James Knight

Review Dial M for Murder Alfred Hitchcock, Chapter Arts Centre by James Knight

 

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Dial M for Murder, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, one of cinema’s great misanthropes, is playing this week at Chapter Arts Centre. Playing as part of the “Ray Milland Season”, Milland born Reginald Truscott-Jones in Neath, took the name Milland after Neath’s Milland Road, which is now an industrial site come train station car park, oh the Hollywood romance.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) a former tennis pro, blackmails an old university chum into murdering his cheating wife Margot. Grace Kelly plays the wife (notice how she first appears in the reddest of rouge dresses, blood and murder are immediately on the mind, notice actually how the colour red is used throughout to denote blood, Hitchcock manages to make a bloody film without any blood), whilst Robert Cummings plays American crime writer Mark Halliday, the man Margot has been carrying on with. The film is an intriguingly complex viewing experience; we want Milland to succeed yet Kelly to survive, we want Milland to be caught but would also revel in his escape, we want Kelly and Cummings to run off together yet we want Milland and Kelly to live happily ever after.

There are at least three reasons to see Dial M for Murder. Firstly, for Grace Kelly, for her tenderness, for her beauty, for her movie stardom, no one photographed her as brilliantly as Hitchcock, see Rear Window for the most beautiful close-up in cinema as she leans in to kiss Jimmy Stewart. Secondly, for Ray Milland, for the devil in his movie star blue eyes and the charisma to his dark scheming murdering plans. Finally, for Hitch himself, for his genius. Primarily for his combination of camera movement and montage, his masterful use of close-ups and inserts, how through a simple close-up of Milland’s hand he manages to convey all the film’s psychology and terror. There are two moments of obvious brilliance in the film, one where Hitchcock films Milland planning the murder from above with a bird’s eye camera, making it all seem like a deadly game of human chess, and secondly a one shot of Kelly as she makes a court appearance which is a sequence of pure visual artistry. Also be on the lookout for Hitchcock’s comedic touches which often go unnoticed in many of his pictures, most notably here in John William’s performance as the Chief Inspector. Lookout for his moustache twirls, his crumpled raincoat, the way he wrestles with Robert Cummings over Milland’s bank statements, but the most brilliant example of Hitchcock black comedy can be found in the little detail of who hands Grace Kelly the now infamous pair of scissors.

Dial M for Murder is a film that gets richer with each viewing. It’s pure Hitchcock which means that it’s pure cinema.

Dial M for Murder (PG)

USA/1954/101mins/PG. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. With: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

At Chapter Art Centre

– See more at: http://www.chapter.org/dial-m-murderpg#sthash.18HADZga.dpuf

Tuesday July 7th – 2:30pm

 

 

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    Review Slow West Chapter Arts Centre by James Knight

     

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    In Martin McDonagh’s 2008 film In Bruges, Colin Farrell turns to Brendon Gleeson and says, ‘Purgatory’s kind of like the in-betweeny one. You weren’t really s**t, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham.’ John Maclean’s Slow West is a Purgatory-esque new Western that doesn’t reinvent the genre, nor will it reboot it, but just like Spurs, it’s still entertaining.

    Scottish filmmaker Maclean’s debut feature tells the story of sixteen year old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he travels west across nineteenth century Colorado in search of his one and only love Rose (Caren Pistorius), who previously left Scotland with her father. On the way he employs outlaw with a shady past Silas (Michael Fassbender) to safeguard his journey through the dangerous forests and vast open landscapes of the American West.

    The history of the Western is essentially the history of movie star charisma. From Jimmy Stewart, to John Wayne, to Robert Mitchum, to Gary Cooper, to Clint Eastwood, to Henry Fonda, not forgetting a little dash of Walter Brennan here and there, the genre has always been a driving force for star quality and personality. Slow West however, is a lonely desert when it comes to charisma. As Silas, Fassbender makes no mistakes but then again he takes no risks, he doesn’t play a personality but instead a ghost, and an uninteresting one at that. But maybe he has no personality to give, which seems to be the modern trend with this recent batch of new movie actors where less is more seemingly because they have nothing more than less to give so less becomes less, i.e. Tom Hardy, Taylor Kitsch, and so on and so on. Smit-McPhee’s most notable performance to date alongside Viggo Mortensen in John Hillcoat’s The Road, is a film not to dissimilar in structure to Slow West, but whereas The Road is brutal and barbaric, Slow West is rather sophomoric in its nihilism and at times Disney in its visuals and cinematography (that is until a brilliant sequence right at the end of the picture when Maclean shows us one by one a conveyer belt of dead bodies, each framed thoughtfully and poignantly that will match anything in The Road).

    Despite its flaws, the film is lean, brisk, and well-paced with a gentle but interesting rhythm. The film culminates in a well-directed shootout that’s littered with brilliant point of view shots from outlaws who hide out in picturesque cornfields, whilst before that there’s a wonderful sequence between Jay and Werner (Andrew Robertt), a nomadic writer researching Indian tribes, which stands out above everything else in the picture. Maclean also dresses the film with the odd moment of welcome surrealism with the score in particular sounding like something straight out of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man.

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    The Western genre in its most classical sense, once the most popular of genres has become in recent times nothing more than a memory. What contemporary cinema gives us instead is not the Western in terms of setting, but a Western in terms of mood and tone, No Country for Old Men for instance, is essentially a modern Western even though it’s set in the South. The problem with Slow West is, it neither feels like a classical Hollywood Western, nor a contemporary one like No Country, there’s a distant lack of authenticity (for instance, filming took place in New Zealand instead of Colorado and this shows throughout), it is a film very much in Purgatory in that sense. With a misleading title the film is neither slow nor is it really a Western, but whatever it is, it’s pretty good nonetheless.

    Slow West (15)

    USA/2015/84mins/15. Dir: John Maclean. With: Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee.

    At Chapter Arts Centre until July 2nd

    – See more at: http://www.chapter.org/slow-west-15#sthash.dmtmc3Hy.dpuf

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      Review This is How We Die, Chapter Arts Centre by James Knight

       

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      Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas begins famously with, ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’ Christopher Brett Bailey’s This Is How We Die seems to carry on from where Thompson left off in this brilliant piece of spoken word black comedy theatre that will shudder you to your very core, and then shudder your core’s core, and then your core’s core core (if that’s even a thing, if it is then this play will find it and shudder it).

      Bailey seems to appear on stage out of nowhere, he nods politely to the audience before sitting down at a desk which houses a microphone, a glass of water, a lamp, and Bailey’s script. Then an explosion occurs, an explosion of words that is. Bailey uses the microphone like a drum that he thumps and thumps with words that bounce off the microphone and splatter into the faces of the audience before punching their way into their souls. Through sheer physicality of his lips, tongue, and his bobbing head, Bailey brings his prose to life as spit flies, sweat flies, and emotions whiz. Reading mostly from his script, Bailey keeps his eyes down away from the audience, creating a distance, before carefully choosing his moments to eyeball the onlookers in order to land a joke or an emotional punch.

      If you’re the romantic sort and wished you could’ve been there so see Allen Ginsberg read “Howl” in 1955, see Charles Bukowski read live in California, go back to the fifties to see Lenny Bruce perform his “Meaning of Obscenity” or “Religions Inc” bits, or have the desire to see William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch come to life before your eyes then this is the show for you. The musicality of Bailey’s almost word perfect performance conjures images of contemporary rap, but also the music of Tom Waits, in particular his song “Step Right Up”, but as if Waits’ music had been sucked into a David Cronenberg film and come out looking like the love child of David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Samuel Beckett’s Not I.

      This Is How We Die is almost impossible to process, but maybe that’s its purpose, we will be forever trying to process it, forever trying to get to grips with it, maybe that is what makes it art. It deals mainly with the void and the space in between Bailey and the audience, after the performance Bailey took part in an impromptu Q&A session which in its formal reality seemed fake, there was an ugly space between him and the audience asking the questions, yet his performance on stage with all its fantastical absurdities seemed utterly real and utterly truthful.

      This Is How We Die takes us into the blackness (both emotionally and literally via some genius lighting cues), engulfing us in the darkness of humanity. It is truly a battering of the senses where emotions pour out uncontrollably. With the final and resounding emotion being that of sheer amazement.

      THIS IS HOW WE DIE

      At Chapter Arts Centre – June 23rd at 7:30

      Written and performed by Christopher Brett Bailey

      Musicians: George Percy, Alicia Jane Turner, Christopher Brett Bailey, and Apollo

      Dramaturg: Anne Rieger

      Lighting Design: Sherry Coenen

      Production Manager: Alex Fernandes

      Producer: Beckie Darlington

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        Review Knife in the Water By James Knight

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        In 1941 there was Citizen Kane (Orson Welles), in 1955 there was The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton), in 1959 there was The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut), in 1960 there was Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard), in 1969 there was Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper), in 1989 there was Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh), and in 1992 there was Reservoir Dogs (Quinten Tarantino), all great directorial feature debuts, but add to that list Roman Polanski’s 1962 maiden effort Knife in the Water, playing at Chapter Arts Centre as part of Martin Scorsese’s “Masterpieces of Polish Cinema” series.

        The story of Knife in the Water is simple; a bourgeois sportswriter named Andrej, played by Leon Niemmczyk, and his wife Krystyna, played by Jolanta Umecka (making her onscreen debut, who Polanski discovered one day at a local swimming pool), pick up a hitchhiker known only as the Young Man (we never learn his name), played by Zygmunt Malanowicz, and take him with them on a sailing trip, with the vast majority of the film taking place on the boat. On paper this might seem like a smooth but forgettable little thriller but add in the Polanski touch and it evolves into an erotically charged psychological game of cat and mouse all with the accompaniment of Krzysztof Komeda’s masterful jazz score. Knife in the Water, alongside Chinatown (1974), the greatest neo noir detective film ever made, and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), possibly the greatest human horror ever made, have firmly established Polanski as a master of cinema. But unlike other filmmakers featured in this series, the likes of Andrej Wajda and Krzysztof Kielowski, Polanski’s films, especially Knife in the Water, are almost completely void of any political and social commentary. His films are a lot more interested in cinema, in the reality of a reflection rather than a reflection of reality (to steal Godard’s wonderful term). Knife in the Water does not take place in Poland but in Pol-anski-land.

        In his autobiography, Polanski recalled the difficulties he and his crew encountered whilst shooting Knife in the Water, saying; ‘the yacht was quite big enough to accommodate three actors but uncomfortably cramped for the dozen-odd people behind the camera. When shooting aboard, we had to don safety harnesses and hang over the side.’ Yet from this confinement, Polanski manages to liberate the camera, almost creating a new set of cinematic rules in the process. The film is a technical marvel. It reminds me of another Polish film, The Night Train (1959), indecently also starring Leon Niemczyk, where the director Jerzy Kawalerowicz, also managed to create a technically impressive film despite having to shoot the entire picture inside a moving train.

        Knife in the Water is a cinema first film, image and sound hold far greater precedent over dialogue which in the film is often meaningless and empty and carries no weight in the telling of the story (in fact the majority of the dialogue is dubbed, with Polanski giving his own voice to the character of the Young Man). Towards the end of the film when the sailing trip has come to an end, there’s a sequence where Andrej and his wife lock up the boat in harbour, they tie up the ropes, put down the sails, padlock the doors, all without one word of dialogue. On the surface it’s an innocent little sequence but look a little closer and you’ll see that Polanski manages to capture their whole marriage through raw image, sound and simple action, no dialogue, like a true master of cinema.

        Like Polanski’s two most recent films, Knife in the Water deals with a limited cast, but whereas Venus in Fur (2013), and Carnage (2011) through their limitations become essentially filmed theatre, Knife in the Water is cinema and cinema only. It is ninety minutes of pure intimacy where we too feel like we’re on that boat with them. When it’s all over we realise that we’ve learned nothing concrete about the characters yet we somehow know everything that’s important. The film ends where it began, no one changes, no one grows, yet there’s a sense of a new beginning.

        In one scene, the Young Man hangs over the edge of the moving boat and by hovering his feet over the surface of the water makes it look like he is in fact walking on water. Knife in the Water is such a cinematic achievement that whilst watching it, you can’t help but get the sense that Polanski too was walking on water.

        Knife in the Water (PG)

        Poland/1962/94mins/subtitles/PG. Dir: Roman Polanski. With: Leon Niemczyk, Jolanta Umecka, Zygmunt Malanowicz.

        At Chapter Arts Centre from June 28th – 30th

        – See more at: http://www.chapter.org/knife-water-pg#sthash.jqBSid1t.dpuf

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          Review: Ashes and Diamonds Chapter Arts Centre By James Knight

           

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          The first image we see in Andrej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds is that of a cross on top of a small chapel. The camera pans down to find three men laying on the grass next to the chapel, one of them is sleeping. An innocent little girl appears and asks one of the men to open the chapel door for her. A nice summery image for a pleasant summer’s day somewhere in Poland. Then in the distance a car approaches, the men rush to their feet, each brandishing machine guns and tell the little girl to get lost. Bullets fly, the car comes crashing to a halt, the driver falls out, machine gunned to death. The passenger makes a run for it, bangs on the locked door of the chapel, but he has nowhere to go. The three men machine gun him to his death, as he falls he bursts into flames at the door of the chapel. One of the three men then panics, ‘let’s get out of here,’ he wails, and we realise that we’re not watching super cool hitmen but real human beings caught up in civil unrest in Wajda’s most humanistic of films. Later, after the three men have fled we realise that they’ve killed the wrong people as their intended target arrives on the scene. A worker surveying the dead bodies then asks, ‘can you tell us how long people will have to die like this?’ Ashes and Diamonds is a film that asks the toughest of questions.

          Presented as part of Martin Scorsese’s “Masters of Polish Cinema” series, the film features in Scorsese’s list for his choice for the ten greatest films ever made in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll. The film is a key component of Polish new wave cinema, one of the most stylish of national cinema movements and just like the French new wave which came hot on its heels, Wajda and his fellow filmmakers managed to expand on the cinematic foundations laid forth by the Italian neo realists in the mid 1940’s.

          Ashes and Diamonds is essentially the third part in Wajda’s unofficial war trilogy, although enjoyment of the film is not dependent on viewing the previous two. In the previous two films, A Generation (1955) and Kanal (1957), which both concern themselves with the Polish uprising during the Second World War, there is, despite the bloodshed amongst the upheaval of human morality, a great deal of hope and idealism. But come Ashes and Diamonds, this hope has evaporated and instead been replaced with despair. Even in spite of the fact that the Nazis have surrendered which people hear about over a loudspeaker yet barely react to, there is no Times Square esque V-J Day celebrations here, because for the first time since the war started, people can now envisage their futures and they don’t like what they see. Fighting the Nazis united them in hope, but now the war is over and the only people left to fight is themselves.

          Set over twenty four hours in 1945, the overriding narrative of the film deals with the civil conflict between the pro-Russian People’s Army and the UK backed Home Army. The film is both a war tale and a tragic love story whilst also having the feel of an American hang out movie. The star of the film, Zbigniew Cybulski, incidentally one of the three shooters we meet in the opening scene, was often known, thanks largely to this performance, as the Polish James Dean. He certainly has Dean’s coolness and playfulness, whilst his impulsiveness throughout the film conjures up the image of Dean jumping from roof tops in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955). Cybulski’s performance, his actions, his facial expressions, manage to capture the melancholic nostalgia of the story and of post war Poland, he says things like, ‘nothing in this country is serious anymore.’ He meets a girl, the wonderful and beautiful Ewa Kryzewska, who works at a hotel bar who says things like, ‘I don’t want any goodbyes or memories to remember when it’s over.’ This is a film where every line of dialogue has meaning and significance.

          On the surface at least, Cybulski is the star of the film, but the true star of Andrej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds is Andrej Wajda himself. The whole film is a one hundred minute masterclass in cinematic framing. In one scene, Wajda frames Cybulski’s collaborator in arms Andrej, played by Adam Pawlikowski, in a close-up as he talks on the phone inside a telephone booth, over his shoulder is Cybulski leaning on a bar, then behind Cybulski in walks Communist Commissioner Szczulka, played by Waclaw Zastrzezynski, the man who Cybulski and co were originally sent to kill. In one shot through expert framing Wajda manages to convey the entirety of the film’s emotions and conflicts with stark simplicity. Throughout the film Cybulski keeps coming face to face with his past, in one scene he sees the crying fiancé of one of the men he killed in the opening sequence. Cybulski stares at her and Wajda holds and holds Cybulski’s gaze in a close-up. There are no words spoken yet by dwelling on Cybulski’s face Wajda manages to convey all the actor’s emotions, it’s almost as if we can hear his thoughts. This is pure cinema.

          The images in Ashes and Diamonds are so profoundly striking it is a film that could be watched and understood with the sound turned off. The film ends with an unforgettable sequence that you will carry around with you long after the final credits have rolled. It’s visual poetry from start to finish.

          Ashes and Diamonds (12)

          Poland/1958/104mins/subtitles/12. Dir: Andrzej Wajda. With: Zbigniew Cybulski.

          At Chapter Arts Centre from June 7th – 9th.

          – See more at: http://www.chapter.org/ashes-and-diamonds-12#sthash.2nExviZK.dpuf

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            Review A Good Clean Heart, The Other Room by James Knight

             

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            Photo by Pallasca Photography

            Alun Saunders’ A Good Clean Heart, produced by The Other Room is very much a play for the modern age. It concerns two brothers, Hefin (James Ifan), a teenage wannabe rugby player from Carmarthen, and Jay (Dorian Simpson), a black man from London currently under house arrest, who were separated at childhood and raised apart. Throughout the hour runtime we see their correspondences; their emails, their texts, their letters projected onto the set as they track each other down and arrange to meet. It is a play about words, the limitations of words, the limitations of Welsh, the insular nature of both Wales and London, the bi-lingual breakdown of two societies clashing. The play, in both Welsh and English with the different subtitles running on a screen above the actors highlights the difference in hearing and reading the two languages. Bi-lingual audience members laugh and respond to certain moments whilst non-Welsh speakers respond to different sequences creating a very personal and subjective viewing experience.

            A Good Clean Heart is essentially a showcase for the small moments in life, an exhibition of memories and family conversations. It is also an exhibition of performances. Theatre throughout its history has been about actors hiding, actors losing themselves behind the masks of their characters, but that is not the case here. Refreshingly, Ifan and Simpson stay true to their own voices and manage to portray characters straight out of life, it’s as if they are living life right before our very eyes. Ifan brilliantly captures the awkwardness of his character whilst Simpson is not only utterly convincing as Jay, but also manages to bring to fruition through mimic the characters of his girlfriend and mother as if they were there on the stage with him. But most impressively, the duo are not just acting opposite each other, but acting very much in unison as one, despite the fact that their characters come from such different worlds, as Jay, ambiguous to Wales states, ‘Port Talbot; sounds posh.’

            The intimacy of the Other Room Theatre at Porter’s gives the production a vitality and realness, whilst the wonderfully designed setting of a dingy playground representing the character’s forgotten childhood adds a potency to the atmosphere. Watching A Good Clean Heart is almost a physical experience, it’s a roller coaster of a play where the actors pour sweat and so do the audience. The story jumps forward in time without an interval or any set alterations and there’s an extraordinarily comic running sequence that needs to be seen to be admired. Although at times there is too much freneticism, too much information to take in and too few moments where the play is allowed to breathe, but that should not take anything away from the overall effectiveness and thoughtfulness of the production. A Good Clean Heart has a bit of everything, the characters sing, rap, dance, cry, argue, jump about, laugh, shout, and most importantly; love.

            A Good Clean Heart

            Written by Alun Saunders

            Directed by Mared Swain

            Part of The Other Room Theatre’s ‘Life in Close-Up’ season.

            Tickets:

            1 – 16 May

            7.30pm

            £12.50/10.50 conc.

            £5 tickets available for jobseekers (proof of status required).

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