Performance (1970)

performance

David: An art movie, a drug movie, Nicolas Roeg’s directing debut, a Mick Jagger acting debut,  a late, post-swinging 60′s bohemian manifesto, but underpinning all that one of the best British gangster flicks around. It features a foulmouthed, thuggish, head kicking turn by the erstwhile toffee nosed James Fox as bovver-boy Chas. Finding himself on the run, Chas comes in for some heavy deconstruction when he chooses the dark cave of a retired rock-star recluse to lay low in. Not an atom of machismo survives. Add mushrooms and flip genre. Tasty.

Jules: The reality-distortion of fame, and its possible relation to the shamanic undercurrents of consensus reality, seem to intersect in this glimpse inside British counterculture. Cammell and Roeg expertly oversee the somehow-mythic triumvirate of Fox, Jagger, and Pallenberg in this postmodern Greek tragedy where normalised sociopathy substitutes for humanistic virtue.

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Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (1958)

ascenseur

Jules: Louis Malle pre-empts Jean-Luc Godard’s advice about girls, guns, and movies, but also adds a stuck elevator, a forgotten grapnel, a shopgirl, a streetpunk, and a gull-wing Mercedes-Benz to the mix. We join Jeanne Moreau on her existential walk of shame as she waits for news from her special forces lover and his perfect plan to murder her wealthy husband. The ready-to-hand surroundings of late-Fifties Paris intersect in a kind of metaphysical perfection with the desolation of Miles Davis’ score (which, judging by the album liner photos, was recorded in one session, with Moreau in attendance). In eighty eight perfect minutes, Malle essays desire, ennui, jealousy, and dread, before a final disintegration of all emotion.

David: Once again the plan for a perfect crime falls into the hands of very imperfect criminals, in the form of not one but two pairs of star-crossed lovers. Though tightly plotted, Malle’s jazz-toned noir closely preceded  and presaged films like Breathless, The 400 Blows and other first works by seminal French new wave auteurs.

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Le Mans (1971)

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David: Steve McQueen departs the sixties at high speed, driving for team Porsche. The Le Mans car race pushes the limits of endurance over a non-stop 24 hours as McQueen pushes the envelope of stone-face cool, shifting his schtick into the autistic spectrum uttering barely a word of dialogue for the first half hour and not much thereafter either. A racing manifesto and vérité documentary infused with the barest hint of plot somehow feels curiously innovative. Death hovers over the proceedings and the film deals creatively with the edge where speed flips into sudden violence.

Jules: In retrospect, it sometimes seems like race car drivers could have accrued the occupational reputation of, say, naval divers, or firemen, or test pilots. But, for whatever reason, we shower the fastest drivers in the world with money, fame, and fandom. Why are we attracted to the words and actions of these particular technical experts, rather than others? This film calmly and methodically lays out some of the (artistically embellished) facts for our consideration. If Freud’s ‘death drive’ is true, perhaps it intersects the world of motor-sport, industry, and media, and provides something by way of explanation.

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Æon Flux : The Purge (1995)

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Jules: Our commentary expands to include the small(er) screen in this episode, namely the stellar Æon Flux series of MTV short films from the 1990s. Are we all the self-deluding victims of deterministic circumstance, or can we freely choose between possible outcomes as truly moral agents? We examine the cases brought forward by arch-provocatrix Æon, dictator-for-life Trevor, and gonzo-comedian-psychopath Bambara.

David: We attempt to bring our rational thoughts to bear upon the mind-mangling dream logic of Æon Flux, and observe the absolute power of Trevor Goodchild corrupted by absolute existential quandry. The spidery form of his nemesis-love-idol weaves a web of irony around him and all the while sticky pleasure traps to snare them both abound.

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Excalibur (1981)

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David: The legendary expounding of how, when your best friend steals your girlfriend, literally everything turns to excrement. As the hapless players unfold this tragedy, supernatural mentor Merlin is to be found meddling with ruthless benevolence in the affairs of men. But with a pained, fatherly expression he watches as time and again they hold the prize of a golden age in their hands, and drop it.

Jules: Not only an impossible love-triangle, but an impossible political romance unfolds in this robust and sinewy retelling of the ancient, troubadour-filtered tale of a God-given head of state who both physically and metaphysically unifies his island kingdom. The myth of the benevolent dictator finds its apotheosis in the overwhelmingly decent, occasionally-befuddled character of Arthur, whose innocence both makes and unmakes his dynasty.
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Demonlover (2002)

demonlover

David: We actually fulfil our brief this time and bring you a genuinely overlooked film. Connie Nielsen is a high flying minion of anime porn merchants by day and cat-burglar by night, who wanders out of her depth into a world of corporate play and counter play. She discovers the company ladder that goes all the way to the top also goes all the way to the bottom.

Jules: The best, late period William Gibson film adaptation not actually adapted from a William Gibson novel, Demonlover intersects oblique characters and narratives to produce an aesthetically integrated nightmare of Postmodern fragmentation. When unconscious entities (like corporations, nationalities, and religious movements before them) evolve djinn-like abilities to tempt, trap, and consume their human constituents in the sociopathic pursuit of marketshare, do they signal a future when identity, self-awareness and morality are as irrelevant as ‘junk’ DNA?

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Last Tango in Paris (1972)

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David: Fifty Shades of Grey meets The Wrestler – or is it King Kong? A 48 year old Marlon Brando roams Paris like a rogue silverback. Apparently mourning the recent and mysterious suicide of his wife, he’s roughing up everyone and everything in his path. So indiscriminate and pointless are his outbursts of fury that he evokes his own incarnation as Johnny in the The Wild One. He’s rebelling against whatever you’ve got. Brando’s formidable yet pathetically unstrategic rampage is sweetened only by interludes of semi-consensual sex with ingenue Maria Schneider. The anonymity of their tryst is retained as long as possible, the bare rented apartment where they meet a cocoon against a detritus-ridden world and Brando’s broken life. The infamous butter scene is a minor scandal and not even the final stage of debasement Brando’s character needs to bring Schneider’s to before deciding she has the right stuff and might be his ticket out of existential hell.

Jules: If films are the means by which we collectively countenance the uncomfortable truths of what we are, and how that seems to override who we are, this film is both trauma and therapy. What is the relationship between desire, word, and action, and our collective sense of right and wrong? Last Tango ponders these questions (among others) and – crucially – acts upon them, in ways that sometimes seem lost to today’s cinema.

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