Metafiction and the metaphysical detective story: Vertigo

A re-reading of the Alfred Hitchcock classic

The subject of my Phd thesis was in part what is referred to as the “metaphysical detective story”, a mostly literary subgenre of the detective novel (e.g., Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy). In their seminal study of such narratives, Patricia Merivale and Elizabeth Sweeney have identified some common tropes:

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Death, grief and rebirth

A reappraisal of two psychological thrillers starring Nicole Kidman: Dead Calm and Birth

Two films I have recently revisited strike me as being two parts of a piece, and not only because they both feature Nicole Kidman – the first being her final performance in an Australian-made film, Philip Noyce’s Dead Calm (1989), and the latter being Jonathan Glazer’s Birth (2004). Moreover, each film deals with the grieving process, with the lost loved one resurfacing in an Oedipal scheme as a vengeful son committed to possessing the mother and destroying the father. Continue reading

The accidental tourist

Jack Nicholson in The Passenger

Some thoughts on Antionio’s 1975 arthouse thriller The Passenger, starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider

My late conversion to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up has had me checking out some of his other English-language films, including this slow-burning 1975 piece starring Jack Nicholson as a disaffected political reporter who has ostensibly reached the end of his personal road on a job in Saharan Africa. Returning to his hotel after a bitterly unsucessful day out in the desert, he siezes the chance to swap identities with a man named Robertson that he resembles and met only briefly the evening before, and whom he finds dead in his room unnoticed by the hotel staff. Continue reading

Prison rebellions

Shawshank guard captain (Byron Hadley) and Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins)

Ideas for a film and music based ESL-EFL class on jails and prison rebellions

One of my favourite music artists to work with in the ELT classroom is Johnny Cash. His lyrics are unfussy and well enunciated but tell vivid stories and address controversial issues. The Man in Black sang often about social justice and campaigned a great deal for a then-unfashionable cause, prison reform. Continue reading

Way out weather

The outback hailstorm scene in The Last Wave

Some ideas for an ESL-EFL class on extreme weather, with clips from The Last Wave and Magnolia

Please excuse the title of the post, Way Out Weather, which is also the name of a very fine album by psych-folk singer-songwriter Steve Gunn. It also serves as a handy shorthand for the increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather we are experiencing at the moment due to climate change. Continue reading

Hearts of darkness – Deliverance and Wake in Fright

Kangaroo hunting in Wake in Fright

Death, debauchery and survival in two early ’70s film classics

I’ve been recently acquired an interest in the so-called Aussie New Wave cinema of the 1970s and 80s. Although encompassing a range of genres and often overlapping with what is known as Ozploitation, the period really identifies a period of resurgent confidence and productivity in Australian cinema rather than any kind of aesthetic stance. That said, a number of the stronger works of the ‘Wave’ seem to capitalize on the country’s geographical peculiarities with strange and often sinister results. Notable filmmakers who came of age during the period include Peter Weir and Philip Noyce, who went on to enjoy successful Hollywood careers. Continue reading

The Draughtsman’s Contract

A review of Peter Greenaway’s 1982 period film The Draughtsman’s Contract

Currently on holiday, I am using the blog not to sketch out lesson ideas but to jot down thoughts on films I have recently watched. One such movie is Peter Greenaway’s first feature, The Draughtsman’s Contract, a surreal 1982 costume drama. Having grown up in 1980s Britain, I am extremely grateful to have witnessed the arrival of Channel 4 and its groundbreaking support for British cinema via what was then Film on Four. Continue reading

Chocolat

Giulia Boschi as Aimée and Isaach de Bankolé as Protée

A review of Claire Denis’s 1988 directorial debut Chocolat

I’ve recently acquired an Artificial Eye Collection of Claire Denis movies. By no means an exhaustive anthology of her work – there are just four films (Chocolat, Nénette et Boni, Beau Travail and White Material) – it provides the introduction to her oeuvre I was hoping for. Having read a lot about Denis’s films, and long harbouring the suspicion that I have long overlooked her, I decided to have a binge. I should add that I have seen 2009’s White Material before and that, while I found it unsettling and beautifully photographed, I don’t think I quite gave it the attention it deserved. Continue reading

The Arrival

Harbour gates from Shaun Tan’s The Arrival

Ideas for an ELT class on emigration based on Shaun Tan’s graphic novel The Arrival

One of the few positive things about Twitter is that, if you follow the right people, you are brought into contact with culture that had never before appeared on your radar. I had the great pleasure of such an experience this week when I was alerted to the work of Australian artist-illustrator and filmmaker Shaun Tan, and particularly his epic 2006 graphic novel The Arrival. Continue reading

This is England

Comparing montages in the ESL-EFL classroom with Shane Meadows’s This is England

I have recently finished watching This is England ’90 on DVD. Clearly I am a bit late in the game, the series having first aired on Channel 4 in 2015. A long-time fan of director Shane Meadows,  it is purportedly the final installment of a saga that began with coming-of-age movie This is England (2006, above), set in the aftermath of the Falklands War. Examining the racism and disaffection of the early Thatcher years, it was followed by three mini-series made for television: This is England ’86, ’88 and ’90. Continue reading