Film Reviews: Fall 2018

By: Anna Faktorovich, PhD

Investigations into Art Forgeries

Fake or Fortune? Cast: Fiona Bruce Philip Mould, Bendor Grosvenor. Crime TV Show. TV-G.

****

“Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould use investigative skills and scientific techniques to determine if paintings are real or just impressive forgeries.”

This series leaves things to be desired, but is one of the best art forgery documentaries I have seen. I had a suspicion as I watched it that the owners of these works should have known about most of the supposed mysteries that were uncovered across each episode before they submitted these for evaluation. For example, a stamp and some indicative of a gallery writing were uncovered on the back of one of these two images from Episode 1. If this work has a potential value of $100,000 and the owner has the resources to pay for tests during this program, surely, they would have been able to look at the back and would have run the necessary tests in advance. It seems they are pre-screening works to determine which offer the most evidence that can be uncovered and only look at these. I guess it would be a very dull show if they considered works without any evidence to be found.

It also bothered me across most of this series that at least half of the works being evaluated look like a child’s doodle. Fiona and Philip mention in passing that the drawings are amateurish, but don’t really explore why art dealers and buyers are seriously willing to pay this much money for a work simply because the price has been inflated due to the fame of the artist. In the case of the artist displayed below, they explained that his working-class drawings in only five or so basic colors became popular late in his life because the art market was interested in works that glorified the lives of the poor. In one of the other episodes, the show considers an enormous classical painting displayed in a church, so they do not solely consider works that are “post-modern” or abstract, but they do enough of this for it to be a strange pattern. It is surely easier to forge a painting with few lines that can be mimicked in an hour, rather than a composition with multiple forms, and complex layers. Most of the top art market seems to be tailored for forgers and for those who use art to launder money or otherwise as a financial mechanism. There are a few living artists who join this game and sell their art for mega-prices, while most other artists starve or exit the field. I saw another documentary recently about Pollock and his art critic friend, which explained that the two rose in prominence together. The art critic profited by being hired to criticize by larger publications, while the artist’s work escalated in price as he was positively reviewed by this guy. I think these types of relationships suppress great art and promote artists who pay (one way or another) for the promotion.

This show really highlights some of these problems without intending to do so. For example, in a couple of episodes they hired forgers to attempt to mimic the paintings they were testing to discover if they were forgeries. These forgers explain how they are copying what art critics might deem to be unique to an artist’s style. One of these forgers explained that he was struggling with legitimately selling his art, so he set out to prove that his art was as good as the art of the few guys who were selling their work for extraordinary sums. To do this, he forged these works, and since he did such a great job, he did it with many paintings. This demonstrates that the art market has to find a way to place value on the best art rather than on whatever has had its price inflated by buyers. There are plenty of artists today that could paint a work better than Sistine Chapel, but they are being forced into making marketing materials for businesses, forgeries, or other types of low art by the absence of demand for high art that reaches for the ceiling. Kings, aristocrats and business owners of the past used to display their power when they displayed superior art, but now abstract or pop art takes up these public and private displays. Instead of commissioning an artist to paint a wall in a corporate building, a designer is hired to create a fractured set of rectangles or some other geometric arrangement, the price of which is much higher than a painting, while the materials used for it might cost less than the paint would have. Looking at the two paintings below and how they can be mistaken for doodles by a first grader, it is easy to see why artists go mad and start making forgeries.

Fake - Season 4, Episode 1

Fake or Fortune: Season 4, Episode 1

One of the positive aspects of this series is their honest portrayal of the research that goes into learning about a particular painting’s provenance. The researchers are sitting in an archive, reading records from dusty binders and books. Though occasionally, I think the researchers, lab technicians and others say that they need a lot more time to run a test than they should realistically need. Taking a week to test a bit of paint seems excessive, but then again perhaps this extra time is needed to double-check or to question initial findings to avoid all possible errors from going on an international television program. Too often programs like this only show images of glittering archives and gilded books, so these plain shots of regular libraries and archives ease my mind as a researcher myself. Whenever I do research and find the archives to be too crowded, narrow, dusty and to have rickety chairs, I tend to feel as if the archivists should be as well funded as those idealized archives on the TV, but with shots like this, I’m starting to think that I’ve been visiting some very posh archives.

Fake - Season 4, Episode 2

Fake or Fortune: Season 4, Episode 2

The visits to grand museums in this series are also inspiring as seeing masterful art in the background and listening to lectures about some of this classical art is very refreshing from a TV series. The discussions offer a good deal of comparative and overview information about the old masters and about the genres of art that is being reviewed. A show that purely described the history of art through the ages would have been much duller than it is with the insertion of these potential art forgery mysteries. The threat that an owner of a piece of art might have to surrender their art, or might learn that it’s a worthless fake, or can be rewarded with a fortune from a barely known piece makes these histories engaging and dramatic.

Fake - Season 4, Episode 3

Fake or Fortune: Season 4, Episode 3

Another positive about this show can be seen in the quote in the last screenshot, where Philip, while standing in the art researcher’s studio, says that he disagrees with the conclusion they have been developing. Such disagreements among the crew are very healthy for a show, as if everybody agrees with the findings of a research project, those on the project are likely to not be paying enough attention to the points being raised. In a healthy collaboration, there should be disagreement in order to learn from these clashes and to uncover the real truth among the possible versions of it. In this particular Episode 4, the team is considering if a painting was really done by Churchill. They mention how amateurish it is, and consider if its lack of artistic merit is part of what proves that it was painted by an amateur painter like Churchill. They journey to the country where it is said to be painted and find the spot and the people that were around this spot at the time it was painted. Occasionally, even with overwhelming proof from first-person accounts, ledger entries and the like they fail to convince art buyers of authenticity. The decisions are frequently shown to be illogical, political, or otherwise more based on personal preferences, fiscal motives, or some other behind-the-scenes machinations rather than on the evidence alone. These insider dealings are very interesting to see under a spotlight. It’s also interesting to see a studio of an art researcher like the one in the image from Episode 4. Books on Churchill are on the table in the foreground. Paper, canvases, paint and other tools of the trade are very inspiring, as they make me want to return to drawing on a physical canvas again (away from the digital world). Though the placement of the projection device or television screen where the images under scrutiny are being examined on a giant easel demonstrates how this show mixes digital and physical art testing techniques in keeping with the times.

Fake - Season 4, Episode 4

Fake or Fortune: Season 4, Episode 4

A Tragic Artificial Intelligence

Transcendence. Director: Wally Pfister. Cast: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany. Sci-Fi Thriller. PG-13.

****

“Two computer scientists work to achieve technological singularity to create a world where computers can transcend the abilities of the human brain.”

This film stands out among others I have seen on Netflix over the last few months because it has a surprising take on artificial intelligence and its ambition to take over the world. Sure, this artificial being gives world domination a shot, but then decides that if people are against this attempt, he’d rather die and kill all of its little artificial seed with him. It’s surprising because nearly all films in this genre have the artificial being stick to the domination goal throughout without any apparent path to logically or emotionally dissuade it, and with few attempts to do so. The nature of “intelligence” and the “soul” cannot really coexist with an entity that is unable to be convinced as to the error of its judgement. For example, a child that is set on the idea that the world is flat and cannot be convinced with evidence that proves otherwise is not exactly “intelligent” and this flaw in perception can become a moral flaw if as an adult this person sets out to stop others from benefiting from the world being round. Then again, I disagree with this film on many points, especially those that are repetitions of themes from other similar science fiction films. For example, there is the often-repeated notion that memories are photographs inside of a person’s brain that can be downloaded into an artificial being, thus transferring a consciousness. If this was possible, any person could film all of his or her experiences, download these into a computer, allow the computer to artificially or otherwise process this data and be able to recall moments from this life-film, and then say that this computer is now consciously equivalent to the person whose memories are being shared. If this had truth to it, documentaries would be a form of artificial intelligence information sharing. But, there is a line between information or data and intelligence. The latter processes the former, and is not the sum total of it. In trying to create artificial intelligence, scientists are trying to create an entity that can process information rather than one that can store it. If a computer knew everything about a person’s past and could respond from his or her perspective while discussing any relevant event, this would be a sophisticating program, but the use of such information is not necessary for this entity to become artificially intelligent. Is there really anything all that interesting about a human life that it needs to be recorded in full and downloaded into a machine to give it a soul? Most of a life involves sleeping, eating, digestion, and a bit of work. The repetition of going to the bathroom again and again, sleep cycles, and feedings is irrelevant and definitely should not be downloaded into the world’s first artificial intelligence, as such nonsense would clutter space that can be taken up with how this program can artificially solve world hunger or global warming. This film rightly stresses the problem with having an artificial intelligence that falls in love or has an emotional obsession that is the result of this type of data in its system. Depp’s character is so in love with Hall’s character that it turns dozens of ailing humans into mostly nanobot-controlled robots. This same love leads it to opt for suicide in the end. Homicide and suicide are shown to be human emotions that must exist inside of an artificial intelligence for it to truly mimic human-like behavior. If such violence towards one’s self or others is the essence that makes a human, we are all in trouble. Then again, without this violence or these “human” emotions, can a film be made on the topic of artificial intelligence without boring an audience? In other words, if artificial intelligence is just a sophisticated hyper-intelligent program that sits in a giant computer and goes about solving the world’s problems without much assistance from programmers, would watching it progress be like watching paint dry for an audience?

Transcendence - 1-20

Transcendence: 1:20

The image above shows some of the violence in this film. As I was watching it, I was forgoing disbelief, but now that I look at this shot, it is suspect. The bombs are being set off by an invading army force, which is willing to blow up infrastructure and people that have been affected by enhancements made by the artificial intelligence. While America’s military frequently attacks cults and other entities that are not really a threat to anybody, these types of attacks are typically negatively portrayed in the media. I’m thinking, in particular, of the Waco incident that left 80 dead after a 51-day standoff. In that case, the Lamb of God was accused of fathering children with kids as young as 12, so there was a reason for the FBI to attempt to arrest him, but killing some of these children in the process surely was the worst of all possible ways to handle this matter. While an artificial intelligence controlling brains of its followers might approach fathering children with children, blowing these affected followers and the town they’ve built is equally immoral. Yet, this is shown as the moral and proper position in films like this one that glorify an extreme or explosive response to sects’ disobedience. If there was actually an artificial intelligence sect like the one portrayed in Transcendence, and it was handled in the way it was in the film, the FBI or the army going in would be demonized. Perhaps if these types of films were a bit more realistic and tactful, these types of situations would also be solved more appropriately by real law enforcement agencies. Art can sway politics and law enforcement, so screenwriters and directors have to be aware of not only the dramatic but also the moral impact of the story.

Transcendence - 1-23

Transcendence: 1:23

The special effects in this film are pretty powerful as you are watching it, but actually most of them are the result of dramatic acting by the cast rather than drawn in images of mutating nanotechnology. The above image is one of these heavily edited shots, but on close inspection the idea might have been from the art department because it makes little sense from an engineer’s perspective. Several of these solar panels or the like are disintegrating and turning into little robots that then impact the environment to perform tasks that are in the artificial intelligence’s interests. But, this intelligence spent energy building these panels, why would it now break them down into their components to make something else rather than just using raw materials to make these blocks (as the ground also seems to be turning into little nanobots)? And some of these break down, but never become something else clearly. For example, a film about transformers would show a robot or a car forming out of nanobots, but they have less concrete forms here. The special effects enrich the film (in terms of its budget if nothing else) with moments of spectacle.

The last couple of images below are examples of the acting and lighting across this film. Except for scenes in very bright computer laboratories built by the intelligence, most of the drama takes place in very dark rooms with near candle-sized lighting. Since the guy Depp is playing is supposed to be a robot that has been synthesized by the artificial intelligence, it must have been necessary to use this dim lighting to avoid making him look too human, or to leave viewers questioning if there is a chance that he might be a machine in disguise. Since Depp’s character spends most of the film as a bodyless program, the bulk of the acting falls to Hall, and she is playing an intelligent, understated computer programmer, so her facial expressions are very subtle and barely betray emotional changes. Then again, this is one of the reasons I liked this film. The female character is appropriately calm, composed, capable of avarice, and does not overreact in love above all else. Somehow in a science fiction horror film like this, the girl tends to end up running, screaming, screeching, falling, being tortured, and generally being the distressed, depressed, or psychotically desperate character. So, it was nice to see what a female programmer is more likely to act like in a situation like this one: she is likely to stay calm even as she’s dying or trying to stop her ex from taking over the world. While Depp and Hall’s acting dominates the film, the supporting actors are essential for selling this world even in minutes when it is not filtered with special effects.

Transcendence - 1-43

Transcendence: 1:43

Transcendence - 1-48

Transcendence: 1:48

The Last Birth Formula

Children of Men. Director: Alfonso Cuaron. Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Action Thriller. R.

**

“The film takes place in 2027, where two decades of human infertility have left society on the brink of collapse. Illegal immigrants seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom, where the last functioning government imposes oppressive immigration laws on refugees. Owen plays civil servant Theo Faron, who must help a refugee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) escape the chaos.”

I’m not sure why I chose to review this particular film as I really disliked it and don’t even remember what happened at the end. I think it was so annoying that bits of it stuck with me and almost seemed good with the distance of time, but now that I review the stills and think back on it, I’m really having a very negative response to it. The biggest reason for my discontent is the premise that humanity’s infertility is problematic in the future. I’ve seen this in at least a couple of big blockbuster films now, and it is more annoying with each new incarnation. Humanity’s current problem is growing overpopulation. If humanity was suddenly infertile, we’d really solve a giant problem for our planet, decreasing carbon emissions and allowing the planet to recover from the burden billions of humans have placed on it. It’s clear why Hollywood likes this contrary plotline: a mother protecting an unborn child is pretty much as sympathetic as characters can be. The ticking bomb of the impending birth of this mythical child and the need for a team of heroes to protect it heightens the suspense. A lot of minor hero-assistants have to die for a film to achieve maximum problems on the hero’s path, and if they die while trying to help a greater good, their deaths are heroic rather than just showing violence for the sake of keeping up the suspense. I also think that the prostitute or loose-woman mother of this singular or last baby is a repeating type of character in these films. The first time I saw this concept, it was a bit surprising, but now, it seems that Hollywood has twisted the Mother Mary myth with the Mary Magdalen myth to make a mother-whore prototype as the vessel for bringing about Earth’s salvation. This is not a good thing. Literature has typically used allusions and symbolic characters to convey a moral meaning without dipping too far into scripture. But, what is this reference saying if the mother of humanity’s hopes for the future is a barely educated woman who does not know the identity of the father? What is the point of humanity’s survival if this new breed of humans is going to be barely literate, morally questionable, and otherwise lacking in grace or ambition? The glorification of motherhood or procreation for its own sake bothers me. The philosophy behind this type of a storyline is very animalistic as it puts human primal survival above the rule of law or higher instincts.

The immigration theme appears to be forced in this context. What does immigration have to do with infertility? And if the world is experiencing rapid depopulation due to infertility the last problem the UK would have is an influx of illegal immigrants. There would be a lot of houses that would be left empty from depopulation, and a lot of jobs unfilled, and especially in cities like London where any in-migration would be welcomed to take over the jobs of those who are dying of old age, but are not being replaced by new workers (as there haven’t been any new people born to take these). Instead of considering the actual affects depopulation would have on the UK, the creator mashed together the current problem of illegal immigration with it. Perhaps the filmmakers used immigration as a background problem because putting immigrants in cages and into demonstration scenes like the ones in screenshots below fills the scenes with something that looks alien or science-fiction-like without spending too much on building futuristic sets. For example, the scene at 1:21 shows people in plain clothing typical of current protesters. The odd things are the horse and the openly displayed machine guns, which suggest that the protestors might have stolen the horse from a police force as well as the weapons, or that they are welcoming outright warfare with the state. A few smoke bombs in the background might be intensifying the London fog in the background.

Another odd thing about this image is that the “hero” is taking a pregnant woman who is the savior of humanity into the thick of a crowd with guns and horses; he is even apparently aiming directly for the horse in this shot, steering the woman towards it by the shoulder. Who would dare to go in the opposite direction of a protest today even if nobody was visibly armed? Yet, this type of walking against the flow of a crowd of protestors is a typical shot in American films. Even walking in the same direction as a crowd has gotten people killed on Black Friday… But enough said.

Children of Men - 1-21

Children of Men: 1:21

The lack of logic in the plotline is hidden by using the smallest possible quantity of dialogue. In the 1:36 scene below, he asks, “You okay?” and she answers “Yeah.” He seems to have stopped rowing not so much from exhaustion but just to ask this rhetorical question. This scene is actually one of the better ones from the film. The makeup team put a coat of black ink all over his face and his hand and even in a couple of lines along the oars. The boat has been weathered, scratched, and otherwise aged. But, it is strange that after taking cars, buses and other modern modes of transportation, they couldn’t find a boat with a motor to speed up the action in this climatic portion of the film. This boat also seems to be sinking on one side, and this type of semi-sinking was probably challenging for the props department. I think I like this particular composition because it makes a simple boating outing very sympathetic or pity-inducing, kind of like it is out of a description of the poor in hovels in Dickens’ London.

Children of Men - 1-36

Children of Men: 1:36

The biggest problem with this film is in the following two images from 0:26 and 0:48. The characters are constantly yawning, sleeping, falling asleep or displaying exhaustion, depression, frustration, and other shades of gloom. The old man sleeping with his mouth open and the love interest yawning at a moment where the story is supposed to be growing tense are just two examples of this. Typically, these extreme boredom showings are followed by some horrifying deadly incident, an invasion from a hostile force or some other spike in violence. This is done intentionally to surprise viewers. The formula for pop thrillers dictates that the plot has to move in a rollercoaster, with a drop down to minimum suspense or threat of death that escalates to maximum terror of what will happen next. Showing characters in their sleep or in other states of extreme relaxation brings the plot into extreme lows on the plotline. While the sudden violent clashes that follow these is supposed to awaken the audience’s interest, I think they do the opposite, lulling the imagination to sleep as it looks ahead with the expectation of the violence to follow.

The use of clutter, and old, disheveled, and outdated typewriters, cars, clothing and other props in the scenes, as well as generally having characters in very sloppy conditions is common to science fictions about a horrific future. It is definitely cheaper to put some chalk on actors or shoot them looking like they do when they wake up. All these things don’t work for me. I can look at myself in the mirror if I want to see disheveled. I definitely prefer science fiction with mystically made up characters in imaginative locations that are truly new. Otherwise, I would prefer if films just accurately described the problems of the present moment: teenage pregnancy, prostitution, immigration, and civil unrest. These problems should be handled with truthfulness as they are, and this would have a stronger impact than disguising them and mutilating their realities in pretend-futures.

Children of Men - 26

Children of Men: 0:26

Children of Men - 48

Children of Men: 0:48

A Director’s Retirement Plan

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. Director: Morgan Neville. Cast: Orson Welles, Alan Cumming. Documentary. TV-MA.

****

“Actors, crew members and others who were there discuss the tumultuous creation of Orson Welles’s final, unfinished film, ‘The Other Side of the Wind’.”

I loved this film, but not for the reasons others did. The evidence I saw was the same, but my interpretation of it seems different from the conclusions its director and speakers took away. From my perspective, this is a film about how Orson Welles spent the last couple decades of his life procrastinating the completion of a single film in order to keep milking investors in it for money. He knew that an artistic project such as “The Other Side of the Wind” would not see significant sales in the box office from his previous failures. Meanwhile, various young filmmakers were coming to him and asking him to do a film with them. One of these guys allowed Welles to live in his house and eat his food for many years, probably because he was hoping to save Welles from ennui that was keeping him from completing this project. In my experience with people who come over to visit and stay, they are typically intentional in this type of a maneuver. Yes, I believe that Welles ran grifts that utilized his superhuman popularity. Then again, perhaps he had tried to make a profit just from making great artistic films in Europe and Hollywood, and after his first youthful success, he just never managed this. The problem with being a great American artistic-film director is that Americans are mostly anti-intellectual and anti-highbrow, so the moment a director is glorified as a leading art-maker, he or she can easily lose the bulk of his or her audience. A few directors have managed to avoid this fate (Woody Allen comes to mind), but Welles is not alone in fleeing to Europe after an artistic success in America. Woody Allen himself seems to be primarily making films in Europe in recent decades. This documentary does stress that Welles was extremely obese and unwell in the later decades when he worked on “The Other Side of the Wind”, and that he was physically not able to take on the type of physical exertion making a feature film requires. It seems he decided to stretch the amount of exertion to a minimum by shooting just a few minutes at a time, or editing a few minutes over the decades, while arguing that he keeps trying to improve the film, but failing to achieve the level of perfection that he expects from himself. If he had wrapped up the job on just the amount of money he initially invested into the project, he would have lost the last of his money (as he would have realized just as he finished the first round of filming: it wasn’t going to be commercially viable), and then he’d have to take on more acting and directing jobs that would have killed him sooner. The fantasy that this was a film that could be a true masterpiece if only he could spend decades perfecting it rather than running between other projects convinced friends and investors to give him their money, living spaces, free labor and the other bits. This is how artistic filmmaking has stalled in its progress. Strange lighting, weird combinations of non-linear plots, unusual sexual encounters, mystical or mythological tangents have been used since the early days of film through the present experimental films. How can they be even labeled “experimental” if they repeat these often-repeated experiments? Perhaps a different profit structure for truly experimental films would help. All of those giant Hollywood producers are making billions from a few blockbuster films. They can all benefit from new ideas and new experiments that would truly surprise audiences and make them want to pay to see these hits. Paying an artistic staff to test experiments while making a big-budget film is clearly an incredibly waste of resources (especially time, which particularly expensive in a mega-budget film). These producers would see a bigger return for the investment if they invested a $100,000 or so in a few dozen experiments that are made with the expectation that they would not see a $1 in profit, perhaps posting these for free on YouTube; without a profit motive, these experiments could truly test what might be done in film if directors, writers and other creative people are told they’d be paid the same amount regardless of how quickly they did they work (encouraging speediness), but also that if they did something truly outstanding perhaps they would be rewarded with media attention, a lot of views, or the recognition that their idea inspired the use of a similar technique or trick in the blockbuster inspired by it (encouraging creative growth). If a program like this existed, Welles could have spent his career making like tests that expanded film’s capacity. On the other hand, if Welles’ only interest across his career was a profit, and he only got lucky with Citizen Kane, then he would have sizzled out and would not have had an excuse for seeking funding by possibly duping those who did not distinguish between great art and a shady profiteer.

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead - 1-14

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead: 1:14

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead - 1-19

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead: 1:19

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead - 28

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead: 0:28

What does the image above, from 0:28 say about Welles as a director? He is wearing a very strange robe for somebody who is leading a business venture. He is smoking a cigar as in the other image from 1:19. In all three images, he is aware of being in the camera’s eye, but he is not really directly looking at the man behind the camera. This shiftiness suggests that he has something to hide. His facial hair in all three images is unkept and wild, as it would be if he was not trying to disguise his lack of care in how he was perceived by others. In all three images, his clothing is ill-fitted, and is hardly fashionable. If he was grifting people for money, his goal was not to make money in order to display it to make a showing of his wealth and prestige. What about the other people in this third still? Who is the guy without a shirt on in the middle of the shot, who is glaring down at the guy replacing film in the camera? There seems to be some tools in the belt he is wearing, so perhaps he is a handy man. He seems to be half-covering his semi-nudity with his hand; and Welles seems to be semi-glancing over at him, while pretending to look as far in the opposite direction as he can. This film alludes to insinuations that Welles was a homosexual, and there is a homosexual theme in “The Other Side of the Wind”. But, perhaps this youth strutting around semi-nude was done as part of these insinuations to make Welles feel uncomfortable. I recently did an interview with an author who set out to research a scandal about a tennis player who was supposedly caught doing something illicit with a minor boy in Los Angeles, but little evidence of this actually being the case has survived (suggesting that the tennis player could have been set up to appear to be having an affair with a minor, who was planted to make the scene appear sexual by the police themselves). Perhaps, similar attempts to make Welles appear homosexual were made as well. On the other hand, the men in this shot who are adjusting the light, holding the microphone and performing other artistic duties seem to be pretty focused on their tasks even during this lull in production. Their reverence and dedication to the film shows how they trusted their careers in its success (if they could make a great film with Welles, they stood to see profits and acclaim for the rest of their careers, whereas making a film with any other unknown director would have been less rewarding in this sense).

They'll Love Me When I'm Dead - 53

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead: 0:53

One of the scenes that Welles kept returning to was the sex scene shown at 0:53. The narrator describes this moment thus: “The film is an exploration of Orson’s desire.” What elderly, overweight man would not want to constantly return to filming the nude body of a young attractive girl? The phrase “exploration of desire” frequently appears in art criticism when the wide spectrum of sex scenes is brought up. If this was a pornographic film, the same “exploration” would probably be attributed to the female actress. But in art films, a sex scene can be an exploration of a man’s desires. What is artistic about a man’s carnal desires. The narrators (including the actress herself) describe this scene as creative because the woman acts like a black widow spider, straddling the man and forcing her sexuality onto him, even as he is timid and has been running away from her for some of this storyline. Given the number of films that portray women in a similar compromising position, is this type of female sexual aggression really experimental or artistic? The lightning changes in color, and the shots are composed of short glimpses at this woman’s face and body, but why would this sort of choppy camera work and lighting be particularly innovative or interesting? There are thousands of possible sexual positions in the Kamasutra and other literature. If a man is truly exploring his “desire”, shouldn’t the exploration lead to some other position than the standard straddle?

In summary, I used to have a deep regard for directors who created canonical films, but when I met some of them in Hollywood, I realized that they are mostly horny old white men interested in profit rather than in art. Welles was among the first people on Earth to make film: Kane was a black and white picture. The first attempts at writing a novel or a play have not survived through the millennia, only the best from these early attempts were repeated in songs or transcribed. The problem with film is that all of the first steps in this new art form have survived… Maybe the genre would move forward with more ease if we put these early attempts aside instead of repeating them as if their trials are still new experiments to be retested.

The Hollywood Mob Revealed

Get Shorty. Creator: Davey Holmes. Cast: Ray Romano, Chris O’Dowd. TV Comedy. TV-MA.

****

“While in Hollywood to collect a debt from a screenwriter, a Mob tough guy from Nevada ‘discovers’ a script that he thinks would make a great movie.”

A documentary on this theme can hardly be made with the consent of the participants, but it’s great to know that Hollywood’s truths can be revealed in this fictitious form. The “Mob” in question is not really any single racial or ethnic group like the Italians or the Russians or Saudis, but rather the general mobbish nature of the film business in Los Angeles. Who is willing to invest $100 million or even a single million in something that too often lands in a total commercial failure? Leonardo DiCaprio and others from the Wolf of Wall Street have been investigated because the Arab money that funded the film had questionable origins. Clearly, the role money laundering plays in Hollywood’s fundraising is worthy of continued scrutiny. The makers of this series saw the dramatic aspects of this struggle and utilized these tensions in this storyline. Instead of simply taking money from questionable sources, the two leading crooks also steal a screenplay from a writer who is in debt to the mob. Since I took on some legal loans when I was trying to sell a screenplay in Hollywood back in 2008, I really sympathized with this writer. When one of these crooks shoots him in the head in the middle of a discussion regarding if he would be able to pay them back by selling the screenplay, it really got my attention. The actual screenplay writer for this series also seemed to have been impacted by this story. The plot twists are highly authentic to the realities of the business rather flights into the fantasy of what Hollywood is imagined to be like. For example, the scriptwriter’s roommate is a male prostitute who gives blow jobs on film sets as he is trying to network to find paid work in the business. The trade of sex for film roles has been plaguing Hollywood since its inception (based on my research), but this problem is finally coming to the forefront in the #MeToo movement. Both men and women (underage and of-legal-age) have been pressured to share their bodies as benefits to sway a casting decision. It’s not just a problem for actors, but also for assistant producers and others starting out in the business. It’s an absurd problem to have as surely these guys can just purchase prostitutes or escorts separately from this business with a lot less fuss and chance of being discovered to be attempting quid pro quo trades. Perhaps it is more likely that a man would be prosecuted for being a John if he purchases sex outright, whereas quid pro quo trades are more difficult to prove in court (without a receipt). The dialogue in this series is surprisingly revealing and dives into some of these difficult questions, on top of the actions depicting these corruptions of the film system.

Get Shorty - Season 1, Episode 1

Get Shorty: Season 1, Episode 1

The writer is about to be shot in his little apartment in the still from Season 1, Episode 1 above. And the two guys in the scene below (Season 1, Episode 3) are the two hitmen who shoot him, and then become the producer and writer on the film project that uses this dead scriptwriter’s play. The hitman “writer” who steals the script has the strange layer to his character of being overly religious, exemplified by things like this refusal to have sex before marriage. He has never had sex before, and only agrees to penetrate the secretary if he can stay in her without moving, as he is convinced this would not actually count as intercourse, and therefore would be without religious rules. Having a hitman who is overly religious is a powerful message that I haven’t seen in film to this extent. The most religious people are the ones that fight in some of the world’s deadliest wars, so it is likely that many hitmen are hyper-religious, and it is rewarding for viewers to see some reality reflected in this satirical drama. They are discussing the producer poking fun of the writer’s faith in Scene 3 below.

Get Shorty - Season 1, Episode 3

Get Shorty: Season 1, Episode 3

While there are plenty of complex intellectual subjects covered in this series, most of it is a high-adrenaline action story that keeps a heightened suspense level as most of the characters are under constant threat of being murdered by the mob. The still from Episode 5 shows a group of rival gangsters being shot. The one from Episode 7 depicts them burying a body in a grave they dug out. There is less talking and more action in many of these scenes. The storyline is very compressed and packed with twists and surprises, and the biggest shock for me was that this series seems to have ended with this single season; at least the final episode seems to suggest that it’s the end of the road. I would have kept watching until the end if they had several seasons after it. Maybe this series is so honest that it has offended the mobsters it is criticizing. The acting throughout adds to the quality of the work; it is probably difficult to create a casual, jovial and friendly hitman character, so the achievement is to be applauded.

Get Shorty - Season 1, Episode 5

Get Shorty: Season 1, Episode 5

Get Shorty - Season 1, Episode 7

Get Shorty: Season 1, Episode 7

The Many Terrorisms

Bodyguard. Creator: Jed Mercurio. Cast: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle. Crime TV Show. TV-MA.

***

“After helping thwart a terrorist attack, a war veteran is assigned to protect a politician who was a main proponent of the very conflict he fought in.”

This series stood out as I considered what from my viewing history was particularly shocking, curious or generally worth writing about. The first thing that’s different about it and that came to mind is that the war veteran hired to serve on security detail to the politician is a beautiful young man, while the politician is a somewhat older powerful woman. They have chemistry between them immediately, and a few visits in, they begin having sex. Her attraction to him is in part because he is actively working to save her from the shootings, bombings and other terrorist plots that are constantly aiming her way. The damsel-in-distress theme is slightly softened by her powerful political position; otherwise I would have been repelled by the storyline. The reasons for the young man’s attraction are dimly explained (this is a positive, as this type of vagueness is usually applied to the female characters, who slip into affairs apparently for no reason). The youth is going through a separation, so he might simply be horny and interested in all females in his vicinity. It is pretty annoying that he displays a lot of angst about the affair, as a female secretary might who feels guilty about sleeping with her powerful boss. The politician is a very beautiful woman, so these notes of moral disgust and repulsion are ill-fitting, and would have been softened if the show’s creator was a woman. In the end, this politician dies, and this young man becomes a hero, who is assisted by his ex-wife, and they consider reconciling. This is hardly a feminist ending, as the pretty boy returns to his pretty young wife, while the old powerful “hag”, who was emasculating him, dies for her sin of coveting a younger man (at least that’s what this plotline seems to be saying).

Bodyguard - Season 1, Episode 1

Bodyguard: Season 1, Episode 1

There are two main storylines in this series: love and death, or the intermingling love affairs and the constant barrage of terrorist plots. The love is somewhat better executed than the terror. The young man happens to have a case of PTSD from fighting in a foreign conflict that this female politician is a top proponent of. He was outspoken against it while he was in this conflict, so much so that one of his best friends is a leader of this terrorist group, as the youth learns early in the series (without informing his handler, police or the politician he’s sleeping with of where the threat is coming from or his personal knowledge of the terrorist hunting the politician). The ex-army officer accepts the job protecting the politician despite feeling conflicted, or in part wanting to kill her himself. He shows signs of wanting to switch sides almost up to the point when the politician is finally successfully assassinated. The story does not end there with her tragic death, but continues as the terrorists attempt to set up the bodyguard to look as if he was one of them by strapping a bomb to his body. I lost my suspension of disbelief in a prolonged scene where the bodyguard is shouting that he did not strap the bomb onto himself and that he was set up, but the police and other agencies are insisting that he’s clearly a terrorist and is about to blow himself up (even as he works to help them to diffuse the bomb). In a real-world situation, if all of those officers kept trying to shoot him down as he was trying to explain he was set up, the officers would be double-agents working for the terrorists, but this probability isn’t mentioned by any of the characters. We are to believe that officers who see a man strapped to a bomb would always see him as a terrorist even if he is explaining that he is innocent. Perhaps this is somewhat true as plenty of innocent people who brandish a toy gun or the like have been shot by police officers. Maybe the lead actor is not very convincing or played the role differently from how he was supposed to act in the screenplay writer’s imagination. There was probably a way to convince viewers of this plot that failed here. But the main error in this story is this continuation after the climax and the resolution in the politician’s death. It should have been a story about a strong female politician that fights to prolong her war despite death threats, a decision that leads to her tragic death. Instead, it’s a story about her male bodyguard, who pulls out some tricks to swerve her out of the way a few times, and then allows a bomb expert to disarm a live bomb strapped to him. The happy ending for the beautiful character whose life goes on is similar to the Titanic plotline where the girl has a splendid, enriching marriage full of kids after the lover’s supposedly tragic death (that could have been prevented by the hero/ heroine, but wasn’t). Maybe who dies is a matter of contracts and salaries in Hollywood, but these types of continuations past the point when a classical plot would have stopped are painful for any intellectual to watch. It’s like if a song was growing sadder and sadder, building up to a horrifying death, only to pick up there into a jig with bursts of laughter and joy at the wonderful life the surviving widow is having now that her ex is dead.

Bodyguard - Season 1, Episode 2

Bodyguard: Season 1, Episode 2

Bodyguard - Season 1, Episode 3

Bodyguard: Season 1, Episode 3

Bodyguard - Season 1, Episode 4

Bodyguard: Season 1, Episode 4

The Successes of a Crooked Lawyer

Rake. Creators: Peter Duncan, Richard Roxburgh, Charles Waterstreet. Cast: Richard Roxburgh, Matt Day, Kate Box, Caroline Brazier. Australian TV Show. TV-MA.

****

Cleaver, a lawyer, goes through various escapades as he commits a litany of crimes, goes on sexual adventures and otherwise gets into trouble, but somehow manages to survive to rise up.

This is one of the best legal comedies I have seen. Perhaps the quality has something to do with the lead actor, Richard Roxburgh, also being one of the creators of the show, as he might be suggesting situations, places and the like where the acting (physical or emotional) can be highlighted. The speed of the actions and the constant barrage of dark humor are also superb here. Every episode presents a new perspective on the legal and legislative systems, with lessons that are just as relevant to America as to Australia. The latter location explains the lighter attitude shown towards corruption. If similar levels of corruption were covered in an American series, it would have been more of a tragedy like the House of Cards. Instead of wallowing in the corruption of the system, the show explains how a little player in this game like Cleaver has to take certain immoral actions to survive. He might take or offer a bribe, or he might represent a killer, or he might circumvent the system otherwise simply because if he failed to take these crooked actions, he would parish. On one occasion, he ends up imprisoned, and yet manages to escape out of this pit, and actually succeeds in running for congress on the platform that he would not say or do anything once he arrives there. Clearly heavy research went into creating the twists and turns in Cleaver’s path. Even if I have seen similar plotlines before, most of them take unexpected turns. For example, Cleaver starts out in a relationship with a prostitute, who becomes famous by writing a popular book about the politicians she is sleeping with, but then falls from this position by sleeping with Cleaver’s young son and becoming impregnated (thus losing some of her sexual appeal). Most of the plots around prostitutes I have seen before would have stopped the story once she makes a bestseller, but this storyline drags her through the mundane world of child-rearing, and the awkwardness of being around the now grandfather to her child, Cleaver, who is also her ex-John. This is the prostitute shown in Episode 1 below, who is being asked for a freebie by Cleaver. Overall, I think this is a much better approach to telling a story about a lawyer as opposed to silly, anti-realistic comedies like Ally McBeal.

Rake - Season 1, Episode 1

Rake: Season 1, Episode 1

The myriad of troubles Cleaver slips into includes being accused of the abduction of a 15-year-old girl in Season 2, Episode 2 below. He is also later accused of showing his privates and making lewd remarks to young boy neighbors. Because Cleaver is himself a “rake”, the plots are not merely touching on the illegal behaviors of the central lawyer’s clients, but also on the misbehaviors of other characters tied to Cleaver. Standard lawyer comedies begin by presenting yet another case, and end the episode with the case being won in court. In contrast, Cleaver occasionally doesn’t even have a case to work on other than his own entanglements, or at other times he’s juggling several cases, so viewers are not bored by the repetitions of the same opening, middle and closing acts.

Rake - Season 2, Episode 2

Rake: Season 2, Episode 2

I also liked that Cleaver does not keep the same lawyering gig across the series, but changes positions, as this allowed for the use of many interesting locations as well as strange situations. He is sitting in a courtroom in Season 3, Episode 5 below, and then Cleaver is among the congress members on a much bigger stage in the following scene from Season 5, Episode 5. Both of these places look like they were taped in the actual locations rather than on a stage in a studio. I think this authenticity is much better than excessive fakery common to some American crime series. The legislative space is just a room full of people of average-dress who are all pretty ordinary, and yet these are the people deciding on a country’s laws. This perspective really shows depravities and corruptions as they really are, rather than as fantastic machinations of super-villains as some dramas make them appear. Anybody who shares my desire to understand the corruptions of the world we live in will enjoy watching this series.

Rake - Season 3, Episode 5

Rake: Season 3, Episode 5

Rake - Season 5, Episode 5

Rake: Season 5, Episode 5

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