The British Invasion of Late (+ Pulp Fiction)

from email 25 Feb 2008

First of all, a non-British film, the completely essential, seminal, break-through film Pulp Fiction.  This film tossed a lot of things up in the air and shook them about when it was released in 1994.  One thing that was nice though was that there was not a particular style or method of film making that could be imitated, not even by Quentin Tarantino himself.  So unlike most breakthrough or trend-setting films, this one did not really set a trend.  The perceptible effect was perhaps that films could be a little looser in structure here or there; for some reason I think of the Vince Vaughn comedy Swingers.  Looser is not really the word, as Pulp Fiction has quite a good structure; the several pieces fit beautifully together.

This is the film of lore, the legend of the 1990s, that rare modern film that can be as original, as much a breath of fresh air as The Wizard of Oz or any Kubrick flick.  And somehow – I suppose in the way it is shot, any one part of it, any scene, and even, in a sense, the whole film, is quite ordinary.

In any case, it is an extremely entertaining film, so I won’t go into any sort of detailed discussion.  Rather, I suggest you just rent it and watch it.  You’re primary reaction will be to just have a good time, and that’s really what it’s all about.  Just a couple things to look for – the Banana Slugs (Rebecca’s school’s mascot) tee-shirt, and almost no similarity to the Kill Bill volumes – as I said, Tarantino did not bother to attempt imitating himself later, and neither did anyone else, or at least not successfully or that I can recall.

1994, with John Travolta, in the role that is seen as revitalizing his career and catapulting him into mid-life super-stardom, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and an all-out incredible ensemble cast.  Better not to read any reviews of this ahead of time, because the more that’s left to be surprised with the better.

I mention Pulp Fiction because I must at some point, and the sooner the better, but also because of it’s connection to another seminal, breakthrough film of the same period, it too “massively entertaining” (so wrote a critic), Trainspotting (1996).  This is a must see film if you want to watch any recent British films.  You should be prepared for a little filth, as exists in the domain of heroin addicts, a.k.a. our heroes.  Yes, heroin addicts, and yes, massively entertaining.  This film makes it possible.

Besides commensurate entertainment value, the brightly original Trainspotting I always group with Pulp Fiction as the British equivalent in breakthrough film-making of the same period.  Just today I got rid of my copy of this one as the DVD didn’t work on my Sony screen (not optimized for wide screen, which means the frame occupies a small rectangle with a lot of wasted black space), but I plan to re-stock it soon as it is a keeper.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), directed by Guy Ritchie, Madonna’s husband.  A very entertaining ‘caper’ movie involving British mob-types.  Highly recommended.  I see this as a follow-up in a film-making progression sense to Trainspotting, though drug addiction does not factor into this story.

Waking Ned Devine (1998) is a wonderful comedy about a small-town, big lottery payout winner, who unfortunately is now deceased.  The residents try to pull the wool over the lottery inspector’s eyes.

Little Voice (1998) I saw a while ago – a quite worthwhile film about a young, meek singer who quite remarkably can sing like some of the female vocal masters.  Jane Horrocks, incredibly, sings for herself in the lead role; also with Michael Caine.

The aforementioned Breaking the Waves (1996)- I forgot to mention that the washed-out color is deliberate – I read an interview at the time of its release of the stars, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard, who described the color process.  And also along more serious lines, My Name Is Joe (1998, Peter Mullan) is about an alcoholic who has not drunk in some time, but still has underworld connections which tug at him while he attempts to live on the straight and narrow.  A very strong story; a dashing and powerful film.  I don’t like that it’s subtitled even though already in English, though with sometimes heavy accents.  Accents after all are to be expected in any of these U.K. pictures.

Not so recently, the Scottish director Bill Forsythe made a trio of films that will always be near and dear to me (I recommend watching these in the order I list, though you may skip the first one if that type of movie is not at the top of your list):

1) Gregory’s Girl (1981) is a small but charming coming-of-age film

2) Comfort and Joy (1984), a delightful film about a Scottish morning disk jockey named ‘Dickie Bird’ who gets involved in an ice cream mob war.

3) Local Hero (1983, though I always think of it as coming after Comfort and Joy) is a film that lived and continues to live in my imagination, if not too my dreams.  It’s about a Texas oil executive (Peter Riegert) who goes to a small town at the top of the world, i.e. the top of Scotland, to see about putting in a giant oil processing facility.  A very amusing sub-plot involves the oil company president Burt Lancaster and his whacky therapist.

Utterly charming and enjoyable, the film ultimately touches me deeply and profoundly with the idea of doing what’s really important in life, of staying where and with whom your heart draws you.  Includes a great original score by Mark Knopfler.  This is a movie which can inspire for generations.

Well, until the next movie topic…


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