I tried to go to the cinema last weekend. I hadn’t been for a while, so I looked online to see what was showing at my preferred cinema. I navigated my way to view the proffered screenings at other venues, but nothing was particularly appealing or showing at a suitable time. Perhaps I didn’t really want to go out. I do want to see Noise.
At the forefront of my mind, I suppose, was the hours of films I have recorded on my DVR, hours that I haven’t watched. The weekend before I had sat down and watched one of these films: Igby Goes Down. I recorded it at the time it was broadcast because I know it’s one of the films a colleague is writing about in her doctoral thesis on American ‘Smart’ Cinema (See Jeffrey Sconce, “Irony, nihilism and the new American ‘smart’ film”, Screen, vol. 43, no. 4, Winter, 2002, pp. 349-369.)
Since, as I have mentioned in a previous post, the DVR hard disk is almost constantly at full capacity these days, I thought my lack of enthusiasm for a more social movie-going experience could be turned into an opportunity to clear some space on said hard disk.
That sounds as though I might as well be going to the supermarket—such an absence of affect in my expression; as if watching films is an uninspiring experience.
I ended up watching three films: Focus, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, and Song For Martin. Spoiler warnings apply.
The first was an American film, Focus. It starred William H. Macy and Laura Dern, each of whom is enough reason alone to see a film. Focus is set during the Second World War, after America has entered the war. Macy’s character is a human resources man, whose new glasses apparently make him look Jewish. His appearance is enough reason for his boss to demote him to a back office, a move which prompts Macy’s character to resign. He finds it difficult to get work anywhere, until he seeks employment with firms whose principals have Jewish-sounding names. It’s at one of these firms that he re-encounters a woman (Dern) whom—under pressure from his boss—he refused employment in his old position, because she had a Jewish-sounding name. Macy’s character’s Jewish-ness attracts negative attention from his neighbour, who is a member of a Christian, white supremacist group, ostensibly a labour group, and after he marries Dern’s character, the harassment escalates.
What was intriguing for me about Focus was the way Macy’s character wasn’t politicised by the injustice of his treatment at the hands of the religious bigots. He developed no allegiance with the local Jewish newsagent who was similarly persecuted. Indeed, it was the Jewish man who rescued Macy’s character when he and Dern’s character were approached on a dark night by a gang of the white supremacists. He was basically a weak man trying to survive the situation. Describing him as weak is perhaps a bit harsh, because I wonder if he isn’t like most of us, just trying to avoid trouble.
The second film was an Australian classic, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. I hadn’t seen this film before, and it’s one that I wish I could have seen on the big screen, since it was cinematic in its sweep of the Australian landscape, as well as in the more detailed depiction of flora and fauna.
Whenever you watch an Australian film from the 70s, it’s always a case of spotting the current day soap star. Who ever imagined that Alf from Home and Away was once so fresh-faced? It’s probably quite telling that you can’t do the same thing with the Aboriginal actors who are the stars of this film.
It’s appropriate that I watched The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith during Reconciliation Week. It’s the story of Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) a ‘half-caste’ aboriginal boy who is taken in by the local religious minister and his wife and provided with an English education. The minister has high hopes for Jimmie—he is apparently redeemable because of his partial whiteness. Jimmie is bright and he excels in his education, and this is part of his downfall, since he’s more literate than many he encounters. When he leaves the minister’s home to find work, his aboriginality is a problem for white employers, who either won’t hire him or if they do, it’s for back-breaking physical work, such as fence-building on vast properties. For a brief time he is employed as a trooper, until he’s asked to dole out ‘justice’ to his aboriginal community. Jimmie is constantly being cheated by dishonest white men who refuse to pay him for completed work, even when they know he has no food; they constantly change the employment agreement offering only the most baseless reasons, if any; and they manipulate his white wife and the child he loves as his own to leave him for their own good. Naturally all of this mistreatment and injustice eventually gets to Jimmie and he metes out his own horrific form of justice, killing the families of many of his former employers.
The third film was Danish. Song for Martin is about an affair between a concert composer and the woman who is his first violin, Barbara. They bond over a suggestion she makes for one of his compositions during a rehearsal. They both leave their marriages for one another and embark on a life together. As the days unfold, it becomes increasingly apparent that there is something wrong with the composer, Martin. It turns out that Barbara's identification of the anomaly in Martin’s composition was the first evidence of his eventual diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease. We witness Martin’s deterioration and Barbara’s struggle as she witnesses the man she loves forget their relationship and become unable to control his behaviour.
So, that’s three down; only twenty-two to go. I might not have to go out for a while.