how awesome it is that sex exists.

Mainstream horror often misuses the ‘uptight virgin’ trope within the genre, often forgetting what the point of such a character is. One of these things is not like the other. He is an outsider, an interloper, an alien of sorts, an oddity on an island full of the oddest of balls. It is used to great impact here, such as when Howie is very nearly seduced by Willow, the Landlord’s daughter. You know what they say about her? Don’t worry if you don’t, there are songs about it. In the film. Seriously, it’s a musical. I kinda wish the Nic Cage one had been a musical.

So Willow tries to seduce Howie via song through a wall and it is fantastic to watch. Putting naked gyrating ladies aside (very carefully) it is Howie’s faith being put to the test, that great tug of war between honouring his promises and what he truly wants in that moment. Do most people who deprive themselves of something for spiritual or religious or cultural reasons wish they could indulge in the very thing they despise? Does it contradict those same believes if you desire the forbidden thing as much as if you just gave in? If your thoughts are sinful are you a sinner? If you resist but at great emotional cost is it worth it? In a lesser director this scene could have been forgettable but believe you me it lingers. It is so much more impactful because they never actually touch. The way she bangs on the walls…the look on his face…

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The Wicker Man is an eccentric little gem to say the least. The first time I saw it, no joke, I had the flue. You can only IMAGINE how confused I was. At one point, high on cough syrup, I passed out and when I woke up this was happening:

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Yes. That is Saruman from Lord of the Rings dancing around in a long wig and a dress. I didn’t know how to process it. I still don’t.

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It might seem like a black comedy and in some respects it is. Unlike the Cage remake, a movie which was not in on the joke and seemed to have been made by people who also saw the original while high on cough syrup, The Wicker Man is playing the long game: You can almost forget you are watching a horror. And, if you were distracted by the songs and the pretty colours, the mystery and the silly accents, the naked ladies and the Christopher Lee…The final scene hits you like a ton of bricks.

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(Spoilers)
 

 

 

 

 

So it turns out the missing girl was just a red herring and she is neither dead nor the intended sacrifice. I am sure they could have just knocked Howie out when he arrived instead of the whole ‘what missing girl?’ shtick but then who would Willow shake her arse at? So who is the intented victim? Well…They need a King of Fools who upholds the law and who hasn’t had sex…I will give you one guess who they pick-

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This is still a fresh joke right? What year is it? How old was that bottle of cough syrup?

Oh the dread that ran through me as I watched them prepare Howie to be their virgin sacrifice. I knew something terrible was coming but was as ill prepared for the moment in question as Howie himself. He is dragged over the hill and sees what is to become of him. It’s…not good guys.

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As was inevitable, there is something of a theme emerging from this list where people are helpless and overwhelmed by powerful people who believe that what they are doing is the right thing. I remember when I first watched this I hated watching the way Howie is shut in the wicker man and is unable to fight back. The sight of someone being carried against their will or shut away always gives me the heebie jeebies. But of course, my heebies got way jeepier as the island gang together for one last song, setting fire to the wicker man with Howie inside in order to get better apple crops.

After all these years can you call this a twist? How many of you reading have heard of the film and knew this was the ending without having seen it? Hell the front cover of the poster ruins it a bit. I think the sight of the wicker man is much more effective if you see it for the first time as the unfortunate Sargent does. But the impact of the view FROM the wicker man himself has not dulled over time for me.

Another theme of this list, I struggle watching moments where someone tries to be brave before realising they are doomed. Howie tries to drown out the singing (which frankly he must be sick of by now, these guys never fucking stop) with some hymns and prayers but as the heat intensifies and no help appears on the horizon he begins to scream out damnation in pure terror. It is a great (if hammy) number by Edward Woodward. I really believe the intensity of his suffering and frankly I can hardly stand to witness his demise even now.

(My disturbing moment begins at 4.30)

The first time I watched this, I honestly believed he would be rescued. Watching the wicker man melt into a gooey heap and realising that Howie was part of it, made me feel…I don’t have a word. Horrified? Sick? I was scared. Really scared. Considering this is the same film where naked ladies leap through fire to increase fertility this film really did a number on my psyche.

Watching many years later, I am still a bit shaken up but I can stand to look at it. Quite an achievement. It strikes me now that the way camera cuts back and forth between the swaying islanders and the praying Howie suggests a deliberate parallel. After all, whose believe is more deluded, ill conceived and hurtful to the world at large-The man who hopes for eternal paradise in exchange for his good life and horrific death? Or the devout community who wish for a better harvest?

Oh come on guys I am fucking with you, it is them, the crazy ones, they burned him for fucks sake! Burned him alive!

BURNED HIM ALIVE!

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Tomorrow…I hope to do two posts tomorrow to catch up with my schedule a bit. The one I will be looking at first will be the tale of a man and his mother…And my inability to enter my own bedroom for an hour…#6.

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Disturbing Movie Scenes #9 & #8: Goodfellas & Casino

Note: I know, I know I’m behind: But I am going to catch up! You just watch me!

 

9/8. Goodfellas/Casino: Pistol whipped/Cornfields

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Ladies and Gentlemen…Martin Scorsese.

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Hi.

The ranking on this list has taken an unfortunate turn because it seems incongruent to go from condemning the horror of violence to ‘Check out these cool beatings!’ in just a few days. Because let’s not mince words-These scenes are disturbing but I enjoy them. They work within the context of the stories they are telling. However I stand by the ranking of these individual moments. After all fiction often has more long term impact than real life pain simply because we need that detachment from the happenings on screen to really process what our subconscious is trying to sort out. The despicable realities of the evening news is not what really makes me tick creatively.

So we are back to fictional violence and of course, goes without saying really, I can appreciate beautifully choreographed cinematic beatings without wanting to grab a weapon and join in or suggest anyone should. The previous post was about cinematic recreations of senseless death and the horror of a real life tragedy. This? This is just about two scenes that made me go: ‘Oooh-that’s gotta hurt!’ in a terrible Brooklyn accent. Both Goodfellas and Casino stem from real life events but dramatic license has been heavily applied along with the use of the Animals version of House of the Rising Sun and a voice over that is halted by a surprise attack so I reserve the right to treat the material as entertainment more than a biographical account of true horror.

With that half hearted explanation out of the way let us look at Scorsese. Dude is a master story teller who has a way of presenting his subject matter free from judgement-He doesn’t tell you how to feel about them, what it is is just what it is. Goodfellas and Casino are kind of two sides of the same coin so it seemed appropriate to put them together. They both explore the world of the American gangster, just in different eras and settings. Goodfellas follows Henry Hill from the 1950’s to the 80’s as he works his way up the crime chain in New York while Casino charts the rise and fall of Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein as he runs a top casino in Vegas in the 70’s on behalf of Chicago gangsters.

Both films follow a format: the beginning, the golden years, things start to go bad, things go really bad, things go really and truly actually tits up, the lead character ends up sort of not quite learning a lesson as he falls from the top with a thump. Along the way a story unfolds, using music, multiple character narration, attention to real life detail coupled with a wonderful disregard for continuity, more music, memorable dialogue, beautiful editing, some more music, time cuts, slow motion, freeze frame, panning shots, wonderful acting…and of course-lots and lots of violence. To an awesome soundtrack.

To be honest, I feel like the likes of the Saw movies and Wolf Creek have their place in cinema but the reason I am not a fan of stuff like Hostel is they seem to make the violence the condition when it should be a symptom. Fuck me that was a pretentious thought from a film where a guy tries to walk with his tendons cut. The sub genre of torture porn hasn’t ruined the usage of physical pain in films but it drags the art down a bit. If there is going to be blood, agony and terrible imagery splattering all over the screen it should know what it is trying to do and say.

If you think I’m being OTT you don’t realise how hard making a film is. It is a long frustrating process and whatever makes it to the final cut should be there for a damn good reason. Superfluous gore isn’t story telling. It is shlock. Scorsese may not be perfect but he is no hack: If shit goes down in his films, you really feel it. It has purpose, it has gravity, it has Joe Motherfucking Pesci.

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Don’t move…He can’t see us if we don’t move…

Have you ever wished a three hour film was longer? God, I love these movies. To me, Goodfellas is the out and out leader of the gangster movie pack despite the love the Godfather movies have and the baffling fact there have been a lot of ‘Goodfellas VS Casino’ articles over the years. One is distinctly sloppier than the other (take the attempted murder that opens Casino: The change from actor to dummy is painfully clear…How did that even happen?) and just by virtue of coming out first when they are both so similar stylistically, Goodfellas feels fresher and more exciting.

I will never forget my first viewing of Goodfellas. It was a late night showing on channel 4 when I was about 15. I was alone in the house and it was a Friday night. I was very, very popular at school so all my friends had given me the night off so I could relax with a movie. I remember that even when the adverts came on I couldn’t move. I was so scared I was going to miss something. I couldn’t even sleep that night. Goodfellas and Scorsese had moved me in a way I had not expected. I was thrilled. Utterly thrilled. It is one of a handful of works of art that have made me feel lucky just to have seen it. I remember when Scorsese finally won an Oscar for directing, I stayed up late to ensure justice was done.

There are so many memorable moments in Goodfellas it seem wrong to only talk about one, short, brutally violent scene. But here we are. I don’t have too much to say about it either: It may be at the upper end of the list but there is no complicated reason-It just stuck with me is all.

Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill has a new girlfriend named Karen who is assaulted by her neighbour and long term admirer and Henry is not impressed. He gets out a gun-I thought I knew where the scene was going. He was going to scare him. With a gun. And be all like ‘I will shoot you if you don’t leave Karen alone.’ Or maybe even just shoot him. Then Henry walks up to him…that walk though…You just know SOMETHING is going down:

Every strike of the gun makes me wince even now…You really feel the pain in that beating. Of all the infamous moments of criminality in this film, you might be surprised I picked this one. But really, can you honestly tell me you don’t get it? There is something animalistic yet contained about Liotta’s work here. His performance is often overlooked due to the admittedly magnificent work of De Niro and Pesci but the dude works every single moment. Here his rage is untouchable. If you saw that guy coming across the street towards you, you would run the other way before you even saw the weapon. Unless you were the kind of knobhead that would try and square up to him. That sound of the gun making contact with the unlucky face of that particular knobhead still makes me go ‘ow’ every time I see it. Which is a lot. Cause Goodfellas is still my favourite film. And if a year goes past and I have not watched it then my soul might escape through my eyes.

Or Joe Pesci will play me his album. Or something.

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I couldn’t not share this photo. Also the album is called ‘Little Joe Sure Can Sing’ You’re welcome.
On to Casino. This one is significantly more unpleasant so if you didn’t like the sight of a man getting a gun smashed in the kisser, you may want to skip the following scene. Also:

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(Spoilers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So the film is wrapping up and many of the characters are being killed off due to the big Bosses being on trial for bad behaviour. The old guys don’t just want to rely on the kindness of long time friends and companions and set to work whacking everyone who might provide evidence against them. All to the tune of the Animals version of ‘House of the Rising Sun.’

As the sequence draws to a close we catch up with Nicky Santora, played by Pesci as he and his crew meet out on the desert to handle some business-Only his narration gets cut off when he is suddenly attacked.

I still struggle to sit through this. You wait through the whole film for Nicky to get his but you wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy. Hell, it is entirely possible that someone like Nicky could be your worst enemy. In a normal film, he would be simply the antagonist and nothing more. But in the world of Scorsese it is never that simple.

He is held up and forced to watch as his friends beat his younger brother to death with aluminium bats before it is his turn. Both brothers are stripped to their undies and dumped in a hole in the desert like many before them. Trouble is, they are still breathing as the burying begins. Again the sound is horrible, the brutality, the graphic bruises on their swollen bodies, the sight of Nicky gasping in dirt but the most uncomfortable thing of all is listening to the usually terrifying Nicky plead for the life of his sibling. Watching Pesci in this scene it is so unpleasant to see him weep for his brother, completely unable to do anything about their fates. It is a grim ending that does not get easier with repeated viewings especially watching him strut around Vegas like he owns it, knowing where it is all headed.

Hell it needs to be a brutal scene to be more disturbing than the bit where he and Sharon Stone make out.

 

 

Allow me to speak for us all: Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

 

The only silver lining on these silver bats is the fact that the actor Frank Vincent is the one doing the swinging. Eagle eyed viewers (or frequenters of IMDB) will know that Frank gets beaten up not once but twice by Pesci in Scorsese films and it is quite nice to watch him finally take cinematic revenge in Casino. Kind of like watching a little kid who sucks at baseball finally hit a home run…By smashing one of the other kids to death.

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A happy ending.

So is horrific aggression in films justified if it even leads one person to hurt another in order to replicate what they see on screen? There is that old saying about whether we want to live in a world with or without pyramids…They came about because of unthinkable abuse to people deemed slaves by the more powerful and people died so we could pose next to them on our gap years. But they are also beautiful and inspire awe in even the most cynical of people. So what is the solution to the conundrum that many of the best things in life come from human suffering?

Well I could live without pyramids. But I will not live in a world without the films of Martin Scorsese.

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Tomorrow…A Policeman waits for God to provide and keeps on waiting…#7

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Disturbing Movie Scenes #11 & #10: Bowling for Columbine & Elephant

11/10. Bowling for Columbine/Elephant: ‘Have Fun’

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How do I keep getting myself into a spot where I have to talk about such sensitive subjects? Why couldn’t I just have claimed my most disturbing scene in film history was, I don’t know, that bit in Charlies Angels where Cameron Diaz dances in her underwear?

But here we are. School shootings. Oh boy. Who’d have thought at the time of the Columbine Massacre that 16 years later there would have been a further 31 school shootings in America? Hell, as I am writing this the news reports there has been a shooting at an American University. A blog post where I talk about pop music and Disney does not seem like the most appropriate place to express my sadness that this is the case but since I am here: Nobody should have to die like that. Nobody should think it is ok to kill like that. The terrible things humans are capable of doing to each other is the hardest thing about being alive.

Obviously a lot has been said about gun control in America and about how the news pursues and portrays these tragedies. Back in the early 00’s, one of the loudest voices opposing the ease in which people can buy guns in the US was documentary maker Michael Moore. His film, Bowling for Columbine, made quite the noise when it was released. He is one of the most divisive film makers I can think of, incurring the wrath of Republicans to the point that many of them would write books and make films designed to besmirch his reputation.

I don’t see anyone doing that for the guys who made the Katy Perry movie is all.

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I am not going to lie: The main thing satirists seem to be able to throw at him is that he is fat. He eats a lot of sandwichs and his T Shirts don’t fit. Good one I guess.

But Republicans who like wars and guns are not the only bullies here. I have to admit the first time I saw Bowling for Columbine, Moore’s exploration of the tragedy of Columbine and the role gun control had in it, seemed like a work of certain genius. Looking at it now, I am uncomfortable with some of Moore’s techniques and choice editing.

Some of it is just sloppy story telling, like using Louis Armstrong’s beautiful song ‘What a Wonderful World’ over footage of violence. It really hacks me off when people take such a sincere ode to the small acts of joy we all can experience and trying to be all cutting and sarcastic with it. Ok we get it. The world isn’t wonderful ok?! We all drop bombs on each other and therefore all that hand shaking is nonsense! South Park co creator Matt Stone also criticised Moore’s decision to place his interview next to an animated section of the film, fully suggesting he had created the short for the film. A scene where Moore buys a gun really easily is said to have been heavily edited to create the illusion that some stores will just hand firearms over when this wasn’t the case. But he is not the first or last documentary maker to play hard and fast with the structure of his film so I can get over most of this…

But it is the scene near the climax of the film where he is granted an audience with the very old and very ill Charlton Heston that makes me squirm. I mean, what is he doing? Heston was a gun enthusiast who made the poor choice of appearing at gun rallys as the president of the NRA in more than one community that had recently suffered terrible losses due to gun violence. Moore enters his home, as I recall under false pretences, and demands an apology on behalf of these communities and when he doesn’t get one leaves a photo of a six year old girl who was murdered by another young child by way of a guilt trip.

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It is clear Heston is confused and unsettled by Moore’s onslaught and it just seems odd for a guy who spends a lot of the film mocking politicians who tried to blame the likes of Eminem and Marilyn Manson for the attack to build up to this clash of the titans against a dying actor. Hell the title of the film comes from the idea that we could hold anything responsible for the actions of the two young men who opened fire on their classmates, such as that they studied bowling at school. So even if Heston’s life choices in this context were extremely poor does that justify barraging a man dying of alzheimers and forcing a confused interview from him? It seems insufferably self righteous and cruel. This is a criticism levelled at Moore a lot.

Having said that, the reason Moore’s weight and obnoxious personality are often lampooned is because he makes an uncomfortable amount of sense quite a lot of the time. I would still recommend the film to most people as it is an interesting exploration of America’s obsession with guns, made all the more apparent by the recent run of stories where people have died: young, old, accidentally or via a deliberate attack, due in part to how easy it is to access firearms in that country. Moore may have had the power to edit a film together to make the world look how he wanted it, but you can’t ignore the data-feel free to look up the number of deaths via guns in America compared with other high income countries…How many children have to die before the whole ‘right to bear arms’ thing gets another pass?

There are many scenes to choose from that could disturb the ol’ psyche but I’m going for the footage of the Columbine murders themselves. Played over the images of student after student taking cover as the boys with guns (I don’t want to name them and I won’t) and a shit ton of bullets stalk the school are the calls from the teachers to emergency services/help lines begging for help and trying to protect the children and the voices of frantic parents including the Father of one of the killers. I still remember sitting in a classroom not so different from the one on the grainy CCTV footage and trying not to put my head on the desk and cry.

(Not great quality, apologies)

As a teenager, I could hardly stand to watch the people cowering in terror under the desks or trying to flee the scene. The interview with the girl who had to beg for her life…I don’t have words for any of them. I want it not to be real so badly. I get overcome with a childish need to change the outcome, but it can’t be stopped. People died. They went to school or to work and they got shot. There is nothing that can be said that can make that an acceptable fact.

Another deeply horrific thing to take away from this clip is the reaction of the media. So many questions: Is your tone appropriate, NBC lady? How do they already have the diaries of the killers? Do you really think talking to the witnesses that soon after the worst day they will ever live through is appropriate? The naked greed for their grief is revolting. As with the Grizzly Man audio, I am of course fascinated by their pain but I don’t like feeding that particular beast in me. The media have a responsibility to be ethical, a responsibility they continue to ignore to this day.

Chances are you have heard of Bowling for Columbine. How about Elephant?

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(Spoilers)

I regret linking the two to be honest. Because even if you take spoiler warnings seriously and stop reading here, chances are if you ever sit down to watch it you will KNOW what is coming at least in part due to my choice to sit it alongside BfC. Sorry. I am sorry. The film works much better if you don’t know what is coming. But here we are. This is my list and I’ll cry if I want to.

Elephant is one of my favourite films and I watched it free from any knowledge of what was to come. I wish I could give everyone the same gift. If I could describe it in a word it would be slow. Very, very slow. Imagine if Eeyore was a snail and that snail was going in slow motion and that slow motion was on pause.

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Bet you can’t wait to watch it now!

Gus Van Sant seemingly gives us a glimpse into a day in the life of several high school students. There’s the kooky girl, the geek, the jock, the bitches, the awkward one etc, etc. There is an arty one taking photos wearing a fork bracelet who I like best cause he inspired me to get a fork bracelet.

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Thanks man.

There is a kid whose Dad has an alcohol problem and he is sad about it. Mozart plays. There are long arty tracking shots as the camera follows a cute high schooler on his way to meet his equally cute girlfriend. Because they chose non actors for the roles there is something authentic about the interactions. Everyone has problems, nobody is really paying attention.

Then the kid whose Dad has the alcohol problem, John, goes outside just as two kids, Alex and Eric, are going in. He immediately realises shit is about to go down. And go down it does. The attempted bombing and shootings (clearly echoing the events of Columbine) play out in a way that feel real. Perhaps it is because the victims are not just empty faces now or maybe it is because Van Sant doesn’t seem to relish the violence like a lesser director might: it is cold, clean and clinical. There is no real drama, despite the horror. After the two separate and then meet up again they discuss their kills casually and without much relish before one shoots the other. The final scene as the remaining gun man chases down the cute couple from before ends before it is over not allowing us any closure or consequences beyond what we have already seen.

There are a lot of great touches that stayed with me. One of my favourite moments is when John’s Father comes up to him as he stands watching the school and they hear the screams and see the chaos. As John explains what he thinks is happening, his Dad keeps touching him slightly, like on his arm and his back. It just strikes me as such a realistic response in that moment, like he needs to keep checking his Son is there and safe.

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It is not all great. The deception of teenage girls in films continues to be awful, the quick introduction and sudden death of one character feels clumsy, the scene where the two killers make out seems to be from a different movie and the choice to have the pair be victims of bullying and video game enthusiasts seems a little shallow but I can forgive all that when it comes time for the car scene.

Jesus, that car scene. I am sorry I don’t have it but also I am not because really it deserves to be viewed in the context of the film. Watching Alex and Eric drive to the school with all their weapons in total silence, I was on the edge of my seat. What could they be thinking? Are they nervous? Excited? Shut off from their feelings completely? Then Alex turns to Eric as they arrive and reminds him to have fun above all else and I literally gasped out loud. It is so far removed from my reality that it hurts. I am not trying to sound like I think I am above these people, like it is too terrible for my angelic little mind to even think about, but I have never forgotten the sound that escaped my face when he said that.

The why, why, why, why question…I can’t ask it. I don’t want to. Of course people want to understand the psychology of killers but in our need to understand are we missing the obvious question of how does it happen? Both films, in very different ways, left me wondering what it would be like to die and kill this way and all I know is this:

It shouldn’t be that fucking easy to lay your hands on a gun.

colele

Tomorrow…A master of cinematic violence demonstrates why he deserves two spots on my list…#9/8

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