Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

The perenniality of the vampire genre derives from its capacity for reinvention. Its form mimics its content in similar fashion to the zombie genre, transcending death. Here, the immortality of Jarmusch’s vampire couple is a perfect foil for retrophile hipsterism. They are aficionados of a lapsed cutting edge – analog technologies, first edition guitars, a dash of Tesla tech for colour and in the garage is a perfectly-poised-between-eras XJS Jaguar. They disdain contemporary ephemera and are content to await its fall. Only Lovers Left Alive takes its time. It may irritate some but bewitch others, who will return to bask in its sunless, bohemian langour.

Jules: Are vampire tropes a means or an end? Is the grand tradition of vampire fiction standing for nothing other than itself? Is it a debasement of said grand tradition to use vampirism as a metaphor, for themes like drug addiction, sexual obsession, metal illness, or mere aristocratic fecklessness? Or can a vampire picture possibly be nothing more than a cosy suburban story of rekindled love between senior citizens? The beautifully titled Only Lovers Left Alive ponders and enacts these and other questions to a delightful and confounding conclusion.

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Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

 

Jules: Alain Resnais’ and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s L’année dernière à Marienbad has astonished viewers for six decades and counting. Who, or what, are ‘A – la femme brune’ (Delphine Seyrig), ‘X – l’homme à l’accent italien’ (Giorgio Albertazzi, and ‘M – l’autre homme au visage maigre, le mari’ (Sacha Pitoëff), and is this landmark of world cinema merely a film, or an initiatory experience akin to a rite of passage?

David: This film, both modern in its experimentation and postmodern in its self-reference, provides a meandering dream-like experience of unresolved narrative, unanswered questions, effects divorced from causes and a frustrating, potentially infuriating trap for the unwary viewer.

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The Hill (1965)

 

David: When a military prison devoted to regimentation, correction and the rebuilding of wayward units fails to manage its own, the hierarchy of power turns upon itself. As those who coveted power scramble to avoid responsibility, the repercussions twist and twist again into a Rubic’s cube of blame and counter blame. We salute the departing Sean Connery with this not-quite-obscure-but-lesser-known anti-Bond vehicle directed by Sydney Lumet.

Jules: A rare pleasure for those interested in well-constructed plots and characters who are just complex enough to support the dramatic conceit. Adroit and affecting work from all, especially Connery.

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Byzantium (2012)

Jules: Is it possible to make a film about vampires that is not a vampire film? The genre is perennial, with familiar tropes that filmmakers endlessly adjust to achieve varied ends. Power, class struggle, sex, death, eternal life and eternal damnation; each theme intersects vividly across the genre. Neil Jordan seeks transcendence for his antiheroines, from their plight, and their genre within film, with some success.

David: At the heart of many a vampire story sits the dramatic tension between love and the hunger to devour, and next to that the ultimate existential question – would immortality be a prize or a curse? Neil Jordan’s third foray into romantic horror and his second vampire-duo story (after Interview With The Vampire – 1994) this time with a gender flip, wanders among some interesting themes, though perhaps with more convolution and less art than it could have.

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The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)

David: A black satire perhaps running overlong with other ideas, The Charge of the Light Brigade presages a spate of dark, disillusioned and memorably bleak films from the following year 1969. What does this say about the realities of 1968? London’s Swinging 60s were as dead as America’s Summer of Love and it appears the young boomers came out of it a cynical lot. This telling of the famous, doomed, British cavalry charge takes us through the process of producing cannon fodder, from the recruitment of street urchins to their transformation into gold-buttoned mounties of imperial glory. Then, with one blunder from overconfident under-experienced aristocrats of bought rank, they are the legendary riders into the valley of death. It’s a reminder that war is most famous for its disasters. A stellar 60s British cast is present, featuring what must be Trevor Howard’s greatest role.

Jules: Is warfare a matter of duty, ambition, or efficient management? Tonal confusion meets tragicomedy in this anti-war epic.

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Spirits of the Dead-Toby Dammit (1968)

Fellini takes us to the finish in this Poe triptych.

Jules: Many films depict deals with the Devil at the time the deal is done. Fewer – like Fellini’s contribution to this anthology – depict the Devil arriving to collect. But does Fellini’s contribution satisfy?

David: Fellini, usually so generous, has rarely been so impenetrable. Is Toby Dammit’s flight to Rome hijacked and diverted to Hell? Or is he really in Rome and finds the experience sufficiently overpowering that he literally loses his head? What is the nature of his tryst with the Devil? Do we watch him getting more than he bargained for, or is this all a payment? And was the prize stardom? A Ferrari? Or just release?

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Spirits of the Dead-William Wilson (1968)

Part Two of the Vadim-Malle-Fellini moral ménage à trois.

Jules: One is accustomed to thinking of oneself as having a dark side; implying that one is essentially good. But what if one discovers that one is the shadow, repeatedly assailed by the light?

David: Does the shadow have its own shadow? Does a remorseless psychopath have a suppressed or intermittent conscience, or none at all? What if they were one day confronted by one?

Sound isn’t perfect. We skyped this one.

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Spirits of the Dead-Metzengerstein (1968)

Part one of a 3-in-1 Edgar Allen Poe anthology, baton passed between directors Vadim, Malle and Fellini.

Jules: Are soulmates real, even if one or more of the parties behave soullessly? What is the price to save one’s soul, once it is lost? Roger Vadim and his beautiful entourage seek answers beneath the surface of things.

David: A tragic ghost myth? A seminal precursor to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not? Or both, plus a costume repurposing opportunity from the immediately prior intramarital collaboration by Vadim and Fonda, Barbarella ?

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Matriculated (2003)

Jules: Whether or not machines can, should, or will become self-aware are perennial debates in the field of artificial intelligence. They are perfectly capable of performing any number of tasks without it, and it’s unclear how one might go about installing or eliciting it in a machine. Peter Chung of Aeon Flux fame engages in these questions by way of the interaction between human agents and a killer machine that has been trapped in a virtual world.

David: If a human can be shocked into awakening from the dream-seduction of the matrix, can a machine also be awoken? And if woken can it be turned? How to do that? Via a counter-seduction? Can the machine be lured from its role of anti-insurgent into a more agreeable motivation and agency to which it can choose allegiance? Is this an awakening from autonomic slumber or just a matriculation from one dream into another?

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The Parallax View (1974)

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Jules: If politics is theatre, and the public are the audience, and the affairs of the day are the script, who are the writers, and where do the actors come from? Can the actors perceive the truth they are playing a role in a work they have mistaken to be their own lives? What if they should?

David: Considered part of Alan J. Pakula’s “paranoia trilogy”, along with Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976), The Parallax View is a reporter cum detective story surveying the creation of homegrown chaos agents and fall guys of obscure origin, or what we refer to today as terrorists. This birthplace seems to be a rabbit hole so deep and tortuous that exploring it, you might find yourself turning into the perp without even realising. Can the great conspiratocracy  recruit even its enemies? Are we all in some way doomed to be recruited by a machine that no one is even driving?

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