Written by Films

Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Master

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a truly remarkable piece of cinema. We get a mix of magical realism alongside an almost conceivable life in the southern tip of Louisiana – “the Bathtub.” The young Hushpuppy (a truly amazing performance from a five or six year old Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her dad (Dwight Henry) somewhere out on their remote island. Well I say that she lives “with” him, but at the start of the film they each have their own cabin – all supported by stilts since theirs is a part of the world that floods.
Hushpuppy has learnt from a school teacher who has an interesting line tattoos, of the aurochs, an ancient species of cattle. And we see the creatures encased in ice in the Antarctic, ending up being freed as the cap melts. At least in Hushpuppy’s mind’s eye.
With the melting ice cap comes the flood that brings desolation to their community, and the real adventure begins.
I was absolutely enraptured by this delightful tale. You have to set aside preconceived notions of how the world should exist, but it really doesn’t matter. This is a fairy tale – a wondrous one.
The fact the film was shot on relatively low-fi 16mm film just lends it a texture and realism that also means that this is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a while as well as one of the best.
The Master was a film I was really looking forward to seeing. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film about a cult leader (not completely unlike L Ron Hubbard), whose group follow The Cause (not completely unlike Scientology) has been sounding intriguing for months. And with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in the leading roles, there was an awful lot to look forward to.
We’re in the run-up to Christmas, and because Hollywood believes all the members of the various academies the dole out awards have memories like sieves, they save all their best stuff until now.
I was looking forward to it.
And it’s good. But perhaps not quite as good as some would have it. The performances are spectacular, although Phoenix’s performance is definitely an acquired taste. And even though the premise is at times balmy, it’s somehow believable. The fact that other cults have similar backgrounds to this fictional one does lend it that believability.
But the film also drifts occasionally and you’re just not sure where it’s heading in the end. Indeed, having seen it, I’m not sure where it ended up.
I really don’t want to say an enormous amount more, because I just don’t want to spoil things, but it does drift along at times.
That all said, it’s still well worth seeing. And it is remarkable to imagine that someone could talk such bilge, and yet do so with enough conviction that so many are carried along is his wake. Indeed a recurring image of the film is the wake created by a boat in the ocean.
I went to see The Master in its exclusive 70mm presentation at the Odeon West End in central London. Unusually for a film in this day and age, they’re giving it an exclusive two week run in a single cinema before it gets opened properly. And since there are very few screens that are still able to project 70mm prints, I wanted to see it in this environment.
Later, when the film gets a broader distribution, other prints will either be regular 35mm, or more likely these days, digitally.
Without seeing the film side by side with a digital version, it’s hard to tell the difference, although the colours are rich and there are well defined black levels – all things that digital projectors can struggle with. One thing I very much did notice was the reappearance of cue marks – those circular marks that were placed on reels to alert the projectionist when the next reel should be played in. As I understand it though, even with 70mm films, these aren’t necessary any longer. But I guess that the print I saw may someday be played on a system that can’t handle a single platter – or indeed Odeon’s set-up requires different reels to be used.
Unfortunately, despite these optimal screen conditions, the same can’t be said for the sound. Now that’s not to complain about the sound system in the cinema I saw it in. I’ve no doubt that it’s fairly state of the art. But the problem was leaking sound from the other cinema. You see the Odeon West End is a pair of twin screens. A conversion in 1988 saw the old cinema’s circle converted into Screen 1, while the stalls was converted into a slightly larger Screen 2. This is where The Master is being shown.
However the film that’s currently playing on Screen 1 above it, is Taken 2. And while I can’t vouch for the film as I haven’t seen it (although I heart that it’s awful), what I can attest to is the sound it makes. It’s loud. Very loud. And it seemingly keeps the upstairs screen’s sub-woofers very busy.
The Master doesn’t have any car chases, explosions or indeed action sequences. So it has no loud sounds to dull out those leaking from upstairs. And instead, we’re left with low rumbling noises throughout the film. It was really distracting and off-putting. Really disappointing.
The other thing to say about The Master is that it’s poster is genuinely awful. It’s distributed by Entertainment Film Distribution (EFD), and unfortunately, they seem to produce terrible film posters. You tend to know if a film is distributed by them by the fact that large proportions of the poster are taken up by review excerpts. This has been the case for years, and often affects their DVD covers too.
Of course The Master has had some excellent reviews, and there is no shortage of 5 star reviews to clutter up the poster with, all from reputable outlets. So The Guardian and the Telegraph rather than Grazia and Shortlist.
Now to some extent, I can understand a film advert in the newspapers making use of these. But unfortunately they tend to overwhelm the rest of the poster. And if you happen to wander into Leicester Square, you might not actually be able to tell what the film is that they’re talking about. The title is completely obscured surrounded by curious imagery – a Rorschach test inkblot with a pair of eyes.
The words “The Master” are almost completely obscured on the posters I’ve observed on tubes and trains.
Putting all these quotes outside the cinema in the West End seems completely stupid. As I say, it’s the single screen in the country projecting the film in 70mm. People seeing the film there are unlikely to be passing trade. They will have made the trip to see the film especially. These people have already been sold into seeing the film. Those 5 star reviews are unnecessary.
Looking around Leicester Square, the Odeon across the way that’s showing Skyfall was unadorned with glowing reviews – even though they’d be easy to see. And Taken 2 in the adjacent screen is just showing a massive picture of Liam Neeson. OK – they might have struggled with quotes for that one, but it still looked much more striking.
Well worth seeing despite it all.