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*Contains Spoilers*

Screenshot: The Crying Game (Jordan, 1992)

The directors are ultimately storytellers; people who rummage through their own lives and deliver honest reflections on the human condition no matter the genre. Even filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, who has delivered blockbusters time and again, uses experiences from life and his inspirations to make films like E.T: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) but for this piece I would like to look at the writer-director, those who delve into controversial territory and portray taboo and diverse characters, progressive female roles create beautiful stories that translate wonderfully to the screen. Pedro Almódvar and Neil Jordan are the best example of filmmakers like this.

"Almodóvar’s stories unravel whilst Jordan’s unwind."

Both Jordan and Almodóvar grew up in times of political turmoil; the former during the height of the Troubles in Ireland and the latter under Franco-ruled Spain. Their films touch upon these issues but ultimately they allow their upbringing to influence but not define their work. In a similar stain to Powell and Pressburger in the 1940’s and 50’s both create films with a magical realism about them, a world not too far from our own. Almodóvar in particular has produced a universe that is perfectly his own, with his use of colour and style one need only see a frame and recognises his work. Jordan began his career as a novelist, and his world-building within his films has a potency one would find in literature. He has successfully adapted many novels to the screen, the works of Grahame Greene, Angela Carter and even Anne Rice. The latter’s work is one of his greatest achievements. Interview with the Vampire (1994) did the original book justice bringing it beautifully to life and also re-invented the cinematic vampire genre. Both directors deliver honest and moving stories that are incredibly human beneath the mystery and charm.

"The director is the god-like force watching over the events... the silent master manipulator."

Jordan favours night scenes, stories that unfold under the cover of darkness. There is a richness, and noirish quality to them. His style is contemplative, secretive and moody. The lighting is often blue-hued, with smoky rooms but rarely bleak. He creates a mythic environment in Michael Collins (1996) of the Irish revolutionaries rallying amongst the smoke and mist, in The Crying Game (1992) he makes the moment Dil sings in the bar, the light raining down on her, her gold dress shimmering as she caresses the empty space before her, a very personal, dream-like experience. And in The End of the Affair (1999), the two lovers first kiss is framed and shot in a swoon-worthy scenario, the shadows hiding them, the light from the windows on their faces bathing them in a silver moonlight; it evokes a dramatic romanticism, what they are doing is madness, forbidden but everything they need. Neil Jordan, if he were born in the 19th century would have been in a similar league to Byron with his semi-gothic imagery. Different from mainstream cinema, he is patient with his scenes, will hold a frame or follow a characters smoothly, rarely using handheld. The director is the god-like force watching over the events, that is how Jordan works; the silent master manipulator.

Screenshot: The Skin I Live In (Almodóvar, 2011)

Unlike Almodóvar whose films flourish with vibrancy. His earlier work was full of manic characters, erratic plots an example being Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). But his style was still evident. His films are sleek, like a perfume commercial, full of colour and the Spanish sun. Even his darkest tales have a composition and palette that is beautifully designed. Volver (2006) is vibrant ripe with red in every shot, considering there is a murder, the film could be mistaken for a comedy or the very least a melodrama. It is full of warmth and touching moments, of women coming together in times of crisis. The Skin I Live In (2011) in is cooler tones but the placing of the actors, the voyeurism of Antonio Banderas’s character of his experiment as he watches her on the screen as she reads. He mimics her position, Almodóvar forces us to ask the question; is this any different to how we watch cinema, how we are watching those two characters before us. This is the director’s style; media, the cinematic platform, its perversions, its magic is key to his storytelling, just as literature and its structures is very prominent in Jordan’s work. Almodóvar’s stories unravel whilst Jordan’s unwind.


Popular themes in their writing seem to grow from the oppression and uncertainty they had to endure. Isolation, guilt, religion, sexual awakening and gender are prominent but most importantly change. Both reflecting their progression as filmmakers, as they have made each film they have matured and cannot be accused of producing the same content time and again. Each story is individual, with some weaker entries in their filmography but overall delivering, Jane Giles wrote in her critical essay on The Crying Game and Jordans works and his style of film-making that:

‘Jordans films can be thrilling and bewildering. Repeated viewing affords a familiarity with the internal logic of his world, while considering each film within the context of his other woks allows a coherent project to emerge… Jordan’s belief that the complicated process of film-making exists to be bent to his imaginative purpose…’ – (Giles, 1997, pg. 16)


It is interesting how often the directors cross over into similar territories and how differently they deal with it. Both have been mocking of aspects in their own cultures, both have addressed Catholicism, Jordan in a positive way, often exploring the ‘friendly priest’ twist as with Jason Isaacs role in The End of the Affair. Meanwhile, Almodóvar has been harsher, in his controversial black comedy Dark Habits (1983) he portrayed the hypocrisy of the church with a convent full of homosexual, drug-taking nuns. Again he revisited the subject briefly in All About My Mother (1999) and then again in Bad Education (2004) about abuse in a boys catholic school. To revisit and explore the recurring themes in their works is to understand the director or at least their intentions. These are very human feelings and the gifts of these writer-directors is stripping away the melodrama, the madness and addressing these relatable subjects within extraordinary frames of work.

Screenshot: Michael Collins (Jordan, 1996)

Both winners of best original screenplay, at the Oscars, their diverse storytelling won the hearts of wide audiences and paved the way for a more progressive cinematic future. Both filmmakers have found their voices through taboo subjects. Jordan, considering his upbringing in a strict catholic household, has tackled plenty of controversial topics. One of the most famous films of the 1990’s was The Crying Game, he wrote the story of an ex-IRA officer falling in love with a transvestite. In a later interview with the Stephen Rea who starred in the lead role as Fergus, said of the story ‘I come from Belfast and this was such an interesting way of dealing with all the issues that tormented people there. To throw gender identity into the mix of our political identity problems cast a different light on everything.’ (Brady, 2017) He upset many due to the political subject matter, which he has never shied away from, but he was intent on making the point that these people who were painted by the media as manic monsters were just people who had reasons for believing in what they did, could love and change their views. Later on he revisited the topic, featuring another transvestite character in the film Breakfast on Pluto (2005), a film about an openly gay man growing up during the troubles in Ireland, searching for his biological father, an Irish priest, and how he stayed true to himself through all the hardships he faced.


Almodóvar cast a transgender actress in his film Law of Desire (1987); he wrote transsexuals and homosexuals into his films and includes positive strong female roles in all his films. Roger Ebert (2006) said of the director that he has a great appreciation of women and their strengths, and you can see it in his writing. Mostly to do with his upbringing in Spain surrounded by a supportive matriarchal structure, they were the ones who were there for him as he struggled as a young homosexual man (Saner, 2016). Even in a film such as Talk to Her (2002) - which won Almodóvar his academy award for Best Original Screenplay - , about two women in comas and the men who care for them, seems as though it wouldn’t work. The two main women are unconscious throughout the most of it, there is even a brutalisation of one of them (handled in both a subtle and artistic way) and it can be easy to assume that it uses the women as tools for the story rather than actual characters. But to watch it, they are the story. Without them, the men would never have formed a friendship together nor would they have found the courage to say what they needed to say. It’s a criticism of the lack of communication among men.

Screenshot: Talk to Her (Almodóvar, 2002)

Actors have often praised working with Jordan and Almodóvar; they have earned loyalty amongst some of them because of it. It is often though that Almodóvar is able to get the very best performances and characteristics from his recurring actors Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. Bochenski (2006) wrote of the directors skill with regards to Cruz’s performances that ‘…he brandishes actors like weapons; well if that’s so, Penélope Cruz is his nuclear button‘. And Jordan has worked with Stephen Rea in eleven films, the two complimenting one another well with Rea’s great understanding of the story being told and his gentle, subtle performances perfectly suited the contemplative film-making of the director.

"...content is prioritised; the composition is tidy, economical and intelligent."

The two director’s ability to convey so much in a single look, in a positioning of the camera is far more important than what intricate motions they could make the camera do. The content is prioritised; the composition is tidy, economical and intelligent. During the scenes of depression in Julieta (2016), Almodóvar focuses only on the title character, before this we have seen the faces of the two young girls who take care of her but the camera moves closer and closer to her as time passes. The other characters are just voices and actions to the audience, just as they are to Julieta, it makes them no less important, and it only shows how incapable she was of considering her daughter who gave up her youth to look after her, until it was too late. In Interview with the Vampire, there is a scene that would have been made with multiple cuts, probably handheld if it had been shot now and by another heavy-handed director. The scene is the moment Lestat attempts to seduce Louis into drinking the blood of a prostitute all the while playing with his conscious prey. It is wides and mid-shots, its theatrical and dramatic, with sweeping slow tracking to the wineglass being placed against the bleeding wrist. Playing out slowly, it forces the audience to endure the suffering, its brutal in its lavishness.

Screenshot: Interview with the Vampire (Jordan, 1994)

As auteurs, Neil Jordan and Pedro Almodóvar are able to convey wonderful stories with great emotional heart. They focus on substance and have a strong vision that compliments their style. Jordan said himself that all one needed to direct was ‘… to have some intelligence and a visual sense.’ (Brady, 2016). They are proof that a gentle touch makes for a pleasanter cinema experience and that breaking the mould can genuinely pay off as they are two of the most progressive filmmakers working in the industry today. Because they remember the power and relevance of storytelling.


(Originally submitted on 07/01/18 in association with an assignment on the directors role.)

References:

BOCHENSKI, M. (2006). Volver Review. Little White Lies.com. [Online]. 24th August. Available from: http://lwlies.com/reviews/volver/. [Accessed: 28th December 2017].

BRADY, T. (2016) Neil Jordan Interview. The Irish Times [Online]. 17th March. available from: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/neil-jordan-michael-collins-was-conventional-apart-fromthe-guerrilla-warfare-1.2569575. [Accessed: 2nd January 2018]

BRADY, T. (2017). Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea Interview. The Irish Times [Online]. 1st August. Available from: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/film/the-crying-game-they-wanted-me-to-casta-woman-that-was-pretending-to-be-a-man-1.3167472. [Accessed: 28th December 2017].

EBERT, R. (2006). Volver Review. RogerEbert.com [Online].21st November. Available from: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/volver-2006. [Accessed: 2nd January 2018]

GILES, J. (1997). The Crying Game. First Edition. London: BFI

SANER, E. (2016). How We Made Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. The Guardian [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/sep/13/how-we-madewomen-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown-pedro-almodovar. [Accessed: 28th December 2017].


Screenshots:

Interview with the Vampire. (1994). Film. Directed by Neil Jordan. [DVD]. US: Warner Brothers.

Michael Collins. (1996). Film. Directed by Neil Jordn. [DVD]. UK: Warner Brothers.

The Crying Game. (1992). Film. Directed by Neil Jordan. [DVD]. UK: Pathe.

The Skin I Live In. (2011). Film. Directed by Pedro Almodovar. Spain: Pathe.

Talk to Her. (2002). Film. Directed by Pedro Almodovar. Spain: Pathe.

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So for the last two months and a half I have been buckling down and working on my screenplay. I know the story, it’s something coming from a real place, it’s got a blend of humour and drama and I hate every word of it. Simple.

"...my impeccable skill at laziness..."

I put off starting for ages because I felt overwhelmed with what I could work on, feeling like I should be working on something and being frightened of ruining it. Then finding a space to write and environment that suited me dragged it out even further. There were lot's of things I distracted myself with which I still do now. Self-doubt is a major factor in my reservations about writing but so is my impeccable skill at laziness: distractions from the internet, Telly, my to-watch pile and my to-read pile have all somehow held me back in the last few years. And enriched me. The latter two are both very effective in improving storytelling, especially reading, whether writing for film or a novel. Reading is key. Or so I tell myself as I indulge in a Stephen King doorstop. But I am not so disciplined as to cut these things out completely. Now they are what I look forward to after a session. My hindrance is that there is not enough hours in the day.

"Quarantine or not, writing is hard."

But some days I don’t hate it; some days there are scenes that just sit just right whilst others I just know what I’m doing with the words and the characters and everyone is behaving correctly. Nothing has been smooth sailing, and never let anyone make you think that it is. Quarantine or not, writing is hard.

I spent the first week planning, although I had thought so much about it that this did not take me too long. Rearranging everyone, getting to know everyone and flesh out something that was workable. It started feeling good. I even wrote little short stories for the characters to get to know them better and feel out the vibe. Characters that wouldn’t even feature prominently mattered and do matter because that way you know the tone for everyone, right from the start. As someone who enjoys writing for film and prose, it’s an amazing tool to use for yourself even if no one ever sees them.

"...I cut the first forty pages."

The next two to three weeks, I wrote and wrote and wrote. And hated everything. I was so bored with what I was writing and that was when it was apparent that this wasn’t working. I set a keystone in the story, a turning point for me; if I reached this point, I would see if any of this was worth saving. And I got there, and everything after was more interesting to me. So I cut the first forty pages.

Those forty pages sent me into a chasm of self-doubt and worry to me. Forty pages, forty minutes of a film was a lot to lose and although so mundane the battle with my self-confidence began again. So concerned was I that I now only had twelve pages after weeks of work (The forty pages I saved into a separate document, hidden away for no one but myself to find), I had the internal battle of move on or restore the pages to make me feel better. The latter option was temporary relief which would come full circle when I remembered what I hadn’t been working. But the former option let me work with the information I had as context to enhance my writing. This was a difficult decision for me.

"If you finish it, you can change it."

Eventually after turmoil, pacing and frantic panic, I chose to press on with my measly twelve pages. My goal was a blend of: get past forty pages, finish and write something I liked. Once again, it was going well. The characters I was now left with were more interesting to have interact; the situation had more conflict, mystery and challenge. It was just kind of working. Not everything I wrote I could honestly say was worth thinking about but I kept reminding myself: If you finish it, you can change it.


That’s all that has kept me going. Finish a draft. Because they are right, the good ideas are there but never come through in the first go. Yet, those ideas don’t vanish. Sometimes they need to be reworked in if something is changeable. Sometimes you’ve left them out because they don’t fit in this story. That’s all right too; better to save it for the right story than to shoe-horn it into the wrong one.

"...the fear of messing up [has] dragged the process of writing this script out..."

All this thought process is healthy but did not come easy and still doesn’t. Because I have to remind myself of this every day. The self-doubt, the crippling lack of confidence and the fear of messing up have dragged the process of writing this script out longer than I had anticipated. But I keep going and still want to write and finish it and after all of this, that’s a nice feeling. I’m under no illusion that this story is all I have. I’m capable of more, and maybe when I finish the script I’ll feel that more often. Feel like I can do it. Feel like with each project, I get better as a writer. No matter what the world makes you think, you are allowed to keep learning and you don't have to be perfect.


I have the last two acts to write and a segment in the middle needs re-working with some further additions. Once done, the edit can begin. It feels like it should be done before Quarantine is over, but if I can’t do that, I will still finish it, in time. Even that thought fills me with anxiety, like I’ve failed if I don’t complete it. But I have to stop and think: I will. And then I can edit something and make it better; fix all the stuff that I don’t like that is flying through my head right now at a million miles an hour, trying to overwhelm, scaring me into submission. Because that’s where I’ll learn. And have something I can be proud of.


As they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and a story isn’t a story until it’s told.

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This needs to stop. The money pours from my savings as though I cut a whole in all my pockets, opened my front door to welcome the thieves and gave out my bank details to the general public in letters addressed ‘To whom it may concern’. It once seemed a frivolous thing, this saving malarkey, but now I give more than I receive and yet cannot recall satisfaction in my work. It seems silly, I know, to be whining and whingeing like a self-entitled child, but you see this isn’t my lot.


How can one who has worked so hard and done so well in school because of the aforementioned hard-work find themselves so financially inebriated? And why does it seem like that hard work should have been rewarded with hand-outs, not more hard-work. It all seems rather silly to me. So I should keep on working? Harder and harder? And perhaps I shall get my reward at the end of it all? And should I not, I shall be convinced by some higher power that my reward was life and that I wasted it by working too hard for that elusive reward? That life wasted by the time spent trying to survive it?


Doesn’t sound quite right.


But I’m sure dear reader you see my point also. That to work yourself into a stupor is to be expected but is that work satisfactory to you or the bossman? Hardly. It seems that we all suffer from suck-it-up syndrome; a condition that has unfortunately sunk its insidious tendrils into the mind-bank of the world and tricked us all into thinking that this is just the way life is. It can’t be, can it? It just seems so silly that the Gods, or Mother Nature, or the universe looked upon planet earth and thought that we needed a Power structure of money. Because money will sort it all out, it will keep the human race in check; stop all that pollution. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.


They selected the human race for this discourse, and looked upon individuals and thought ‘If that man owns lots, he can have others to work for those things but within his profit margin for he must make the most of all of them for he worked hard coming up with the idea.’ And then looked upon the worker and thought, ‘These people must be so exhausted but alas there is not enough room at the top of our invention of the power ladder so we must therefore keep the workers down by working them so hard they’re too exhausted to think twice about it.’ Revolutionary.


Give man these tools, and what shell he do with them. Corrupt and abuse those tools for his own self-gain. The bigger picture is a sorry scene indeed. We are all the bigger. But in our little lives, who matters more than us? And so we have the personal toil - who to help? The community or ourselves? How can we help a community when we cannot help ourselves? Who should look after the community? When should one count oneself as part of the community and not them self?


What are we meant to do? Fight and stand-up for our rights? It will do as much good as yelling into the abyss, on a crater orbiting Pluto as a black hole begins to form in the near distance. It all seems so pointless, tedious and, as mentioned before, hard.

The light at the end of the tunnel is but a single point, like a pixel on the fritz of an inexpensive GP waiting room monitor screen as it replays slideshows, in silence, as one ponders their lifespan (or after this rant, welcomes death with an aching embrace), of various seasonal illnesses that they would prefer you treated rather than spread out of in-politeness. So why do we keep going? I suppose there is no singular answer for we all have different reasons to keep going.


But I guess the consumerist world can never quite consume me. This beautiful planet, the birds in the trees, the earth at my feet where thousands of years of history has taken place and the stories we tell across the world, the evolution of all these things… They’re life to me, in my darkest times. I am not okay with minimum wage, I am not okay fighting every day in the hopes that one day I’ll get to where I want to be, I’m not okay with growing-up and losing those pleasantries, simplicities of childhood and most of all I am not okay that this state of affairs has led to me turning all that hate in on myself for there is nowhere else for it to go. I am not okay.


Just give us a break.

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A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

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