Tag Archives: movie

Raft of the Medusa – the exciting disaster movie we are all waiting for?

The Raft of the Medusa,  (1818–1819) by the French painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault (1791–1824) is a massive painting, well over life size. The closest thing I can compare it to is literally the cinema screen.

It depicts a true story. On 2 July 1816 (that’s 201 years and 4 days ago) the French naval frigate Méduse ran aground off the African coast (what is now Mauritania). Three days later a group of  at least 147 people set out on a hurriedly constructed raft. IN the 13 days they drifted, all but 15 died.  Those who survived were starved and dehydrated, and finally some of them succumbed to cannibalism.

Then as now, the press went into paroxysms of titillation, and the story was widely reported. It was also a scandal because the ineptness of the ship’s captain (and implicitly, the French Navy) was blamed. Géricault was as interested as everyone else in this story and he decided that this would be the narrative that – on canvas – would really  launch his career. And so he began to produce on the of the largest scale uncommissioned works on a modern topic ever painted. Perhaps THE largest.

Géricault did a lot of research. He got body parts from the morgue and copied them, trying to get the right shade and pulpiness of a drowned human body. He interviewed survivors. He cleverly combined Classical compositions with the dynamism that came to be called “Romantic” (I hate these labels and try to avoid them, but that’s what they call Géricault when you look him up) – and manages to convey both the pathos of the situation and the moment of hope as the survivors at the front of the raft spot a tiny ship in the distance (they ship that did in the end rescue them).  By the way, unless you go to the Louvre and see the picture in real life you probably won’t see the tiny rescue ship.

The tonality is dark and Géricault uses the dramatic lighting style associated with Caravaggio – chiaroscuro – though it is probably fair to say that the original picture may have been somewhat brighter. The  paints used at that particular time never aged very well (see Philip Ball’s brilliant book Bright Earth, on colour) so you’re not seeing exactly what Géricault painted. But clearly he did mean to have strong contrasts and dark tonality as the sea is rough and the sky is louring, though there is brightness ahead.

Aside from its film screen size, the painting is highly cinematic: dramatic, realistic, with a sense of the epic-heroic tragedy and a dynamic composition with a strong diagonal pyramidal structure. When you go and see it, you’ll really look at it for ages

So where is the exciting Titanic-like feature film based on Raft of the Medusa? It’s a  great story with everything a filmmaker would want. It turns out that there IS one, a French film directed by Iradj Azimi (1998). But I can’t seem to find it. There’s a French graphic novel that looks good. But the film seems to have disappeared. Anyone up for doing another version? I’m available!


However the Raft of the Medusa I like the most is this preliminary sketch that the artist made. It’s also in the Louvre and it’s much smaller. Here we relay get to see the brilliance of Géricault’s composition and his storytelling ability

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I just had my official London screening debut for taking over the Kingsland, at the Portobello film Festival. London has many festivals, of different types from the grandiose London film Festival, which brings feature films from around the world, to the Raindance Festival, which is a mix of different types of things, to small specialist festivals and even neighborhood festivals. It means that almost any night of the year you have a chance to go and see really cool films in London, many of them by independent filmmakers from all parts of the globe. It’s such a stimulating place to live and to be a filmmaker.

Portobello film Festival is one of the most interesting of the festivals. For one thing it is huge, they program a lot of films and they have several venues and it’s extremely eclectic. The principal venue is really impressive, it’s a pop-up cinema, which is located under the Westway, the massive elevated freeway that runs across West London. They constructed the cinema underneath it, with a giant 30ft screen, and outside a sort of courtyard with a bar and partying space etc. It has a really great atmosphere, it’s extremely chilled out and because the festival is free, it encourages people to come, come and come again and participate.

Because my film is about street art and culture, it seemed to me to be the perfect environment to screen the film and it seemed that when I was watching the film and seeing the responses of the audience, though, is really right. I also really appreciate the fact that the festival is free, since my film and the project it is about, was all about being outside of the ‘cash nexus’ …

Portobello film Festival has a really amazing essay about the neighborhood the Portobello Street Notting Hill area, which is extremely interesting and has fascinating history. Although many people may be familiar with ‘Notting Hill’ from the totally fakey movie with Hugh Grant, it’s actually a much more diverse and quirky area. Even though it has been to a large extent colonized by the Uber rich, like most of London, it hasn’t completely sunk in the swamp of oligarchy. Anyway, there’s a fantastic little article on the Portobello film Festival website, which you can look at here


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Good Films on TV I

I used to rely on TV to show me good films. All my childhood I watched endless numbers of great old films. By the time I got to adulthood though, TV films dried up and dried out. But I have recently got back into the practice of watching films right there on network TV, defying all my DVDs, LoveFilms, Netflixes and so on …


[above: a reminder of the 1980s]

Perhaps it’s cos I am lucky enough to  have The BBC, who has been showing some very interesting films lately and I have been catching up on them via the good old iPlayer. (“i” is for indispensable)

First up was the 1980s New Orleans set crime drama The Big Easy (1986). I was curious about this film, starring 80s sex symbol Dennis Quaid. It’s one of the Hollywood studio films that now inhabits that huge abyss of dated films, films that are never in anyone’s Top 100 and so fall dramatically off the radar within a decade. I had never even heard of it, so I pressed the Play button. About halfway through I started to imagine the remake, and you know what, it’s just not a bad idea at all.

The plot is not too complicated but it is taut and although I guessed some of it, I didn’t guess all of it. The strength of the film is the characters, who are complex, interesting and almost credible. The leads are good, though the secondary characters – notably soul man Solomon Burke and Grace Zabriskie, marvellous in a small but searing role as “Mama”, are better. However, the film just does not have enough of a set-up for the romance. We need to believe that the Quaid character, McSwain, is a chancer aware of his own attractiveness, and flirts with every woman he meets; then with Anne (Ellen Barkin), something slowly starts to happen to him and it’s for real. Instead, the film rushes into it too quickly. It must be due to the studio’s need to keep the film under two hours – at 102 minutes it clips along at a smart pace but at the expense of some of the intensity that might have made it a film to last.

The Big Easy wears the 1980s like a tight glittery big-shouldered dress that dazzles but won’t come off. I was struck (viewing it in SD but on an HD TV) by the clarity, the use of light, the super saturated colour. It reminded me how desaturated and “gritty” – even dirty – the  crime drama aesthetic is these days. A remake would never look like this. Not would the remake have the same fin sentimentale.

I am much more of a fan of the original screenplay approach to cinema, but since remakes are in fashion, we could certainly do worse than The Big Easy. I’d love to see a post-Katrina, gritty NOLA set reinterpretation of this film. With a similarly awesome soundtrack.


[ps. the photo above, the reminder of the 80s actually although it is an 80s car – an East German Trabant – I photographed it  in Sept 2012, here it is in situ in Berlin:


I didn’t drive or even see a Trabi in the 1980s, needless to say]

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The King's Land

During the whole project The King’s Land the process of creating murals over an entire derelict housing estate was being documented by film and photography.

The film, TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND  (running time 23:00) is complete and is being released by New Reel Films. It’s being submitted to festivals at present. For more about the film, click on the menu above.

Here’s the trailer:

Taking Over the King’s Land  on Vimeo.

There will also be a short book published by Studio75 to accompany the film, coming out in late 2013.

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