Tag Archives: Addiction

At Doc/Fest: The Confessions of Thomas Quick

Has the moment arrived to call time on Scandi-noir? The new release of The Confessions of Thomas Quick might be the film where the concept finally reaches its breaking point. A documentary about a huge travesty of Swedish justice, the film unquestioningly plays out a true-crime story in the register of Scandi-noir in a deeply problematic manner. Playing fact against fiction the film switches constantly between straight talking-head testimonies and hammy crime recreations. For the un-initiated the story plays out along the familiar beats of a wintry crime drama, but as someone who has grown-up with the story unfurling over the last twenty years the whole sat very ill. To use an extreme comparison, imagine the story of the Moors murders retold as a hard-boiled Film Noir, intercut with uncritical testimonies from Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, and well, you start getting an idea of why this film felt so disturbing to this poor half-Swede.

Sture Bergwall som ung

The tale is that of the titular Thomas Quick, the assumed pseudonym of Sture Bergwall, who grew in horrific infamy during the 1990s as Sweden’s first high profile serial killer. While incarcerated in a high security mental facility in 1993 Quick started confessing to a string of murders, 30 in total of which eight led to trial and conviction. He was the boogeyman your friends warned you about, the kiddie-snatcher with the weird name and the creepy glum face. A known figure locked away for good, he dropped out of the spotlight but remained in the public consciousness all the same. That is until the whole story unravelled in December of 2008, when Sture Bergwall retracted his story on national TV, and admitted to fabricating every one of his confessions.

The absurdity of this dramatic twist is that the Swedish justice system had managed to secure convictions against Bergwall based on little more than his testimony. Countless observers had criticised the process, especially since Bergwall was unable state where he had buried the bodies, or give any evidence which only the killer could know. Instead he was held up as the examplar of a particular kind of serial killer, whose behaviour chimed in with an elaborate theory established by the team of psychiatrists treating him. The problem was Bergwall had worked out what his therapists wanted to hear, and he spent the better part of ten years playing along every step of the way.

Sture Bergwall som Gammal

The documentary is built around the candid testimony of Bergwall himself, and he is quite clear that the pay-off for his elaborate lie was a heightened degree of psychiatric attention, and a ramped up prescription of sense deadening drugs. For an attention-starved recovering addict, this reward far outstripped the risk of lying, and so he became incredibly adept at playing along with the head psychiatrist’s pet theory. Reflecting on the process almost twenty years after the event Bergwall’s personal testimony is unnerving and astute, and there is a delicious irony in the redeemed killer psycho-analysing the psychiatrists who fundamentally failed him as a patient.

The scale of the lie and the institutional failings behind this travesty shook Sweden when it first came to light, and a straight re-telling of the story would be enough to hold anyone’s attention. Sadly the filmmakers didn’t think so, as the film plays out with bridging sections of dark, wintry scenes, swelling moody music, and the bleak colour palate of ever Scandinavian crime series of the last ten years. Bergwall’s back story, an important element in understanding the motivations behind the troubled figure, are recreated onscreen but still play out like the deleted scenes from an episode of Wallander. Somehow Bergwall is both a character ripped from the pages of crime fiction, while also being the institutionalised victim of a self-perpetuating psychological myth. The film flits between wanting to condemn Bergwall, but also giving him enough screentime to let him charm the viewers, to win our sympathy for his plight.

Sture Bergwall on Twitter

The documentary struggles to make sense of the figure that Bergwall has become, and the unquestioning space, and sympathy that the film affords him is deeply problematic. The serial killer that never was is portrayed as the real victim, but what justice is there for the parents of the children whose murders Bergwall cruelly claimed and later disowned? The catharsis of the film is seeing Bergwall reconciled with his once estranged brother, surveying a glorious Nordic landscape, and making plans for the future and the new life as a free man. A life alone, away from the spotlight you might think, but if you’re curious to see how he’s doing then go find him on twitter @sturebergwall. Pictures of said Nordic landscapes, retweets from the filmmakers premiering the film, the odd link to a positive review. A serial killer no more, but no less a media figure for that, the film’s complicity in pandering to his ego with the romantic trappings of Scandinavian noir remains deeply disturbing and more than a little problematic.

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Political Trainwrecks and Cultural Shorthand

For the all the times musicians have come out to slander the politician who dared to use their tunes for political ends, you’d think the establishment would have understood the pitfalls of using cultural shorthand. With the Labour even getting a drubbing for having the temerity to play The Horror’s I See You, not symbolically but just as muzak, shows that the politician dressing in the raiment of cultural referents still does so at their peril. Not that such risk worried George Osborne, when at this year’s Tory Party conference he took the moment at hand to close his speech on a rousing cry taken straight from the pages of Trainspotting.

The ‘Choose Speech’ took on a much grander life with the 1996 film, and Renton’s immortal words found their way onto a stylized poster which seemed to win fans with disaffected students across the country. They could get onboard with the speech’s anti-establishment ethos, without having to get grubby with the realities of either heroin addiction or being Scottish.

Trainspotting-choose-lifeSo what then of Osborne adapting the form to drill home why the Tories are the natural choice for the discerning voter? An easy assumption might be that a politician without a slogan can always fall back on a crowd favourite, but however you cut the Tory demographic I think you’d be hard pushed to find any block support for the film in their ranks.

Suspicion edges towards this being a cynical echo, a knowing tip of the hat to an openly un-Tory film with a reference that might fly over the head of most, but would at least get the chattering classes twittering and blogging [why hello!] about it all. That Irvine Welsh’s response on twitter was practically guaranteed seems to show that the speechwriters could sleep easy in the knowing that coverage of the speech wouldn’t JUST be about strangling benefits to Britain’s poorest working families.

Ever since their Suspicious Minds billboard campaign of 2010, where a practically white canvas and David Cameron’s blank face was offered up to disgruntled photoshoppers everywhere, it seems pretty clear that the Tory’s are calculating how to play the moans of the easily riled twitter bubble to lock down their eye-rolling core voters. Osborne isn’t trying to say anything by using this cultural touchstone, but has rather taken a list of liberal Trigger Warnings to make sure his speech (if not his actual message) gets enough traction on social media. In a move so cynical I wonder if I really should be throwing another 500 words on the social media bonfire.

Or maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical. Maybe on quite a fundamental level it should be argued that the Choose Life diktat of self-determination and free choice are the ultimate prizes in a Thatcherite word view. Without a good word or qualification to his name Renton manages to kick the habit and fuck off to London to be become an estate agent during the property boom of the mid 1990s. When his life-long friends come down South and embroil him in the shadiest of drug deals he manages to screw them all, and get away with the capital that will secure his future above all else. The ultimate self-actualisation and the master of his own destiny, I suppose Mark Renton is a Thatcherite hero after all. Maybe that was Osborne’s reason for choosing Trainspotting, but to quote the punchline that the old Etonian never got around to, who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?

Mark Renton Chose Life Not The Tories

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Staying in For A House of Cards

Beyond saying that it is just painfully good, how can I convince the undecided viewer that they really should make an effort to watch the new House of Cards? On its initial release last year the quality of the show came a hollow second to the sheer novelty of Netflix funding and debuting the show as a stream-only venture. The quality of the product itself was sold as a fortuitous matching of top film talent with unchallenged creative freedom, and a blank check from a new studio all to happy to spend. The whole exercise was of course underwritten by Netflix’s magical motion picture content algorithm/crystal-ball which showed that the Venn diagram of ‘Quality Drama’, ‘Kevin Spacey’, and ‘British Imports’ equals a surefire public and critical hit. Yet looking beyond the wild zeal of technology and entertainment reporters, and beyond the begrudging acknowledgement of TV critics, to approach the show itself a fresh is not the easiest proposition.

HouseofCards_titlecard

At first glance the sceptic might ask how I can so wholeheartedly recommend something so bitterly cold in every sense. In its visuals, in its emotional heart, or digging further down into its moral core, the whole package is an incredibly frosty sell to the first time buyer. But crack the show’s shell and you’re treated to an intricate drama that rewards your investment exponentially episode by episode. To dance artfully around describing it as a ‘grown-up’ series, (a detestable concept in its own right), what makes the show refreshing is perhaps how utterly unfrivolous it is. For all the clap-trappings, clichés, and cliff-hanger pomp of many other TV shows, the first season of House of Cards just took an assuredly good story and let it play out over the course of thirteen episodes. The greater arc of the show is drawn up to carry over into the second season, which debuts in its entirety on Netflix today, and the promise of another thirteen ‘chapters’ in a third scheduled season after that is a more than dizzying prospect in its own right.

That it’s a political drama set in the heart of the American executive may spook the more lackluster viewer, but again don’t let that put you off. As with all good political dramas or satires, the crux of the show is the viewer’s curiousity in the human and extremely petty world of personal politics which we normally only glimpse and through cracks in the noble and selfless veneer of public politics. From the flying expleitives of Malcom Tucker in The Thick of It, to the endless bumblings of Jim Hacker in Yes Minister, Kevin Spacey in the role of Congressman Frank Underwood outdoes them all as the shrewd and obscenely calculating politician who can manipulate every man, woman, or child to his every beck and call.

KevinSpacey_HouseofCardsBW

Kevin Spacey himself might rub you up the wrong way, and his gentle Foghorn-Leghorn Suuthern draawl might stick in the ear of someone who knows the accent, but just by the same measure he piles on the gentlemanly charm with a callous glint in his eye, the glint of a man with his eye on far higher prizes. The show’s central device of having Underwood constantly confiding with the audiences in secret yet candid asides stands out from the usual televisual convention and is thrilling as a device in its own right. The instant switch between cold public face and sarcastic and self-aggrandizing inner monologue plays right into our curiosity of wanting to know what politicians are really thinking and saying behind mask of their public face. Where the British original of the TV series saw the original Francis Underwood give nigh-on theatrical monologues straight to camera, Spacey’s approach is almost casual in comparison, addressing the viewer as confidant as opposed to spectator.

HOUSE-OF-CARDS-CAST

And what of the American remakes association to the much vaunted original BBC series? The passage of time makes it hard to compare the two superficially, but what the original does hold is a slightly sharper satirical edge, especially in light of its close proximity to the politics of the time. Yet where Ian Richardson acted as a lynchpin for the whole series, the strength of the newer version lies in the knockout strength of its ensemble cast. Beyond Frank Underwood, the superb counterpoint played by Robin Wright as Claire Underwood broadens the drama, and balances out the almost sociopathic tendencies of her husband, and together they form one of the most terrifying power couples ever seen on screen. Add to this a dynamite cast of characters that Frank has in his pocket, like Kate Mara as the intrepid reporter, and Corey Stoll as the troubled congressman for South Philadelphia, and the push and pull of the conspiracy makes for an absolutely brilliantly taunt drama. A cruel casting manager might very well list these characters as secondary, but in their performances they’re anything but, and Stoll and Mara to name but two, have already had me chasing down the prior filmographies of all involved to see where I can catch them. (Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight In Paris being the standout example in an otherwise flim-flam flop of a film.)

What else is there to knock? Well there’s some egregious product placement, limited to maybe three occasions as when Spacey’s obliged to ask about another Congressman’s son’s PS Vita (“Oh I say, is that a portable games console? What games has he got?”), but if you can survive those sixty seconds, I’m sure you’ll live to enjoy the rest of the show.

In the middle of an awards season bogged down with films masquerading as give-me-an-Oscar actor’s workshops, the audacious prospect of a well-written TV series delivered by an outstanding cast comes as an almost rare treat. This really is not-to-be-missed television, and through the miracle of modern technology it’s always there should it take you fancy.

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Gaming the Perspective on Film Reviews

Describe a film as being ‘like a videogame’ and you’ll immediately set my alarm bells ringing. Positive, negative, it doesn’t matter, the comparison will almost always open up a can of troublesome associations, and I really have to fight the knee-jerk reflexes of my inner teenager from wailing ‘BUT YOU DON’T GET IT, MAN’. I obviously haven’t a clue how familiar any one critic is or is not with the medium, and I’ve gotten myself in hot water before by decrying those obviously not L337 enough to know what they’re talking about, when in actual fact they are more than qualified to their own readings. Channelling these teenage frustrations more constructively, it becomes clear the issue is rather how agonisingly fluid the descriptor is, and that using the term unqualified denies any meaningful signification beyond the surface of either medium. The term shouldn’t be limiting in its application, and by engaging with it beyond the clichés we can perhaps touch upon the strange morphology between the two.

To wit, some examples:

Enter the Void is just like a videogame. Not in the obvious frame of being like a run-and-gun action game with its’ fixed first, then third person perspective, but rather that it’s just like Tetris. No, it’s not about the arrangement of tessellating blocks into an orderly fashion to a thumping Russian electro-folk soundtrack [no, not even on a structural level] but rather it has a persistence of vision, sound and unconscious engagement which lingered well beyond the immediate experience of interaction. I say this as someone who consistently plays the Tetris (averaging maybe 5 minutes a day) and as a consequence I consistently experience the Tetris Effect. Which is to say that in moments of daydreaming or slight boredom I tend to unwittingly visualise the organisation of falling blocks. It’s not hallucinatory, nor disarming, it’s just handy half-conscious alarm bell for when something is starting to push my patience. I’m told it’s just another mode of half-conscious problem solving, much akin to how I’ve had the very question of this blog-post rattling about in my head for the last 24 hours. On another level it’s like that agonisingly persistent ear-worm, that bloody tune you just can’t get out of your head. Only I get it with Tetris, and blocks.

Again the glib reading here is that ‘Tetris brushes on the edges of hallucination, therefore it is like Enter The Void’, but that’s not it either. The comparison is that both pose an indirect problem, and that you leave the experience picking it apart in the back of your thoughts. A strangely pertinent scientific study has revealed that playing Tetris can reduce the risk of flashbacks for those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, and while traumatic is to exaggerate the effect of Enter the Void, it does at least underscore my point that both are functioning on levels which your average film doesn’t even come close to. For that I absolutely love the film, even if it is a bit of a slog in its unfettered 2 hours and 40 minutes runtime.

Next case in point is Ben Affleck’s rather zippy heist movie The Town, which again is just like a videogame. More precisely it’s just like any heist mission you care to mention from the Grand Theft Auto series. The dynamic between the central characters, the structure of the heists, the getaway car-chases with the tension of desperately trying to out-run cop cars in a sprawling urban environment. Or more succinctly still, a number of conflicts building in scale towards a rather disastrous and seemingly impossible final conflict, punctuated by scenes of internal group conflict, and bookended by a number of dead-end shoot-outs. The parallels may seem cursory, but the connection had a real resonance that fails the usual description of being ‘like a videogame’.

Of course the whole GTA series is ridiculously indebted to any number of crime films that have come before it, so it’s easy to say it’s just another regurgitation of the previous generation’s heist dramas. But this isn’t just Michael Mann through yet another prism, as he deals in quite a separate package of subtexts and narrative drives. To define the ‘feel’ of a film is always a slippery task, but The Town is definitely in the same sphere as GTA. To take the general barbs of criticism used in describing a film as being ‘like a videogame’ it didn’t feel or look like a cut-scene, and the narrative wasn’t subjugated to the Crash-Bang-Whollop of its action sequences. Perhaps on a simple level it comes down to the film being action-based and set in the working class ‘burbs of the US East Coast.

To take the very same barbed club, a film which lives up to the criticisms of shallowness and general thick-headedness is the recent Resident Evil: Afterlife, which to it’s credit makes no apology for this, revelling merrily as it does in the use of some clever 3D. There is no plot, there is next to no drama for the actors to engage with, and even the action sequences don’t make much sense in the grander scheme of things. Which is not to say that the film isn’t shamelessly entertaining.

The complication then comes in that Resident Evil is still a work of adaptation, drawn from a recognised series of videogames, and by said measure is not really like the original videogames at all. It’s not a jittery-nerve journey of nigh abject terror, but a clumping great action film built on the husk of an otherwise brilliant game franchise. The brilliance of the games is not defined by a lack of plot or by godawful acting, but rather on running around a haunted house with only six bullets in the clip and two points to save your game. This doesn’t stop critics judging it in terms derivative of a videogame, but it would be just as false to judge the novelistic aspects of Blade Runner on the back of its own source material in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The abstraction is so distant that the moniker ‘like a videogame’ becomes too hollow to actually bear any significance, and it’s quite tiring having to defend a medium on the back of such a distant (and slightly inbred) cousin.

The interrogation behind describing a film as novel-like is however a bit more rigorous, and a formalist approach can provide genuine insight to how loyal the structure of a film adaptation is. Arch-Formalist David Bordwell does a very fine job of breaking down both The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Polanski’s The Ghost in terms of pacing, and how the four-act structure of each reflects the conventional pace each holds as page-turning thrillers. Yet transpose this thinking to discussing a videogame and it’s rare that discussions ever go beyond the usual sheen of what we see on screen.

Case in point, the wonderfully enjoyable Scott Pilgrim vs The World is (over)saturated in referents from the world of videogames, and even jumps through a few hoops of the save-die-reload logic that gamers know so well. Less discussed is its function as an adaptation, and author Bryan Lee O’Malley has said the books (and consequently the film) owe a considerable debt to the structure of shōnen manga; the comics of action and romance aimed at teenage boys, filled with love rivals, fights and ongoing grudges. Not to get stuck in the trap of pursuing ever more obscure frames of reference for it’s own sake, but describing Scott Pilgrim as being broken down into ‘stages’ or ‘levels’ has perhaps less to do with Super Mario and more to do with Naruto and Death Note. But enough with the increasingly oblique references, the point is still that you shouldn’t just settle with the first referent that comes tumbling along.

Gaming as a whole is defined by its diversity of output, and when the glibbest of critics use ‘video game-y’ as shorthand for films being plotless and CGI laden they’re really just flagging up their own ignorance. I’m not denying that gamers have to endure a lot of narrative-scant talking-mannequin dramas, just for pities sake don’t use that definition as the measure by which to critique other media.

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Showing at the Showroom: When You’re Strange

The poster to the documentary When You're Strange[Major Correction: In the opening paragraph of this I state that the film opens with a Jim Morrison look-a-like stumbling around a desert, looking lost, hitching a ride from himself, and then hearing about his own death in Paris on the radio. I felt the whole thing seemed a bit anomalous to the rest of the film, but it turns out it was in fact Morrison in his own film HWY: American Pastoral, with ominous radio dialogue dubbed in by the documentary’s director Tom DiCillo.

It’s an inexcusable oversight on my part, fuelled by my own indignant pride at ignoring press-notes.

It’s comforting to know that others found these sequences uncannily restored to the point of looking like the were shot last week, and I guess the whole thing felt a little anomalous to me. The fact that DiCillo recut Morrison’s own film to suit the documentary’s narrative purposes is also pretty questionable in my book.

Not that that matters, as it still doesn’t excuse the fact that I fucked up.]

When batting around general truisms about documentaries it’s easy to just throw away the glib observation that ‘it’s all about the subject, sink or swim, it’s all about the subject’.  Which is true, as outside the realms of art cinema I have yet to hear or see anyone make a stunning hour and a half treatise on the story of paint drying. That said, part of me wonders why not?

The new documentary When You’re Strange is a study of The Doors brief explosion, the dips, the peaks, and the eventual demise of frontman Jim Morrison. It’s brimming with some quite stunning archive footage of the band preparing, recording, performing, and just larking around, with nary a talking head in sight. The film opens with a pretty uncanny Morrison [look-a-like] stumbling about in the desert, getting a lift from himself(?) and then hearing the news about his own death in Paris on the radio. At which point Johnny Depp, the modern cicerone of the hedonistic Sixties (see – Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) chimes in some flat, timeless yet instantly forgettable observation about ‘The Man’ Jim Morrison. Which as openings for documentaries go is pretty damn worrying in my book.

The film eventually cuts to the actual business of the band; formation; early beginnings; first performances; the first studio session, and so forth and so on. The early days at UCLA film school, the band members found in meditation class and the first performances with Jim keeping his back to the audience. Following the daft opening a creeping sense of ‘going through the motions’ almost set in, saved wholesale by the endless wash of superb archive material. Footage like this, be it from television recordings, or from home film collections has a nasty habit of looking awful when blown up. Grain, static flicker, crackly sound, and aspect ratios which refuse to stay put make for a documentary makers nightmare. When You’re Strange has miraculously ironed over all these issues, and produced a film for fans of the band to endlessly fawn over.

The reputation of The Door’s live is as big as the band itself, yet actually seeing the band’s frenzied performance, Morrison’s explosive presence, the army of police officers spread out unevenly on stage, managed exceed the over-hyped picture I had of these ‘happenings’. More Beatlemania than hippy-hippy-shake, but with an added twist of cruelty and occasional no-show. The film bumbles on with the over-arching narrative, Morrison’s comings and goings eclipsing the whole of the rest of the band. The myth of the band rolls on, weighed down by the clichés it helped reinforce. Jim Morrison dies, his legacy lives on, The End.

Simply put the film is as good as your love of The Doors. If you can’t abide the band, or Jim Morrison in particular then you’ll really struggle with it. If you love the band then you’ll just drown in all the footage the film serves up. Those in the middle will find the film pretty middling. In part this reflects the film’s success in telling the band’s tale without either overblown hagiography or excessive apology. On the flipside maybe this just reflects how dangerously married the film is to its’ subject matter. 

Of course most documentaries have to be precariously close to their subject to come into existence in the first place, but it’s tricky when you can’t quite place the authorial bias in relation to the material. Director Tom DiCillo must obviously be a fan, but his presence and the tone it applies to the film is filtered through the slightly stern, yet reverentially hushed tones of Johnny Depp. The brilliance of a good and unexpected documentary is the ability to take even the most unpeculiar subject and frame it in such a way that anyone and everyone can take something from it.

Font fetishist doc Helvetica immediately springs to mind in this sense, taking the definition of a flat subject and breathing focus into the subject, and it was served well by building on the passion and interest of those at the heart of typography design. A Fistful of Quarters also plumbed the dangerously fringe fields of retrogaming, pursuing the compulsive score chasing of cabinet arcade freaks. As a struggling Pac Man addict I was instantly drawn to this tale, and the film found a huge audience well beyond the limits of gaming-niche it inhabited with a story of a rivalry that matched any Hollywood fare you care to mention. It of course played very loose and ready with the facts to build an immaculate arc for this story, but this it would seem is par for the course in modern documentary making.

That said, selling a documentary on an unspectacular subject is [as the Swedes would say] like selling sand to the Bedouins. Both Helvetica and Fistful both held a kooky hook which could sell them to anyone with even the smallest vein of curiosity. That they were both great documentaries also helped. Speaking personally, the magic of a brilliant documentary is the unexpected one you stumble across at a film festival, or at the back end of the TV schedules. Sheffield’s own DocFest does a fine job of bombarding me with more peculiar things than I could shake a festival pass at, and the kinks of programming and personal availability has forced me into seeing films I wouldn’t otherwise touch with a barge pole. A few stinkers along the way, sure, but a few gems I wouldn’t ever have a chance of seeing again.

Television however is the real home of the cold-calling documentary. A highlight in recent memory was The Man With the Golden Gavel, about A-list art auctioneer Simon de Pury, which I caught late on BBC4 and somehow managed to keep me hooked well past my bed time. Its’ subject, while charming to excess, is not particularly likeable, and more than a little cut-throat. It’s hard to curry interest in the struggles of a man who can only be described as obscenely rich, but the film skipped along with a swift pace and was packed with plentiful detail about the large auction houses of the world. I had absolutely zero interest in the subject, but stuck watching I was.

Whether When You’re Strange will have this effect on the unsuspecting cine-goer I couldn’t  tell you, as author and viewer are too enthused about the subject to begin with.

When You’re Strange is showing at the Showroom cinema in Sheffield from the 1st of July 2010

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Doc/fest – Bastardy + Granddad

Docfest Jack Charles Young and OldBastardy

A character portrait that stretches over 8 years is by it’s very nature quite epic in scope, yet the emotional depths that Bastardy touches upon are of a level rarely witnessed in your standard ‘follow-a-junky’ doc. An orphaned child of the ‘stolen generation,’ forcefully extracted from aboriginal communities in Australia, Jack Charles struggled to find his place in the world. A founding member of the first Aboriginal Theatre company in the seventies, Jack found a home of sorts in the embodiment of others, performing as an actor on both stage and screen and gaining certain recognition for his work.

But our introduction to Jack comes in the contemporary world, where the now old man has dipped into a half-way house to cook up his hit for the day. His expletive peppered words insist that the filmmaker shows his life up front, and that the audience sees his personal focus on the needle right from the get go. It’s his cross to bear, and the doc thankfully eschews any attempts to justify his need, or even coerce him to go straight.

The film initially stumbles around with the subject, as he looks for audiences to play guitar to, or later searching for quiet corners to bed down in. There is no grand introduction, and Jack’s past only becomes clear throughout the course of the film, at the same pace it became clear to the filmmaker following him. His cat burgling past is introduced as a chance drive around the affluent parts of Melbourne sees Jack pointing out the dozens of houses he’s burgled. ‘I never break in. I just walk in wherever’s open’ he says almost glibly ‘if there’s any confrontation, I’m out like a light.’

The subject’s charm and quick-when-not-high wit does a lot to hold the momentum of the film. His appearance varies wildly throughout the film, and intercut photos and clips from his past reinforce the mercurial nature of the man. A blur of outward identity which contrasts a resolute, but tired, voice of experience. The swathes of friends he has found and lost are only hinted at in a short montage of endless hugs, yet the focus remains on the addiction fuelled kleptomania which awkwardly gets in the way of these friendships. His eventual reflection on the one love he found in life cuts through the film in a heartrending way, evincing quite how far the film has drawn the viewer into the film.

Docfest Bastardy

A vivid sequence at the end of the film shows Jack going backwards through time in a series of police mug shots, from capture in 2003, with a photo for almost every other year right back to 1961 when Jack was caught on his first charge at the tender age of 18. His hair and beard balloon in and out over time, each cut heralding the nigh endless cycle of addiction, theft, capture, release, addiction, theft, capture, release, addiction…

Seeing him cheerily Q&A the film after the screening I saw felt like seeing a man stand naked before the audience. One particularly uncharitable commentator in Australia felt obliged to post a reflection on the internet that “Regardless of the artistic representation, the man is a criminal.” Art does of course not excuse the man, but you’d need a heart of granite to conclude such from portrait as pointed and revealing as this.

Docfest GrandadGrandad

A brief note for an incredibly brief documentary. A student project where director Scott Dawe tracks down members of his extended family to discuss his grandfather’s home movies. A mysterious woman appears in one, and the grand patriarch’s infidelity and fledgling commitment to his family are quick laid bare. Emotional interviews intercut with almost ghost-like super8 footage make for punchy if somewhat clipped film.

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