Those guys! More than just doctors, they’re movie stars! And supposedly, thoughtful, intelligent, smart, rich movie stars. Any film they’re involved with must have something to offer, right? So, Tomorrowland. They’re both in it! George and Hugh! Originally called 1952, it’s a big science fiction, adventure film. Optimistic. There’s a lot on offer. All the FUTURE!!
Brad Bird directed and co-wrote – one of his inspirational items was an original blueprint of Tomorrowland (part of Disneyland). Visible under that blueprint is the map of another land, an idealistic future place, never built by Disney. That’s what Brad Bird wanted to make for his film. A place crafted by artists and creatives without politics or greed. Here are the lead artists: George, Brad, Britt, Raffey and Hugh.
Two old men and two young girls. Let’s not think about that too long.
Saw George, Britt and Hugh on Graham Norton‘s show talking about the film. Sounded great. So we watched it. I hope everyone does watch it. As well as high production levels, amazing art and craft, there are some interesting ideas. But if you do want to watch it don’t bother reading this blog any further because I’ve come up with some spoilers for you!
On the face of it, this film feels like an answer to The Age of Stupid. (Sadly that title doesn’t do much to sell an otherwise provocative and interesting film. If you get a chance, it includes one of the best ‘aha’ moments ever on screen.) This was one of Pete Postlethwaite‘s last films and documents the end of the world as we know it. He plays an archivist trying to understand what went wrong. Why did humans not save themselves when they had the chance?
Tomorrowland puts forward a theory. Humans are brainwashing themselves into believing they have no chance in this grim global warming and beastly aggression. The end of life as we know it is inevitable because that’s what we’ve been told. The future has been forecast by some high-tech wizardry, that’s it, done and dusted. We succumb.
It takes a positive young person, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) a thinker and questioner to ask ‘Why?’ When she raises doubts that the world’s apparently impending destruction is at all necessary, the chance of the world (people and place) ending drops immediately from 100% to 99.94%. Maybe the end is not so inevitable after all. Frank Walker (George Clooney), a retired genius, reluctantly agrees to assist her return to Tomorrowland and save the world. Much hilarity ensues.
Turns out, you have to be invited to Tomorrowland, a place in another dimension, that presumably is on Earth somewhere sometime. It’s a bit like a cult or the chosen few going to heaven. Let’s not think about that too long either.
There is much to enjoy in Tomorrowland, as I hope you find out, but something happened on the way to the shooting script. I’m not sure if the script that enticed Hugh Laurie was the one that got made. Did he have some say in how he wanted his character to be seen in a Disney film?
Because it’s his character, David Nix, who doesn’t have a clear objective. He’s maintaining this system of showing the worst possible outcomes to the people in the vain hope that humans will act to save themselves. And when they don’t, he becomes disillusioned and refuses to assist humans. So on the one hand, he does want to help humanity and the other, when the chips are down, he won’t.
At the start, why wouldn’t Nix, as director of a visionary theme park, eventually Governor, encourage a smart young fellow, Frank Walker, to continue with his clearly ambitious jet pack invention? What is Nix’s drive?
Is Nix’s negativity a result of penny-pinching, greed or something more sinister? Does he Nix any future (see what I did there?) for Tomorrowland just because he’s a misanthrope? He certainly has an interesting jodpher-esque costume, with scales on the sleeve, in the second part of the film which does lead one to think of evil villains.
Certainly, part of the vision of Tomorrowland involves guards and full-on weapons – not the innocent Disney peaceful idea one might hope for. But Nix himself is rather nice – he’s not an obvious villain. He doesn’t laugh absurdly and he doesn’t have a strange pet.
As for Frank, he’s invited in to Tomorrowland by a lovely girl robot, gets to develop the cool machine that brainwashes people and is then kicked out violently by violent nasty robots (presumably developed by the creative artist types). This backstory itches to be developed – maybe it was in a draft somewhere – and the story as shot slumps to the end …
Because, why do we want to go to live in Tomorrowland, another land in a different time and place, if we’ve saved the world as we know it? We can presumably, live on and improve the land we’ve got already. Drearyland. Earthland. Realland. Warland. Disasterland. Okay. Let’s not think about that.
There are amazing fight sequences between robots, lovely CG and fun sequences but with three writers credited – Bird, Lindelof and Jensen – the problems could have been fixed at the computer before the cameras were switched on.
The Lobster, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and co-written by Efthimis Filippou, is about relationships, though not necessarily about marriage. It is about politics; rules, conventions and the law. It is about expectations, survival and truth.
A man, David, finds himself single after his wife leaves him for another. He travels to a comfortable hotel of repartnering (a luxurious hotel in Ireland) taking his brother (who is now a dog). There are many regulations and his brother is a constant reminder of failure.
The Lobster is rather sweet and whimsical at first but quickly slides into a nightmare for the protagonist. He knows he has limited time to find a suitable partner. When he fails, as he probably will, he will be turned into the animal of his choice, a lobster. Most people want to be turned into a dog, which is why there are so many dogs and why most other animals are endangered. Whilst within this system he becomes part of the police and must track down and recover outsiders to buy extra time to seek that one special match.
After some horrible events David switches allegiance and finds himself amongst the hunted in the Woods. Here life is equally overburdened with rules and his attempt to find loopholes by creating another language is heavily punished. Finally, he must curtail his own freedom to survive. He damages himself in order to conform.
This is a black and white world. The characters are as careful as poker players as they attempt to avoid confrontation. Their neutral speech is that of robots as they struggle to protect their dissembling from discovery.
The final scenes are set in a cafe next to a highway full of busy criss-crossing roadbuilding trucks. Further questions arise from these pictures. What price progress?
The Lobster’s layers of fantasy and magical realism embrace cold naturalism and swing it into another world. It’s not a comfortable world. Nor is it dystopian because it is impossible in the way of Brazil or The Bothersome Man or A Zed and Two Noughts. It is like Pan’s Labyrinth in that there are certainly strict and forceful methods of dealing with outsiders. As I understand dystopia that grim future may be possible, such as in The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 or The Road. The films I listed above, such as The Bothersome Man, are more like The Lobster as allegory or parable and were made specifically for film, the visual media, and not adapted from novels.
The Lobster asks many ethical questions of the audience. How are we to live our lives hamstrung by nonsensical conventions? Who makes up the rules? Why should we go along with the majority and worse still, assist in policing rules we don’t understand and don’t need to follow?
In order to partner with someone, to return to the city and a somewhat ‘normal life’ in a steady relationship, there must be a match in identifying characteristics. Is this how we now live our lives on the internet? We are aware of information shared by those we agree with. Is it possible that in the days of newspapers and television that edited truth provided a wider view than that which most of us choose to see from our ‘tribe’? If all we ever know is what we already know, then how can we even begin to imagine what life is like for others?
Taking an even wider vision from the film, our society is divided.Why should some people be better than others? The show of force from stronger and stronger police, armies and surveillance must be examined. Which laws exist to protect us? Who is us? Whose side are you on?
How can you have a relationship with nature when you are part of nature? Is it like having a relationship with your relations? You’re part of your family and you relate to all the other parts? Or you have a relationship with your knee? It’s part of you?
When you watch the film The Cove, you see the fisher-folk protecting their (profitable) livelihood of capturing and/or slaughtering dolphins and porpoises. And these guys, all with their own families and knees, bark at the observers and activists like guard dogs. They snarl and growl and a chap nicknamed Private Space taunts the camera operator and the guilty dolphin trainer, Ric O’Barry (who stole the original Flippers from their mothers), trying to make those bleeding-heart liberals strike him. Only, it’s his taunting that’s recorded in The Cove, we never see him struck. (Of course, that does not mean it did not happen.)
So how are all us keen film-goers related to these beastly fisher-folk? As we chow down on our steak sandwiches and our lamb chops (the lamb ads repeated in every ad break on SBS-on-demand). You’ve heard of it, I take it? The Cove? This film that sneaks undercover to film the unwatchable? It’s about a town in Japan called Taijii that thrives on its proximity to the annual migration of dolphins. The film is made by Louie Psihoyos, the same director/photographer who made Racing Extinction (coming soon to a screen near you).
The Cove is the big undercover, under-rocks, under the law, covert filming adventure. Dolphins are traded to become performers (Traditional? Boats with engines? Seaworld?) and the rest are killed for meat which no-one likes very much anyway. Which also just happens to have a very high mercury content. So high that bargin-hungry schools are now refusing to feed the tainted meat to children at lunchtime.
Ric O’Barry with dolphin meat. savejapandolphins.org
The blood in the water and it still continues and it does not seem the world cares very much. Or at least, it seems our human relatives are more concerned with matters closer to home, like their relationships with their own mortgages, careers and genitalia. The USA enthralled by their relationship with their guns and their own personal arms race. Their President sadly expecting to offer condolences to the next grieving families because the beastly Congress has ‘politicised’ (as if it hadn’t already) the industry of arms manufacture and dealing. If we can’t deal with the millions of displaced persons, thousands of gun deaths and desperate refugees left to rot forever in concentration camps because they fled persecution in their own countries how can we deal with a mere 23,000 dolphins and porpoises killed annually in Taijii?
Can’t last, can it. If the dolphins don’t work out that this is a place to be avoided every year and change their own migratory path, they’ll just get wiped out, won’t they? So if we did want to have a relationship with any of them, we couldn’t. They’ll be gone. Is that what we wait for? Problem gone.
As for Blackfish, well, Free Willy it ain’t. There are a few similarities of course. Again, you’d think as a result of watching a story about a particular infamous orca called Tilikum the more vociferous of peeps with those caring activist relationships to nature would have strong-armed Seaworld into giving the kid a break. Recently, there has been movement in preventing Seaworld from breeding orcas, which I suppose means they’ll just go out and catch more from the wild. OH&S say humans can no longer risk their lives going into the same ponds as the potential killers (ie crazed, imprisoned orcas). But Tilikum is still on show. So again, we protect humans and their investments while some of us pathetically dream of lovely sanctuaries for sea creatures driven nuts by solitary confinement in a bath.
Sometimes flashbacks to books I’ve read about slavery – and I didn’t pay much attention at the time – those relationships, those attitudes – those poor dumb brutes – they were people, sentient beings – bought and sold for market, just like orcas, dolphins and racehorses. And cows, of course.
How dare economists say the market will save the environment? How can it, possibly? All the market can save is itself. Some rich bastards, their bank accounts and their property. If the property happens to be alive, so be it. If it be better dead, so be it. If it be in pain, then, so be it. That’s our favourite relationship. Not to nature. Does the fish know it swims in water? No. Our favourite and most assumed relationship is to a fiction. To money. It doesn’t even exist. Can’t eat it. Can’t sleep under it. Can’t even shoot it. But it will buy you a performing dolphin. Or an orca.
George spoke about his film, SnowMonkey, and his work with The Yellow House, Jalalabad. He believes that documentaries are applied art, not fine art. He spoke of his horror of war and the never-ending personal effects of witnessing the Rwandan massacre in the 90s. His biography is fascinating and I remember hearing about the Sydney Yellow House in the 70s, and I saw it when they rebuilt it at the Gallery of NSW in the 90s.
Louie, the director of The Cove and Racing Extinction and the Executive Director of The Oceanic Preservation Society, began by reminding us we are either activists or non-activists. He makes films that are weapons of mass construction. He says he’s not making a movie, he’s making a movement. (According to Paul Hawken, he’s one of many but that’s quibbling!) At the screening of Racing Extinction, Louie spoke of wanting to increase the circle of compassion and recommended Saving Species.
Racing Extinction will play to over a billion people on December 2nd 2015 via the Discovery Channel just prior to the
in the hope people will contact their politicians and make a difference.
Racing Extinction has been on my radar for months. From my jaded perspective of reading and writing about endangered species for over twenty years (Polyglot Puppet’s Not the end of the world premiered in 1995) I have to admit to slight disappointment in the film itself, mainly because of its lack of focus. The three acts could easily have been three films; the first an eco-thriller about undercover photographers in clandestine operations to expose illegal marketing of threatened species. Secondly, the story of an Indonesian fishing village encouraged to transform into a shark whale tourist destination and, finally, the brilliant story of passionate photographers projecting ghostly images of endangered (or extinct) animals across the landscape of New York.
Whatever, Racing Extinction is a wonderful film and I urge everyone to see it. It reminded me of another ambitious film, The Age of Stupid, which I also encourage you to see, despite its title. Both films, intensely entertaining and engaging, suffer from the makers trying to do too much. However, because I am aware of the issues (I am the choir) I may not be able to judge effectiveness in changing audience’s hearts and minds.
Tyke, Elephant Outlaw is a smaller film with one clear viewpoint and one leading character. One of the co-directors, Susan Lambert, spoke in the forum about the need to engage the audience’s hearts. Sometimes the film brings tears, sometimes it makes you laugh but if the makers can’t engage the audience, she suggested trying something else!
Tyke, Elephant Outlaw certainly engages, perhaps even too strongly. Perhaps we might have been spared some of the analysis, perhaps some of the more graphic footage might have been trimmed, but as Lambert describes their aim, the film wants to explore mankind’s relationship to other species through the story of one creature and they clearly succeed. The story of Tyke is grim viewing, a Blackfish for land animals. But that is our relationship to elephants, to other species, and the film makes it clear that that relationship is changing. Has to change.
For George Gittoes, man’s inhumanity to man is at the heart of the battle but I believe all these great artists, Gittoes, Psihoyos, Lambert and Batsias are fighting the same war, trying to raise awareness of man’s essential destructive abandon. I think George can reassure his daughter he is working with Louie.
On mass, humans don’t know, don’t care and we are, beyond a doubt, destroying our only home and endangering the human race. The rock that is the Earth will survive us, of course, but there is no doubt, we are in a war, a war with ourselves as the enemy. Our ignorance and blindness to the effects of our actions on our neighbours is now, with over seven billion people on the Earth, completely catastrophic.
Will we wake up in time? Can the forces of captialism, corporate greed and elitism be splintered into individual beating hearts by the use of art?
Chatting to my sister on the phone over the weekend, we talked about the Bowie exhibition and the film about Amy Winehouse. Her remarks about talent gave me pause. Is it all about the talent? But what is talent? Or is it something else?
I love the Calvin Coolidge quote: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
The most talented people do not always win. Many of them are deeply, DEEPLY insecure (in fact, the MOST talented people I know are also the most full of self-doubt) and fall by the wayside at the first or second rejection. If you really want this career, you are going to have a million little rejections along the way: not getting roles you desperately want, working with difficult colleagues or bosses/conductors/directors who bully you or belittle you, being slammed in reviews. If you can’t cope with rejection, get out now.
Amy. The product. The film about the product. The film about bear-baiting. The film about prodding a little caged bird with a stick, ‘Sing! Sing!’ Amy the person lost, abandoned, crushed. She said at the outset she felt lucky to be able to sing. It was something she enjoyed doing, wanted to do well and was glad she could do it. But it wasn’t about being famous. Or rich. She just wanted to do her own thing.
Her final concert; the treatment by her record label representatives, fellow musicians on stage and audience made me consider that human beings, together as a species, have bulimia. We don’t know when to stop stuffing ourselves with the good things, things we like, like pretty singers and booze and fish and fossil fuels and porn. Maybe we’re all looking for someone to tell us what to do. To be a friend. To bring us into line. To manage us. Amy portrays a desperately sad story of management gone seriously, badly, wrong.
Is this human nature?
On the other side of the talent coin, Bowie on exhibition, shows all the stuff out of his shed (admittedly it’s a way cool shed). He was allowed to grow up, possibly he was a physically stronger person to start with and he survived. The man was a dancer, trained with Lindsay Kemp. Incredibly disciplined, focused and energetic.
It’s obvious when you watch the clip of Bowie as a mime artist struggling with a mask, he is extremely fit and muscular; must have been taking all sorts of classes as well as conniving amazing frocks and sets and writing songs and finding new people to work with. Remembering that ‘collaboration’ means ‘working with the enemy’, Bowie sought input and inspiration from a wide assortment of recently graduated stars. Determined, ambitious and curious, Bowie kept seeking new things, including drugs.
Tony Bennett said about Amy, that he would have told her to slow down, that life teaches you how to live, eventually. If you live that long.
The arts are tough. There are many talented folk who want a go in the limelight and the people who spin the golden wheels need only a few to put through the grinder at any one time. And how do the ingenues come through the grind? Some survive and go on to a happy relaxed retirement, the odd brilliant cameo and wonderfully photogenic grandchildren. Really?
All we want is an audience, and I’m speaking for myself here, just some helpful souls to recognise the work and listen/absorb/contemplate the ideas. I don’t know about creating demand for more. That’s not factored in to my story. But for those who can, who know how to take a cut, who want to be friends so they can benefit? (Lucky I don’t know anyone like that!)
At an arts forum the other night, an empresario encouraged the ‘artists’ present to think of themselves as somehow different, as the ones with ideas, the creative ones. But I think he’s wrong. I think everyone is creative, more or less, everyone has ideas, it’s human nature. You’ve just got to be allowed (by yourself as much as anyone else) to shape them and share them. So do. Make that thing! Sing that song!