Favourite music of 2019

Shorter list this year as I only have time to write up nine fave songs (which as usual largely serve as stand-ins for their respective albums). I do list some more honourable mentions at the bottom.

9. Doja Cat (additional production Yeti Beats) - Bottom Bitch

The spirit of Nicki Minaj is strong with this one. Part of Minaj's challenge to the male-dominated genre of hip hop is to insist that her work contain not only virtuosic rapping ability but also sounds and signifiers traditionally coded as feminine, and have those latter elements be as garish as possible – hence the prevalence of autotuned singing, bubblegum pop and the colour pink. The reaction to tracks like 'Gun Shot', 'Super Bass' or 'Stupid Ho' from scene gatekeepers demonstrates the challenge such a project entailed. But the world has changed, and artists like Doja Cat have moved into the space Minaj opened up. The album Hot Pink (her favourite colour as well as a signpost to the influence of Minaj's Pink Friday) is great throughout, but I picked this cut because of the disorientating way it co-opts the often sexist and exploitative language of the pimp-prostitute relationship to speak about friendship and loyalty, and in doing so showing how hip hop can be bent and shaped to cater to new communities of listeners.

8. Charly Bliss - Capacity

Charly Bliss trade in the sublime 90s pop-punk of their first album for polished synth-pop straight out of the CHVRCHES rulebook. Given that CHVRCHES already exist and no one could touch Guppy at its peak, I can't help but feel disappointed at this development. First single 'Capacity' does manage to recapture some of the highs of their earlier work, particularly once it gets to the bridge, which is tailor-made for lasers over the main stage of a festival.

7. Dawn Richard (additional production D Berg) - vultures | wolves 

The disappointment with Pitchfork's big 2010s lists is that amalgamating the preferences of informed listeners will inevitably favour artists with larger profiles, because those are the names that will appear most often across individual lists. And this constructs an account of the decade that focuses on the most influential music, rather than necessarily the best. Dawn Richard has probably produced the most consistently excellent R&B of the last 10 years, but by various twists of fate her music has bubbled under the surface rather than be recognised for the ambitious suite of work that it is. Anyway, this year's new breed isn't even in the top tier of records she's put out as a solo artist, and it's still essential. I saw her in London in April and her rendition of 'vultures' brought the entire house down.

6. Kehlani feat. Musiq Soulechild (prod. SuperDuperBrick & J Young White) - Footsteps

A sparse but knotty production hooks into the corners of the track while Kehlani lays on some real talk to her partner about her need for recognition and support in order to make a relationship work. 'Footsteps' is a frank conversation between two people taking stock on the inadequacies of young love, and how to build firmer foundations for the future. And the harmonising between Kehlanni and Musiq Soulechild at the end signals that a reconciliation has been achieved, holding out the promise that not all broken things are irrecoverable.

5. Mannequin Pussy - In Love Again

It's probably some sort of rule that rock albums need to end on a series of escalating climaxes piling up on top of each other until they all collapse. This is exactly what happens here – with giant drums and the grandest of pianos pushing up bigger and bigger swells of noise, before unleashing a barrage of blissful guitar solos. The crescendo that accompanies the triumphant line 'I'm in love with you' is followed by a long denouement, as if invoking the work that follows such a declaration to keep the relationship strong over time. Even if that emotional peak is never reached again, there is satisfaction still in the song gradually unspooling outwards, settling into a steady state groove of contentment.

4. Charli XCX (prod. A.G. Cook) - Thoughts 

'Gone' is probably a better song, but this beatless solo cut from her very good self-titled album this year just sounds HUGE. Slightly ridiculous comparison, but it's the sort of chest-beating all-caps autotuned melodrama found in something like Lil Durk's drill anthem 'This Ain't What You Want'. The influence of contemporary rap is felt also in the lyrics, which Charli basically freestyled during a long and frustrating session in the studio. A.G. Cook builds a cavern of icy blasting winds at the centre of which Charli bellows and shrieks her deepest and darkest. But despite the doubts about fake friends and failed relationships there's a grim defiance undergirding the track and gives it a strange kind of uplift – big attitude, I don't wanna compromise. Charli is owning her insecurities, and it doesn't sound like they will ever get in her way.

3. pronoun - wrong

In case you couldn't tell, Alyse Vellturo is annoyed. The cause of her anger is communicated pretty directly in the chorus – sitting here feeling sorry for somebody you hate when you know it's wrong – and those lines sound like they're being sung through gritted teeth. And yet all the mounting rage and frustration of the situation is channelled into a very tightly put together pop song with a cheery dual-guitar riff that slices through at key moments. It's a skillfully wound contraption – sparks flying from the effort of containing all that energy within yourself, and transforming it into something new and delightful.

2. Clairo (additional production Rostam & Peter Cottontale) - North 

Slightly ashamed to be falling for an album that could easily be factored into a general critique of soulful background music designed to slot neatly into Spotify playlists – all idiosyncrasies treated as irritants and ruthlessly shaved off to produce a smooth, mellow flow of bland ambience that goes in one ear and out the other. All I can say is that there's something captivating about Immunity that makes it stand out regardless of how easily it goes down. Its best tracks create a wonderful tension between the mumbled, barely audible vocals and the roiling emotions they partly conceal. 'North' is not an obvious pick from the album, but as a tale of young lust on the edge of revealing itself, and set to a driving motorik beat, it is entrancing like little else this year. The slight distortion on the final chorus, corroding the vocal yet further with the desperation of desire, is just the right final touch.   

1. American Football feat. Hayley Williams - Uncomfortably Numb

A lattice of interweaving guitar parts soundtrack the back and forth between two interior monologues cataloguing the gradual disintegration of a relationship. Emo grown up, grown tired, grown depressed and despondent, but this being American Football there's still this romantic yearning for a connection despite all the obstacles in the way. It's an unhappy ending – the two voices only occasionally harmonise before branching off in different directions. But the music itself is so hypnotically beautiful that it could fool you into thinking there's still some hope left.

Some other records I liked this year


Octo Octa - Resonant Body
Pugilist - Blue 06
TC4 - Ola EP
Kara Marni & Champion - All Night, Pt 1
Special Request - Vortex
Air Max '97 - Ice Bridge
Kasper Marott - Drømmen om Ø (Forever Mix '19)
Skee Mask - Iss004 EP (the bits that sound most like Compro)
Plaid - Maru (Skee Mask Remix)
Christoph De Babalon - Hectic Shakes EP


Great Grandpa - Four of Arrows
Sacred Paws - Run Around The Sun
Origami Angel - Somewhere City

Grime and progeny: 

Bru-C & Window Kid feat. Pubman, KDot, Kamakaze & Devilman - Bits (Remix)
Durrty Goodz (prod. Beekay) - Brexit
Pinch & Trim - That Wasn't It
Sidhu Moose Wala, MIST & Steel Banglez feat. Stefflon Don - 47
Shakka feat. Mr Eazi (prod. Banx & Ranx) - Too Bad Bad
Cadell feat. Sense & Delusion (prod. Wize) - Don't Lack
No Hats No Hoods compilation - London To Addis
Slimzos Recordings compilation - Time


Meitei - Komachi
Leif - Loom Dream
H.Takahashi - Sonne Und Wasser
Mikron - Severance
Akasha System - Echo Earth
Kornél Kovács - Stockholm Marathon
Robag Wruhme - Venq Tolep


49 films in 2019

There isn't even any point in me listing my favourite new films I've seen this year – it's just Marvel movies and Kechiche's controversial follow-up to Blue is the Warmest Colour, which I thought was good if a bit icky (and the sequel is apparently just icky). I have been going to the cinema, but it's been the Prince Charles and the BFI to watch old films, which are invariably less likely to disappoint than new ones.

And in 2019 I ended up spending a lot of time in the 90s – not just on the big films of the decade (Silence of the Lambs, Dazed and Confused, Scream, The Piano, Boyz n the Hood) but the second tier (Doom Generation, Jackie Brown, Strange Days, Wild Things) which have often proved more interesting. There's a supposed 20-year-rule in pop music revivals where the generation that gains artistic and commercial influence in their 30s bring with them their formative influences as teenagers, a personal version of which seems to be dictating my film-watching habits.

Should also shout out the London Graphic Novel Network film club for many of the entries here, which has provided an excuse to revisit old favourites (Pan's Labyrinth, Children of Men, Lost in Translation, Jennifer's Body, Alien) and argue about them in robust and entertaining terms. Many of the links below are to the conversations conducted over email and then published on the site.


Abdellatif Kechiche - Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno [link]
Anthony and Joe Russo - Avengers: Endgame
Jon Watts - Spider-Man: Far From Home [link]
Anna Boden / Ryan Fleck - Captain Marvel [link]


Guillermo del Toro - Pan's Labyrinth [link]
Alfonso Cuarón - Children of Men [link]
Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation [link]
Kathryn Bigelow - Strange Days [link]
Karyn Kusama - Jennifer's Body [link]
Quentin Tarantino - Jackie Brown [link]
Walerian Borowczyk - The Beast [link]
Ridley Scott - Alien [link]
Alejandro González Iñárritu - Birdman (or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) [link]
Orson Welles - Citizen Kane [link]
Takashi Miike - 13 Assassins [link]
Michelangelo Antonioni - The Passenger [link]
Gregg Araki - The Doom Generation [link]
Chuck Russell - The Mask [link]
Gaspar Noé - Enter the Void [link]
John McNaughton - Wild Things [link]
David Eggers - The VVitch: A New England Folktale [link]
Jack Hill - Coffy [link]
Howard Hawks - His Girl Friday [link]
James Cameron - The Terminator [link]
Miloš Forman - Man on the Moon [link]
Mark Waters - Mean Girls [link]
Richard Linklater - Dazed and Confused [link]
Wes Craven - Scream [link]
Martin Scorsese - King of Comedy [link]
Jane Campion - The Piano [link]
John Singleton - Boyz n the Hood [link]
Walter Hill - The Warriors [link]
Jordan Peele - Get Out  [link]
Jonathan Demme - The Silence of the Lambs [link]
Nagisa Oshima - The Sun's Burial [link]
Stanley Kubrick - A Clockwork Orange [link]
Hideaki Anno - Neon Genesis Evangelion / The End of Evangelion [link]
Ingmar Bergman - Summer With Monika [link]
Howard Hawks - The Big Sleep [link]
John Carpenter - The Thing [link]
Brian De Palma - Carrie [link]
Robert Luketic - Legally Blonde [link]
Gregg Araki - Nowhere [link]
Jack Hill - Foxy Brown [link]
Michelangelo Antonioni - Identification of a Woman [link]
Anna Biller - Viva [link]
Jean-Pierre Jeunet - Amélie [link]
Hirokazu Kore-eda - Air Doll [link]
Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained [link]


49 books of 2019

Big shout out to the Alzabo Soup podcast which has been the overwhelming influence on my book consumption this year. There's a podcast for everything nowadays, including this one providing extremely close readings of science fiction author Gene Wolfe, a niche I'm thoroughly into. I subscribed after finishing Urth of the New Sun in January, which the podcast has now started covering, so the year has a nice circular feel to it. Wolfe sadly passed away in April, which was a further impetus to get to know his work better.

The podcast spent a few episodes investigating some of Wolfe's influences, which led to me picking up Jack Vance, Ursula K. Le Guin, R.A. Lafferty and G.K. Chesterton. It also meant I was up for reading more old science fiction and fantasy generally (Robert Holdstock, Patricia A. McKillip, a dive into Stephen Baxter's Xeelee books). My job means I'm pretty immersed in the hour-by-hour news agenda, and frankly it's been a relief to escape into alternate or future worlds in my downtime.

I've started to write short 'reviews' (more like notes) on Goodreads, so most of the links point that way. I've also turned out two pieces on comics for the London Graphic Novel Network which I'm pretty happy with.

James A. Harris - Hume: An Intellectual Biography [link]
Ian Morris - Why the West Rules—for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future
Damian McBride - Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin
John Dunn - Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future
David Stubbs - Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music [link]
Dan Hancox - Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime
Xavier Mendik, Ernest Mathijs - 100 Cult Films
Jean-Yves Berthault (ed.) - The Passion of Mademoiselle S.

Alan Garner - Red Shift [link]
William Gibson & Bruce Sterling - The Difference Engine [link]
Gene Wolfe - The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Gene Wolfe - The Urth of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe - The Best of Gene Wolfe: A Definitive Retrospective of His Finest Short Fiction
R.A. Lafferty - The Best of R.A. Lafferty [link]
Raymond Chandler - The Long Goodbye [link]
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Word for World Is Forest [link]
Jack Vance - Emphyrio
Jack Vance - The Dying Earth / The Eyes of the Overworld / Rhialto the Marvellous [link]
Stephen Baxter - Raft [link]
Stephen Baxter - Reality Dust / Riding the Rock / Mayflower II
Stephen Baxter - Ring [link]
Stephen Baxter - Timelike Infinity [link]
Robert Holdstock - Mythago Wood
Philip Pullman - The Book of Dust vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage
Mervyn Peake - Gormenghast
Patricia A. McKillip - The Forgotten Beasts of Eld [link]
Martin Amis - The Rachel Papers [link]
G.K. Chesterton - The Man who was Thursday: A Nightmare
H. Rider Haggard - She: A History of Adventure [link]

Simon Spurrier / Ryan Kelly / Various - Cry Havoc [link]
Yoshihiro Tatsumi - A Drifting Life [link]
Enki Bilal - Monster [link]
Brian Michael Bendis - Fire
Brian Michael Bendis - Fortune & Glory
Masamune Shirow - Orion [link]
Kazuo Koike / Ryoichi Ikegami - Wounded Man vols. 1 & 2 [link]
Atsushi Ohkubo - Soul Eater vols 1 & 2
Rick Remender / Sean Murphy / Matt Hollingsworth - Tokyo Ghost vols. 1 & 2
Rick Remender / Jerome Opeña / Matt Hollingsworth - Seven to Eternity vols. 1 & 2
Kieron Gillen / Caanan White - Uber Vol. 1
Alan Moore / Eddie Campbell - A Disease of Language
Christos Gage / various - Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 11 & 12
Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri - Druuna: Anima
Milo Manara - Gullivera
Francis Leroi / Jean-Pierre Gibrat - Pinocchia
Jean-Pierre Gibrat - Flight of the Raven
Liam Sharp /  Christina McCormack - Cap Stone vol 1: Captain Stone is missing
Osamu Tezuka - Apollo's Song
Naoki Urasawa - Monster vols. 1 & 2


50 favourite albums of the 2010s

Couldn't resist putting this together after reading a few lists and becoming quite bored at how Beyonce, Kanye, Kendrick, Frank, Taylor, Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver and Arcade Fire have locked down all the top numbers. I guess that's inevitable when individual lists are amalgamated and the artists at the centre of the Venn Diagram rise to the top. Personal lists are often more interesting, and the one below is entirely personal, rather than an attempt to rank according to what is a "better" or more deserving work. The top spot is awarded out of loyalty more than anything – and there is a faint echo of the Kieron Gillen rules in the list, where an artist's overall work pushes up an individual album. But these things are always a reflection of your own prejudices. These have been mine over the last ten years.

Johnny Foreigner - Mono No Aware
Dawn Richard - Goldenheart
Wiley - It's All Fun And Games Till vol. 1 / Twitter Downloads 2012
Purity Ring - Shrines
The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace Is There

The Beths - Future Me Hates Me
Robyn - Body Talk (alternative tracklist)
tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l
American Football - American Football (LP3)
SZA - Ctrl

Dawn Richard - Redemption
Gulfer - Dog Bless
Clairo - Immunity
Charly Bliss - Guppy
Skee Mask - Compro

Johnny Foreigner ‎– You Thought You Saw A Shooting Star... EP
Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds From Another Planet
Illuminati Hotties - Kiss Yr Frenemies
Ariana Grande - Yours Truly
Charli XCX - Pop 2

fka twigs - LP1
Dawn Richard - Blackheart
Katy B - On a Mission
Waxahatchee - American Weekend
Kehlani - You Should Be Here

Future - Monster / Beast Mode / 56 Nights
The Ophelias - Almost
Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place
Jacquees & Dej Loaf - Fuck A Friend Zone
Rustie - Glass Swords

Ramadanman - Ramadanman EP
Danny Brown - XXX
Proc Fiskal - Insula
Night Slugs - Allstars Volume 1
Tinashe - Aquarius

J Hus - Common Sense
Octo Octa - Where Are We Going?
Kero Kero Bonito - Time 'n' Place
pronoun - i'll show you stronger
EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints

Ciara - Basic Instinct
Sleigh Bells - Treats
E.M.M.A - Blue Gardens
Sharon Van Etten - Epic
Congo Natty - Jungle Revolution

Bat for Lashes - The Haunted Man
Jhené Aiko - Souled Out
Sam Binga - Wasted Days
Dom - Sun Bronzed Greek Gods
Gold Panda - Lucky Shiner


The Sun's Burial

A scattershot, cast-of-hundreds feature Oshima made at the time of Naked Youth, where the scope widens from doomed lovers to the doomed society they inhabit. The film is set in the slums of Osaka and investigates the various ways desperate people sell themselves and each other to get by. Poverty leads inexoriably to gangsterism, and two activites in particular that are loaded with symbolic portent – selling your blood and selling your ID documents. The loss of identity implied by the latter is given a cruel twist in that the ringleader behind the scam is a military vet who keeps talking about the restoration of the Japanese Empire and an inevitable conflict with America and Russia. For many this is a compelling myth, so when his hypocricy is exposed, the people riot and decide to burn the little they have down to the ground.

The central character in the film is Hanako (played by Kayoko Honoo making the most of her angular eyeliner) – a hard-as-nails hustler who plays off one gang against another. She becomes infatuated with a naive new yakuza recruit, but their love affair is brief and ends bloodily, trampled by a literal train that may signify the brutal forces of progress transforming the country. Hanako's arc is mostly an excuse for Oshima to frame beautiful young actors against the oppressive Osaka skyline, where the sun is choked off by factory smoke and enclosed by the skeletons of new buildings. The plot is barely comprehensible, but the film's message is nonetheless strikingly direct.


Strange Days

A sprawling, stylish and very expensive 'tech-noir' from Kathryn Bigelow, from a story and script by James Cameron. It was released in 1995 and bombed massively – apparently almost destroying her career in the process. But history and hindsight should restore it as one of Bigelow's best and most idiosyncratic films.

The story revolves around a technology called SQID, which allows people to record and 'playback' their entire sensorium, and allows Bigelow to innovate in the use of first-person action sequences. The technology is military but available on the black market, and the protagonist and anti-hero Ralph Fiennes is a peddler of thrills and smut to wealthy clients. Fiennes is a user and abuser as well, and the film positions him at the midway point between Angela Bassett's purist adhearance to 'real life', and the villain's complete decent to nihilism and virtual depravity.

Hitchcock's Vertigo is a clear antecedent, with Bassett playing Midge to Fiennes's Scottie obsessing over Juliette Lewis's Madeleine. Bigelow allows Fiennes to come to his senses, and ends her film on a moment of hope for humanity – with a kiss between Bassett and Fiennes that broke ground in the portrayal of interracial romantic relationships. Fiennes is brilliant (and quite sexy) in the role, and Bassett is cool and fierce. Both actors together bring a lot of soul to an otherwise rather grubby film.

Because Strange Days doesn't shirk from rubbing the sleaze and violence of its pre-millennial tension society almost literally in our faces. We've pushed further than Hitchcock in Psycho – there are fewer cutaways now. Post-Halloween, audiences are permitted into the minds and perspectives of rapists and serial killers. But the film's references to past cinema history flattens out any sense of outrage you might feel. The point Bigelow seems to be making is that films have always had this dark undercurrent to them – presenting the possibility of experiencing forbidden things, whether violent or sexual.

The other motivating force behind the film is Bigelow's observations of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which led her to depict her future LA as a police state with the black community on the brink of revolution. What's interesting is that the supposed conspiracy at the heart of government to oppress the people turns out to be a mirage – instead the renegade cops turn out to be a bunch of bad apples. Indeed, Bassett's salvation is placed in the hands of a very traditional authority figure – an old, white, male police commissioner, who proves incorruptable in the end and arrests the perps. Ultimately the system remains in place. the revolution is held in check and the New Year party keeps going. The tension between the two sides remains in place, and like 'playback' vs real life, the film refuses to throw its weight behind one or the other.


Summer with Monika

One of Bergman's early works, and mostly an excuse for Harriet Andersson to be as sexy as possible. Bergman recounts that several filmmakers were racing to work with her, though not many actually valued her abilities as an actress. Bergman did, and his main recollection of the film is that it was cheap to make and fun to shoot (and he did also manage to get in her pants, kicking off a four-year affair).

Andersson's Monika is a force of nature – cooped up in the city, she is at her happiest where social expectations are lifted and she can escape the poverty and abuse in her family by going sailing around the archipelago with a good looking boy in his father's boat. Bergman underlines the nature theme at the beginning by having one of the drinkers in the pub remark that the young people's friskiness is a sign that spring is coming. We then cycle over the summer, autumn and winter of a relationship, where the demands of adulthood prove too much for Monika and she has to escape once more.

The film feels longer than its short running time. The pace is languid – with a great deal of set-up and denouement occuring in long theatrical takes allowing for plenty of insight into the families and jobs of the two lovers. Monika doesn't come out of it too well in the final third – too restless to be a homemaker but too lazy to work, she wants to enjoy her youth. But perhaps we should blame the environment she is in – caught at the crossroads between the glamour of Hollywood and the constraints of tradition, where female ambition is confined to bringing up babies, but the temptations of films, bars and sex linger outside. Her abandonment of her two families is spurred by moments of physical abuse – the men in her life also don't have safe ways of expressing their frustration. Everyone is both a victim and a perpetrator.

The French new wave embraced the film, and given its theme of young lovers throwing off the shackles of society perhaps that's not surprising. But just as important was the moment where Andersson has her cigarette lit by a lothario at the bar while her husband is away, leans back and then looks directly into the lens, almost daring the viewer to condemn her impropriety. In Bergman's account that was her idea, and the first time this had happened in the history of cinema. Bergman holds the shot, but it is only a spark of transgressive brilliance in an otherwise slight film.


Dazed and Confused

The 70s were evidently a crueller time in which to grow up, judging by the glee with which Richard Linklater portrays the hazing rituals of American teenagers on the last day of school. The film takes an anthropological stance – taking account of the paddlers' pleasure and the paddled's pain, but it does give the most vicious of the senior bullies a comeuppance at the hands of the freshmen.

The film reminded me a lot of this year's Mektoub, My Love, in that it's a nostalgia fest for being young and beautiful, but also a sprawling investigation into the knotty relationships between a vast group of characters – their little squabbles and flirtations, and the overlapping friendship-groups they coalesce around. Linklater is less of a letch, and more of a romantic, than Abdellatif Kechiche, which is a mercy given that his kids are younger. But that youth and romanticism also mean that the conflicts and choices faced by the characters are more straightforward.

The film makes two big statements. The first is a speech by Adam Goldberg's overtalkative nerd Mike (very much a Linklater stock character) yearning for a moment of carefree abandon where the promise of tomorrow isn't sacrificed for the pleasures of the present. The earnestness of the speech is punctured by Mike then preposterously revealing a secret desire to dance, which may be a standout line but is too absurd to be funny. The willingness to delay gratification is a marker of success for children and adults, but Linklater's point is that sometimes people need a break from the daily grind and an opportunity to run riot. The true value of life is to be found in the carnivalesque atmosphere of the film – where the rules are turned upside down and you're free to do whatever you want.

The second big statement is basically the same as the first. The film is given some shape by Pink's dilemma of whether to remain on the football team and renounce drink and drugs. His older friend (a magisterial Matthew McConaughey in his breakout role) gives a big speech about the importance of living your own life and not kowtowing to authority, advice Pink follows with uncertain results.

But the most subtle aspect of the film is how both these instances of rebellion are couched in a context where everyone is being pressured by everyone else to fit in. Pink receives constant representations from his friends on the team begging him not to quit. Mike's idea of cutting loose is to go to a party and get in a fight – a very traditional view of how cool dudes spend their time. The contradiction at the heart of the film is that being dazed and confused isn't all that subversive when everyone around you is trying to get you dazed and confused.


"One of the troubles with being over-articulate, with having a vocabulary more refined than your emotions, is that every turn in the conversation, every switch of posture, opens up an estate of verbal avenues with a myriad side-turnings and cul-de-sacs – and there are no signposts but your own sincerity and good taste, and I've never had much of either. All I know is that I can go down any one of them and be welcomed as a returning lord." – Martin Amis, The Rachel Papers


Wild Things

Probably the last gasp of the 90s erotic noir, and while the film looks sleazy on the surface, it's actually redeemed by the increasingly ridiculous plot twists that start popping up half-way through, which show that basically no one is what they appear to be on the surface. Characters who you are set up to believe are victims turn into master manipulators, and vice versa. And while the portrayal of Denise Richards and Neve Campbell is exploitative, the film refuses to condescend to them, and hands ultimate victory to the latter.

The film is notorious for the scenes in which Richards and Campbell make out, although the film is at its queerest when Kevin Bacon surprises Matt Dillon in the shower – and there's a brief flash of full-frontal male nudity. Apparently, and enticingly, Dillon was supposed to join Bacon in the shower and kiss him, revealing a sexual relationship between the two men. Depressingly the financiers quashed the idea, although Bacon (who is also the film's producer) was pretty attached to it. Ultimately it's left as subtext, but it would have been a neat mirroring of the relationship between Richards and Campbell, and would enforce the prevailing mood that sexuality is a mutable thing in the Florida heat.

The director John McNaughton wanted to make the setting as beautiful as possible, to contrast with the beastly nature of the people within it. The film takes great pains to establish the contrast between the swamps swimming with alligators and the wealthy society living next door, with Matt Dillon's character sashaying comfortably through both environments. The metaphor is probably most acute with the crocodile tamer McNaughton keeps returning to – a nod to the attractions and dangers of playing with wild things. The film's conceit is that humanity has not sloughed off the evolutionary imperative to eat or be eaten – if anything our ability to dissemble makes us more ruthless. It's telling that McNaughton wanted to make a sequel with the kids of the characters who emerged on top in this film, underlining the macabre notion that the survival of the fittest would create ever more gruesome human beings.



There is a strain of nastiness to Wes Craven that I find a little unsettling. For the pivotal initial sequence in Scream, Drew Barrymore had told him about an instance of animal cruelty that had horrified and upset her, the memory of which Craven then used during the shoot to elicit a more convincing performance. That requires a lot of trust between director and actor, and in fairness, Craven acknowledges and is grateful for Barrymore's courage in making herself vulnerable in front of the camera. But having a director resort to such methods is still a bit unnerving.

The script was shopped around and could have gone in a bunch of ways, but with Craven attached it ends up as a genuinely scary movie – at least until the killer is unmasked and the film skips into absurdity. The irony of characters in a slasher film being aware of the conventions of slasher films is heavily present throughout, but the meta element becomes almost deafening in the scenes between Neve Campbell's 'final girl' Sidney and her boyfriend Billy (played by Skeet Ulrich as if he's channelling Johnny Depp). The latter speaks almost exclusively in film metaphors, so we really should have seen it coming.

The killer's motives are a joke, and used as just another comment on horror films (it's scarier if you don't know apparently). In fact the real motive is something Craven has been exploring throughout his career – the derangement of not being able to differentiate between reality and fiction. The money shot (horror films are in their way just as formulaic as porn) that encapsulates Scream is the TV falling on the killer's head and frying his brain. These kids are exactly what the censors of video nasties fear – that watching this stuff can turn you into a violent maniac. And the fact that it was accused of inspiring copycat murders perfectly rounds off the film's satirical project.


Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is the first Tarantino film I watched, so perhaps that makes me soft on it, but I do agree with Mark Kermode that it is by far his best picture. Of all his work it's probably the least flashy and stylish. It lacks the unconventional non-linear structure of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, or the bigger budgets (and the bloat) of Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. But it makes up for all that by having characters with a depth that isn't found anywhere else in the Tarantino universe.

It's the one film he didn't write from scratch, and perhaps we should thank Elmore Leonard for supplying that missing ingredient in Tarantino's scripts – real people. For all the blaxploitation genre signifiers, this isn't really an exploitation film, black or otherwise (for starters it's probably Tarantino's least violent work). Instead it doubles down on a twisty noir plot whose main source of intrigue is how it reveals different facets of the people wrapped up in it.

It's difficult to think of a film which uses Samuel L. Jackson's talents better – his Ordell Robbie is a fun guy to be around, sure, but he's also cold and ruthless in a really quite scary way. Pam Grier, who as an actress in those 70s classics Coffy and Foxy Brown could be rather flat, is magnificent here – being both outwardly steely but also at crucial moments letting slip the inner vulnerability and doubt that must be coursing through her mind as she conducts her heist operation. Robert Forster also does great work maintaining a professional distance whilst subtly suggesting the ways in which he's also being drawn into Jackie Brown's web.

Forster's character Max Cherry can't quite bring himself to cross the line at the end of the film. He shares a kiss with Jackie Brown but chickens out of following her to enjoy her spoils on a holiday in Spain. Both of them are heading towards middle age, and while never mentioned it's clear they've left many failed relationships behind them. They both want an escape from their dead-end jobs, but only Jackie Brown is brave enough to risk everything to grab it. And by having Max pull back and drift out of focus the film acknowledges how difficult navigating those risks are. Tarantino hasn't been able to replicate the emotional complexity of that finale anywhere else. Which leads me to think that perhaps he should try adapting other people's material more often.


The Terminator

Although it spawned a science-fiction franchise, this is just as much a slasher film inspired by John Carpenter's Halloween. It even imports some of the sexual politics of the genre, with Sarah Connor's frisky roommate and her creep of a boyfriend dispatched in the most brutal terms after a long night of humping. Sex may dull the survival instincts, but just as much of an issue is Ginger's addiction to her walkman, which distracts her from the killing machine invading her bedroom.

That reliance on technology may be what James Cameron was trying to draw out. It's no accident that the final showdown is set in a factory, where the robots have clearly replaced humanity along the manufacturing conveyor belt. The Terminators are just the next level up in this process, eradicating humans from the planet as well as the workforce, and impersonating real people to do so. Kyle Reese suggests that the machines were the ones to launch the nukes in the first place – drawing a connection between the impersonal forces reshaping capitalism and the nuclear powers facing off against each other in the 1980s. Both are out to crush the little guy or gal trying to scrape a wage waiting tables.

The gratification in the film is that the gal gets to crush the monster in return. But the message gets scrambled somewhat by the iconography of the film – which dresses up Arnold Schwarzenegger as a counter-cultural punk in leather jackets and boots, and has an almost fascistic fascination with guns, bikes and slaughter. Cameron didn't want Schwarzenegger in the role at first – a giant Austrian bodybuilder is hardly believable as a cyborg designed for infiltration. But he was won around, and Schwarzenegger's presence on the set changed the movie, making it more flamboyant and stylised. No wonder they made him the hero in the sequel.

The rebels of the future are a raggedy bunch, fighting a guerrilla war against the evil empire in scenes that may be inspired by the Vietnam War. Kyle Reese is a product of that post-apocalyptic environment – where the broken TV used as a fireplace provides sufficient commentary on the decadent and dangerously soporific dependence on technology in the modern world. Inspired by Kyle's example, Sarah Connor loads up on all the guns she can get and goes off-grid at the end of the film. Defeating the military-industrial conspiracy means embracing survivalism. And the only sign of solidarity in the film is a cult-like attachment to the messianic figure of John Connor, and the intense but brief love affair between Kyle and Sarah – hardly promising portents for the future, nor a particularly attractive alternative to the machine overlords.


Spider-Man: Far From Home

Funnily enough before watching this I was listening to a cheerful podcast about how deepfakes can be used maliciously to provoke nuclear war and the end of the world. So perhaps these superhero films aren't just mindless escapism but do actually do what great science fiction should, which is to extrapolate from the problems and possibilities of contemporary society and technology and provide warnings about the way forward. Maybe. The villain's final line "people will believe anything" is certainly weighty in the current political climate. Then again, unlike Batman in The Dark Knight, I don't see Peter Parker destroying the insanely sophisticated snooping system bequeathed to him by Tony Stark. Who's to say he won't turn out like Jake Gyllenhaal's duplicitous Mysterio when he grows up, gets a job and gets screwed over by his boss? Like in a lot of Marvel movies, Iron Man is the solution to his own problem and perhaps we're better off without such billionaire playboys in the first place.

Anyway. The film would have been more successful if you couldn't see the twist a country mile off. Homecoming's big coup was to hit you with a mid-film revelation that you just would not be able to see coming, whereas Mysterio feels dodgy even if you know nothing about the character in the comics. Gyllenhaal has an impossible job trying to convince you that he's actually just a nice guy, and does about as well as anyone could, but he's a lot more enjoyable when he's revealed to be the slightly deranged wannabe dictator choreographing his own propaganda. Jon Watts obviously enjoys a joke, and perhaps making the villain a frustrated film director is one at his own expense.

The twist in Homecoming didn't just work on its own terms, it cleverly tied up the political superhero shenanigans about the little guys screwed over by the CEOs with the personal travails of a teenager trying to hook up with the cute girl in his decathlon team. Far From Home can't quite pull off the same trick. Again Peter has to juggle the social demands of being in school with the responsibilities of saving the world, but the two are drawn together more artificially here, with an awkwardly contrived emphasis on protecting his school friends from superhuman danger in an assortment of different European cities. That said, it'd be churlish not to give credit to Tom Holland and Zendaya for coping with the exigencies of the script with charm and poise. Ned and Beth, May and Happy are comedy couplings (as well as giving hope to men everywhere), but Spidey and MJ give you the genuine feels.


Identification of a Woman (Identificazione di una Donna)

Ideas in previous Antonioni films reappear here as echoes of past achievements. Perhaps the problem is Tomás Milián, who just isn't as engaging as Marcello Mastroianni, Alain Delon, Monica Vitti, David Hemmings or Jack Nicholson as the jaded aesthete stranded amid the ethical ruins of contemporary bourgeois civilisation. The visual ingenuity still present in late films like The Passenger, with its outré final long take, is relaxed here. It's like Antonioni is on autopilot.

The scene on the foggy motorway is the one bit of the film with genuine portent – where you get the same sense as in Blow-Up of a person lost in the chaos of reality and without the tools to make any sense of it. There's inexplicable movement and rustling in the shadows, we hear about gunshots and bandits, but we're kept in the dark.

The main character is looking for a woman to star in his next film, and he loses the woman he's fixated on due to his inability to commit. People are reduced to surfaces in the director's viewfinder – screens behind which he can spout his philosophical musings. The ending is a departure for Antonioni in some respects, with spaceships and special effects (although they look like they belong in the 60s rather than the 80s), but it's in keeping with his broad concerns. Niccolò switches from making a film about understanding a woman to a film about understanding the sun. Both are treated as physical objects studied with an objective, scientific eye. And the young boy he is making the film for asks "and then?" – what happens after you discover the secrets of the universe? The question is left hanging – ultimately love and science are meaningless purposeless pursuits.

Does he make the film for his nephew, or because he is also going to have a son? (Weirdly the possibility of a daughter isn't considered). It's ambiguous whether he decides to be involved in the raising of another man's child, although there's the suggestion that he'd be scared off by Mavi's discovery of her real dad, who she thought was just a distant and cold family friend. His comment that "family is a distraction from private life" feels like a constant in Antonioni's work – made explicit by Jack Nicholson abandoning his almost on a whim in The Passenger. Antonioni might celebrate such liberations, although they do strike me as ultimately self-indulgent and fundamentally irresponsible. Identification of a Woman was made when the director turned 70, but its attitude is still one of teenage listlessness and quixotic striving for romantic and political commitment. I'm now old enough to think that these people should really just grow up. It looks like Antonioni never did.


13 Assassins

Miike is only partly teasing when he says he wants 13 Assassins – best known for an exceedingly bloody 45 minute final faceoff between the titular thirteen and an army of 200 – to be viewed as a family film. The spectacle is great, but Miike and the writer (Audition and The Eel's Daisuke Tengan) are more concerned about the character drama that precedes it. There's a big emphasis on staying true to the original film, and the period detail – particularly the more ornate language spoken by the samurai.

The film begins with a slow scene of a lord committing hara-kiri, and its prevailing interest is in the sacrifices these men go through in order to remain true to their sense of self-worth and protect the values of their class. Miike wants to honour the rigours of doing your duty, but he also undercuts this with his decision of who survives the final massacre – the wastrel gambling nephew and a freewheeling Jack Sparrow-esque hunter who finds all these lords and their retainers ridiculous. Before he dies, the hero of the film describes being a samurai as a burden. The two survivors choose to lift it from their shoulders – pursuing women and the good life abroad or in the margins of society. It's an individualistic attitude totally at odds with the grim loyalty to lord and country of the older generation.

The film ends with a grin from the gambler looking forward to future pleasures, before the titles inform us that 23 years later the Shogunate fell and the modern Meiji era began. Miike is careful to leave the ending open to multiple interpretations, but I suspect his overriding attitude is to pay tribute to but to also break down the psychological fetters of Japanese feudalism, and remind the audience to be grateful that they live in more liberal times.

The Warriors

"There really isn't a lot to think about so keep it moving, keep it moving" was the instruction the director Walter Hill gave to his editor when cutting the film. That's slightly unfair on Hill's part. The story, taken from a pulp novel the producer found without a cover in a second-hand bookstore, is a retelling of Xenophon's Anabasis using New York gangs. Inadvertently it illustrates quite well the recent (and persuasive) theory of state-creation as a glorified form of protection racket – the earliest politicians extorting tribute in exchange for defending you from rival chiefs. The film begins with the biggest gang-leader Cyrus attempting to unite the other gangs to take over the city – showcasing the next stage of state-development where one emerges to rule them all and win the game of thrones.

The film got into trouble when it was released. Violence broke out in some screenings, leading the producers to pull advertising. Hill suggests that the subject matter may have attracted rival gangs into cinemas, which sparked scuffles. The film certainly doesn't try to moralise about the activities the characters get up to – the young men (and it is mostly men) are products of an environment that doesn't provide alternative avenues for respectability and success.

This is illustrated most effectively by the major female character in the film, who is attracted to the war chief of the Warriors gang to the point of abandoning her previous gang affiliation. Mercy isn't treated particularly well by any of the men around her – sexually harassed, insulted and dragged around against her will. But she is the only one who articulates the hopelessness of the neighbourhood she grew up in, and the attraction of escaping to somewhere, anywhere, else – even if that involves the risk of violence and death.

So there are things to think about, but Walter Hill isn't wrong in emphasising the propulsive nature of the film. The director's cut makes the comic book-inspired style of the story explicit – where the violence of the city is displaced by flamboyant gang colour costumes, outrageous personalities and a slipstream science fiction aesthetic. The director of photography does some amazing work around the underground train stations to make them look like scuzzy nightclubs, and the synth-embellished rock music was a novelty at the time. To an extent the film prefigures the neon-lit cyberpunk look and feel of Blade Runner three years later, although it owes a lot to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange as well. It is certainly more enjoyable than either of those landmark pictures.


The Piano

Jane Campion originally wanted a bleaker ending for the film – where Ada follows her piano into the sea and drowns. The echo of that ending remains, with Ada's thoughts continuing to dwell on the buried piano, and the silence that comes with death. Campion may have been aiming to round off a life as well as a film in this way. The first shot is quite an abstract one of light piercing through the flesh of fingers – a not very subtle evocation of being born. In between the silence that surrounds our lives, the main character Ada is impelled for reasons she doesn't quite understand not to speak.

Campion at the time of making the film didn't quite know why she wanted to pursue this idea of a woman insisting on silence. She was attracted to the rebelliousness and willpower just an act demonstrated. In hindsight, she puts an explicitly feminist spin on it – as a commentary on a society that doesn't value women's voices. This was very overtly the case in the Victorian era the film depicts, although Campion's point is that those prejudices endure. So why should Ada speak if she's just going to be ignored? She'll speak in her own way.

That's the piano, of course, but she also speaks directly to us in voiceover at the beginning and end of the film. We learn that her first husband, and father to her daughter, could hear her thoughts in his mind. This terrified him and he "stopped listening". Towards the end of the film, Ada performs this miracle again – through sheer force of will she instructs her new husband to let her go. The fact that we can hear her voiceover clearly suggests that film is a kind of telepathy as well – an oblique form of communication for Campion, like Ada and her piano.


"'Praise You' spoke to the sense, both frivolous and zen, that prevailed in the late 1990s: nothing 'mattered'. There was no need to agonise the way we used to. We were free. We could just be. Rock music was just about dead and nobody believed it had the capacity to transform the world. The counter-culture had long disappeared; the motorways were here to stay. The Great Battles had either been won or lost but, whatever, they had been fought. The time for fighting, the time for protest was over. What was left was a vast, democratised mass of people in the same large cultural (and physical) peacetime space who wanted nothing more than to live really happily for as long as possible, preferably for ever." – David Stubbs, Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music


Enter the Void

I saw this as part of the Kubrick season at the BFI – 2001 being a big influence on Gaspar Noé and this film in particular. I’m not sure whether Kubrick intended the stargate sequence to be used to enhance drug trips, but for Noé the link is natural. Enter the Void could be interpreted as one long drug trip, or a way to simulate such trips using the power of cinema.

It’s a mixed bag. The film is divided into three unequal (in every sense of the word) parts. The first is shot in disorientating POV – camera in first person, introducing us to the main characters and action of the story. The second has the camera hover over the shoulder of the protagonist (in third person, as it were) as we find out the backstory. The third section has the camera floating freely above the heads of the characters – becoming an omniscient narrator exploring the aftershocks of the story rippling out.

The first two parts are quite tightly controlled, with revelations coming thick and fast. However the third gets rather distended and tedious, and towards the end I just wanted Noé to get the film over with. The characters have given up their mysteries. Continuing to meander around them feels a bit surplus to requirements.

Noé says this isn’t a film about getting high, but I’m not sure his preferred interpretation (“the sentimentality of mammals and the shimmering vacuity of the human experience”) offers much to chew over. It may be his most successful film because while Oscar and Linda are both on screen their story is intriguing, and the way a tragic incident in their youth leads them to the dangerous cocktail of sex and drugs in the mean streets of Tokyo is all too relatable. The existential fears driving the film are ultimately less interesting than the impact of the loss of a family, and the desperate desire to find or create one again.


Foxy Brown

Originally planned as a sequel to Coffy, and like most sequels a less successful imitation of the original. The previous film's insinuations towards the rape-revenge genre are here made literal in a pretty gruesome way, although that episode is apparently less traumatic than the murder of a lover. At least in this film it's the man who gets fridged in order to provide the motivation for a female protagonist to seek vengeance, rather than the other way around. And although Foxy Brown is leered at, groped, harassed, slapped, punched and raped – the exploitative portrayal of which is a lot more problematic than in Coffy – she still gets to wreak her ruin upon the criminal underworld in a way that has inspired black and female audiences since. 

The film is fastidious on the distinction between justice and revenge, but ultimately allows that in the context of a corrupt judiciary sometimes you have to allow the two to (literally) bleed together. The best scene is when Foxy Brown teams up with a hooker to seduce a judge on the take, and proceeds to utterly humiliate him and destroy his career. It's very funny, and is one of the few times that Foxy relies on exposing the hypocrisy of the elite rather than just wantonly killing people. The former is just as satisfying as the latter. 



A 1973 blacksploitation classic starring Pam Grier as a nurse who exacts bloody revenge on the pimps, pushers, police and politicians who ruined her sister's life. The film is almost puritanical about the forces of corruption that are destroying the fabric of society, with Coffy advocating righteous violent justice as the only solution. Her aspiring politician boyfriend takes a more liberal attitude – arguing than addiction and crime are the products of hopelessness and oppression. The way out is to win power for "our people", i.e. the black community, which would be persuasive apart from the fact that by the moment he makes this pitch he is revealed to be a soulless shyster who's only loyal to the almighty dollar.

Coffy isn't quite a rape-revenge film, but it gets close. The character's modus operandi is to pretend to be a strung-out prostitute and infiltrate the inner circles of the crime bosses. Sex is a male weakness, and Coffy wields it as a weapon as much as the pistols, shotguns and razors she becomes proficient with. She is teased for being a 'liberated woman' but is happy to adopt the guise of docility in order to achieve her ends or get out of sticky situations. Given that this is an exploitation movie, the audience is implicated in the lechery of the gullible gangsters. But they, and perhaps we, get punished for it – Coffy's final execution in her killing spree is achieved through a shotgun blast to the privates.



A pointed send-up of 1970s sexploitation films, but with the script so clunky and the acting so stilted it becomes uncanny. Biller uses the same effect for The Love Witch, and after seeing this earlier film I wonder whether she can direct in any other mode. The film is purposefully bad, so what would a good Anna Biller film look like? Or is she incapable of moving beyond pastiche?

Because actually not all of Viva is purposefully bad. Biller works so slowly because she approaches her films as an artist might – designing the sets, artwork and costumes, as well as writing, acting, editing and directing. The texture of the film is therefore spectacular, and the clothes are amazing. There is also a very well-executed climactic (and unsettling) sex scene which uses psychedelic animation and outrageous focus pulls to great effect. At its best Viva is like no other film.

Biller sets her sights on unpeeling the complexities of the sexual revolution, with a plot lifted from Buñuel's Belle De Jour but with the consequences of female sexual liberation a tad more equivocal. At one point one of the male characters looks straight at the camera and confesses that men have never and will never have it so good – able to take advantage of the permissive society without taking responsibility for it. During the film, Biller's character is frequently sexually harassed, and at one point violently raped, by the free spirits around her. One of her prospective paramours fulminates against "women's lib" for the fact that Biller hasn't slept with him yet. Eventually, he tires of waiting, drugs her at a party and sleeps with her – hardly enlightened behaviour.

The only partners that treat Biller decently are her husband and a female lover. She eventually tires of the predators around her, but when she decides to go back to her marriage she doesn't refer back to the awful sexual violence she experienced. Instead, she says she became frightened of her own desires, and how she'd taken them too far. It's a strange inversion of where the guilt should actually lie. But maybe the film is being ambiguous on this point, and we should take her explanation at face value. Perhaps these sexual experiences were part of the fabric of her fantasies.

Biller's project, after all, is to reinsert the female gaze back into the history of cinema. The violent rape is transparently horrific, but her portrayal of the second rape at the party is the film at it's most erotic, which is a disturbing tone to strike. The starting point for the character, however, is a marriage where the husband isn't around – that's why she strays. The film ends with the tables turned – Biller's character feels truly free once the husband's liberty is curtailed. But even then that freedom is equivocal, found in the theatre production of the man who raped her. Throughout the film, female desire is circumscribed or channelled by men who don't have women's best interests at heart. It's a fantasy barred on all sides by a culture that remains overwhelmingly sexist.



Towards the end of the film the main character Dark muses about how his generation is doomed. The Doom Generation was Araki's previous film, but it serves as an appropriate title for Nowhere as well – there is this same nihilistic sense of a culture in decadent decline, where life is so devoid of meaning that death (whether through active suicide or the rush of dangerous sex and drugs) is accepted as an impending inevitability. It's a vibe – Araki is a stylist rather than a philosopher. The title Nowhere is a badge pinned at the start by a voiceover that's as bathetic as it is profound – Los Angeles is a nowhere place where everyone is lost.

The film's plot is therefore appropriately a void around which the fleeting lives of the characters swirl. The only structure provided is that it's a day-in-the-life of a bunch of teens that all want to go to a bacchanalian party in the evening – most of whom make it. But that's just an excuse to indulge Araki's unique visual sense, where the camera's perspective is warped by an (often comically outrageous) impressionism and surrealism. The final moment pushes this to an extreme – turning the AIDS metaphor in the Alien film very literal. The horror of the moment is turned into a big absurd joke. Araki may be suggesting that perhaps that's the only way to deal with the truly awful nature of life in contemporary America.


The Doom Generation

"A heterosexual film by Gregg Araki" according to the credits – an in-joke aimed at a former producer who teased Araki about how gay people hated his queer punk movies so he'd be better off making a straight one instead. And even then, as Araki says himself, the film is extremely gay – with very long smouldering shots between the two male leads, who flirt far more with each other than with Rose McGowan. The campy sensibility may be what saves the film from otherwise being a prurient exploration of nihilistic 90s teenagerdom. The outrageous set design, cartoony violence and deadpan humour add a lightness to the film's tone, which otherwise would make the whole thing rather gruesome and unpleasant to watch.

Araki doesn't want to go into the details of what inspired the film when he reflects on it all these years later. He calls it his Nine Inch Nails movie, made in the aftermath of the anger and anguish caused by the AIDS crisis, which created a "warzone" mentality where you didn't know which of your friends would die next. Araki drove his location scout crazy trying to find suitably apocalyptic places in which to shoot. The Doom Generation works within the couple-on-the-run genre (Bonnie and ClydeBadlands) where the rejection of social mores creates its own kind of twisted celebrity. But in Araki's film, the people around the lovers are probably more bloodthirsty and deranged than the lovers themselves. There's hardly any notoriety to be gained when the entire world is spinning off its axis.


The VVitch: A New England Folktale

Although Mark Kermode strains very hard, ultimately I think it's difficult to sustain the interpretation that the witchcraft is all happening inside the family's heads. The subtitle highlights that this is a "folktale" – where magic and fantasy are used as instructive metaphors. The fact that the witch preys on the tensions and divisions within the family doesn't mean it's an apparition that grows out of those tensions and divisions. Belief in witches doesn't create the witch. The roots of the family's downfall are deeper than that.

They are probably doomed from the beginning. The father finds the Puritan plantation too religiously lax for his tastes and chooses exile for his family. They are forced to eke out a miserable existence on marshy ground at the edge of a wood, and it doesn't go well. All the rigours of the faith don't stop the father William from lying to his wife – selling an heirloom to buy traps when the crop fails. His weakness is revealed when he implicates his children in the lie. The mother also wishes to basically sell the eldest daughter Tomasin into servitude, partly to remove a source of temptation for her younger son Caleb – a cruel separation for the two children.

The inflexibility of faith is the central problem. William realises too late that by casting out his family he was himself guilty of the cardinal sin of pride. A rejection of society is a dangerous thing, and the witch doesn't give him enough time to correct the error. Caleb's developing sexuality doesn't have a healthy outlet, leaving him open to the witch's temptations, and he dies in a rapture praying to Jesus in the most lascivious terms.

Tomasin's dilemma is the most interesting. She is the most powerless member of the family – patronised, overworked and at risk of being cast out. In a key early scene, she finds that the idea of being the witch gives her a taste of power for the first time, which she exercises effectively against her bullying younger siblings. She is also aware of her parents' own inability to provide for her – telling her dad that he's only good for chopping wood. At least the devil offers richer rewards – butter, dresses and living 'deliciously'. Finally a patriarch that can deliver.

The extent to which this is a feminist parable is uncertain. The forces of evil destroy Tomasin's entire family before she turns to the dark side – she doesn't have an alternative at that point. But the final image in the film, where Tomasin ascends to the heavens, is one of sinister triumph against the restrictive family and society she was situated in when the film began. In contrast to her introduction as a character, where she's asking God to forgive all the sins she has committed in thought, at the Witches' Sabbath she is cackling along with the rest of them. The inhibitions fall away, bad faith is abandoned for a dark transcendence. The film's conclusion may be that the society of witches is the only route to self-actualisation for women in 1630s New England.