Terrence Malick, 1973

The subject of lovers-on-the-run has been a long standing theme in film for over 70 years, from Louis King's Persons in Hiding in 1939, to David Lynch's Wild at Heart in 1990, with the standard plot consisting of a young fugitive couple, fleeing from the law, and condemning themselves to a life a crime and death on the road. In 1973, six years after the release of the immensely popular Bonnie and Clyde, Terrence Malick directed his début feature Badlands, a film that was also based on real events, more specifically, the Charles Starkweather murder spree of 1958. The film follows Holly (Sissy Spacek) a teenage girl living in a small Midwestern town, as she meets and falls in love with Kit (Martin Sheen), and becomes his accomplice as he commits a series of murders whilst travelling across the country, with police in pursuit. Holly acts as narrator, giving an innocent tone to the film that brilliantly contrasts with the harsh string of killings committed by her lover, with her nonchalant account of events and stories being read as if from a diary. 

Martin sheen's performance as Kit is far more in depth and brilliantly crafted than he has recieved credit for, exploring behavioral characteristics that precede his homicides, which reveal Kit's apparent sociopathic mannerisms such as megalomania, lack of remorse and cruelty to animals, traits which are infamous in the field of psychiatristy as early indications of psychopathy. Kit and Holly's detachment and cold manner towards the preceedings are far more chilling than any outburst of rage that is standard in numerous other movies, with Holly so seperated from reality at the hands of her lover, that she feels no remorse for the murders she witnesses. The movie creates a spellbinding chemistry between the two, juxtaposing the childlike innocence of Holly, with the reserved attitude of Sheen's persona. Kit's apathetic and emotionless state acts as a precursor for Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle, a character also swamped with delusion and paranoia, predating De Niro's performance by almost 3 years. 

Badland's influence on pop culture over the past 30 years is evident, using the romantic story of two anti-heroes driving across America as inspiration to everything from Thelma and Louise, to Bruce Springsteen. Quentin Tarantino's two screenplays for Natural Born Killers and True Romance feature similar story lines to Badlands, with the latter even mimicking a similar light, xylophone composition, but whereas Badlands uses this to affect, blending the score with Holly's childlike narration to create the illusion that this may be taking place in her head, True Romance uses it lavishly, making it seem out of place with the themes of the film. Although the film may have been interpreted into, or inspired various works over the years, Badlands remains as not only a phenomenal directorial début, but as one of the most significant films to be released in a period that is considered to be the height of film making.
words by danny walker.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising

Bruce Robinson, 1989

Of all the directors who have chosen to keep their output to a minimum there is nobody who’s criminally low number of films is more of a shame than Bruce Robinson. Aside from a few screenwriting credits he has so far managed to direct a mere three films since his debut, cult classic Withnail & Iin 1987. How to Get Ahead in Advertising sees Richard E Grant take the starring role again as Denis Dimbleby Bagley, an advertising executive faced with creating a campaign promoting a brand of pimple cream. As he battles with writers block he becomes so stressed he eventually suffers a total nervous breakdown, rejecting advertising and everything it stands for. He also grows a pimple of his own however, a pimple that grows in size until it starts to resemble a second head, complete with it’s own moustache and conflicting views on the advertising world.

Richard E Grants performance is every bit as good as his iconic turn as Withnail, playing Bagley with the same manic hysteria as his predecessor. Bagley himself doesn’t resemble Withnail in his character though, although both are in creative fields they are worlds apart with Bagley sharing far more in common with a character such as American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman- his obsession with social status and brand names, only expressing greed and disgust, and his questionable mental state. As with American Psycho it is never clear whether the events occurring on screen are truly real, whilst people hear Bagley’s boil speaking (reciting slogans from popular adverts) it is only when he glances in a mirror that the human face he believes is there seems to become present.
Withnail & I
 was Robinson’s lamentation on the end of ’the greatest decade in the history of mankind’, the 1960’s, a film that raised the question of where things could possibly progress from there. How to Get Ahead in Advertising appears to be Robinson answering his own question, conceived and filmed as the yuppie culture of the 1980’s was coming to a head it satirises an era that someone of Robinson’s bohemian background must consider to be the total antithesis of everything he grew to believe in.

This year Robinson will be making his first foray into film since 1992’s Jennifer 8 with his adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s only fiction novel The Rum Diary. It’s been said before that Withnail & I is more like a Hunter Thompson novel in it’s spirit than any official adaptation has managed so far, hopefully it’s production will run more smoothly than it did on Jennifer 8 (it’s troubled making-of responsible for Robinson‘s unofficial retirement), and we can look forward to Bruce Robinson returning to cinema and the prolific output his early works implied he would deliver

words by pete bond.

The Squid and the Whale

Noah Baumbach, 2005

The past decade has seen the commercial and critical success of American Independant cinema releases, ranging from Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001, to Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer last year. One such film maker whose output has been grossly overlooked is Noah Baumbach, who's releases have been consistently outstanding, with the culmination of his career so far being 2005's The Squid and the Whale. With his last several films having  autobiographical qualities running throughout, using direct influence from his own life experiences, The Squid and the Whale accounts the separation of his parents and the profound effects this has on himself, and his younger brother.

Set in Brookyln, 1986, the film follows a middle class family and their individual adjustments to the break-up of their household. Jeff Daniels gives an outstanding career-best performance as dad Bernard, a once successful novelist, highly pretentious in his approach to literature, referring to Dickens as one of his predecessors, whilst also claiming that A Tale of Two Cities is a minor work. The tension between his wavering career and his wife's (Laura Linney) recently acclaimed publications come to an almighty head, and their announcement to sons Frank and Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) ignite a series of self destructive events undertaken by the boys as a result of the stress, with each taking opposing sides of the divided family, Walt with his father, encapsulated by his intellect, apeing his speech, viewpoints, and even his arrogant viewpoints, with a total misunderstanding of the subject, announcing that Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis is "Kafkaesque".

The movie deals with the sexuality of the characters, percieving the mother, Joan and Bernard's newly found independance, and exploration of their sexual desires, whilst Walt is thrust into a relationship that soon becomes intimate for his liking, and Frank explores a dark series of masturbatory events, including two incidents in which he smears semen over a bookcase in his school library and a classmate's locker. Joan in particular is seen to be highly promiscuous, a fact which is soon realised by her son Walt, and by which he is terribly affected by, referencing this, is a poster hanging in his room featuring Jean Eustache's The Mother and the Whore. Bernard, whose opinion of Joan's new boyfriend Ivan is that of distaste, has no problem in engaging in his own sordid affair with a student of his, Lili, whom Walt begins to grow feelings for, and which he eventually acts upon, only to be met without compliance. 

The main ploy of the film is to adress the self destructive nature of the two boys post-seperation, both struggling to deal with adjustment in polarizing ways, with Walt attempting to cope with his emotions and stress internally, convincing himself, and eventually others that he has written a popular Pink Floyd song, whilst Frank expresses his feelings externally, through his descent into alcoholism and public masturbation. Bernard, whose belligerent attitude throughout the film seemingly encloses him from any emotional damage, shows a moment of heart-breaking dejection, as he announces the torture his wife has put him through, almost eradicating any previous conceptions the viewer may have. As the movie draws to a close, and Walt overturns the long-standing favour of his father, leaving his hospital bedside, and separating himself from that relationship, he runs across New York, (echoing Woody Allen's Manhattan) to the Museum of Natural History, to observe the squid and the whale diorama, two giants beasts fighting in an embracive struggle, perhaps a metaphor for his perception of his parents.
words by danny walker.