Baraka (1992)

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Jules: What does spirituality mean if the only reality is physical? Does it connote anything more than aesthetics; the appropriate appreciation of a natural setting, or artistic conceit? Does it mean anything more than a type of experience that is unusual in some way, perhaps due to a drug? Baraka reaches for an answer to these questions, among others; but does a spiritual reality lie behind its images and sounds? And what would, or could, that mean, at the end of the second millennium?

David: In this second part of our survey of the human condition, we move from HG Wells’ s 1930s to a voice from the 1990s with no words. Rather than an obvious narrative, Baraka paints a canvas, bringing into focus piece by piece an image that turns more and more of its facets to the light but doesn’t really progress. As if it were less a film than a mandala, a shrine or a temple, it could serve it’s purpose equally well on an eternal loop with an audience free to come and go. Perhaps referencing its own form, Baraka queries the value of advancement over stillness and contemplation. But we’re not invited  to contemplate the void so much as observe ourselves within it. Do we value simply being? Or only uncertain notions of betterment?

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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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Black Narcissus (1947)

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Jules: The clash of cultures, faiths, races, and civilisations entire was hardly ever so agreeable as it is in this 1947, somewhat-forgotten classic. See vertiginous, mountain-perched bordellos revamped to serve as nunneries! See lanky actors in too-short short-shorts attempt to maintain their gravitas whilst riding Shetland ponies! See skin-tinted occidental girls reinvented as oriental firebrands!

David: One ought not to rebel against nature, it seems. Nor the nature of things. A gaggle of nuns embark on a girl’s own Heart of Darkness.

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Prometheus (2012)

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Jules: This film divided film viewers and critics to a surreal degree; but is it perhaps the film which most deserved overlooking in 2012? Despite its problems, what does it tell us about the ability of today’s filmmakers to revisit their own pasts?

David:  The franchise that inspired so many imitations borrows back from nearly all of them, with plot tendrils snaking about like a grasping facehugger that’s drunk too much coffee. [review]

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Prospero’s Books (1991)

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Jules: What becomes of the book in the age of the moving image? Peter Greenaway considers this question, among others, in this sumptuous 1991 production featuring John Gielgud in (apparently) his dream role as Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

David: Frames within frames, and naked dames. And who to blame? It may have as much to do with what becomes of art history in the age of the moving image, as what becomes of the book.

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