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Many British television audiences will no doubt be familiar with Benefits Street. First airing back in 2014, it claimed to be documenting the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham, with clear emphasis on the fact that most of its residents claimed state welfare. Rather than providing that British-televisual trademark of “impartiality” — a notion the show likely believed it held — Benefits Street ended up becoming one of the flagship brands of the post-crisis anti-welfare commentariat, in keeping with Love Productions’ reactionary populist Anglophilia epitomised later with Make Bradford British and The Great British Bake Off. As a phenomenon, it was a sad reflection of the latent classist rhetoric of the Coalition-government’s “compassionate conservative” agenda, wrapped up in the narrative of austerity. Along with it came the Daily Mail-bolstered accusations levelled at working people, who were criticised en masse for buying a flat screen TV or — God forbid — enjoying consumer-brand biscuits. …


*SPOILER WARNING*

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A crude attempt to show off the “set up” I established over lockdown to keep myself “nourished”.

If there’s one thing this year has lacked — amongst many things — it’s consistency. After what has seemed like a succession of increasingly miserable years, 2020 has been the peak of that trajectory (so far — global warming hasn’t killed us all yet, but we’ve still got 2021 to look forward to). Our standard sense of time has been eroded — that is to say, our confrontation with the notion that time suddenly appears irrational. I think what this pandemic has proven most about common perceptions of time is just how much that perception is built upon the pretences of capital — the clockwork of institutional power has floundered beneath the pressures of a Greater Threat, and so too has the capitalist calendar. …


The ocean is intrinsically cinematic. It is constant motion; a body of great and untameable power. It is an unwalkable desert. It is entirely unpredictable — often violent, sometimes at peace, but always chaotic. In the eyes of the Romanticists, it is the ultimate figure of man’s humility to nature. Captured on early film stock, as it was by Birt Acres some 125 years ago now, the ocean becomes an abstract ceaseless monster. In this logic, Rough Sea at Dover is amongst the first horror films, tongue-in-cheek as it may be to suggest. The Lumiere’s Train Pulling Into A Station could also hold that facetious title, but where a train is a feat of humanity and their monstrous technologies, the ocean — in form and action — is the antithesis of that human control. Indeed, the ocean retains the power that humans have long sought for in technology. …


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Me, staring at a blank screen, surrounded by conveniently-placed games, on a Dreamcast with a broken AC cord. I need a haircut.

Cinema has time and time again foretold of its own slow death — any change to its established forms is often met with a disdainful hostility: the introduction of sound in the 1920s, the prominence of television in the 1950s, and from there we have the dawn of video/online piracy, digital filmmaking and projection, and now the age of streaming. Each time, the existential dilemmas that it places upon itself fade away, and all this fuss over some false cinematic doom is less tragedy and more tragic. The superhero boom of recent years is as much an industrial declaration of cinema’s visual potency in reaction to the rise of small-screen media as CinemaScope was towards the threat of television. …


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Recently, my university supervisor asked me about the relationship I have between my autism and my interest in watching, studying, and writing about cinema — a question which I have certainly wrestled with before but never really vocalised or broadcasted; at least not in any substantial form. Given the relative immediacy with which this question was asked, I stumbled over my words and my initial explanation was unclear. All sense of composure seems eradicated, even if only seconds before it felt like I had a firm grasp of it. The words that escaped were alien, as if it were not me talking; as if I had no control over conversational direction. Subjectivity is sort of cruel, especially to someone with autism, where social anxiety and troubled social skills accelerate and collide together. As years have passed by, and as my own self-confidence has grown, I no longer slip as often as I used to. Yet still, under new or stressful situations — and sometimes not — it can return. There are several personally “embarrassing” moments to recall: when trying to explain why I loved John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (1972) to a group of new people — what exactly I said, I can’t remember – I recall mulling over why I explained my adoration in such an awkward and potentially misleading way. In another instance, my supervisor mentioned the Fassbinder film Fear Eats the Soul (1974), another film I had never spoken to anybody about — in my excitement, I tutted and sighed as I trialled to find the right words, but all I could muster was “its got nice colours” (which, in fairness, it does). …


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Roger Deakins creates nice images — this is a statement which, at this avenue in film history, feels like a pointlessly obvious one to make. And while 1917 is a film replete with “nice images”, they also possess an undercurrent of tedium. I had felt — at least for a while — as though the long-take had finally been laid to rest after nearly a whole decade’s worth of dead-horse-flogging. …


While I realise that lists are utterly self-indulgent and unnecessary, and my time should perhaps be spent on getting actual Content™ written and edited (rather than letting this account wither), I thought I might as well ‘indulge’ momentarily to provide a brief-ish account of the music and films that made an impact on me this year.

*Potential Top 10-ers.

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MUSIC

  • Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band: Pedal Steal + Four Corners*
  • Otoboke Beaver: Itekoma Hits*
  • Ebi Soda: Bedroom Tapes
  • FKA twigs: MAGDALENE*
  • Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble: Where Future Unfolds
  • Slauson Malone: A Quiet Farwell, 2016–2018
  • Caroline Polachek: Pang
  • Kokoko!:


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Digital memories outlast our crumbly material grey matter, and in terms of clarity and assumed purity, they outshine it. Reliving a precious event — the saturated beauty of that untouched coastline you discovered, your daughter graduating, that gorgeous meal you had in Amsterdam — is fortified: technology in the service of your sentimentalities and nostalgias. With digital technologies, the observable fragility of analogue mediums — photographic film, vinyl pressings, tape cassettes — has apparently vanished. Interconnected networks of computers insure that these memories exist “forever” in digital storage. From this, we have each become the curators of our own personal archives. …


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This was the first film festival I had visited as a genuine pass-holder — before this, I had only visited some movies during the BFI London Film Festival back in 2014 — so the whole ritual was bizarre for me; even a little alienating. A tad out-of-my-depth..

I’ve learned that festivals are energy-sapping — I do envy/worry about people who can plow through five/six films a day over the course of a week without becoming insular nocturnal creatures — or maybe they are. That much visual information in the span of such time — such little time for reflection, to come to terms with the images, to piece out the mechanisms you’ve had the blessing of witnessing —is exhausting. I never felt the urge to write because I hadn’t even given myself the breathing room to consider my own thoughts. I don’t think I even came across another critic — but I know they’re out there. …


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The title itself echoes the very dichotomies at the heart of the animation — Tux and Fanny; abstract and clear; elaborate and simplistic. Albert Birney’s online animated series, compiled together into an 82-minute splash, takes a simple MS-paint-minimal tape-glitched universe and slowly but steadily extends these boundaries both creatively and thematically. While stuck within the limits of its square Instagram framing, the animation is far from choked by its own border.

Disparately related events follow one after the other, and in the intoxicating mess, the semblance of a trajectory appears. Its Katamari-ball path collects every fragment and oddity it can along the way, bundling into an entanglement of marvellous quirks and inspired digital imagery. It takes both comfort and fear from absurdity — Tux and Fanny find themselves in ludicrous situations, often tinged with troubling existential consequences, which are solved be equally ludicrous, but often empathetic, solutions. When lightning strikes their house, Fanny is sucked into the computer and entrapped into an asymmetrical text-based landscape and then lured into the heart of an evil digital box. Tux, in an effort to save Fanny, takes the computer outside and attaches a coat-hanger to it to attract the lightning. Once struck, the computer explodes and Fanny is freed. …

About

Dan E. Smith

MA Film and Film Cultures / BA Film Studies and Visual Arts grad. Editor of [MASS]: https://medium.com/massartspop / Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/1luTR/

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