Happy New Year!
Yes, I know we’re already some way into it by now, but as you can probably guess by the date of my last post, I’ve not been too quick on updating this website of late. I’ve been so busy with other things, and not just Zipangu Fest; I’ve barely even really had time to think about promoting my last book, The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, yet, it has been out, I’m told, since October. I’ll be of course blogging and tweeting about any reviews as they come in, but for now the best I can really do is point you towards the publisher’s website and the info on this very site here in the Books section. I also aim to post a summary of all the reviews of Zipangu Fest 2011, similar to what I did with 2010′s inaugural Zipangu Fest, but really beyond that, I can’t promise I’m going to have much time to keep up with regular posting over the coming months.
I also feel a bit remiss that I’ve not had time to share my ‘Best of 2011’ lists with anyone yet. I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s worth holding back on such things till the year in question is actually over, rather than trying to get in there first, say at the beginning of December. Due to print publishing deadlines, I had to get my top 5 for Sight & Sound in the midst of an extremely busy November. Hopefully my Midnight Eye top 10 will be a little more meaningful when it goes up in the next week or so, because I’ve had a little more time to reflect on things. I should also take time to mention now, as it cannot have escaped the notice of Midnight Eye fans, that the site remained in a state of suspended animation for much of 2011, and some might even have suspected that we were thinking of pulling the plug. Well, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s some heavy technical tinkering going on behind the scenes and Midnight Eye should be back in action some time in 2012 in a new and improved version. In the meantime, Tom and my ‘Best ofs’ will be appearing on the Midnight Eye facebook page, which is here, if you haven’t discovered it yet.
What with my Sight and Sound Top 5 and my forthcoming list for the Midnight Eye facebook page, I don’t think there’s much point in going over the same ground here at the moment. I think anyway, that my favourites from Japan are already pretty obvious when you look at the programme for Zipangu Fest 2011, even though we haven’t got the kind of budget to pay the major studios for the bigger films (not that bigger equates to better, of course…), so there might be a few others in my final list. And I should add, that like the previous year, I simply didn’t see that many new films in the cinema. Anyway, you can get an idea of my general feelings about ‘Best of’ lists if you look at my posts from 2009 and 2010 .
I think the best use for my look back at 2011 here is to talk about the kind of events that really stood out, about the kind of films and viewing experiences that others might have missed, rather than try and cover everything of note. In this respect, the definite high point of last year was discovering Dance Craze at Bradford Film Festival’s Widescreen Weekend last April (see my original post), screened for the first time in decades in the format in which is was meant to be seen, in 70mm on a big, big, big screen. As well as celebrating one of the greatest forms of music that this country has ever produced, 2 Tone Ska, it also marks a historical landmark in which black and white Britons first started playing on stage together on an equal footing. Coupled with it’s technical virtues, this film should be celebrated as a landmark of British cultural history, not lying unwatched on a faded 70mm print, and I pray that one bloody day before too long, someone is going to take the plunge and get this film back in circulation to be appreciated by modern audiences, and not just leave solitary voices like my own to sing its praises.
Words such as ‘culture’, ‘heritage’ and ‘legacy’ are going to come up for considerable scrutiny in the year of the London 2012 Olympics. Given how good British films were last year, there’s a particularly bitter irony to the Tory Government’s decision to scrap the UK Film Council and slash funding for filmmakers without a proven track record of box-office smashes behind them and to only make commercial films. David Cameron’s comments last week are so misguided, naïve, and lets face it, just plain idiotic, that it hardly calls for me to add to the throng of voices from the more culturally aware who have already picked them apart – I can’t say it any better than Charlie Brooker has already done, in his Guardian article “How to save the British film industry, David Cameron style” published yesterday, Sunday 15 January.
Lets remember 2011 instead as a final flourish for the British film industry in which a variety of filmmaking talent nurtured under the very environment that the Tories have vowed to discard gave the world a variety of works whose quality was just as notable as its diversity. There was the success of the middlebrow Oscar-baiting heritage piece The King’s Speech at both the awards ceremonies and the box office; the surprise Summer hit of the foul-mouthed, teen-oriented TV tie-in The Inbetweeners; more challenging, critically-acclaimed though less commercially-minded quality auteur work such as Steve McQueen’s Shame, Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea, Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur and Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights; some very British international co-productions like Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre and Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin; Asif Kapadia’s mass-appeal documentary Senna; international crossover cult hits including Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block; and last but by no means least, Mark Cousins’ monumental The Story of Film: An Odyssey series, which, for all the quibbles one might raise about its content and Cousins’ delivery, was both hugely ambitious and boasts a cultural value that will be felt for years to come, if only because of its raising the game for future TV documentary serials and proving you don’t have to play to the lowest common denominator to be popular.
I list all these films and apologise for any I might have overlooked, because we’re probably not going to see the likes of such a vintage year for some time now. I can’t claim I’ve seen all (or even most) of these films, but that’s not the point – many of these titles have travelled across international borders and helped in their own way in boosting Britain’s cultural profile, and more than paid their way in the process, as have so many filmmakers and performers who have made their name in similar productions that have benefited from state funding in the preceding years. No, if there’s any problem with the British film industry, it is embodied by Andrew Haigh’s low-budget indie feature Weekend, which won critical plaudits among all who saw it as well as a number of prizes at foreign festivals – yet which could barely find a screen to play on among the swathes of ‘commercial’ crap such as Cowboys and Aliens that our dear leader would clearly rather we be watching in this country.
I’ve still got a few more things to say about our last year in films, but I’ll leave it for another day. I’ll just end this post by stating the obvious. It takes years and years to build up cultural and educational organisations and institutions, be they libraries, university courses, film-financing bodies or filmmakers themselves. Pulling the plug to save what in proportional terms amounts to a tiny percentage of our national expenditure in comparison with the amount lost through unpaid taxes from multinationals or bailing out the banks is just so short-sighted, because it takes a lot more money to build up the levels of expertise back again to where they were. Let’s pray that this current government actually takes some time to think about these cultural acts of vandalism instead of just trying to come up with dramatic headlines to please Middle England, before the rot becomes irreversible.