Martin Scorsese's new film continues something of a resurgence for the veteran director. The Departed (2006) was already a decent generic effort, but Shutter Island was one of the best films of 2010 and redeemed a lot of credit lost with the fatuous and inflated pomp of Aviator and Gangs of New York. Hugo is a film about childhood as much as it is a film for children, but here the children are not simply the people but the art form of cinema itself. There is a genuine joy of rediscovery and an enchanting idea of film as magic and wizadry, which follows on from books rather than competing with them. The comic touches stay within the bounds of the world of the film and add to it. The railway station, a world of comings and goings, that the characters all seem stuck in, as though it were some kind of purgatory, is wonderfully realised, a neverland of hidden passages and filigree iron work, as well as the occasional historic personage--was that James Joyce in the cafe?
Hugo himself is a fully realised little man who has already seen too much of the world. Ben Kingsley produced a performance which touches without slipping into sentimentality.
We have got used to seeing films, usually made under the auspices of Pixar, that can be enjoyed by adults and children, but this film places us on an equal footing and is inspiring and informative on an almost
2001 A Space Odyssey
Sometimes you watch a big film, a classic, and you come to a surprising conclusion. This film is under-rated. Okay, how can that be? 2001 is almost universally acknowledged as a classic of its genre and a masterpiece in the history of world cinema, but there's something about it that makes me remember Bill Shankley's famous insistence that 'Football wasn't life and death: it's more important than that.'
It isn't a masterpiece; it's much better than that.
Partly, this is because, more than any other film, 2001 got me interested in cinema as an art form. I remember watching this film on several occasions as a child. The first time was on the BBC during the Xmas season and I couldn't make head nor tail of it. Monkeys, music, nobody talking, space ships but slow space ships and then I had to go to bed. All I knew was that it wasn't Star Wars. The second time we were visiting my aunt's and I had built this up so that I had basically booked their television. Again it was Xmas. BBC2. All afternoon.
It was the first video cassette I ever bought, a dreadful pan and scan from Asda in a greenish box with an advert fro Kelly's Heroes at the beginning.
Re-watching it on Blu-ray, the film looks wonderful and especially the colours. The shiny red of the space suit, the green head rest of the bed, the blacks of spaces, the ochre dusk of Africa.
I read Arthur C. Clarke's novel which was written in conjunction with the film, and his making of book, and the short story 'Sentinel' on which it was based. Originally, I was more impressed with Arthur C. Clarke than Kubrick. My switching of allegiance (having read also at least one of Clarke's sequels) was a moment of real maturation. A point similar to that when I realised that Jean Michel Jarre was not playing music of the future. The narrative of 2001 is flimsy. Story just isn't that important. It's the poetry of cinema that matters. The monolith I always linked with Kubrick's name--as in, you know, it's a brick. Hal's super smooth oddly innocent and yet murderous intelligence. The red spot with the swirls. How it takes on a kind of personality seems to change even as we know it doesn't.
After the pyrotechnics of the star gate sequence that even today dazzle in a way that cinema rarely, rarely does, comes the ultimate horror story. The disconcerting fast forward through a life always upset me as a child and upsets me more now. When I was a kid, I thought it was a weird alien process. He was in a zoo and being studied or something.
Now I realise it's just life. One minute you're having a crazy ride, then you notice you have grey hairs then you break a glass and then you're bedridden. And finally you're an opaque embryo thing reminiscent of Hal's red eye.
One thing I noticed on this viewing was the Kubrick's credit card matches the conjunction of the monolith with the moons of Jupiter just before the star gate sequence. But there are so many things to notice and so many things to love. I know the film isn't perfect.
It's actually better than that.
Best films of 2011
1. The Tree of Life. I'm a huge Malick fan and this was a film that left me gob smacked. I can understand that it isn't for everyone, but it is for anyone interested in the possibilities of cinema.
2. Shame. Steve McQueen's second feature boasts a wonderful performance by Michael Fassbender and surely vaults him into position as the most interesting British director.
3. Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. Werner Herzog is rapidly becoming one of my favourite directors. Bad Lieutenant was wonderful and his documentaries get better and better.
4.13 Assassins. This is mad bloody samurai drama at its best.
5. Marcy, May, Martha, Marlene Excellent thriller. Gripping and scary and original.
6. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. A meticulously wrought genre piece with some brilliant performances.
7. Drive. A winner at Cannes and a decidedly odd film, but one that worked for me.
8. Vivan Los Antipodes. Fascinating documentary and a beautiful upside down view of the world.
9. Carnage. A return to form for Polanski, who benefits from the minimal rigour of the savage little chamber piece.
10. Senna. Made me think again about motor sport. Brought back a lot of memories about the eighties as well.
Of course the year is not over and there are some beauties coming up in the next couple of weeks. Hugo and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to name but two. There are some near runners which almost made the list. Attack the Block was fun, as was Paul. Also the final Harry Potter film deserves to be there somewhere. All the Harry Potters were fun, intelligent, well produced and some of them were truly excellent. The concluding episode was a fitting end to what has been a decade long story. Quite an achievement.
It's in the car. In the car as the Torrance family drive up to the Overlook Hotel. It is already there. Jack Torrance can barely contain his contempt for his family. Even in the telephone call earlier--'Sounds like you got the job?' Wendy says--'Right,' says Jack--there is a chilling minimum of cordiality. Stanley Kubrick took Stephen King's haunted house story of demonic possession and the resilience of family love and sacrifice and turned it into something much darker, a tale about a father who despises his family. Jack doesn't so much go mad, as finally start to get things off his chest. He is the unrepressed ego, doing exactly what he wants, whether its bouncing his baseball around the foyer or attacking his family with an axe, drinking his whisky or killing a black man. The hotel isn't so much a haunted house as it is a reductio absurdum of a prosperous American home. The Torrance home we glimpse is a poky , cold and isolated apartment in an anonymous housing project. The Overlook is inflated. The kitchen is massive, offering a remarkable choice: 'you can eat here for six months and never have the same menu twice'. Corridors recreate the labyrinth. The living rooms and the games room are enormous. The family quarters are still small and claustrophobic, but they actively avoid going there. The most important part of the house for The Shining however is the bathroom. It is bizarre how often toilets are visible in the film. While Jack is in bed, there's a toilet through the open door of the bathroom. Jack's interview with Grady takes place in a place that can only be described as hell with toilets. A throbbing red colour scheme as Jack is recruited. Room 237 is also basically the bathroom and the decomposing woman is the resurrection of something that should have been flushed. If Jack had managed to get through the door, the bathroom would have been the site of Wendy's murder.
Ultimately, you almost feel sorry for Jack. As far as Axe murderers go, he is inept. He is repeatedly defeated by Wendy who is almost frighteningly weak. His final demise (outwitted by his son) is ignominious as he lurches through the snow, howling like a beast. He is ultimately the victim of his own brutal anger but also his family.
Of course, Chef Hallorann is also a victim but he is really a Snow Cat delivery service.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.