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When fan worship becomes dark and damaging
I noticed this film by chance in my local video rental shop. Directed by Lindy Heymann (who received a British Independent Film Award in 2002 for co-directing Showboy), "Kicks" premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2009 but was overshadowed by the praise heaped on Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank. It tells of two Liverpudlian girls in their mid-to-late teens who follow everything to do with Liverpool star player Lee Cassidy (Jamie Doyle). Fanatically. Peeking through a high wall to see him training, they progress to waiting for him for hours after matches, hanging around outside his luxury apartment, and breaking into the underground complex where his silver Mercedes is parked.
The two female leads are fantastic: Nichola Burley (who will feature in this year's Wuthering Heights) plays the black-haired WAG wannabe Jasmine and Kerrie Hayes the poorer, fair-haired Nicole who is convinced that she is in love with Lee and longs for the famous footballer to rescue her from the depressing limitations and boredom of her life. Where will the two girls' infatuation lead when their heartthrob announces a sudden transfer to Real Madrid? Given the social realist tone of the film, we know that the consequences of their unbridled projections are likely to be bleak.
The film's title takes on an extra nuance in some of the final, painful moments. Blending burgeoning sexuality, female friendship and social commentary on celebrity culture and the aspirations of many modern-day British teenagers, it asks us: When does a teenage crush become something more irrational? Where does idolisation end and stalking begin? What could be the consequences of confusing our fantasies with reality? And what are the dangers of the position occupied by celebrities in modern culture and society? In doing so - and this is one of the key positives of Leigh Campbell's screenplay - idolisation is not depicted as static but as a process: Nicole, in particular, goes through a gamut of emotions in the course of her celebrity obsession, shifting from dreamy hope, through disappointment, to a desire for revenge. But the script reveals deficiencies in the second half, especially with regard to the lines given to Lee. The pacing and plausibility falter in the long scene inside the caravan, spoiling the tension in this otherwise superb, energetic film. (8 stars) Extras include an 18-minute featurette with the director and two female leads, along with the trailer.
Recommended if you like: Me Without You, Morvern Callar, Fish Tank, My Summer Of Love, This Is England
Beautiful Darling (2010)
A well-crafted portrait
This long-awaited documentary on the enigmatic Candy Darling (1944-1974) was a treat. Over 85 minutes, we learn about her upbringing (born as James Lawrence Slattery in Forest Hills, Queens), her boredom with the sterile, identikit village in which she grew up at Long Island, and her escapist adoration of old Hollywood movies and movie stars, especially blonde Vertigo actress Kim Novak.
Excerpts from Candy's diary, which she started aged 14, are shown and read by actress Chloë Sevigny, having been published in book form as 'My Face for the World to See'. Many of those who knew her in the late 1960s through Andy Warhol and the Factory scene are interviewed Fran Lebowitz, Gerard Malanga, Vincent Fremont, Pat Hackett, Agosto Machado, Holly Woodlawn and are even audio comments on Darling are heard from Warhol shooter Valerie Solanis. But the lynchpin of this documentary is Candy's friend and roommate Jeremiah Newton, who first met her at 15. It was Newton who originally approached director James Rasin with the idea of doing a film on Darling's fascinating, difficult life. In the years after her death, Newton gathered material from her mother, kept an audio diary of his memories, and started taping conversations with those who knew her. During the four years in which this docu was made, Newton had Darling's ashes interred at Cherry Valley Cemetery, New York (shots of the funeral and memorial slab are shown), and donated archive items to the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
Candy's life, although short, is not represented as a tragedy. She became the movie star she had yearned to be, adored by the avant-garde, theatre audiences, at Max's Kansas City; she lived out her fantasy world, even making it to Hollywood. On her deathbed, she didn't stop performing, posing for one last photograph in full make-up with a rose thrown on the duvet of her hospital bed (this famous photograph, taken by Peter Hujar, became the front cover of Antony & the Johnsons' 2005 album I Am a Bird Now). There are suggestions that, like Jean Harlow, Peg Entwistle, and Marilyn Monroe of whom Darling kept a picture on her dressing room table she wasn't adverse to the "glamour" of dying young & extravagantly beautiful since it reinforced her affinity with those whom she idolised, parodied, and strove to embody.
In his film Rasin doesn't make the possible connection of the lymphoma that killed Candy at 29 and her consumption of hormone pills from the early 1960s onwards. And I wonder whether Jeremiah's influence as producer shows itself here: he comes across as fiercely protective of her memory, refusing to believe others who, for example, claim that Darling prostituted herself to make money. This is perhaps the largest question mark of all in the docu: Even 36 years after her death, Jeremiah is shown as a man still intensely preoccupied by the transsexual star and intent on keeping her fantasy/memory alive. Why is he still (seemingly) in thrall to the paradoxes and complications of her life? What does Darling's intense identity struggle represent for him?
Inevitably there are other points of contention, with one commentator claiming Candy was secretly in love with Gerard Malanga; some who saw her as naive while others felt she was a highly-conscious performer; and some who view her as another of Warhol's long-line of "victims" who died young (Candy died, incidentally, just a few blocks from the Factory at Columbus Hospital). By 1973-74, Warhol had moved on to other projects and Candy like others fell out of favour. Rasin defended him after the screening at Berlin, arguing that people used Andy as much as he used others.
Candy would, of course, have been thrilled to know that so long after her lifetime, she is still up there on the big screen. It's her words that are heard before the credits roll: "There is one thing I must tell you because I just found it to be a truth. You must always be yourself no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality." (8/10)
Me Without You (2001)
"I don't know who I am when we're not us. There's no me without you"
This 2001 film from British director Sandra Goldbacher is a coming-of-age story about intense female teenage bonds and what happens to them on the road to adulthood. Marina (a splendid Anna Friel) and Holly (Michelle Williams) are in young years already fervently loyal best friends who live next door to each other. Perhaps as a reaction to this over-intensity and partly due to different parental backgrounds, their personalities develop into near opposites: Marina is a self-consciously wild party-girl and eclectic dresser who dabbles with heroin and casual sex, whilst Holly is a Sylvia Plath reading intellectual, a steadier, introverted being who feels mousy and unsexy (her domineering mother is shown telling her "There are pretty people, and there are clever people," as if the two were mutually exclusive). Marina deliberately tries to sabotage the burgeoning love between her brother Nat (Oliver Milburn) and Holly, tearing up a letter intended for her, and manipulatively telling him of Holly's affair with Daniel, their American lit-crit professor. Predictably jealous of Holly finding favour with Daniel (Kyle MacLachlan) both of whom are Jewish and intellectual Marina seduces him and tries to impress him by name-dropping Ingmar Bergman. Needless to say, the friendship between the two young women quickly becomes toxic and neurotic as Marina behaves increasingly possessive and histrionic, interpreting Holly's growing automony as a rejection of the friendship itself.
It is a fascinating topic and one to which many women can relate. However, there are a few facets that forestall 'Me Without You' from being a great film. The director drew inspiration from an osmotically close bond she experienced as a young teenager which petered out, but was not reflected upon by the two in adulthood (at least not together). In the film, you feel that the difficulties are dramatically presented, but without them being questioned or actively dealt with by the protagonists. Holly fails to confront Marina with the truth of her behaviour, tacitly tolerating her unspoken dominance in the friendship. For her part, Marina also seems to be unable to mature beyond competitivism and rivalry with Holly. This prevents growth and development in character, in the light of which the ending seems unsatisfactorily positive. The viewer is left wondering when Holly will give her quiet suffering a voice and set Marina clear limits in their contact. Also, the script (written by Goldbacher and Laurence Coriat) occasionally lets the film down. The expression "it's so street!", for example, is used so often it grates; the funky jargon of the period could have been used much more liberally and subtly and to better effect. The soundtrack also comes across as a little 'stuck on' and predictable: a Joy Division poster hangs on the wall, records of The Clash, Adam Ant and Depeche Mode spin on the turntables and an attempted suicide (by Marina's mother, deftly performed by Trudie Styler) is accompanied by the music of Nick Drake, himself a famous suicide.
It's nevertheless worth watching, especially for those who feel nostalgic for 1970s and 1980s fashion and music and for those who have experienced a close, deep friendship drifting into a stifling and over-dependent osmosis.
Also recommended: My Summer of Love, The Page Turner, Look at Me (2005), Gespenster (a German film)
Impressive German film about sexual intimacy and distant freedoms
'Gisela' (2005) is a film by German director Isabelle Stever based on a novel by Anke Stelling and Robby Dannenberg. It revolves around the encounters of three protagonists who become entangled in a kind of love triangle. Gisela (Anne Weinknecht) is a dissatisfied housewife with a young son, who lives on a socially deprived housing estate. She works at the local supermarket on the till and her husband is a delivery driver. When Georg (Stefan Rudolf) who seems to have known her, albeit rather fleetingly, for a while comes into the supermarket, stealing cigarettes and stocking up on beer for another party, she seems intrigued by the quiet but charismatic presence of Georg's friend, Paul (the rather gorgeous Carlo Ljubek). A spontaneous invitation to their party tempts Gisela to quietly rebel against the stifling mundanity of her marriage and the casual cruelty of her husband. In the sterile, rubbish-strewn apartment, a strong sexual presence becomes almost immediately apparent between her and Paul and their intimacies begin. Georg looks up jealously at the dimly-lit balcony where Paul and Gisela can be seen kissing. The men - both jobless and needing a seemingly unending supply of beer and cigarettes - brag wildly to each other, each trying to intimidate the other with tales of their sexual exploits. In contrast, Gisela embodies something purer, more honest and authentic. She seems to exude a goodness that Georg and Paul can otherwise only dream about.
As the sex between her and Paul becomes more mutually satisfying and passionately intimate, Georg's self-destructive behaviour escalates. He taunts Gisela's husband with suggestions of infidelity and even seeks to make her small son curious about "uncle Paul" and what he is getting up to with his mother. Paul's strong ambivalence about developing and maintaining emotional connections with a woman becomes clearer as do his deeper feelings for Gisela. He breaks off their affair only to be later seen swimming naked in the sea with her, kissing playfully. That the film ends as unspectacularly as it began speaks for Stever's naturalistic approach and her refusal to explain the inner lives of her protagonists. She has said simply in interviews that she wanted to make "a film about freedom portrayed with sober authenticity". Perhaps she has even surpassed her aim and given us a film about yearning for freedom whilst fighting the loneliness brought about by the lack of it.