I had been wanting to post about a couple of films I've seen and was really impressed by -- but time has been short and I haven't been able to do a lot of things I had hoped. So when I got an email from director Jim McKay urging me to check out the two films I wanted to post about, well, I thought why not let him tell you about them instead of me.
I'm a little bit late on this one, but I finally got out to see it last night and if you're in New York it's still playing at the great IFC Center and if you're not, it's either on its way to you or on IFC On Demand...
The movie is HUNGER and it's British artist/director Steve McQueen's first feature film about the IRA's early 80's in-prison protests (no clothes, no wash, and, ultimately, hunger strikes) and Bobby Sands' role in them.
The film has qualities about it that can come only from a) an artist from outside the film world and/or b) a (first-time) director who is either unaware or unconcerned about "the rules" and has the artistic integrity to insist upon a method of storytelling that is powerful and unique. A perfect film? No. A very complete and confident vision that will shock, inspire, and move you? Yes, absolutely.
Characters are explored who then disappear from the story altogether, other main characters aren't introduced until late in the film, there's a jump in time toward the beginning of the film but then that doesn't become a motif and the device is not repeated.... All things that in the U.S. film-making system would've raised red flags of narrative concern from investors, producers, and all the other people whose job it is to make sure a creator makes a film that will be "marketable" (of course 90% of these movies tank anyway....). It's interesting that another visual artist-turned-filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, has also become one of our more important filmmakers - these are artists who are used to making work for themselves and not for studios or financiers or bean-counters. And the work shows a boldness and independence that is often missing from the typical new narrative filmmaker. Let us give thanks for filmmakers who say "screw you" to those who might say "but that isn't the way things are done."
The film is definitely hard to watch at times - violence, torture, etc - but especially now, in the era of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, it's the kind of stuff that we need to be reminded of and need to make ourselves watch. And for all its inherent artsiness, it's also a fiercely political film that calls up all the anger and bitterness toward Margaret Thatcher that would in later years inspire Morrissey to ask in his song Margaret on the Guillotine "Oh, when will you die?" and Elvis Costello to sing "When they finally put you in the ground, I'll stand on the grave and tramp the dirt down." The film made me very, very angry. In a great way. And I can't stop thinking about it.
Because of the subject matter, I put off seeing this film for a bit, which was a mistake. I highly recommend it.
(PS: I also saw Goodbye Solo this past week and thought it was great. I'm about to head out of town and can't summon up the time or brain power to write about it right now, but I will when I return