Andrew Paul Wood is a Christchurch-based writer, cultural critic and freelance curator. He writes for The Press, the Listener, Urbis, Architecture New Zealand, and a host of others. Recent work includes a translation into English of the New Zealand poems of German-Jewish poet Karl Wolfskehl, Under New Stars: Poems from the New Zealand Exile (Holloway, 2012, edited by Friedrich Voit), and a psychogeography of the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes with photographer Doc Ross, Quietus: Observations of an Altered City (Analogue House, 2012). Here are Five Films That Have Stayed With Him…
Hollywood has gone to the dogs. There’s no denying it.
We are deluged with an endless supply of sequels, prequels, reboots, reduxes, and movies based on video games and theme park rides because Hollywood has lost its bottle and gone into some kind of unimaginative, risk-averse fugue state.
The apotheosis, the Hell’s Ninth Circle of this is almost certainly next year’s Paul Feig reboot of Ghostbusters recasting all the characters as women. Since, as Stephen Hawking now believes, information can escape a black hole, from what we know so far this is going to suck.
That’s not to say the cast aren’t capable (just not comedy geniuses of the calibre of the original cast) or that the director is bad (because some people like endless Bridesmaids clones), but the collective Schopenhauerian will of a million third and fourth wave feminists will not save it from existing in the shadow of the glorious, anarchic, one-off synergy of the original. Not so much the sequel.
Speaking of synergy (and lack thereof), the only thing that will soften the blow of being the worst movie of the 2010s is that Jem and the Holograms came out this year and was promptly pulled from cinemas. It was gobsmackingly-bad-without-the-schadenfreude because they’d poleaxed all the cool stuff light sci fi from the animation and tried to turn it into the bastard hybrid of 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats (by far the superior cartoon reboot) and Hannah Montana.
It also doesn’t help that when studios want to make truly original movies they seem to gravitate to directors who maybe had one good idea in them. The Wachowski’s (so far only) masterpiece was the first Matrix movie. I suspect that Jupiter Ascending will have ended their career and this is why.
Similarly Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 was quite good if you didn’t poke around with a stick too much, but the rest of his oeuvre has trundled on with movies that are basically other, better movies with the serial number filed off and post-colonial African allegories shoe-horned in. I weep for the Alien franchise.
The movies that stay with me do so for a number of reasons. Not all of them logical. And trying to narrow it down to five is tough because I could easily swap in dozens of others. I could have just as easily talked about Alien, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Shining, The ‘Three Colours’ Trilogy, Melancholia and so on, but in no particular order…
1 – The NeverEnding Story: The ‘80s of my youth were very good at fantasy movies. Even if the special effects look terrible by today’s standards (yes, Falcor the Luck Dragon does look like a Pekinese crossed with a bathmat) they had a naïve charm and mythic quality that you rarely see now, even if at times it was a bit kitschy – Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Princess Bride, even Willow. Perhaps it was the influence of Star Wars. There was no need to be edgy or hip. Even now they make Sir Peter of Miramar’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies seem windy, pretentious, self-indulgent and heavy by comparison.
The NeverEnding Story was a joint German-American production. The Germans provided the Romanticism and source material and the Americans had a Hollywood budget. Based on the wonderful novel of the same name by Michael Ende, at the time it was the most expensive movie ever produced outside of the US and USSR. The Limahl theme song may grate on today’s sensibilities but it still gives me chills, and the scene where Artax the talking horse drowns in the Swamp of Sadness scarred my generation almost as much as Watership Down. The decline of Western Civilisation can be charted in the shoddy sequels.
2 – Blazing Saddles: Although some of the sensibilities and references seem completely dated now, Blazing Saddles remains a ridiculous, hilarious, anachronistic slapstick romp that simultaneously manages to shamelessly mock racism, westerns, and Hollywood studio culture in general. All the borderline racism you couldn’t get away with today, still works because the cast are all in on it and it serves a purpose. The infamous farting scene remains hysterically funny. There isn’t really much more that can be said except to suggest that Blazing Saddles is what Adam Sandler’s The Ridiculous 6 aspires to be, but remains a turd because the former was made by indisputable gods of comedy like Mel Brooks and a highly unstable Richard Pryor, and the latter is being made by Adam Sandler, the personification of the German word Backpfeifengesicht.
3 – The Karamazovs: I have this really good Czech mate who used to show me a lot of Czech movies which turned out to be a very useful education in the cinema of that country. One of these that continues to haunt me is The Karamazovs by director Petr Zelenka. It’s potent stuff, telling the story of a bickering Czech acting troupe who come to perform a stage adaption of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov as part of an experimental drama festival in a Polish steelworks. As with Hamlet’s play within a play, the rehearsals play out against the troupe’s internal dramas and ultimately a tragedy among the spectators in the real world outside, all tied together by the great Dostoevskian themes of faith and morality. It’s a powerful story, blackly funny and at times bleakly harrowing, but very human.
4 – Metropolis: One of the great delights of Metropolis is that being silent, you can play whatever music you like with it provided it’s reasonably pacey and dramatic. A mixture of early science fiction (surely the first movie robot as we would recognise it), socialist allegory, and extraordinary Expressionist visuals.
5 – Queen Margot: Everything is perfect in this gem of French cinema; an exquisite costume drama, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas and set against the Massacre of the Huguenots in 1572 and the Byzantine assassinations and assignations of the court of Catherine de Medici. An angelic and luminous Isabella Adjani (as Margaret of Valois) and the unfeasibly handsome Vincent Perez (La Môle) are star-crossed lovers who only get a couple of opportunities to rut like bonabos on day-leave from a convent before France turns to shit. The musk of sex mingles with the ever-present stench of death. Once seen, you will never forget the coronation of Charles IX.