For many, the first time hearing the name Recy Taylor would have been in January 2018 when Oprah Winfrey paid tribute to the extraordinary woman in her Golden Globe speech, and yet Taylor’s sexual assault would prove to be an organisational spark in the Civil Rights Movement decades before the Women’s Movement and the #MeToo resurgence.
On September 3rd 1944, Recy Taylor neé Corbitt was kidnapped at gunpoint after leaving Church in Abbeville, Alabama by seven young white men. They drove her to a nearby wooded area where six of them – aged between 14-18 – took turns in raping and terrorising the 24-year-old sharecropper, wife and mother, before leaving her blindfolded and stranded at the side of the road. Despite three eye witnesses identifying the driver who would name all of his passengers (none of whom were questioned) an all white, all male jury dismissed the case. Enter the NAACP and their chief investigator, Ms. Rosa Parks who was to conduct a thorough investigation, help defend Taylor and seek punishment for her attackers – some eleven years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott – a dangerous business in Jim Crow-era South.
Writer-Director Nancy Buirski (The Loving Story) uses her film – which had premieres at the Venice Biennale and New York Film Festival – to expose the systematic racism that not only fostered the heinous crime but covered it up. She utilises footage from “race films” and their lack of white gaze to Recy Taylor’s story. These are intercut with gospel music and Church footage – shot by Zora Neale Hurston whose journalistic prose would prove important during another unconscionable and despicably unjust “rape” case in Scottsboro a decade earlier.
While the obvious tone of this documentary is solemnity, some may find its structure superfluous, however, these snippets of human life, art and joy in the face of such adversity are beautiful in an otherwise infuriating film where (yet again) white privilege not only dehumanised this woman but terrorised her family. The full impact of which is discussed in interviews with Taylor’s brother Robert and sister Alma. Hearing them describe how their father slept in a tree overlooking their home (after Recy and husband Willie’s house had been firebombed) with a shotgun as a means to protect his family is particularly hard to hear, made all the more galling when one considers the justification for lynching was the white man “protecting” his wife and daughters. Benny Corbitt was, of course, not afforded that power.
Recy Taylor was just one in a longer tradition of black women who spoke her truth and sought justice, and an aspect the documentary does particularly well is arguing passionately for their place in history – these women were always there. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Ruby Bridges, the afore-mentioned Winfrey – look at the audiences photographed during Martin Luther King’s numerous rallies, they were there, or look to the backbone of the Black Panther Party, or consider there wouldn’t even be a #MeToo without Tarana Burke.
The Rape of Recy Taylor is urgent and essential viewing. It speaks to the visibility of the African American woman, and the countless women whose voices have failed to be heard. A quietly devastating dedication – get tissues for the last ten minutes – to strength, resilience, resistance and a sustained fight for justice. The name Recy Taylor stands for them all.
The Rape of Recy Taylor is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video
The power of fairy tales and stories in childhood can impact a lifetime not least due to the bedtime story whereby the adult attempts to lull the child to sleep with tales of wonder, and aid in the creation of dreams. Dreams, according to Freud, unconsciously assist with the resolution of a conflict and will be considered later, in greater detail, through an analysis of The City of Lost Children (1995). However, it is the action itself of storytelling which is intriguing, specifically between the adult, the child and the space they commune or what Maria Tatar refers to as a “contact zone”, a place of mutual meeting and experience as depicted in a film like The Fall (2006).
By distinguishing between the adult and child Tatar creates ambivalence, how can these two individuals share a mutual experience when she herself sets them apart from each other? Not to mention their individual reader identification and expectation. The contact zone can be said to exist but it is not more likely a mutual meeting of contradictory experience (or even be described as repellent)? A story’s narrative sets both adult and child onto different paths. Adam Gopnik suggests that “the grown up wants a comforting image of childhood” and is driven by nostalgia while the child uses the tales to move beyond childish things, a way of bypassing childhood and venturing out, albeit figuratively, into the world. There is even a suggestion that this contact zone/story space may extend to the dream-world specifically when considering Jeunet & Caro’s The City of Lost Children.
Fairy tales have, over the years, been the cause of much debate. Psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim stated that the tales speak directly to children while Danish Folklorist Bengt Holbek maintained that fairy tales were written for an adult audience with children occasionally listening to narratives not meant for their ears. What if they were written with both in mind? After all children are small(er) adults and adults are grown up children. Why should the listener or audience miss out on revisiting an aspect of childhood by vacating the realm of youth? It is the intention of this article to examine two original screen fairy tales in relation to the dual protagonists depicted, the notion of storytelling and the distinction of the ambivalent “contact zone”. The use of this concept, has been renamed the “story space” and may be a basis for the adult/child casting, however, this doubling or duality of character representation offers other possibilities, some of which will be explored.
In Tarsem Singh’s The Fall the protagonists consist of an adult and a child, strangers brought together by accidental circumstances. The film opens with an intertitle: “Los Angeles, long long ago” and scenes from the opening sequence quickly establish the setting in circa. 1915 California. Stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is languishing on the male ward of a picturesque hospital, confined to his bed after a stunt fall ends badly. Walker is a broken man in more ways than one, he has, not only, lost the use of his legs but the love of his life to the film’s leading man. Romanian immigrant Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) is on the other side of the compound in the children’s ward, her left arm in plaster following her fall from the top of a fruit picking ladder. Neither is necessarily destined to meet but both are isolated with few visitors. One day the wind blows Alexandria’s note to Sister Evelyn (Justine Waddell) out of her hands, into an open window and onto Roy’s lap.
So begins two exposition stories, one weighted in reality the other in an alternative world where the outcome is dependent upon how the real infiltrates the imaginary. Roy’s epic tale is a story of six unlikely companions; buccaneer and explosives expert Luigi (Robin Smith), ex-slave Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), The Indian (Jeetu Verma), a Mystic (Julian Bleach) and The Blue Bandit (Emil Hostina) and follows their quest to defeat the evil Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone).
From the start there is an indication that the visuals are formed through Alexandria’s imagination, elements within the fantastical realm are linked to the sights she sees around the hospital. She is providing the pictures while Roy creates the words. For example, much like The Wizard of Oz (1939), characters are drawn from the real world and find their way into the imaginary, Otta Benga is played by the man who delivers ice to the hospital and Odious’ henchman are costumed to closely resemble the Radiographer Alexandria is afraid of. Often the images and description do not correspond with each other, and the Indian of Alexandria’s mind is a man from India who wears a turban and who is mourning the death of his wife while Roy’s, unreliable, narration describes the man living in a wigwam and marrying a squaw.
The inclusion of the villainous Odious in the form of Sinclair (Caltagirone) the actor who has stolen the heart of Roy’s actress girlfriend once again confuses the narrative and thus the cinematic narrator has to take over. It is also following this first segment of story that the audience is aware of the real reason behind Roy’s affection of Alexandria’s company. He is using the story space to manipulate the small girl and will only continue the tale after she has located a bottle of morphine for him so he can finally “sleep”.
Alexandria is dark-haired and adorably plump and when she is first shot, she is framed within a doorframe, a crucifix mounted on the wall above her thus suggesting that she is inextricably linked with the divine. She has a special relationship with the hospital’s priest and even steals the Eucharist from the chapel and shares it with Roy who asks her if she is trying to save his soul. Her green eyes, missing teeth and stilted English make for an engaging and naturalised performance not least because the audience can occasionally miss snatches of dialogue. Her left arm is perpetually outstretched away from her body for the majority of the film’s runtime and she is almost always dressed in a white nightgown and taupe cardigan which she cannot wear properly due to the frame of the plaster cast. The wooden box she carries, which looks like a book, contains items she “likes”, photographs of her family, a spoon, small toys; a nostalgia box of memories.
Roy is also a brunette and despite their gender difference they are often clothed the same and often mimic each other’s body language (see images below). This may be an attempt by the adult to place the child at ease or perhaps is the visual depiction of the contact zone / story space previously discussed. Roy and Alexandria’s mutual experience of a fall, hospitalisation and subsequent isolation is the meeting place for them both. The story they both appear to enjoy, whether Roy wishes to return to his childhood or Alexandria wants to surpass hers, as Gopnik ascertains, remains to be seen.
On the surface, it can be argued that the girl represents the child Roy may never have. He has lost the love of life and the severity of his injury is never fully explored. For Alexandria, he may be a replacement father-figure having lost her father in a house fire. These are easy summations to make, however, another reading may suggest that Alexandria is Roy’s repressed inner child, or as described in Jungian theory, the Divine Child who has manifested through his suicidal despair. This archetype, according to Jung, is weak by design, under developed but one which can bring happiness and instil hope when it has been lost.
While this, in part, is true, Alexandria is stronger and more mature, even at six, than the infant images which are associated with the Divine Child. She is just as manipulative as Roy and changes the narrative at will, even inserting herself into the story when it looks like the original narrator is close to death. Rather than embodying the child archetype she can be read as Roy’s shadow, quite literally becoming his double once she is a part of the narrative and injects herself into the imaginary world, referring to herself as the Bandit’s daughter, stronger than ever, with two perfectly formed front teeth.
In reality, the roles have reversed in the sense that it is Roy who is now visiting a prostrate Alexandria. She has made a second attempt at getting the bottle of morphine pills, broken into the dispensary and fallen again which has resulted in a serious head injury and Roy is visibly distraught at what he has caused. It is worth noting that after her fall, Alexandria’s recovery is seen through a series of cinematic stills whereby her back-story is shown through live action images and animatronics. Her life literally flashes before her and this sequence is much darker than Roy’s beautifully invented panorama suggesting a real ambivalence between experience and innocence.
Roy admits that the story was a subterfuge to push the girl into assisting his suicide but Alexandria stubbornly refuses to believe this, even after Roy begins murdering the tale’s protagonists one by one. She begs him to stop and he tells her that it is his story, to which she answers “mine too”. Roy, who was also inserted into the fantasy after the death of the Blue Bandit and is now personifying the vengeful Black Bandit, allows Odious to drown him while his double-in-miniature looks on. Back in the hospital, both Alexandria and Roy are in tears and she begs him “Please. Don’t kill him I don’t want him to die. She loves him”.
Alexandria then makes an admission, she has known all along what Roy intended to do with the morphine pills “I don’t want you to die”. In preventing Alexandria’s despair, Roy has to save himself and in the fairy tale world he bursts through the water, re-born, and saved by his blessing in disguise. This confirmation of mortality, as experienced through Alexandria, is further explained by Bettelheim “[the] psychosocial crises of growing up are imaginatively embroidered and symbolically represented in fairy tales […] but the essential humanity of the hero, despite his strange experiences, is affirmed by the reminder that he will have to die like the rest of us”.
In The City of Lost Children, one character who is in denial about death is Krank (Daniel Emilfork). He is ageing at a progressive rate because he cannot dream; a lack of imagination is slowly killing him and so, he kidnaps children against the backdrop of a timeless, surrealist, Paris in order to extract their dreams and manipulate them as his own. He does this without realising that in his company they too cannot dream only produce nightmares which terrorise the thief in slumber.
Visually this text is very different from The Fall, where there was a palette abundant in colours and light, here there is limited light and the dominant colours are (as in Jeunet’s later film Amélie ) red and green. This lack of light is metaphorical of the disorientating struggle displayed in the mise-en-scéne; this is a place where babies are left out in rubbish bins and not missed. Krank’s “uncle” Irvin is a disembodied brain which survives in a tank and in the opening twenty minutes serves as the intradiegetic narrator and sets the scene:
“Once upon a time, there lived an inventor with a gift for giving life. […] Having neither wife nor child, he decided to make them himself. His wife’s gift was to be the most beautiful princess in the world. Alas a bad fairy gene cast a spell on the inventor so that when the princess was born, she was only three inches tall. He cloned six children in his own image, so similar you could hardly tell them apart but the bad spell meant that they all had the sleeping sickness. He needed a confidant, so, inside a fish tank, he grew a brain that had many migraines. Finally, he created his masterpiece, a man more intelligent than the most intelligent men. Alas, the inventor also gave him a flaw. He couldn’t dream […] it made him so unhappy that he grew old unimaginably fast [and then] died in dreadful agony, having never had a single dream.”
This is hardly the ideological filmic representation of hopes, wishes and desires that Jack Zipes describes when he is discussing the screen fairy tale but a social commentary on the complex use of technology versus religious fundamentalism. The inventor creates his family through technology and essentially ‘plays God’ only to be worshipped by a cult of Cyclops who, in return for their sight, kidnap the children Krank requires for his dream-catching. The messianic figure of One (Ron Perlman) whose back story is linked with other fairy tales (Jonah and the Whale and Pinocchio) enlists the help of an alluded-to Wendy, Miette (Judith Vittet) and her gang of Lost Boys/ urchins to rescue One’s little brother Denrée (Joseph Lucien). Miette and her fellow orphans work for The Octopus (Geneviève Brunet and Odile Mallet) identical twin sisters who dress, function, speak and work as one entity, conjoined at the leg.
While these dual characters are literally mirrored in their representation there are other characters which are connected subconsciously. Krank is beyond childhood without having actually experienced one and yet acts like a child, prone to tantrums and crying fits. Miette, on the other hand, is still physically in childhood but has the demeanour of an adult. Her orphaned abandonment has enabled her to mature quickly and her instinct for survival has her resorting to any means necessary to live, she is wise and tough far beyond her years. Miette and Krank are, in essence, two facets of the same person.
As described by Gopnik in his 1996 New Yorker article, Krank wants a way back into childhood while Miette wishes to embrace adulthood, even envisioning a relationship with the man-child strongman, One. When Miette and Krank come together in their contact zone/story space it is not through traditional storytelling but a dream in which they get to embrace their shadow selves and share a mutual experience.
Jung articulated this exchange in this way, “beneath the social mask we wear every day we have a hidden shadow side, an impulsive, wounded, sad or isolated part that we generally try to ignore. The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life. We meet our dark side, accept it for what it is and we learn to use its powerful energies in productive ways […] By acknowledging and embracing The Shadow as deeper level of consciousness and imagination can be experienced.” 
Krank is dispossessed of a soul, an imagination and empathy and upon sharing consciousness with Miette – the girl who does not dream – can finally experience what he has been missing. In the same token, Miette can embrace her youth and rescue the man she loves. The child in the crib is dressed in pyjamas which are the same colour and style and the boy’s hair has been reddened, he resembles a young One, this is evidently how she reconciles the contact zone.
Interestingly, only when the child starts to morph into Krank does the ageing process begin, the Shadow selves meet. Unlike The Fall, where assumptions are made regarding Alexandria and Roy’s future selves, here Krank accepts his Shadow and so begins his regression. In opposition, Miette begins to wither and age until the demented dream-catcher is a baby. Miette must embrace her biggest fear so she can move forward and that is imagining One dead. This interchange of dreams kills Krank in reality thus substantiating the importance of imagination, use of enchantment and originality.
Fairy tales give the adult reader a re-presented imagination. Understandably, the physical child may have evolved but these screen tales enable the repressed child to re-emerge through viewer identification. Perhaps, just like the children in these texts they enforce a sense of hope, strength and resilience which has long been forgotten.
The inclusion of a child within an adult diegesis serves more than just viewer manipulation. This division of realities and mirroring of locations, narratives and characterisations is an integral part of the postmodern film and more specifically this dual nature is present in screen fairy tales. While the texts that have been considered here have a very distinct separation between the real and imaginary, it would be worth considering the screen fairy tale which is based in reality and consider what purpose they may serve for an adult audience.
 Maria Tatar, Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood (New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009). A term borrowed from Mary Louise Pratt. Tatar changes the context of the original contact zone and sets about making her own.
 Ibid. p242. “The power of reading together derives in part from the fact that it involves a transaction between more than a single reader and a text. The dialogue that takes place between the [storytelling] partners fuels the transformative power of the story, leaving both the child and adult altered in ways they might never have imagined. [Mary Louise] Pratt found in contact zones a process of transculturation, with colonizer and colonized entering into lively, two-way cultural exchanges”.
 Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, (UK: Penguin, 1991).
 Bengt Holbek, Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Danish Folklore – A European Perspective, (Denmark: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia, 1987).
 These differences can also be examples of Pratt’s ‘contact zone’ specifically with the cross-cultural experience between American Roy and Romanian Alexandria.
 Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, (USA: Cornell University Press, 1980).
 Missing teeth as a motif are used throughout the picture. Roy tells Alexandria that power is symbolically associated with teeth and that she is currently “missing some strength”. Upon further investigation, however, teeth can be associated with illness and death and even a lack of faith (Greek) and in Chinese culture missing teeth symbolise telling lies. Some cultures believe that losing teeth can be sign that an individual has placed more faith in the word of man and has lost trust in God.
 Carl G. Jung, Essays on a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, (USA: Princeton University Press, 1969).
 The movie’s tagline is quite apt here. Only at Roy’s lowest ebb did she manifest.
 Jack Zipes, Happily Ever After: Children and the Culture Industry, (New York/London: Routledge, 1997) p9.
 One is an ex-whaler and following the loss of this job is hired by a travelling circus, of sorts, as a strongman. Aside from size he is for all intents and purposes a boy.
 J M Barrie, Peter Pan, (UK: Puffin [Re-issue], 2014).
 Jung, cited in Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf, Romancing the Shadow: A Guide to Soul Work for a Vital Life, (UK/USA: Random House Publishing 1999) p21.
 Karen Lury, The Child in Film: Tears, Fears and Fairy Tales (UK: I B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2010). Lury likens the child to a pet and even refers to both as ‘it’, she ascertains that the inclusion of children within a narrative is merely to serve an emotional purpose for the viewer.
It feels idiotic to assume yet I expect most of the world is well-versed in the Stephen King novel and if not the book then the TV serial which surfaced in 1990. It’s back and, just like before children are disappearing and the adults are oblivious. Amidst a downpour in 1988, a little figure clad in a yellow slicker and green galoshes runs alongside the paper boat that his big brother and ‘bestest pal’ made for him. SS Georgie battles the raging seas i.e. gushing rainwater on the streets of Derry, Maine, until it slips from tiny grasp into the storm drain.
Twelve months later and still reeling from the loss of his little brother George (Jackson Robert Scott), Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) and his group of friends: Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben Hanscomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) and Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) known affectionately, as The Losers Club join forces to defeat school bullies and the evil thing that is devouring the town’s children.
Adapting any major work must be hard, not least when the original text is a magnum opus. Liberties were certainly taken in 1990 condensing nearly 1400 pages into a three-hour TV series but then I was a child, had yet to read a King novel, and was utterly horrified at the prospect of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and his shifting shape(s) of fear. This time round, and now well-read, it feels slightly more faithful in some ways and yet there are those damn liberties again. Despite early production problems, and the acrimonious departure which took with him, his Will Poulter-shaped Pennywise and director’s chair, Cary Fukunaga retains a writer credit alongside his writing partner Chase Palmer but it’s Gary Dauberman who takes the lead while Andrés (Andy) Muschietti (Mama) steers the ship.
The novel’s structure has changed and 50s Derry is transposed to the 80s – just as Regan handed over the keys of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Bush – but that just gives the 15-rated film a Stand By Me meets The Goonies (and John Wayne Gacy) retro quality that actually really works. Splitting the film into two chapters and avoiding those flashbacks and forwards, means these kids are able to hook us entirely, we’re completely invested in their plight, their friendships and fears, and that emotional connection is made. This is their time and each of the main cast is a delight.
Richie’s still a motormouth and has the best lines, Bev – she of Winter fire hair – is great; kind and tough, hypochondriac Eddie is more verbose than I remember, Bill’s still a little bland, and Ben’s a sweetheart (with excellent taste in boybands). Stanley’s character is fleshed out a little more while, disappointingly, Mike’s is somewhat diluted. His interest in Derry history is sidelined and given to Ben for reasons unknown, and not, one hopes, just a way for the filmmakers’ to avoid the racial elements of the story. He is clearly painted as the outsider. Fingers crossed that come Chapter Two some of these issues will be addressed, and he receives the narrative pull that was expected. My point is, gripes aside, it’s like revisiting old friends.
Had I watched this version at 11 years old, I’d have been traumatised, It comes back every 27 years (in actuality, 25 for me) and now I’m the adult no longer afraid (well, ish). To be fair, Bill Skarsgård in the clown get-up is the stuff of nightmares. He’s less abrasive and wisecracking than Tim Curry, and there is an underlying innocence to his Pennywise which adds to the vile and creepy. His body movements are manic and frenetic, even a little awkward, like a child who has experienced a growth spurt overnight and boy, is he hungry (the saliva drenched lips and string of drool, a dead giveaway). He is terrifying and yet, for me, the scares throughout the film are somewhat lacking despite the gripping sense of unease felt from the start with poor Georgie.
Visually, the film is stunning thanks largely to Chung Chung-hoon’s cinematography, Janie Bryant’s costumes, and the VFX and make-up provided, in part, by Stan Winston alums Tom Woodruff Jr and Alec Gillis. The sets are elaborate and striking and for horror fans it has a real kid-in-a-sweet-shop feel, especially the house on Neibolt Street. The set-pieces are thrilling and rich in detail, and littered with plenty of horror-themed easter eggs, the jump scares are fairly frequent and perhaps a little obvious but there was one that the two guys sat next to me didn’t see coming.
All-in-all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable adaptation, horrific, heartfelt, and not in the least bit hokey; a perfect trip down memory lane via childhood street and nostalgia way. By the time the credits roll, you’ll float too.
“Are you ready to receive the gift of salvation?” a street preacher asks lead character Luciana as she walks past him. It’s a running theme through the first half of Most Beautiful Island as Luciana discusses redemption with her mother. She has left her home country following an accident involving her daughter Sofia (we don’t know the specifics but there’s a shoebox containing baby clothes, sealed in plastic bags to preserve the newborn smell). In the US she must find the belief to survive and the faith that things will, have to, improve.
The film opens with a camera sweeping crowded streets, randomly honing in on unidentified women and briefly following them before moving onto the next, until it eventually finds Luciana (writer-director Ana Asensio). She is trying to see a doctor for the nausea, nightmares and nose bleeds which are becoming more and more prevalent, however she, like many undocumented individuals, has no health insurance nor the $75 spare to pay for the appointment. Her day made worse as she returns home to passive-aggressive notes from her roommate demanding rent and the Post-Its tacked to food items in the fridge reminding her that they are “Not Yours”.
What follows is a relentless pelting of lack of privilege and hardship, tightly framed and often in close-up to give a real sense of discomfort and entrapment as each situation becomes increasingly worse; living hand to mouth, the crappy jobs which include babysitting bratty children or dressing like a sexy chicken to advertise fast food (the latter something immigrant men are spared, presumably). While discussing the dismal prospects with friend Olga (Natasha Romanova) – another woman finding her way in the world – Luciana considers donating her eggs for the $8000 offered in a magazine ad, it’s either that or fully embrace the defeat she has been feeling. However, things look promising when Olga offers Luciana the opportunity to cover for her at a party, all she needs is a LBD and heels and in return she will earn $2000.
At some point, alarm bells must start ringing as Luciana is led to the bowels of a Chinese restaurant to pick up a handbag, a designer knock-off complete with a padlock and then onto the hastily scribbled address she carries on a scrap of paper. As a viewer, you’re internally screaming for her to turn back as her evening becomes more bizarre, she finds herself in a web of weirdness, and the significance of those women seen in the opening moments is made apparent. To say any more would be to spoil but suffice to say Jeffrey Alan Jones’ music comes into its own here, the jarring sounds adding to the tension as the voyeuristic handheld super 16mm camera bounces between close-ups and wide shots, most of the action taking place behind a closed door – we’re as much in the dark as Luciana.
Most Beautiful Island depicts the day and night, light and dark aspect of the American Dream, and the form the film takes is very much split in two as the day brings opportunity and the night brings the dastardly (and genre-favourite and the film’s producer Larry Fessenden in a very small role). Asensio’s deployment of those genre elements in the second half exaggerates an already increasingly hopeless situation and is particularly effective. The first-time director manages to communicate a great deal, harrowingly, in a taut 80 minutes and refreshingly doesn’t sugar-coat the human plight at the centre of her narrative.
Following on from his 2014 long distance romance, 10,000km, Carlos Marques-Marcet, once again, looks at love in the modern age. In Anchor and Hope, he reunites with Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer only this time, thankfully, they are both on the same continent.
Kat (Tena) and Eva (Oona Chaplin) are four years into their relationship and following the death of their cat Chorizo, the conversation (re)turns to children. Enter Kat’s best friend, Barcelona-based Roger (an impressively hirsute Verdaguer) who comes to stay on their houseboat. When Eva drunkenly expresses her desire and longing for a baby, Roger – the sport that he is – offers to supply his “little fish” and help create their family. The only one not completely on board with such a huge life decision is Kat, who still believes it is “narcissistic” and “selfish” to procreate.
Marques-Marcet and co-writer Jules Nurrish cite María Llopis’ text Maternidades Subversivas in the film’s credits, and it’s easy to see how Llopsis’ work inspired. She wrote of the different maternity models born in light of new experiences and struggles in today’s society. No longer is motherhood limited to the hetero-normative cis-woman but can be subverted as a way of changing the world and even deemed an act of insurgency.
For so long, families had one model and this was only recreated onscreen. Thankfully, films have begun to catch up somewhat. There is a great scene in Anchor and Hope where the trio tell Eva’s “wacky” mother Germaine (played by actual mater Geraldine Chaplin) about their baby plans and it awakens an impassioned speech from Kat who speaks out against the older generation. Those who claimed to have “rebelled” and, as it turns out, did not change a thing; instead conforming where they failed. Choosing to have a child does not require the prerequisite checklist which some deem so important.
The film is shot episodically and made up of four titled vignettes. It’s a screwball comedy for the 21st Century, containing a hilarious singalong to Inner Circle’s 90s hit Sweat (A La La La La Long) and filmed on a houseboat which resides largely on London’s canal system. It’s a refreshing London which is depicted, almost idyllic with its palette of greens, oranges and golds, the grey and oppressive concrete jungle appears to be far away from this utopia. Dagmar Weaver-Madsen’s camera moves languidly through the womb-like canal tunnels and serves the narrative and plot which remains largely unpredictable. All is topped off deliciously with an eclectic and whimsical soundtrack including tracks sung by both female leads.
All three actors work incredibly well together and the chemistry between Tena and Verdaguer – who can be seen in the delightful Summer 1993 – is, well tenable. The naturalism feels unforced and realistic, like a family playing for the camera (all to impress their older sibling behind it). While the two provide, at times, the humour, it is Oona Chaplin who provides the heart. She is wonderful as Eva and possesses a real vulnerability and tenacity (and aversion to tequila) which is hard to pull off convincingly.
Anchor and Hope is a decidedly honest and modern love story which is unafraid to ask the big questions surrounding men, women and parenthood. All the while navigating the choppy waters faced in love and relationships.
There’s usually always one. The slightly awkward loner in school; the social outcast whose interests include tennis, band practice, binge-drinking and, you know, dissolving dead animal carcasses in acid. For Revere High in Ohio, during the seventies, that kid was Jeff Dahmer (Ross Lynch).
Based on fellow classmate, John ‘Derf’ Backderf’s bestselling graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer takes place during a very specific timeframe, the graduating year of 1977-78. The isolated teenage Dahmer makes friends (well, almost) with Derf (Alex Wolff), Neil (Tommy Nelson) and Mike (Harrison Holzer) as they look forward to college and a life beyond the oppressive institution that is high school. For Dahmer, it was the year his warring parents (played respectively by Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts) finally divorced and abandoned him just prior to his first (human) kill.
Backderf’s comic – the original source material for Director Marc Meyer’s script – is a stark portrait, weirdly grotesque with a sweet and sinister edge. It depicts high school as a cruel and relatable experience, that yearning to fit in, the shelter it provides from the harsher outside world, and that’s just for every other kid who doesn’t grow up to be a killer. There’s a tenderness in Derf’s pages as he recounts his life as a teenager looking in on the kid that doesn’t belong. Sadly, by changing the narrative point-of-view, the film loses that originality and becomes yet another character study depicting the early years of a serial killer. The coming-of-age aspect and the odd pacing means, as a whole, it never quite coalesces.
That said, there are nice touches, little story kernels which hint at the future: the gifting of the dumbbells, the choice of roommate on the class trip, even his mother – not afforded much screentime but played brilliantly by Heche – declaring at the dinner table that they now “eat their mistakes”. The mise-en-scène tends to consist of yellows, greens, browns and blues and Dahmer’s costumes co-ordinate with the surroundings. He blends into the background, hiding in plain sight, repressing his hinted-at sexuality and more macabre predilections until that fateful day he chose to pick up Steven Hicks.
Ross Lynch’s performance is chilling – he has the vacant stare and distinctive gait down, second only to Jeremy Renner’s portrayal in the 2003 biopic Dahmer. Somewhat apt given that this film could act as a pre-cursor to that one. The first half of the serial killer’s life as it were. Given his tumultuous family life, it is easy to pity the strange and lonely boy depicted in this film, however, any sympathy is limited. Feigning meltdowns, ridiculing and mimicking palsy, reenacting his mother’s manic episodes AKA ‘spaz attacks’ as entertainment reveals the darker side of Jeff’s nature even before the murders, necrophilia and cannibalism.
My Friend Dahmer is a somewhat unremarkable and slight study of a psychopath in the suburban seventies. It lacks the nuance and honesty of the source material but manages to humanise the human before he became a monster and begs the question: where were all the adults?
Shot almost exclusively in stylish black and white (save for the colour film clips and art pieces), Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 celebrates Alfred Hitchcock, and the most infamous shower scene ever committed to celluloid (and after its decline). Its title referring to the mammoth 78 set ups and 52 cuts that makes up the sequence which lasts just 45 seconds.
Recreating scenes of the proto-slasher and taking full advantage of Jon Hegel’s string-heavy score, 78/52 relies upon audience participation; ours and those onscreen seated on a set decorated not too dissimilarly to the Bates house, all floral wallpaper, old fashioned TV set and dressed in trinkets. By the final third, we are watching those talking heads involved viewing the scene in question to utterances of “wow”, the odd gleeful “yes”, only Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double) appears uncomfortable. Just one more aspect of voyeurism which begins with Norman Bates and his peep-hole.
From Saul Bass’ storyboards and Hitch’s script notes, Bernard Herrmann’s score, and the casting of Leigh’s body-double Renfro, to the type of melon used for stabbing foley and of course, the watered-down Hershey’s chocolate syrup which doubled so convincingly for blood; 78/52 is an interesting and in-depth critique of an iconic piece of film by a controversial cinematic auteur. It is effective, informative and well-produced as the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Tere Carrubba (Hitchcock’s granddaughter), Eli Roth, Osgood Perkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Danny Elfman – amongst many others including directors, actors, authors, film editors, professors of cinema, composers, AFI scholars and art curators – wax lyrical about the film which was so culturally and socio-politically integral to cinema and its reception. As one suggests, it elevated not only the horror genre but cinema as a whole.
While the influence of Psycho is staggering, one small scene cannot quite sustain a whole 91 minute film which is why it veers somewhat through Hitch’s body of work and the film as a whole. The majority of observations are interesting, however, there are moments which are superfluous and trite and a few which remain unsaid. For example, Hitchcock’s notorious onset working practices is a subject never broached and what of the sexualised aspect of the shower scene, the symbolic rape (though there is Bogdanovich’s ‘feeling’ of rape after seeing Psycho for the first time and a comparison to Irréversible), or the female gaze? Again, topics that are mentioned in passing and danced around but never explicitly with reference to the subject matter (or not at all). Karyn Kusama and Illeana Douglas (two of only seven women interviewed) aren’t afforded the time to expand upon their thoughts – or were and then cut. It seems almost ironic to set up a discussion about a horror film which has an integral scene removing the woman and then not have a few more female filmmakers, fans and/or experts to voice opinion – unless that’s the point?
As a piece of art, there is no denying Psycho remains a cornerstone of the horror genre and cinema, it broke taboos and pushed boundaries and is one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces within a substantial and impressive oeuvre. In the words of Edgar Allan Poe “the death of a beautiful woman, unquestionably, is the most poetical topic world” which pop up onscreen as the documentary begins. It’s just a shame that more women weren’t included to talk about it rather than the whole discussion, or thereabouts, dominated by white males.
78/52 is for those who have an interest in the art and history of film. Part visual essay, Hitchcock commentary, and Psycho autopsy, it’s entertaining enough and well worth a watch but for anybody who has ever studied film or auteur theory, there will be little you didn’t already know.