Notes on the Other
An essay on the nature of identity and the figure which Ernest Hemingway created around himself, Notes on the Other makes some fascinating revelations using the Pamplona bull running as a starting point for its investigation.
A photo of a man gored at the running is posited as the catalyst for what became Hemingways adventuring persona. As a tourist Hemingway never ran with the bulls, but watching a gored man dying in the gutter he was stirred to pen an article for the American press. Assuming that role of the runner on the brink of death Hemingway’s adventuring persona became separate from himself, creating an identity which continues to be aspired to and imitated by his famous lookalike club.
The film draws some forced lines between this and Hemingway’s descent into depression. Stressing that he would finally ‘blast his own face off with a shotgun’ is to poeticise matters to suit the film’s own end. Beautifully shot, the film makes little concession for its specific point of view and should be taken as just that: a single reading of a multifaceted persona.
Men of the City
When the programmer at Docfest introduced this film as ‘Dickensian’ I was immediately drawn back to the last season of the Wire, and how such an adjective had become synonymous with over-dramatisations of squalor and human tragedy. That Men of the City then came to match those negative prescriptions is more unfortunate than it is ironic.
A study of the men that fill the financial district of London is about as de jour as a documentary can possibly be at the moment, and the filmmaker had the tremendous fortune of being embedded with the fiery hedge-fund manager David as Lehmann Brothers folded, and the whole financial world came tumbling down around him. While the tensions are palpable the whole affair boils down to a live-action version of the facepalming brokers blog. No great insight, no candid moments; just shouting and faces buried in scrunched up hands.
A quick sojourn to one of London’s few remaining trading floors, the Metals Exchange sees cookie-cut City wideboys screaming, shouting, and gor-blimeying their way through a jungle of clichés. The camera fixates on one chap, a hunting and fishing sort, and with a little prodding the subject readily admits the parallels between trading and the hunt. The rush of adrenaline, focusing the cross-hairs, obla di obla da.
We also get to meet a self-reflective street sweeper and a Bengalese street sign holder, who offer small respite to the parade of city stereotypes that come before them. Their streets-eye view of the city is interesting, but their reflections are flattened by the overbearing soundtrack which marches relentlessly throughout. Horror classic The Omen seems to be the source for most of the score, with omininous chords preluding the arrival of an apocalypse which never happens.
Among all the bluster of the city boys the film does manage to find the ageing Norman; East End boy done good who deeply regrets the sacrifices he’s had to make to work in the city. A long life in the city has taken its toll on him, and he longs to breakaway as an independent insurance broker, to be his own man and to set his own terms. While he confidently brushes off the threat of redundancy that the crash has brought, he is visible shaken by matters. The uncertainty of his future and his push towards self-sufficiency leaves Norman open to the cameras, and from out of all the clichés the story of a real human being appears.
The revelation does however jar with the sections covering the exchange, the markets and notably David, whose performance is to the form of a cartoon hedge-fund manager, often drawing peals of laughter from the audience I saw it with. While it’s all fun and well sitting around lobbing rotten tomatoes at the orchestrators of the financial crash, the film’s cataclysmic soundtrack and heavily biased and over-dramatised perspective sadly preclude the few human portrait studies it finds along the way.