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The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #14 by Leonidas Michael


Youth*

(*T.C.O.B. reviews Paolo Sorrentino's latest film.)

Actually, I'm about to write a hugely laudatory review. Though I don't know if it will appear in time to persuade more people to see the film in question. It's even possible that the film is already off the circuit, no, I won't interrupt myself to check it up on internet. But I've said it before: a Craft Opinion can't be rushed. At T.C.O.B. we write about the things that interest us, when they interest us. If our readers are able to take something from our reflections, methods and principles and use it in evolving their own tastes, so much the better. Besides there's always DVD rental.

I delayed writing this review partly because of a line in the film itself. It belongs to a character called Jonny Tree, a Hollywood film star played by Paul Dano. He says, "It's up to each of us to choose whether we want to depict the senselessness of horror or the beauty of desire". He's just decided that he cannot play the part of Hitler in a forthcoming film. At the time I saw this, T.C.O.B. was intensively occupied with the theme of horror in films like Salo and Apocalypse Now (see the 12th and (13th instalments). I thought it would be useful to bring my reflections to some kind of a conclusion before turning my attention to Jonny Tree's point of view.

Well, now I can't help finding it a little trite. Horror ought not to be dismissed as senseless. At the very least it has a human sense. As for desire, is it necessarily beautiful? Jonny Tree, who comes across, rather successfully, as a philosopher-hipster, seems suddenly to be taking his lines from Miss Universe. It's a shame, too, that he wants to abjure his role as Hitler. In another part of the film he masquerades as the infamous dictator in front of fellow guests at an Alpine hotel. The messianic gaze he assumes is an intriguing interpretation: a man utterly detached from the reality of whatever (horror) he is responsible for. At breakfast he sits alone at a table set for twelve. While eating his fruit he has a fit of coughing, and in his attempt to bring his human avatar under control again he strikes the table, sending a minor shockwave through the rarefied atmosphere of the dining room. It's a moment of pure black humour.

Sorrentino does make up, however. I mentioned Miss Universe. She's played by Madalina Diana Ghenea and makes two appearances in Youth, once in an outsized woollen jumper, once completely unclothed. I know that full nudity counts for little these days. But in this case I'm not just talking about shots of breasts with dark, prominent nipples, a luscious pubic mound and fleshy buttocks. When a director knows, as Sorrentino does, how to craft beautiful pictures, he unveils the enigmatic union of languor and potency. In this way, the female body arouses the discomforting conflict between lust and admiration, or the enigma of male desire, which can only truly be resolved by love.

Youth Film

Miss Universe besides, Youth is a cornucopia of beautiful pictures. Following a tradition that goes back to Pasolini, Fellini and beyond to masters of the Renaissance, Sorrentino frames landscape (Swiss Alps in spring), architecture (Hotel Schatzalp, Piazza San Marco), fashion (Armani, Bulgari) and humanity (young and old) in exquisite proportions. In the humanity aspect he is supported by the wonderful performances of a wonderful cast. There's Rachel Weisz - not unclothed but stunning nonetheless. She also makes herself look childishly vulnerable when her character's husband abandons her for another woman. Later on she glows with the white-anger of an adolescent as she vents at her father for his infidelities toward her mother.

Weisz' performance is an epitome of a film that deploys many shades of emotion. Youth is trite, cynical, dramatic, wickedly humorous, lascivious. I was caught by surprise, not to mention embarrassed slightly a few times. But it's all filmed so masterfully, moving from one emotion to the other and back and forth between the perceptible world and internal realm of the characters' desires with such exquisite poise that it would be inhuman not to abandon oneself to its ebb and flow. "Emotions aren't overrated", says Mick Boyle, one of the film's characters. "They're all we've got." In a magnificent interpretation of this septuagenarian screenwriter, Harvey Keitel unites tenderness and irony, wisdom and passion, humour and despair.

Diego Maradona is also in the film. I admit I was fooled into thinking it was really him. There were the thick black curls, the tattoo of Karl Marx spread over his back, the greying beard and the weight problem. I later found out he was played by an actor going by the improbable name of Roly Serrano - at least according to Wikipedia. Anyway, he and his daughter, who would invariably be hurrying after him, with an oxygen tank, constitute another epitome. Youth, for all its emotional ebb and flow and variation of perspective, keeps reminding the viewer of the inseparability of young and old: how one clings to the other for its experience, how one supports itself on the other's vigour, how human desire sustains itself on the interdependence of experience and vigour.

Of course, there's also conflict between young and old - sometimes with tragic consequences. But Sorrentino's Youth has a happy ending so I'll not dwell on these. Rather, I'll close by describing my favourite scene. Michael Caine in the role of Fred Ballinger, a retired musician, sits on a tree stump on a hillside meadow and conducts a pastoral impromptu. The musicians are a herd of Swiss cows jangling their bells and lowing and a flock of birds that whooshes into a pristine blue sky when the maestro raises his arms to signal the conclusion. So beautiful, so uplifting. Whatever your age, it will make you want to fall in love again.

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #13 by Leonidas Michael


The Horror, the horror…*

(*We pick up where we stopped last time and go deeper into the country of horror – for adults only.)

The “other film” mentioned at the end of our last column was of course Apocalypse Now. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and released four years after Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, it also deals with horror, lots of horror. And it prompted us to ask why one should voluntarily expose one’s senses to depictions of horror, even when they happen to be presented in the form of art.

“It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”

The lines belong to Colonel Kurz. How this renegade U.S. officer in the Vietnam War is tracked down and killed constitutes the story of Apocalypse Now. It is noteworthy that despite his being the main character he only appears in the last act. The greater part of the film focuses on Captain Willard, the young officer who receives the order to find Kurz and remove from his command, as his superiors put it, “with extreme prejudice.” He leaves army head-quarters – a barricaded vestige of civilisation where premeditated murder is spoken of as “extreme prejudice” – and enters the inferno of war, watches civilisation gradually disintegrate as he follows the course of an unnamed river in search of his objective, and simultaneously sheds his own civilised attributes. When Kurz, who hovers over the events like an evil spirit, finally materialises it is deep in the jungle, in a camp where there are severed heads on pointed sticks at every turn. He asks Willard if he considers his methods to be unsound. The response: “I see no method.” But Willard is mistaken.

Apocalypse Now TCOB

An observer can easily make the same error of judgment when confronted with the scenes from Salò, dismissing them as depictions of gratuitous violence, senseless depravity and the irrational behaviour of people who have way too much time on their hands. This overlooks the simple fact everything that happens in Salò, regardless of how abhorrent it may be, is ritualised and regulated by ceremony – bizarre ceremony, to be sure, but regulatory nonetheless. There’s musical accompaniment by a virtuoso classical pianist and timely interludes for philosophical reflection. It is worlds away from the primeval setting of Apocalypse Now. But this discrepancy only emphasises the constant in both films: horror is created by humans.

“Here is a jungle. Now let there be shrapnel hail, fire storm and napalm cloud… Here is a palace in the middle of the country of the Renaissance, beautifully proportioned, exquisitely decorated. Let it echo with screams of pain and fear… So it was. So it shall be…”

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom could just as well have been called Apocalypse Now. Horror has indeed a face. Since the dawn of civilisation that face has been human.

In pointing out Captain Willard’s mistake we also answer the question that started the present discussion. We watch films like Apocalypse Now and Salò because we need to know what horror looks like in order to overcome it. One must know, or be reminded, that horror neither occurs by chance nor is caused by third forces and sundry evil spirits. Only then does one understand “what is necessary.” Willard looks at the face of horror and corrects his initial observation. In this way he is able to overcome his awe of Kurz and subsequently to kill him. Just as importantly, he understands that Kurz’s killing is all that is necessary. Once that is done, he drops his weapon, thereby avoiding being cut to pieces by Kurz’s followers or the equally horrifying prospect of being adopted by them as their fallen leader’s heir.

We hope we’re not being misunderstood. Looking at horror does not always necessitate a killing. Captain Willard is a soldier at war. It is to be expected that at some point he will have to kill. But each to his own. We, as citizens of country at peace (though not exempt of horror by any stretch of the imagination), might try to be better citizens or make a concerted effort to force our leaders to govern better. Or, as individuals, we might try to excel at whatever activity helps us lead fuller lives, the corollary of which is showing solidarity with others who excel in their particular field of human activity, for example, with film-makers who take on the theme of horror…

We think it could even be as simple as revelling occasionally in the necessity of gathering for drinks and pleasant discussion with one’s friends, in other words, with people who may well have a capacity for horror in some dark recess of their heart, but who are, after all, people like oneself.

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #12 by Leonidas Michael


A Visit to the Republic of Salò*

(*A paraphrastic way of saying that we are going to look at Pasolini’s 1975 film Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom – for adults only.)

Those familiar with T.C.O.B. have probably understood the method it uses to rate films by now. It’s very simple. The more times we watch a film – of our own free will – the higher we rate it.

To put it in finite numbers, a film watched three times or more is considered great. If we’re pleased to watch a film from beginning to end a second time, it’s good. Most films get one viewing: entertaining but not memorable or mediocre without being egregious, they are worth a couple of hours of one’s time and the price of a cinema ticket or a rental, but definitely not more. And there’s a not insignificant number of films that we’re reluctant even to discuss – the kind we stop watching even before they end.

We think it’s a pretty useful system. Though we’re far from claiming it’s perfect. We made a point of saying we watch films of our own free will. This is all important. In the absence of free will, a T.C.O.B. rating would suffer severe distortion. In certain geo-political contexts, for example, in the People’s Republic of Korea, it would be completely unworkable.

There’s another limitation to our method that, paradoxically, arises from the exercise of free will itself. As we’ve just mentioned, there are films which one does not watch to the end. Implied is that one has the freedom to stop the affliction to one’s senses caused by bad cinema. But what if there’s affliction and the film is not bad for as much? What if the story is riveting, the acting compelling, the dialogue poetic, the underlying themes thought-provoking and the filming masterful yet, nonetheless, the overall effect on the senses is revulsion. This is the case with Pasolini’s Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom. Here at T.C.O.B. we would like to proclaim it a great film. But then we would not be true to our rating system, for we have only managed to watch the film twice.

Truth be told, Salò is a revolting film. Examined separately, its facets shine with a rare brilliance. Seen as a whole, it exudes filth. The viewer who tolerates it ends up witnessing a graphic two-hour description of four sadists’ fantasies made real by means of eighteen young people. The use of the last prepositional phrase is not fortuitous. The young people – nine male, nine female – are stripped of every vestige of their free will. They are objects whose quality consists solely of their ability to express physical and psychological agony. As we said already, the acting is brilliant. The screams, contortions, pleas for mercy that arise from scenes of rape, battery, torture and other degradations are convincing.

The absence of morality adds another dimension to the horror. Humanity is seen in terms of a relationship of power: what happens when the powerful seek to extract gratification from the powerless. Normally, one would imagine that human instinct sets a limit to what a human being is capable of doing to his fellow. Salò shows it is otherwise. The four sadists’ desire to inflict suffering is limited only by the death of their victims. Brilliant acting, brilliant dialogue, brilliant filming leaves us in no doubt that the sadists are having lots of fun. Of course there is no retribution for their crimes. Why should there be? They are powerful, their victims powerless.

The victims are not even allowed the solace of being victims. Sentenced to die, they ask, “Why? What have we done? The reply: “We cannot tell you. But you can be certain that it is for something very serious.” So it’s the victims who are guilty. And they cannot hope for pardon – neither in this life nor in the one hereafter, it seems. Just before the orgy of torture which climaxes in the executions, begins, one of the victims cries, “God, why have you forsaken us?” The delivery is brilliant. The shot is brilliant. The feeling of despair it provokes is absolute – in Salò there is no resurrection.

We hope we shall be pardoned for not giving a conclusive rating for Salò. Our feeling is that it is a great film, but we haven’t notched up enough viewings to confirm it. We just haven’t been able to do it. It’s really a problem inherent to film ratings and other attempts to quantify the value of a film: feeling disrupts calculation. Perhaps it should become standard practice to remind people of this by attaching a question mark (?) directly after every rating.

But why in fact do we feel the need to afflict our senses by watching Salò again and again? It has something to do with a passage from another film: “It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”

In Salò we are shown the face of horror… But let’s speak more about it and the other film in next month’s instalment of T.C.O.B. Right now we need a drink.

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #11 by Leonidas Michael


EVERYONE’S GOT THEIR CHINATOWN*

(*A proverb which T.C.O.B. explains by reviewing a classic film.)

The drama in Chinatown, Polanski’s classic 1974 mystery drama with Nicholson and Dunaway in the lead roles, is set in motion by a woman who comes to the office of a private investigator. She wants to find out whether her husband is having an affair. The setting is Los Angeles – 1930’s if the fashions and the framed photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the sideboard are anything to judge by. The private investigator, Jake Gittes (two syllables in the surname), follows the husband and eventually observes him in the company of a young woman. He photographs them and duly delivers the incriminating evidence to the wife.

But it turns out that the woman who hired Gittes was not the cheater’s wife. One even wonders whether the man, a very serious, thoughtful type, who happens to be the director of the Los Angeles water utility, is really having an affair. At any rate, he turns up dead soon after. Gittes, who practices a somewhat sordid but otherwise mundane métier, suddenly finds himself immersed in a vast and sinister conspiracy.

One thing leads to another: this is the key mechanism of the drama. It is mirrored by a succession of pictures that provide the background to Gittes’ movements: Palos Verdes, Echo Park, Oak Pass, the hall of records, orange groves in the North West Valley, Canyon Drive, East Kensington, San Pedro… a beautiful documentary of the geography, architecture and character of Los Angeles. And Chinatown? The peculiar thing is that only one scene, the very last, is set there. A few times in the film, the name is mentioned in passing. Two characters – minor ones – are Chinese. Is Chinatown important to the drama at all?

Chinatown Movie

At the very least, Chinatown is an example of a device that characterises Polanski’s art, that of recurrence. His films abound with déjà-vu – and déjà-entendu, that is, acoustic recurrence. Echo Park, the setting of an early scene in Chinatown, is probably an inside tip to keep one’s ears pricked. As for Chinatown itself, Gittes reveals later on that he was once posted there while he was on the police force. It was also where he had some bad luck. “You can’t always tell what’s going on,” he says. “I tried to help someone and ended up making sure they were hurt.” One thing leads to another and the drama ends, as mentioned already, in Chinatown. Moreover, it ends badly.

Spotting such artistic devices, taking conscience of the details that make great films almost indistinguishable from life itself, is immensely satisfying. But it doesn’t necessarily help one to understand, at least not in Chinatown’s case. For example, it’s not clear why Gittes doesn’t try to extricate himself from the conspiracy he unwittingly fell into but rather dives deeper into it even at the risk of losing his life. Perhaps it makes some sense if one takes what he says to the enigmatic wife of the late director of the water utility at face value: “I had no reason for asking, Mrs Mulwray. I’m a snoop.” However, his look of despair when yet again someone he tried to help comes to a bad end in Chinatown suggests that there’s more to it than that. Just what exactly is impossible to tell because that’s where the film ends.

T.C.O.B. sincerely apologises to those who were hoping to get closure on a film so enigmatic that it is hard to distinguish it from reality. As consolation it offers this explanation of the proverb Everyone’s got their Chinatown. It means that, like Gittes, everyone has something they’re fatally drawn to. It needn’t necessarily be a place. It could be a social convention, a political system, a belief, a woman. One persists in wanting to learn more about it, draw nearer to it – for good or ill. But the understanding of it, the closure always eludes one. And then one repeats, each in one’s own peculiar way, the last words in Polanski’s 1974 classic mystery drama, “It’s Chinatown.”

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.) #10 by Leonidas Michael


Joking aside…

2016 in South Africa began with a slew of racist commentary on social media. Apart from the fact that many of the authors neglected to take advantage of the numerous means provided by the internet to ensure anonymity, it was not particularly unusual. When one takes into account the general lowering of inhibition around the time of New Year, there was perhaps nothing unusual about it at all. Nonetheless, it would be wrong to trivialise it, especially in light of the slew of racially motivated assault, robbery, arson and murder which marked the low-point of real-world social activity in 2015. Racism in South Africa remains virulent.

To be fair, the majority of South Africans take the matter seriously. The seriousness of the debate that ensues, however, is restricted by two factors. Firstly, there is a perception that speaking about racism is the right of a specific group. It is an old South African habit. Racism is justified or condemned. But the objective is the same: legitimisation of a specific group’s political power. Secondly, it is taboo to perceive racism as a symptom of human conflict. In South Africa the tendency, rather, has always been to treat the symptom as if it were the ubiquitous cause. And this has often led to theorising which is irrelevant to human experience. Tragically, it seems that racism will be a significant part of the human experience in South Africa for years to come. If we intend to overcome it then the aim of our debate on it ought to be the strengthening of civil society, rather than of cliques and obscurantism.

Culture could make a significant contribution to revitalising the debate on racism in South Africa. It has the power to exalt human experience, even in tragedy. The strengthening of civil society does not follow automatically. Nonetheless, people become more aware of what is, was and always will be human in us, regardless of race. Unfortunately, the tendency in South Africa, for the reasons mentioned previously, is toward a culture of pseudo-scientific abstractions and party rhetoric. Alternatives are censured and marginalised.

If you’ve read until here you might have asked yourself more than once if you are in fact reading The Craft Opinion Brewery (T.C.O.B.)… Where is the reference to yet another refinement of hedonism? Where is the aside dedicated to the palatable pleasures contained in a bottle of Long Beach Craft Beer.? Well, the craft opinion for this month is premised on the old wisdom that a change now and then is good.

And, anyway, we have not strayed all that far from our original recipe. In the last nine articles T.C.O.B. has discussed the enjoyment of films and proposed ways in which people might develop their own tastes. We think this is useful in a time when the public is constantly being told what it should consume by advertisers, pundits, professors of Banting and various other experts.

In this article T.C.O.B. has identified another group of experts who have a vested interest in telling others what’s good and what isn’t. And, hopefully, it has given at least one reason why the enjoyment of culture (films included) is much too important to be exposed to their unrestricted influence.

Carpe diem!

Long Beach Brewery was forged by two guys with a passion to create crisp, refreshing handmade craft beers with the finest ingredients. The brewery is named after the famous Cape Town surf and horse-riding destination and situated in Cape Town's beautiful, Noordhoek valley. Their craft beer selection includes: Bomb Shell, a Belgium style Blonde ale, Green Room, an Indian pale ale or Deep Water, their dark ale and stout Porter. They say only a surfer knows the feeling... Long Beach Brewery's aim is to make it possible for everyone to "know the feeling". Buy Now

 
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