Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: what’s that all about, eh? Part three*

So? So I’m thinking and writing about the film that was meant to be Woody Allen’s return to form, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m thinking about it not so much in terms of what it appears to be but sits behind that appearance. I’ve been thinking, given the contusions** of its surface (and my dilletante-ish readings of Zizek) of it as a representation rather than a film. Or, in Freudian terms, as a symptom or presentation of underlying neurosis.

I decided there were two alternative thoughts/diagnoses.

One, it is a satire about the making a film like Vicky Cristina Barcelona. There are Gaudi bits of the city. There are rich expatriate Americans — Henry Jamesian without the quality tailoring. There is Penelope Cruz playing ‘crazy Spanish woman’. There is Javier Bardem playing ‘crazy Spanish artist’***. There is lunch. There is Spanish sex — with two young American girls. So not so much Spanish sex then as Woody Allen sex.

It is a view of Barcelona which gloriously reflects the maker’s own projections — because that is the stuff from which it is made. The city, the characters, their actions, these are all things which have no independent life outside Woody Allen’s head. They are thin, substance-less, one-dimensional — almost heroically so. The director’s singularity of vision peers inwards to what he already knows — or, rather, thinks he knows but actually doesn’t. That’s its deliciousness. Henry James again: it’s as if Daisy Miller had written Daisy Miller.

So, taken as a whole, all these elements of cliché, pastiche, reductionism and seemingly unfiltered symbolism combine to produce a film which is an accurate and enjoyable parody of an imaginary Woody Allen movie set in Barcelona. It’s the film that you or I would make if we wanted to make a comic reflection of the film we’d imagine that Woody Allen would make about Barcelona.

Read that way, it’s possible to pass a passable ninety minutes or so. And thank Woody Allen for giving us a late flowering of a new found capacity for self-reflection (as opposed to his earlier self-regard, self-fascination even).

So: Vicky Cristina Barcelona as a wry comedy of manners about a film-maker’s id-fuelled myopias and fabulously ignorant cultural prejudices. Attractive young girls! Spanish artists! Flouncing Spanish women! Gaudi bits and bobs! Barcelona, mi amigo! Las Ramblas! Tapas! Attractive young girls! Etc etc.

The second possibility? Wait till tomorrow.

* How many parts? Well, it’s currently looking like four, with a postscript (or two).

** Yes, I did mean contusions.

*** Who seems to have a private jet licence, too. Not to get too literal and picky about this, but I know a Barcelona-based artist, successful enough to have had a piece in MoMa. He runs bars to survive. He’s rich as rich by Barcelona artist standards.

Meanwhile . . . Tourists to London (and admirers of Tessa Jowell) might be interested in this.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Vicky Christina Barcelona: what’s that all about, eh? Part two*

Like everyone, I lost Woody Allen somewhere along the way. Can’t remember when. Probably in the early/mid-1990s, maybe earlier. That apart, I remember seeing a bit — on cable — of the one about Wimbledon. There was a murder in it, I think. It was so bad that, well, I can’t even be bothered to summon the will-power to finish that comparison.

So to his Vicky Christina Barcelona. I’d read and heard that it was a return to form. Yes, I know it’s a couple of years old, at least but . . . see above. I saw it was on cable. I missed it half a dozen times or so. Then I told myself: no, you must watch it. So, for once, I made myself sit down at the start and stay there till the credits.


Not well.

To understand what I write next, you probably need to have seen it or have me provide you with at least an outline description of it. Again, I can’t be bothered. Work it out yourself from the title: two girls, Americans, Spain. Add what you know of Woody Allen’s work and you’ve got a good idea.

So . . . there are only two possible explanations/readings of this film** . . . Which I will start explaining/reading in the next post.

* How many parts exactly? Well, more than two, it seems. I’ll keep you posted.

** I’d been reading*** a certain amount of Zizek and so found myself somewhat influenced by his stand-up philosophy.

*** When I write about ‘readingZizek, I don’t, of course, mean reading in the sense of opening a book, studying it, finishing it. No, I mean reading newspaper interviews with him, glancing at the cover of a photocopy of his 1989 essay Which Subject of the Real? that’s on top of a Really Useful box in my office and rewatching his wonderful Channel 4 documentary, The Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema. Well, some of it.

Towards a future post . . . Go here, paste in some text (your own, mine, a writer you like) and it’ll tell you which famous writer’s style it’s closest to. I’ve done mine. Hence the forthcoming post. Only not till I’ve finished with Woody Allen and Freud on football.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: what’s that all about, eh? Part one*

I rarely go to the cinema these days. Partly because of the smell — damp carpets in ‘heritage’ ones, popcorn in multiplexes. Partly because I go to the theatre a lot and, what with having to watch a publicly acceptable and democratically accountable amount of football, time is short. Mostly, though, I just forget to go. At least, that’s the way it feels.

When my children were young I’d go all the time. My daughter, in particular, loved seeing every new children’s films. Sometimes several times. Once, we found ourselves the only customers in Swiss Cottage Odeon for Mrs Doubtfire. It was like being in your own sitting room. If it was the world’s biggest sitting room.

My younger son loved cartoons — a taste I share with him and was happy to indulge, with Saturday mornings spent at Bugs Bunny retrospectives and Fritz Freling symposiums. (Some day, I’ll share with you my thesis that all cinema aspires to cartoondom and that CGI is a step in that direction — only counter-productively complex and expensive.) Sadly, my son’s true favourite cartoons were Japanese — Digimon etc. If you’ve never seen one, keep it that way. Sitting beside him in the dark, I’d find myself weighing up the merits of suicide.

I genuinely can’t remember the last time I went, or to which cinema. The last film I can actually recall seeing at a cinema was a Lord of the Rings thing. Maybe the first. Maybe the second. It was that younger son who took me — as in, got me to take him and his friends. I fell asleep. I was ravished by the New Zealand landscapes, though.

I do watch movies, of course, but on TV. Mostly on cable movie channels — because I pay for them so it seems churlish not to watch them, like an anorexic woman leaving half her restaurant meal on the plate. So I watch a lot of bits of movies — I’m not good at figuring out and remembering when what starts. I watch movies I’ve seen before — it’s not only small children who like to hear the same story over and over. I also tape movies I haven’t seen — and sometimes even watch those. Sometimes, I even watch whole movies, from the start to the end.

What this means, though, is I’m always behind in my movie watching. I’ve never seen the latest hit — or the one before or the one before that, generally. I could, I know, catch them on DVD — but that involves Amazoning them and, frankly, my house already has enough unread books and unwatched CDs and unplayed DVDs in it to keep me occupied and engaged well beyond my likely death.

Also, I could watch them online etc. But I already spend enough time on the computer and don’t feel I should watch pirate torrents. That’s a young people thing, inappropriate and unbecoming — unglamorous, even — in grown-ups.

So there are always movies I wanted to see but never got round to. In particular, the ones at the less populist end of the range. Cable movie channels are good on romcoms — so I get to appreciate Russell Brand’s updating of Spinal Tap in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But I don’t often see the kind of movies I used to always see on first release at my local, the Screen on the Hill in Belsize Park. (I think it’s changed its name now. Shows how much attention I pay, right.)

Which leads to what I was getting to, divergently, right from the beginning: Woody Allen. Well, it will in the next posting.

* This was originally one long posting. Then it got very long. Then I showed it to my wife who said: it’s very long and it doesn’t read like a blog, it’s like an article. So I cut it in bits and will post one a day over the week. How many bits? Well, at least one more. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out.

Meantime . . . a touch of French expertise

Next up Vicky Cristina Barcelona: what’s that all about, eh? Part two