Brazil: The Sundae Presents Episode 17

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which they each make the other watch films they haven’t seen. Dean shows Ciara his actual favourite film of all time, Terry Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian sci-fi comedy Brazil. They talk about its infamously tumultuous production, its nonideological dictatorship and its retrofuturist aesthetic.

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Singin’ in the Rain: The Sundae Presents Episode 16

Ciara and Dean co-host The Sundae Presents, a podcast in which they each make the other watch films they haven’t seen. Ciara finally shows Dean one of the most absurd films he’s never seen: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s musical classic Singin’ in the Rain. They talk about the history of the movie musical, how funny Donald O’Connor is and whether or not the main characters are in a throuple.

Singin' in the Rain The Sundae Presents

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The Great Wipeout of Television History

I’m not much given to ranking such things, but if you put a gun to my head and asked me to rank my favourite sitcoms, The Likely Lads would easily make the top tier. It aired three seasons on BBC between 1964 and 1966—which, because it’s British television, means twenty episodes and a Christmas sketch—following Terry and Bob, two young men working in a factory in the north-east of England. It was commissioned because The Beatles were big and that made someone at the BBC want a show about young northerners, even if they ended up in Newcastle instead of Liverpool. 

Terry and Bob are instantly, vividly realized: they are united in their shared ambitions of getting drunk, picking up girls, and watching football, but there is always a tension between Terry’s pride in being working-class and Bob’s ambitions for social mobility. Bob will always blame Terry for his bad behavior, but the phrase “pushing an open door” was invented specifically to describe Bob. While many 1960s sitcoms are warm, wholesome and full of wacky misunderstandings, The Likely Lads is vulgar, realistic and incredibly modern. Season one’s “Older Women Are More Experienced”—in which Terry dates an older woman and Bob dates a younger one—ends on a punchline that wouldn’t feel out of place in Peep Show. It’s a show I adore, that I will evangelise for any chance I get.

Of the twenty episodes produced, only ten survive. 

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Westerns, Part 3

“I can name for you every western I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t even be hard.” – 2018

“There’s something just better about westerns, I can’t explain it. A great western is a special thing.” – 2019

“… nobody wants to be the crotchety old man saying things were much better in the good old days. But then you sit down and actually watch a 1940s western and it melts your face clean off.” – 2020

There probably wasn’t an exact moment when I went from “getting into westerns” to just “being a big westerns guy,” but if I had to pick, it would probably be around the time I started watching the Friday western on TG4. TG4 is an Irish public broadcast TV station that mostly shows Irish language programming, but every Friday night, they show a western. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad. “An western”: Irish for “the western”, with the word western untranslated, the way you wouldn’t translate noir or giallo into English. The films they show range from established classics to obscure gems to stuff that really isn’t very good at all, but usually in an interesting way. I don’t always watch the western on Friday, but I’m always happy I did. There are some things in this world that are so purely joyful, so satisfying, that they make your heart feel like it will burst. They’re precious, and I try to hold onto them where I can. A great western is one of those. The particular pleasures great westerns offer make me fall in love with films all over again.  

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Michael Collins Remains an Irish Cornerstone 25 Years Later [Paste]

25 years ago, Neil Jordan was coming off directing The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. He had two box office hits and a screenplay Oscar under his belt. So, naturally, he spent his Hollywood cache on a biopic about Irish republican Michael Collins.

The result occupies a peculiar place in film history and Irish culture. Despite being a major studio release, it faded from the consciousness of the international film community more or less immediately. But in Ireland, it remains a cornerstone of both pop culture and popular history: We’ve all seen it, probably lots of times, so it’s a big part of how we understand our nation and its history. For me, and I’m sure millions more, when I picture some of the most significant figures in Irish history they look like Liam Neeson or Alan Rickman.

I wrote about the 25th anniversary of Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins for Paste magazine! You can read it here.

Eternal Subscriptions of the Spotless Mind

We’re living through a time that future media historians will call a major turning point in the digital era. The younger, techier companies that created the modern streaming market, like Netflix and Amazon, have used up their first mover advantage and the regrouped old guard are gearing up to crush them. (Apple are on the tech side, but did not use their first mover advantage, because they’re idiots, presumably.) The biggest conglomerates in the film industry – Disney, AT&T, Comcast, ViacomCBS – will stop licensing their films to streaming services owned by other companies in favour of exclusively streaming them on services they own: Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) respectively. It’s gonna take a few years to make the shift, as deals that were signed before launching these services cannot be rescinded. But they’ll pretty much all be expired by the end of this decade and very few will be renewed, especially once HBO Max, Peacock and Paramount+ go international. That’ll leave any streaming service without a major studio archive increasingly reliant on their original releases as enticement to stay subscribed, which will always be a worse value proposition for a consumer than original releases plus loads of existing films. Amazon seem to be futureproofing Prime against this threat by buying MGM and securing a back catalogue of their own. Netflix and Apple seem to be doing sweet fuck all, but that could change any minute. It’s Silicon Valley vs Hollywood in a fight to the death over which shower of assholes in California get to shape the future of global media, and it terrifies me.

Streaming has only been around for the bones of a decade and it’s already transformed the industry so much, mostly for the worse. Suffocating overproduction, cinemas decimated, expanding power of corporations to censor art. The casualties of the first streaming war (June 2011March 2020) have already been severe, and that was before Disney, one of the most awful, nihilistic media companies in human history, got involved. What fresh horrors will come now the second streaming war (May 2020 – present) is afoot? I obviously can’t know what Bob Iger and his ilk are cooking up in their high rises, but I can try to think like them. I’ve looked at graphs of market trends and nodded slowly, I’ve brainstormed and wordclouded and powerpointed, I’ve put a photo of Martin Scorsese on a dart board and shot it with a revolver. I’ve danced with Minions in the pale moonlight, huffed the helium from Walt Disney’s cryopod and sought prophecy in the entrails of a still-living Boots the Monkey. I’ve read the fucking Economist. And lo, the Invisible Hand came forth from the great maelstrom of the market, laid a single finger on my forehead and answered my prayers. I have seen the future that Disney and all the other rogues will bring about in their ruthless, pointless pursuit of wealth. It has come to me as if in a vision, and, buddy, it is fucked up.

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The Mere Possibility of the Movie Musical

Earlier this year, video essayist Lindsay Ellis uploaded a dissection of the 2019 film adaptation of Cats. Cats is a cinematic monstrosity that has to be seen to be believed, and Ellis’s video seeks to figure out why. Cats (2019) is awful in ways both rooted in the source material – the whole thing is basically a succession of cats walking into frame and singing a song about what kind of cat they are – and entirely its own – the uncanny valley visual effects make the cats somewhere unsettling between human and cat – but Ellis places a lot of the blame on the tricky business of moving from stage to screen.

“Some musicals – not all, but most of them – require a visual medium that jives with the way the musical itself is constructed. Les Misérables was constructed for the stage. Cats was constructed for the stage,” Ellis says, citing the way actors on stage frequently pantomime props or sets that aren’t there, “That is the thing about theatre… it is constructed so that the audience has to imagine what’s going on in the story. Overcoming that suspension of disbelief is built into the design of the medium in a way that it is not with film.”

These ideas about the film musical – that the suspension of disbelief required for musicals as a genre is at odds with film as a medium, or that the process of adaptation from stage musical to film is a particularly and perhaps uniquely fraught one – are really common. People talk about film musicals as particularly difficult to pull off in ways they don’t about pretty much any other genre. “The genre’s lack of realism and inherent camp” is “alienating for modern audiences”, according to Film School Rejects. Ellis basically concludes that film adaptations of stage musicals are totally unnecessary, at least outside of animation. Musicals as a form are naturally suited to theatre in ways they’re just not suited to film, is the point. But all of this is bizarre: it sounds hypothetically plausible, but isn’t at all borne out by the evidence of nearly a century of movie musicals.

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Westerns, Part 2

Two years ago, I wrote about starting to watch westerns. It was mostly about the gap between westerns as I imagined they would be through cultural osmosis and westerns that I actually watched: defending westerns from the preconceptions of those who haven’t seen them. I was rejecting the view of westerns as a reactionary monolith. No genre is as uniform as the popular imagination frequently remembers westerns to have been.

I’m not sure if the rhetorical function of the western in popular discourse has shifted or if I’ve just noticed different parts of it, but I haven’t seen much of “westerns, of course, went into decline when audiences became uncomfortable with racist depictions of Native Americans” lately. Instead, westerns seem to be more often invoked as… a defense of superhero movies. The westerns/superheroes comparison is probably as old as the contemporary superhero boom – westerns, the story goes, dominated Hollywood for a time, just as superheroes have in the last few years – but was kicked into overdrive when Martin Scorsese called Marvel movies “theme parks” and a million nerds lost their minds. There were a lot of arguments made against Scorsese, from calling him a racist for not thinking Black Panther is extremely important to long Twitter threads of ugly CGI landscapes or medium shots of actors looking sad to “prove” that Marvel movies are cinema.

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Mickey Rourke: The Star That Should’ve Been

I used to think no one pursued a career in entertainment without hoping to be famous, but that’s not true. There are plenty of faces you’ve seen in films over and over, but couldn’t tell me their names if your life depended on it – and they like it that way. There are plenty of working actors, writers, musicians who just want to make a living doing something they love. But with Mickey Rourke, it seemed he was destined to be a star, regardless of what his initial goals were. The look he had, the roles he played: he should’ve been the next big thing. And he kind of was, but he kind of wasn’t. Either way, it stopped. The general consensus is that it stopped because Hollywood had enough of him and his attitude. Maybe he had enough of Hollywood. Maybe it was suicide by cop. Maybe he didn’t know that an actor couldn’t want the amazing heights of fame and so, like someone too cowardly to break up with someone, even when they know they should, he made them make the decision for him. He made the cop shoot him, the girl leave him, the industry toss him.

And so that might be the key to understanding the whole “reluctant star” thing. “Careful what you wish for” may not always apply, especially when referring to someone who did no such thing. Did Mickey Rourke sit in his bedroom daydreaming of – wishing for – the Hollywood glitz and glamour? I doubt it. He just wanted to be good and for people – not everyone, but some nebulous, satisfactory someone – to respect him for it.

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