I went to watch Brotherhood of the Wolf recently, and was suitably impressed. Amongst other things, the camera work is particularly original without having recourse to the more garish special effects available. Although the film is partly a measured disquisition on such themes as the atrocities committed by Europeans in America (although the enthusiasm displayed for American Indian culture is somewhat excessive) and the Enlightenment (although the suggestion that the Enlightenment was apparently synonymous with atheism seems somewhat misplaced), it also succeeds in a more visceral sense, in a way in which few English films can. The tendency in the English speaking world has been towards a somewhat postmodern style of allowing the genre to bring attention to itself, and which has consequently led to a degree of objectification that is essentially incompatible with the horror genre. One other aspect of the film that may prove attributable to its origins is its refusal to sanitise violence (as a consequence the film can be well described as gore-spattered) by airbrushing injury out altogether.
I also went to see Moulin Rouge. It’s a somewhat interesting film, although given the somewhat traditional plot, one is left wondering what the exact reason for the anachronistic use of modern music in a turn of the century setting might be. This is not to say that the music is misplaced, the inclusion of Nirvana and Bowie is certainly aesthetically congruent with its surroundings, but it is to say that the Brechtian quality to it seems a little gratuitous. If anything the film makes less sense as a narrative than as a combination of the music and visual effects, a combination that appears to try for much of the time to bludgeon the senses; although it has to be observed that this does mean that the film tends to fade from memory somewhat quickly after you leave the cinema. One of the highlights of the film is undoubtedly Jim Broadbent’s rendition of Madonna’s Like a Virgin, a piece which admirably showcases Mr Broadbent’s talents as one of our finest male impersonators.
Another recent viewing was Enigma, although I should perhaps note that having already visited Bletchley Park may well have given me somewhat of a head start on understanding the film. That said, the role of cryptography in the plot does save the film from what it might otherwise have become; a somewhat conventional thriller, mystery story and romance. Finally, it would be unfair not to note that John Barry’s score for the film is certainly one of the best things he’s done in years. On a rather less topical note, I’ve also watched A Clockwork Orange. I have to admit that I was not excessively impressed; Burgess originally chose Beethoven in the film so as to avoid the risk of pop culture references becoming dated (even if Elvis regrettably appears to be dating rather better than Beethoven). In this case, why did Kubrick feel it to be a good idea to use electronic versions of Beethoven’s music that now sound horribly dated? Perhaps for the same reasons that he chose set and costumes that look as if they were on loan from some especially ghastly seventies BBC sitcom? It all sits very badly with the quite Shakespearean language (a somewhat vague analogy but it is the one that keeps on coming to mind, perhaps because of the books Burgess wrote on Shakespeare and Marlowe) and the otherwise impeccable acting of Malcolm McDowell.
It’s also clear why Burgess disliked the film; the concept of the film as a Catholic morality play, hinging upon the idea of moral rehabilitation being worthless without the element of choice is made to compete with a set of alternative tenets; namely that the violence of the state is worse than that of the individual. In short, the Prison Priest is displaced as a moral figure in favour of a political satire (perhaps Kubrick should have chosen Enderby instead) directed at the Home Secretary. It’s the sort of idea that worked well in Dr Strangelove, which, by being a much simpler film, acquired much more clarity. The complexity of A Clockwork Orange does make it more interesting but, by diluting any central message, also weakens the overall impact.