Wednesday 29 November 2017

78/52 review

Comprised of 78 shots and 52 cuts, the shower scene in Psycho is one of the most famous moments in cinema history, shocking audiences by killing off its lead character less than half way into the film. Quite easily one of the most studied and discussed moments in cinema history, this new documentary aims to pull back the shower curtain to reveal unknown facts about the film and the process of making that iconic scene.

78/52 is a deep dive down the plughole, with talking head contributions from Bret Easton Ellis, Leigh Whannell, Karyn Kusama, Janet Leigh's body double, Eli Roth, Scott Spiegel, Walter Murch, Guillermo del Toro and Jamie Lee Curtis to name but a few, all who have opinions about Marion Crane's last moments. It's worth questioning how much dissection is necessary or even asked for. Although the approach is more populist that academic, anyone who has ever studied cinema will have studied the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and in particular his most memorable scene. This is film theory presented as fact, and is therefore unlikely to appeal to an audience unfamiliar with Psycho.

It may be talking into a bathroom-shaped echo chamber populated by film obsessives, but there's an appealing degree of theorist confirmation to documentaries of this ilk. Adopting a similar format to the Stanley Kubrick/The Shining dissection Room 238 but with far less crazy (or are they?) conspiracy theories, 78/52 is able to offer new readings that may prove educational to some; for example the foreshadowing in the films early scenes where Marion drives with rain lashing down on her windshield with wiper blades slashing across. 

It's not just the shot structure and editing that gets put under the microscope. Bernard Hermann's iconic string score come under close scrutiny, as does the foley artistry of the scene. How do you recreate the sound of stabbing? The answer, melons. There is some efforts to put Psycho within the context of Hitchcock's other films of the era, but mostly to point out how much it stands alone in his filmography. Shot in black and white on a small budget with the crew from his television show, on paper it should not have been the success it was.

Gus van Sant's shot for shot remake of Psycho is also given a fair amount of attention, for whilst being ultimately a failure that couldn't recreate Psycho's specific charm and shock levels, was at the very least an interesting document on how it's very hard to duplicate film history. The film delves into how the influence of the shower scene and its meticulous construction has been felt across cinema from Jurassic Park to Raging Bull and beyond. Educational without too much pandering, what also works for this film is that, despite it not being able to emulate the same level of tension as the Master of Suspense, it is able to create some sort of sustained dread. This is particularly noticeable in the final sequences of the film, as the scene and the documentary reach their crescendos.

One for fans and film obsessives who like to pore over every detail of the films they love, 78/52 is a great documentary that's well worth checking in and checking out.


Saturday 25 November 2017


You may not be immediately aware of who Tom of Finland was or his artwork, but it's unlikely you're unaware of the impact the work of Tom, AKA Touko Laaksonen has had on gay culture and fashion of the 1970s and 80s, and therefore most forms of popular entertainment. His intricately shaded pencil drawings of burly moustachioed men in leather and uniforms helped shaped the iconography of the era.

This biography starts with Touko (Pekka Strang) as a soldier fighting in World War II, hiding his homosexuality and engaging in illegal and dangerous sexual encounters with other soldiers. Returning home from the war to live with his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), his attempts to come out to her are dismissed as him being confused and changed by the war. Opting to continue his sex life with unknown men in public bathrooms and wooded areas often raiding by the police, he uses his provocative, often pornographic drawings as calling cards to reveal his homosexuality to others. Spanning a long period of time from the Second World War to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the secretive nature of Touko's life shares more in common with an espionage thriller like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, except the content of the articles being passed around is a little bit different.

Where the film falls down is in its exploration of the man as an artist. His wartime persona and the impact his killing of a Russian soldier had on him is well covered in the first half of the film, but the story is crying out for more to be revealed about his method and inspiration. This is better explored once Touko begins to understand his international, more mainstream appeal and flirts with the prospect of new horizons in the open atmosphere of California, but there's a lack of actual artwork on show, save for a few brief scenes of Touko sketching. Given that his images are so indelible, this is often a frustrating element of the film.

The film is respectful of Tom's legacy and of his romantic life with long term partner, Veli (Lauri Tilkanen), but some parts of the film have fallen for classic biography pitfalls, including some questionable old man make-up effects and a visit to foreign lands where everyone speaks with a certain Finnish twang. Thankfully this is largely forgivable, particularly when the film does so well at capturing the covert, secretive tone of Touko's earlier years.

A lot of the work seems tame and even quaint by today's standards (to the point where his work was celebrated in his native Finland by appearing on postage stamps), but the film makes clear that this was a different time that was unaccepting of his homosexuality, and that the images created by Touko were extremely dangerous to be in possession of. As told to him by one official, also leading a secret life, "it's not just a picture. It's an atomic bomb".

As an important artistic figure it's right that his life should be celebrated; it's just a pity the film didn't take a leaf out of Touko's book and sketch things out with more detail.


Monday 20 November 2017


As is abundantly evident in this new documentary, Jim Carrey is at an incredibly interesting point in his career. His most recent film appearance was in The Bad Batch, a Netflix movie that came and went with little fanfare. If you've seen that film and don't recall Jim Carrey appearing in it, that's probably because his role as a waif thin transient with a gigantic beard rendered him near unrecognisable from the A-list movie star who appeared in Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber and Mr Poppers Penguins. Seemingly eager to expand upon (or possibly destroy) his movie star image, this Netflix documentary looks behind the scenes of one of his most lauded dramatic performances, as Andy Kaufman in the 1999 Milos Forman film, Man on the Moon. Although some stories of Carrey's method approach surfaced at the time, the actual footage has been in the possession of Carrey since that film wrapped. The reason he's kept it away? Well, therein lies the story of this documentary.

Placing the film in the context of his career and the other films he appeared in at the time (The Truman Show clearly had an equally profound effect on him and his position as a celebrity), it's a testament to one of Carrey's strongest abilities as an actor; to lay himself completely bare on screen. Although as a reflective Carrey says in the intimate talking head interview that drives this film, it isn't even him up on screen. Talking about hearing he got the part whilst sitting on a beach in Malibu where 30 dolphins suddenly appeared, Jim claims he received a telepathic message from Andy saying "sit down, I'll be doing my movie".

Carrey's get out clause of "what happened afterwards was out of my control" is debatable, and a lot of the footage filmed by a small roaming crew of documentarians (comprised of Kaufman's former girlfriend, Lynne Marguiles, and his former writing partner, Bob Zmuda) captures Carrey only responding as if he was Andy, and some extraordinarily bad behaviour, including wandering around with a paper bag on his head to the complete exasperation of director Milos Forman, and turning up to set drunk as Kaufman alter-ego, Tony Clifton. Notoriously hard to handle when portrayed by Kaufman in the 70s, highlights of the Man on the Moon behind the scenes footage see Clifton, played by Bob Zmuda, arrive at the Playboy Mansion to cause havoc (with some sycophants commending Carrey's method until Carrey himself turned up), and Carrey as Clifton walking around Spielberg's offices demanding to see "the real shark".

Carrey offers no apologies for his/Andy's/Tony's behaviour, and despite some of the cast and crew of Man on the Moon taking it in good humour, it's almost a surprise Carrey worked ever again. Perhaps they saw it, as this film casually suggests, as a movie star desperately trying to prove himself as a legitimate actor and not just as a clown. Carrey is resolute in his claim that it was Kaufman on set, not him, and although it's amusing to see former co-workers like Judd Hirsch and Jerry Lawler puzzled, bemused and (allegedly) angered by Carrey's antics, a meeting between Kaufman's daughter and Carrey as Kaufman has potentially emotionally scarring implications that are hard to fathom.

Having undergone some personal turmoil recently that has kept him off cinema screens, when Carrey stares directly down the camera lens and into your living room, it's hard not feel compassion for the man. Even with his beard, he's still incredibly youthful looking at the ripe old age of 55, but there's something about those eyes looking back at you that make you realise you've probably underestimated him as a performer for his whole career. Putting the Kaufman channeling to one side, this film is a great study of the artist's method, and although they could have included input from Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, etc, by keeping the sole contemporary voice as Carrey's it is able to focus on his power as a performer, on screen and off.

This documentary (to give it its full title, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton) will help ensure that Carrey's lengths to go method will go down in history, although in classic Kaufman fashion, it's hard to tell if it was a joke and who was in on it with Carrey, Kaufman and Clifton the whole time.