No Estoy Loco -review (Netflix)

   Carolina (Paz Bascuñán) is woken up on her thirty-eighth birthday by her husband, Fernando (Marcial Tagle) with breakfast in bed and the gift of a new car. He even buys her a couple of tickets for a cruise around the Greek Islands, though he does stipulate that he has bought them so as she could go away with a friend. Though she is appreciative of his attention, she finds his kindness a little strange. 

   At the magazine company, Caras, where she works as a journalist, Carolina is greeted by her best friends, Maite (Fernanda Urrejola) and Isi (Ignacia Allamand) celebrating her birthday. She voices her disquiet at Fernando’s actions, the lavishing of so many gifts on her. Her friends tell her she is being silly.

  Later, there is a party to celebrate her birthday. Her mother, Marta (Gabriela Hernández) pressurises her about not having a child. She is the only one amongst her friends who do not have any grandchildren. She cannot understand why her daughter, with such a great husband in Fernando, has not had any children. Carolina, frustrated by her mother and her life, drinks a lot, partying into the evening. 

    The next day, she has an appointment to visit the doctor. She is called by Fernando and invited to dinner later at the place he proposed to her. Carolina looks forward to the date. At the doctors, she is told that she is infertile. Later she goes and meets Fernando, happy for the distraction and grateful for the effort he seems to be making for their relationship. 

   Maite turns up. She sits next to Fernando. Fernando tells Carolina that she wants to leave her. He has fallen in love with Maite, them having got together when Carolina fell into a depression after her father died two years before. They also tell her that Maite is pregnant. They plan to name the child Dante, after Carolina’s father.

    A shellshocked Carolina calls Isi. Isi knew but did not tell her. The next day movers come and start to clear Fernando’s items from the house. Carolina tells her mother. Her mother is not particularly consoling. Carolina buys several bottles of wine and drinks in an effort to find solace.

   After several bottles, she goes up on the roof and jumps off. When she wakes up, body battered from the fall, she is in the Eden psychiatric hospital, restrained to her bed. She is told that she will have to stay for a minimum of three weeks. Carolina rages against the institution, even trying to escape. As the days go past, she is befriended by Silvia (Antonio Zegers) and then belatedly by Lorenza (Josefina Cisternas).

   Silvia helps her to tolerate being in the hospital. Silvia tells her that she is hoping to get out and see her daughter, checking pictures of the little girl on her ex-husband’s Facebook page. When her husband blocks her, Silvia has a meltdown and hangs herself. 

    Carolina, who had been opening up to the doctor, Psiquiatra (Luis Pablo Román) asks about Silvia’s daughter. He tells her that Silvia’s daughter died six years before in a car crash and Silvia had been driving. Carolina falls out with Lorenza as well due to her emotional unavailability. 

   As she continues to see Psiquiatra, she realises that all her problems stem from herself and her decisions. She begins to embrace her sessions and the situation she finds herself in. That allows her to find peace and she is allowed to leave the hospital. The end. 

    Written by Nicolás López and Guillermo Amoedo, with López also on directing duties, No Estoy Loco is a better film than the five-point six on IMDB would suggest. With a wonderful central performance by Paz Bascuñán, the film is more of a look at the pressures of life and how different people deflect and are affected by them. 

    With no obvious driving external premise, it is the relationships and the intricacies that push the story. Carolina’s story of a woman who has allowed peer and familial pressures to guide her life to the point of breaking will be one that resonates on some level with a lot of people, especially in this world of social media hype and facade. 

   All of the actors put in good performances, especially Antonia Zegers as the manic Silvia. The script is amusing and brutal in parts, no more so than in the instances where it shows how selfish we can truly be. The various characters that populate the psychiatric hospital are funny, touching and a little tragic, creating an uncomfortable curiosity, that has you wondering how they might have ended up there. 

   No Estoy Loco is not a film for everyone. With no dramatic or physical action or violent emotional clashes, it could seem a little underwhelming. No Estoy Loco is a look at what it means to accept responsibility for one’s own life and the excuses that we make to avoid that. At just under two hours, it is a pleasant viewing experience that is worth a watch.    

Devil At The Crossroads – review

    Even though slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, the effects and influence of it still persisted over the next hundred years and beyond. Though slavery was abolished, many opposed the freedom of black people, some violently so, giving rise to the Ku Klux Klan, a pro-white resistance group formed in the deep South in 1866. 

     Though legally speaking, blacks were equal to their white counterparts, in the southern states it was still dangerous for black people, who mostly did the same work they had done as slaves; cotton picking, housework, field work and general labour, for a lowly wage. 

     For those blacks, predominantly men, who did not want to be wage slaves, there were few options. The more entrepreneurial started small businesses, making money providing some sort of service for the community. A few became musicians, music having always been a strong balm against the harsh realities of life for the black man and woman. 

      The blues, the melancholy, sparse rhythm of oppressed blacks of the south, with lyrics of bittersweet love, death and life’s hardships, often accompanied by a guitar or a mouth organ, was, along with the aforementioned hardships of the time, the backdrop for the excellent documentary on Robert Leroy Johnson on Netflix’s, Devil At The Crossroads. 

     Robert Johnson died at twenty-seven years of age back in 1938, having been poisoned. Such was his influence on the blues, specifically blues guitar, that many credit him as having influenced most of the musical styles through the twentieth century. Besides the fact that he died at such a young age and spent most of his life in Mississippi, the facts of his life are scarcely documented. 

     He only recorded twenty-nine tracks in his lifetime, barely gaining recognition outside of Mississippi. Most of his history is oral, somewhat like when an old person tells you about seeing George Best play football or Sugar Ray Robinson box or Nureyev dance, they relate the stories with such passion, such conviction, it makes you feel as though you missed something. 

    Written by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Devil At The Crossroads explores the influence and myth surrounding Johnson. Interviewing his grandson and people who knew stories about him. What is apparent is how much the music means to the people who get interviewed. 

    The most interesting aspect of his story and the thing that gives the documentary its title is how Johnson came to be such an extraordinary guitar player. Another blues player of the time, Son House, was an established musician of the time.

Several years older than Johnson, the younger musician used to follow House around and ask to play. According to House, Johnson was not very good. Johnson disappeared, returning a year and a half later.

    When Johnson returned, to House’s amazement, he was not only improved, he was brilliant. No one could believe that he could improve to such an extent in such a short space of time.

The history of poor people, both black and white, has always been tinged with stories of dark magic and religion as a way to define things that they could not readily explain. In Johnson’s case, the vast improvement in his guitar talent was said to have come from a deal he made with the devil at the crossroads. 

     His grandson has a more plausible explanation. He believes that he had returned to the town of his birth and met Ike Zimmerman, a guitarist considered one of the best of the time in Mississippi. Ike would become Johnson’s mentor and they would play guitar in the graveyard. Ike taught Johnson all that he knew about guitar playing and, by all accounts, Johnson was a keen and brilliant student. 

    Outside of his music, Johnson’s life was that of an itinerant musician, travelling around the deep south. His love of playing the blues, alienated him from many older blacks because they considered it the devil’s music. Many black people were religious, the thought of associating with a blues musician, a definite non-starter for many of them. 

     He lost two wives to childbirth, the first losing the child as well. His second wife fathered a son, who was brought up by her parents. They never allowed Johnson to see the boy, their strong religious beliefs opposed to his lifestyle. 

    Devil At The Crossroads is an interesting and passionate documentary, mixing myth and facts. At only forty-eight minutes long, it is an easy and captivating watch, recounting a story not widely known of an interesting man whose influence on music is still evident to this day. For anyone into music, this is a must see.  

    

After Life – review (Netflix)

    If you have read any of my reviews on Vocal.media or on WordPress, you know that I’m a fan of both film and television. Though I have been concentrating my efforts on Netflix films of late – you’re welcome – my true love is serial television. 

   Even before my favourite show of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hit the screens, I enjoyed Starsky and Hutch, House on the Prairie, The Six Million Dollar Man and many other shows of the seventies and eighties.

    Those older shows, even though episodic, usually told an entire story per episode, a murder would get solved, a bad guy caught, world disaster avoided, whatever the issue, regardless of scale, it was generally sorted out in one episode. Sometimes the writers would lose their minds and make you have to wait an entire week for the conclusion. Madness!

   Then Steven Bocho changed everything. In 1981 Hill Street Blues, an ensemble cast, police show, introduced the multiple episode story arc, where the main story would run over several episodes or even a season as smaller stories happened in each episode. It changed the landscape of television and is pretty much the norm now. 

   Moving beyond what Bochco instigated and even what many of my favourite writers of today began their careers with, is the bingeable format that is the expectation on streaming services now. No longer does one have to wait a week to see what is going to happen in a show. A ten-episode arc? Clear the weekend, Netflix and chill. 

     Like I have written before, besides the star or director of a show or film, the thing that gets me to want to watch a show is who it is written by. For the most part, many of my favourite writers ply their trade on the other side of the water; Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Amy Sherman-Palladino – Gilmore Girls is one of the best-written shows ever. Fight me. 

    Here in the UK, there are certain writers whose reputations precede them. Lynda La Plante, Richard Curtis, Charlie Brooker and, of late, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Another well-known writer on these shores, though he is always thought of predominantly as a comedian, is Ricky Gervais. 

   Having risen to global prominence after writing, along with Stephen Merchant, The Office. Gervais went on to create, with Merchant in collaboration once more, Extras. Gervais brilliance is never more evident than in the film The Invention Of Lying. 

    An excellent comedy where the premise is actually the title of the film, it is a romantic comedy where Gervais plays Mark Bellison, a man who lives in a world where he is the only person capable of telling a lie. 

   This year Gervais has written, directed and stars in a six-episode, dramedy on Netflix called After Life. Gervais is Tony Johnson, a journalist on a local newspaper whose life spirals into depression when his wife, Lisa ( Kerry Godliman) dies of cancer. He watches videos of his departed wife that she had recorded for him when she realised she was going to die.

    Suicidal of thought and seeing no point in anything, Tony says the only reason he has not killed himself is because of his dog. He visits his dementia ravaged father, Ray (David Bradley) every day in the nursing home, but sees little point in that, as his father always asks for Lisa, something Tony finds particularly wounding. 

   Tony’s brother-in-law, Matt (Tom Basden) is also his boss at the newspaper. He puts aspiring journalists Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon) to work with him, so as she can gain some experience, and to try and lift him out of his depression. Tony is angry. Angry at the world. 

   I must admit, I found the first episode of After Life really difficult to enjoy. It is bleak, punctured only briefly with the blackest of humour. I left it after that and only returned again after a couple of people told me how good it was. The second episode had me hooked. 

   The writing of the show is so poignant and observant, Tony’s pain is used as a magnifying glass of the human condition. Even though he seems to have the greatest reason to be miserable, suicidal, it shows that even as he feels his life is at its lowest possible ebb, others around him have stuff going on too. 

    Every character is wonderfully observed, no character is added just for comedic effect. Every person in the story has a reason to be there, has a story to tell even if it does not get told. It is, if you can get past the heaviness of the first episode, an astounding show. Quite, quite brilliant. Gervais is a genius. Watch it. 

   

Name That Theme Tune

With the explosion of streaming services, media, and bingeable or downloadable content shows that are watched by the masses are rare. The like of Games of Thrones or Walking Dead—both which I do not watch—are not as common as they were in the seventies, eighties and into the nineties.

When Larry Hagman’s JR Ewing got shot in the show Dallas in 1980, the show was so widely watched that it made the newspapers. Shows used to be a commonality across all people, all ages. A big show like Dallas was in the eighties, or a soap opera such as, here in the UK at least, Coronation Street or the now-defunct Crossroads, connected everyone.

The square box in the living room does not connect people as it used to anymore. The sheer volume of available content has made it so that the cliques are more refined now. It used to be mostly music preferences that would separate people. Now, with creators and content catering to every taste, every specific group, people have become more viewer niche.

What still connects most people, beyond cliques, types, age or upbringing, is music. Or more specifically, theme tunes. The theme tune to Hawaii Five-O is known across generations. The tune by Morton Stevens, the funky drums and horns created one of the best-known theme tunes in the world, even for those who never saw Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett says “Book ‘em Dano. Murder one!”

In both film and television, music has always created a strong connection to its audience. The Friends theme tune probably elicits a smile, whereas the theme tune to the highly popular Game of Thrones would create a sense of anticipation.

In this article, I want to pick out a top ten of—plus a few honourable mentions—of the best theme tunes on television, mostly past, and the odd present. I am looking at theme tunes alone and not necessarily the quality of the programmes they were part of.

I will, for the most part, avoid comedy shows, only because their jovial nature tends to make them memorable. The themes are in no particular order as I could not decide which theme, if any, was better than any other. So, let’s go.

One of the most enduring theme tunes of our age is the 1967 Spiderman theme tune by Paul Webster Francis and Robert ‘Bob’ Harris. A tune composed over fifty years ago has proved so popular that it was used for the MCU’s first Spider-man film in 2017, knowing it would instantly connect to its target audience. That is a powerful theme tune.

Starsky and Hutch’s second season theme tune by Tom Scott is the most recognised of the theme tunes used through the shows five-season run. Changing from Lalo Schifrin’s season one gritty, streetwise tune to Scott’s horns dominant, funky groove in its second season, it was dropped for the third season, returning for the final seasons.

My fourth pick—first was Hawaii Five-Ois probably my favourite. It is for a show that I cannot ever remember watching. It is Patrick Williams’ Streets of San Francisco. Another horn-heavy, funk-filled theme tune, Williams’ theme almost allows you to see the musicians playing. It is fantastic.

A little show back in the sixties, that brought a certain Clint Eastwood to global attention, features a theme by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, sung by Frankie Laine. It was the theme tune to Rawhide, a western show that ran for eight seasons between 1959 and 1965, for two-hundred and seventeen episodes. A great western track, Frankie Lane’s distinctive vocals take the theme tune to another level.

Up sixth is the theme tune to the original ensemble television show, Steven Bochco’s groundbreaking Hill Street Blues. Written by Mike Post and Larry Carlton, the theme was the opening for one of the best ensemble cop shows ever to grace the screen. Running from 1981 to 1987, it ran for seven seasons airing one hundred and forty-six episodes. Televisual brilliance.

Number seven is from the show that gave us Hannibal, Faceman, B. A. Baracus and Murdock, the show where the team would routinely construct a battle mobile out of a few tin panels and a blowtorch, and the show that had explosion galore, with bodies flying through the air but never any blood. Of course, I’m referring to the A-Team.

This theme, also a Mike Post composition, sets the perfect tone for a fun show that ran over five seasons from 1983 to 1987 and ninety-eight episodes.

Another sixties show that not only has a classic theme tune, but also a fanatical following is number eight on my list. Star Trek. As there have been many incarnations of the show, it only makes sense to clarify which Star Trek I mean. I am referring to the original, William Shatner starring run, that ran from 1966 to 1970 for three seasons and seventy-nine episodes.

The ninth theme is a modern one. A personal favourite of mine is a theme by Ramin Djawadi, who incidentally also did the theme for Game of Thrones. Not only do I love the theme for this show, but I also love the entire title sequence. It is Westworld and it is amazing. Haunting piano and strings make for one of the best modern themes on television.

The tenth theme is one of my youth. It had many a young boy running in slow motion, and it aired for five seasons between 1973 and 1978, for ninety-nine episodes. Lee Majors’ was Steve Austin The Six Million Dollar Man and he was awesome. The show was brilliant and fantastical and it had a great theme and opening sequence. Terrific television.

There are so many more I could mention—ER, Dallas, Wonder Woman(the Lynda Carter version), Miami Vice, Thunderbirds, Buffy—and that does not even cover the many comedies that have memorable themes—Golden Girls!

For now, I will leave it at these ten classic themes that are all so memorable and intrinsically linked to their shows.

Turn Up Charlie – review (Netflix)

      IS Idris Elba James Brown in disguise? Even though the erstwhile godfather of soul was known as the hardest working man in show business, his death in 2006 put an end to his hard-working practices and brilliant music career. His spirit, however, seems to have found its way into the ever-prolific Elba.

    Though his IMDB seems to reflect the normal workload of any popular actor, it does not note the adverts, deejaying, social work or general omnipresence of the man. He seems to be everywhere. 

    One of his latest appearances is in the Netflix show, Turn Up Charlie. Executive produced by and starring Elba, Turn Up Charlie sees him as a struggling, dance scene deejay still living off of the glory of a long-forgotten dance tune he produced.

   He lives with his aunt Lydia (Jocelyn Jee Esien) whilst lying to his parents, who he speaks to on FaceTime, having them believe he is a successful businessman. They also think he is engaged to be married to his, unbeknown to them, ex-girlfriend, Alicia (Ashley Bannerman). 

   As he is playing a small gig at a local pub, his old school friend David (J. J. Feild) shows up. David, a successful actor, has returned from America with his wife, Sara (Piper Perabo) and daughter, Gabrielle – ‘Gaby’ – (Frankie Hervey). Sara also happens to be a world-famous, deejay and producer. 

   When the precocious and spoilt Gaby manages to force another nanny to quit, by stealing her vibrator, Charlie steps in to help out his old friend as both parents have pressing engagements that they have to attend. 

   With Charlie being one of the few people that Gaby seems to get along with, David and Sara decide that he would make a good nanny. Charlie, desperate to get back into the upper echelons of the music scene, takes the job. 

   Set over eight, twenty-five-minute episodes, Turn Up Charlie is an enjoyable, slightly nostalgic – I was hardcore clubber in the eighties and nineties, though not into the drug scene at all – amusing dramedy. 

   As one would expect from a project co-produced by an actor, the acting is first-rate in the show, with a few faces well known to British audiences  – Angela Griffiths, Gus Khan, Jocelyn Jee Esien – making an appearance. 

   The role of Gaby is central to the story and in Frankie Hervey they found the perfect actor to inhabit the role. She is brilliant. Her chemistry with Elba is perfect, the two playing off of one another expertly. Their characters are so clearly defined and motivations easily understood, that none of the interactions seem forced or out of place. 

   There are four writers credited on the show – Georgia Lester, Laura Neal, Victoria Asare-Archer and Femi Oyeniran – With Georgia Lester credited on five out of the eight episodes. As she is credited – according to IMDB – with the first three episodes and the last two, one has to assume she pretty much sets the tone of the show. 

   For the most part, the story is good. Charlie is a good guy who, like a lot of people, wants to be seen as something more than he is. He also, like so many, does not, initially, take responsibility for his own mistakes and foibles. Gaby just wants to be more important to her parents than their respective careers. To this end, she projects a facade of confidence and entitlement, acting as though nothing bothers her. 

    David, back in England to ‘tread the boards’, is feeling upstaged by the nightly acclaim his colleague Grace (Bo Bene) is receiving in his play. When his agent tells him of a possible film job in South Africa, David wants to take it.  

   Sara is in a different place in her life and career, wanting to give Gaby more stability and let her relentless travel and deejaying take a backseat. Her agent, Astrid (Angela Griffiths) is not ready to settle down and stop partying, causing tensions between them. 

   As I said earlier, the story is good for the most part but suffers towards the end from being an almost truncated story. Because of the episodic nature of the show and the mixing of comedy and drama, it could probably have been better served over ten or twelve episodes, as opposed to the rushed and mildly unsatisfying conclusion in the eight episodes. 

    It is unclear whether Turn Up Charlie was written with the thought of a second series, though – even though there is some scope for a second series – it seems unlikely. Turn Up Charlie is an enjoyable series even if it is not a must watch. 

   Idris Elba will, no doubt, continue to be one of the hardest working men in show business. The godfather of soul would appreciate that at least. 

Big Boys With All The Toys

I was speaking with a friend of mine who is in the film and television industry. He is lucky and personable enough to always be in demand for his directing talents. The last few years have been busy for him, with a long cherished project coming to completion and various television jobs. He also directed a comedic feature, whilst hawking around another biopic project. This is a man who keeps busy.
With the various platforms and streaming services available all needing content, a man such as he is, can, without too much of a herculean effort, keep themselves in demand, as he has done. As grateful and happy as he is to be a working director, the film industry still remains a source of frustration.
In years gone by, tentpole, summer movies would, as they do now, be the big hitters in the season, the viewing masses flocking to see them. Typically, they would dominate the early July weeks and everybody in the industry, the smaller players, respected that. Over the past few years, since the House of Mouse bought, well, everything, there has been a very different approach to marketing.
Disney’s omnipresence in the film business cannot be overstated. The company dominates the film world. Owning not only the Marvel Studios brand, but the Star Wars franchise and overseeing their sub-division of Pixar, Disney produce the most popular films on the planet through their various subsidiaries. It is not just that they own so many popular products, they also have the clout and experience to be able to saturate media with their output.
Films are trailed a full year in advance of release. They have standing room only Expos at the film and comic conventions, meanwhile their stars do social media, television shows and internet shows, keeping the money making machine going.
I wrote about seeing the quirky and highly enjoyable Colossal a few months back. It starred the Hollywood A lister, Anne Hathaway, famed for The Devil Wears Prada, Les Miserables and The Dark Knight Rises. Even with the kudos of Hathaway, the film took less than quarter of a million dollars in its opening weekend.
The democratisation of filmmaking has made it so that anybody can make a film, with the internet making it possible for one to get that film out into the world. Unfortunately, everybody can now get their film into the world. The sheer volume of media available to watch on every type of device and being widely accessible, means people have to be more discerning as it is not possible to watch everything. Because of the overwhelming amount of content and the fact that even for the most avid film geek, there are far too many films released annually to keep up with all of the good or even great films, the big boys have taken advantage.
Disney’s massive roster of talent takes the guesswork out of finding a good film. As I mentioned earlier, even an A list star does not guarantee any traction when it comes to box office attention. Remember, even a lot of the big stars are actors first and stars second, they still, for the most part, want to act. As much as they want to act, they also want to be in successful works, so the bravery needed to appear in quirky, independent films, evaporates for many an actor wanting to forge a career.
Though there have been a few sleeper hits, they are few and far between, with so many of the biggest studio films, outside of the Disney/Marvel/Star Wars fare, being sequels. The other thing that the internet has done, that has proved detrimental to the smaller films, is to make film watchers more savvy to the process and the goings on behind the scenes in Hollywood. Knowing the actual character of an actor or director of a film, especially if the perception is negative, can be harmful to a movies possible box office.
It is up to the smaller independent films to bring variety amongst the juggernauts juggling their tent pole offerings every year. After all, as much as we love the big films, it is the small films that inspire.

No Damn Idea Why

The more I learn about filmmaking the less sure I am. I know that a good or excellent script is a basic requirement, it being the blueprint for any journey into filmmaking, but can any film lover honestly say they have not watched a film, with a less than stellar script, that has not only been enjoyable but become a hit? Conversely, I have seen brilliantly scripted films, with creditable performances, gain no traction whatsoever.
Of all film genres, it is possibly the rom-com that reflects this phenomenon the most. The boy-meets-girl, falls for her, loses her and wins her back again, is one of the most recognised storylines ever. Getting it right is still about more than a good script.
Pretty Woman, the film that catapulted Julia Roberts to superstardom and brought Richard Gere’s career out of the doldrums, was a standard Cinderella story elevated by the unexpected chemistry between the two leads and the then little known Roberts matching Gere’s ever committed performance.
Moreover, many a film, even with the proliferation of script doctors and story experts, still manage to make fundamental storytelling mistakes, the kind of errors that get fledgeling screenwriters works shoved straight into the reject pile at many a production company. Take the present fashion for superhero films. I love the Marvel films, kicking off with the little known Iron Man, they have grown into a juggernaut of a cinematic story-verse.
However, if you look at the stories that all of these heroes have been built around, with the exception of a few of the films – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers – though all of the films have good or adequate protagonists, the antagonist in a lot of the films have been weak and forgettable, with an emphasis on dramatic set pieces at the expense of plot and character development.
Obviously, in an established franchise or series, there is some leeway, the strength of the property allowing for a less than perfect script or story. Still, there are many examples where this is not the case, the classic Patrick Swayze film Dirty Dancing is one such film. The script of Dirty Dancing is poor. Fish-out-of-water meets have and have nots premise, Dirty Dancing is another film where the chemistry of the cast, plus the wholehearted commitment to the telling of the story elevates the film.
I suppose it is the collaborative nature, with so many having opinions, a persuasive individual with the ear of an influencer can get a weak script made, even if it is neither original – there are no original stories after all – or even being told in a different way. Sometimes things just get made. There is also no accounting for taste, with so many examples of films of the past being critical flops on release only to finding critical acclaim and cult followings later in life.
William Goldman, the legendary screenwriter of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man and The Princess Bride said about filmmaking: nobody knows anything…not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess, if you’re lucky, an educated one. This was a man who could write a screenplay.
It strikes me that one could and probably does waste a considerable amount of time learning to make films and write films, studying structure, theory, themes, character development and plotting, but still make a film that nobody wants to see. You could also strike gold and everybody might want to see your film, there is just no definitive correct way to make a film, no matter what all the film gurus and self-proclaimed doyens of cinema might have you believe.
The takeaway from this has to be to just do your own thing. Hopefully, someone will like it, if you’re lucky, loads of people might like it. After all, loads of people liked White Chicks, a film both brilliant and terrible. Go figure.

Don’t Speak

Ah Ms. Banks, you really ought to check the filmography of those whose careers you wish to speak of before you decide to besmirch the name of a director, especially a white, Jewish, industry heavyweight like Spielberg.
There has been in Hollywood over the past couple of years a real push for more prominent roles for women and any race that isn’t white. That this is a thing in a country where a black man can start his own self-sustaining film industry – Tyler Perry – or a woman can, as far back as the sixties – Lucille Ball – run a television studio, is a little odd to a black person looking on from the United Kingdom as the U. S. was always the place to look for any sort cultural and ‘people like us’ references.
Blaxploitation, the blanket term used to describe the slew of black films that came out in the early seventies in America, set the tone. Films with black leads, set in black communities and featuring identifiable black cultural references. The films still managed to cross ethnic barriers, appealing to many outside of the black community at which it was marketed. Bruce Lee was the lone voice for Asian cinema with him popularising martial arts in the West.
Since the early days of cinema, it has always been a boys and their toys medium. Early works were made mostly by men, though Alice Guy-Blaché is credited as one of the pioneers of cinema having made a film, albeit only a minute long, way back in 1896.

What was important with regards to her early film, is that it was given a narrative at a time when other pioneers such as the Lumiere’s and Edison were only thinking in terms of a ‘live’ photograph.
Still Elizabeth Banks’ accusatory tweet – social media really gets people in trouble sometimes – dragging Spielberg over the lack of female leads in his films, whilst in some respects true – his films, like most leading Hollywood films, tend to have male leads – he did with his adaption of black author Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple back in 1985, address the issue of colour and a female lead – Whoopi Goldberg starred – more than twenty years before the first tweet or hashtag.
The world has changed over the past twenty years, the biggest shift being in social media and the ability to connect with people, at least superficially, relatively easily and quickly.

The internet has changed the way we receive and seek information. It has also become the place where everyone with an opinion can voice it. (I appreciate the irony of putting that statement in a blog!) A person with a degree of social influence – they get a lot of traffic on their blogs, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform – can start a topic and make it relevant in an hour, hashtags or shares spreading like wildfire.
That is how a subject you have never heard of makes the news now. Unfortunately, sometimes people like to jump on a bandwagon or wade into a subject that they have very little knowledge of or only know one side of the story. With the anonymity that can come with commenting online, some find a type of bravery that they would not display generally if asked to comment on a subject, whether they liked it or not.

Unfortunately, sometimes people like to jump on a bandwagon or wade into a subject that they have very little knowledge of or only know one side of the story of. With the anonymity that can come with commenting online, some find a type of bravery that they would not display generally if asked to comment on a subject, whether they liked it or not.
What’s so stupid is that it is easier than ever to check facts or stories before commenting on them or giving an uneducated opinion, the only reason to venture an opinion from a position of ignorance is laziness.
This need to call people out on supposed slights or for not stepping up to promote the case of women in cinema, in Spielberg’s case, smacks of bullying. To call out an individual when there are so many other high profile, not to mention more prolific, filmmakers who are not doing anything to further the cause of women or minorities in cinema is spiteful and truthfully, somewhat unhelpful.
It is good that many are no longer required to sit at the back of the bus, metaphorically speaking, but we must always be mindful to not let one sort of egocentric dominance be replaced by another.

Why Can’t They See Me?

I had planned to begin this blog with the popular idiom ‘the cream always rises to the top’, putting forward, in a roundabout and hopefully engaging way, the theory or belief that if your work is good enough, it will be discovered. I decided to look up the history of the phrase – research folks, just like a serious writer – and came across an interesting argument against it here.
It got me thinking, especially as the central premise of this blog is not about being talented, it is about that most dreaded of activities, one that anyone who is serious – that word again – about their craft, must engage in; networking.
What prompted this was a blog by the brilliant Lucy V. Hay (if you’re a writer and do not follow her you’re obviously not serious about it.) She points out that no writer should be without a social media presence and that this was also the perfect way to build your network. Hmm, network. Networking, not a thing that comes naturally to yours truly.
The thing is with networking is that it is sort of the equivalent of the long con. When you are networking, it is not necessarily for the now, or even for the when, it is advertising without selling anything tangible, the product being yourself, your personality. People want to and like to work with nice people, people they like. That’s not to say being nice is what gets you work or even noticed talent wise, it definitely helps though.
It is, as Lucy points out, about getting your name out there. Though many derided the work, both as a book and a film, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades Of Grey is known around the world, as is her name. As much as we might like to believe that, given the opportunity, we would only ever employ or utilise the best person for the job, if you are paying money to somebody and working closely with them, as much as the quality of their output matters, you would want to like them –  not have to tolerate –  as well.
Of course, there are those who could care less if they are liked, confidently believing their talent speaks for itself. That may well be true. One could indeed be an extraordinary writer, your gift obvious to any who should peruse your work. In years gone by, before the explosion of social media, you could, in spite of a less than warm personally, get discovered due to possessing great ability. Now, however, being popular, coupled with high competence, is what will get you noticed.
What’s that you say? It’s not fair, especially as you are so much better at writing than so many out there. No doubt you are, but think of it this way; an engaging and friendly writer has a social media following of ten thousand, you like their work but are not blown away by it. Another writer has a following of twenty-seven, writing heart-wrenching prose and captivating stories, only a smattering of followers but definitely superior written work. If both of these writers produce a book, which one do you think is going to gain the most traction? Don’t answer that.
These days especially, a social media presence is a must. If you can gain a large following, that’s even better. A writer with an audience is much more attractive to an agent, publisher or any person of influence than a bog standard brilliant writer, because not only is there less work for them to do, it also shows that the writer is prepared to work and push as well, beyond their comfort zone of just writing.
Now, a social media presence is only the beginning. You have to engage as well. Admittedly, this is where I flounder. I have quite the healthy media presence – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube – I am out there. It’s the interacting where I fall down. I read other blogs, tweets, watch short films on YouTube, I even tweet and link works of other artists regularly. What I don’t do is engage. I rarely comment I will leave a like, but that is about it. I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.

I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.
For a writer Instagram is crazy! It’s a good place to show your likes and loves – mine being film – but its link-less architecture makes it a very niche platform, better suited to visual than written content. So how do you stand out in a sea of millions of web pages – some with cat videos, which for some unfathomable reason are popular – and great content? If you have the answer, please let me know in the comments. I promise I’ll engage.