The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Luis Buñuel, 1972

Having given birth to surrealist film with his debut, the silent short Un Chien Andalou, co directed by his close friend Salvador Dali, Buñuel would continue to make ever more comic and absurd films satirising the middle classes and the church for over another 40 years. Not losing any of his edge toward the end of his career 1972 would see the release of what is arguably his best work, and the film for which he won an Oscar, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

The premise of the film is simple, a group of friends representing various middle class establishments attempt to eat dinner together only to be interrupted in ever more bizarre ways. The first night they attempt to have their dinner party the guests simply arrive on the wrong night, however as the film progresses intrusions from everyone including the military and the police continue to make their simple goal impossible. The tone of the film is Kafkaesque, filmed and acted in a realist manner with ever more absurd obstacles holding the characters back without them ever questioning the validity of the challenges they have to face.

For Buñuel the middle class and it’s prejudices and hypocrisies have often been a target of his work and the dinner party, being the archetypal form of bourgeois entertainment is the perfect setting for him to attack. Most prominently there was The Exterminating Angel with its story of guests who attend a dinner party and are totally unable to leave, his best use however remains in the sequence from The Phantom of Liberty where the guest sit around the dining table on toilets, excusing themselves and retiring to a bathroom stall to eat their food. It’s an idea other directors have examined too with films such as Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe
 in which a group of rich men retire to a country manor with the intention of eating themselves to death.

The significance of the dinner party for Buñuel is that it is a time when manners and decorum are at the absolute forefront, the characters in the film are all trying their best to appear socially acceptable meanwhile they are all secretly involved in everything from adultery to drug smuggling. It’s all about exposing the hypocrisy of it all, that these people devoid of morals feel superior simply due to their understanding of social etiquette. For example in one scene whilst the guests chastise their chauffer for not sipping his Martini correctly the hosts have vacated their own party via a window to have sex in the bushes outside their home. The interruptions they face throughout their meal frequently reflect the true nature of the characters, as though despite their best attempts the elements of their personality they are attempting to repress simply cannot be restrained from entering the scene.

Tonally it rests in between Buñuel’s other great films- the significantly more incomprehensible Un Chien Andalou and the more realist Belle de Jour, finding the perfect balance between the two approaches. With surrealist film analysis of the underlying message all too often becomes the focus, in doing this it is easy to neglect discussing the film simply on an enjoyment level. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie 
is a very accessible film, and although it is obviously never aiming for belly laughs is still very much a comedy, a brilliant comic satire from one of the all time greats of European cinema.

words by pete bond.

American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince

Martin Scorsese, 1978

Within his filmography, which spans just under half a century, a substantial part of Martin Scorsese's work encompasses certain reoccurring themes such as guilt, redemption and identity, and often features sociopathic, 'antihero' protagonists within such films as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Between these two feature-lengths, and following the critical and commercial failure of New York, New York during a period of his life which was strewn with cocaine addiction and depression, he released American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince a 55 minute documentary, the subject of which being the title character Steven Prince, a twenty-something Jewish gay man and close friend and roommate of Scorsese's, as he recounts memories from his time spent as road manager for Niel Diamond, and recites anecdotes of his experience with guns and drugs.

What differs American Boy from any of Scorsese's various other features, is it's notable absence of stylish camera-work or visuals, with Marty opting to act as more of an observer than a director, capturing Prince's stories on a truly basic level, and interweaving his anecdotes with home-movie footage of the Prince family. Whilst the documentary may lack the notable style that has become the hallmark of Scorsese films today, what relation it does have with the director's other feature-lengths is his concern for violent and destructive men during the 1970's and early 80's in such films as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, the latter of which Prince cameoed in as 'Easy Andy', a fast-talking hand-gun salesman and drug dealer, a character not to far removed from his own persona.

Amongst the assortment of stories Prince shares with his on-screen friends and the viewer, what becomes abundantly clear is the influence this hard to obtain movie has had on various film-makers since it's release, most famously of which being Quentin Tarantino's re-enactment of Prince's anecdote  in Pulp Fiction, of when he was forced to inject adrenaline into the heart of an overdosing women, with the help of a medical dictionary and a magic marker. Less notable is Richard Linklater's adaptation of Prince's story, in which he shot dead a man he caught stealing tyres from a gas station he was working at, in his 2001 animated feature Waking Life (which also featured a small cameo from Prince himself). Aside from influencing a generation of self-taught filmmakers, who's education in film was not learned in school, but by watching obscure features such as this one, American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince remains as being an influential feature, from the one of the greatest living directors in the world.
words by danny walker.

The Rules of Attraction

Roger Avary, 2002

Attempts to bring the world of Bret Easton Ellis to the screen have seen mixed results. Adaptations such as Less than Zero lacked the humour of it’s source as well as feeling the need to heavily imbue it with a ‘message’ (and a contrived and simple message at that- drugs are bad). Most recently The Informers also lacked the teeth of it’s novel, omitting the various surreal sequences that punctuate Ellis text and toning down the violence that plays so heavily in his work. American Psycho was one of the only successes, delivering the more graphic elements of the novel whilst remembering that Ellis writes satire, and that it is all meant to be comic in its own dark way.American Psycho is a lengthy book with no real plot structure however, so the film acts as ‘greatest hits’ of the book, combining and condensing scenes down whilst trying to make narrative sense of it all. The most accurate adaptation of Ellis work, and allegedly his personal favourite, is one of the most underrated films of the past decade The Rules of Attraction.

The film follows three different students at the prestigious Camden College, an arts school for the over privileged, Paul Denton, Lauren Hynde and Sean Bateman (as in the younger brother of Patrick Bateman) played by Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder and James Van Der Beek respectively, as they attend various parties and have various confused relationships with one another and a whole array of other students. All three are superb in their individual roles, it can only be due to the film being poorly received on it’s initial release that it failed to propel any of them to greater heights, it surely should have at least marked Van Der Beek’s transition from TV to film star.
The best feature in the film is the experimental approach director Roger Avary takes with his camerawork. There is for example, the opening sequence where the three main characters are introduced. The camera follows one to the conclusion of their introductory scene, before playing the footage in reverse, continuing to do so until it has past the point where the scene began whereupon it will revert back to playing forwards but begin following a different character. Difficult to construct but impressive to watch. This continues throughout the film, with two characters being followed in split screen until they meet, with both halves of the screen converging into one shot. Best known for sharing the writing credit for Pulp Fiction it is a shame that this, only his second film as director, would be the last Avary would choose to helm, opting to revert back to his previous role as screenwriter.
The most impressive combination of Avary’s directing with the acting ability of his cast comes in the introduction of Victor Ward, played by Kip Pardue, a frenetically paced account of a summer he spent travelling around Europe condensed into four minutes. For this Avary and Pardue embarked on a two week trip throughout the continent, with Pardue remaining in character for the duration, sightseeing, taking drugs, and sleeping with numerous women. Enough footage was shot for this brief sequence that Avary constructed an entirely separate movie from it, titled Glitterati. Avary claims however that due to the unethical nature of the film, with all the people and events in it being real, in it will never be released.

During the section of the sequence where Victor is in Italy he mentions the sound of a bomb going off, an allusion to Ellis masterpiece Glamorama in which Victor is the main character, a naïve model who becomes involved in a terrorist plot throughout Europe. Avary holds the rights to this book and has stated he intends to direct it. As the years pass the likelihood of this happening seem more and more remote, hopefully the delay is due to Avary struggling to adapt such abstract material, and to find funding for what we will be such an ambitious feature, as opposed to simply a diminished interest. Based on The Rules of Attraction if he does take on the film, it will be one to look forward too.

words by pete bond.