Sunday Stuff, 13/08/17


The Beguiled

If someone asked me to describe my dream film, in theory, The Beguiled would be it. A predominantly-female cast? Check. Southern Gothic, Southern accents? Check check. An Irish rogue played by Hollywood’s go-to guy for Irish rogues, Colin Farrell? Check. Raging passions and sexual tension being violently suppressed? Check.

The thing about Sofia Coppola’s work is that you’re almost always left thinking, “is this batshit or is this genius?” (Or indeed, both?) Personally, I love how distinctive her films are – the dreamy, never-knowingly-under-stylised feel of them, the way she lets the camera linger, the way everything she does looks like a dystopian perfume ad. Her 2006 film Marie Antoinette was the reason I became a massive nerd about the ill-fated queen, and obsessed with the Palace of Versailles. She presented Marie Antoinette as a teenage girl first and foremost, and if there’s a more interesting species than teenage girls on the planet, I challenge you to find me one.

Anyway, back to The Beguiled. The dialogue is far from naturalistic, but improbable speech is a personal bugbear of mine so you can ignore me if you’re less of a pedant. The performances are strong, particularly from Nicole Kidman and Farrell, and Kirsten Dunst positively quivers with stifled feelings.

Sound plays a huge part in this film; noises seem amplified in the echo-y mansion that’s home to “Miss Farnsworth’s Seminary for Young Ladies”. Doors bang, latches rattle, and when raw, terrifying lust finally overcomes injured soldier McBurney (Farrell) and repressed teacher Edwina (Dunst), the sound of buttons clattering on to wooden flooboards puts a whole new spin on the phrase “bodice ripper”. Phew. The Beguiled won’t be for everyone, but if you want to get totally caught up in a macabre fairytale, I’d recommend it.

Fall Out Boy, Folie A Deux

I’ve never been much of a Fall Out Boy fan but Drummer Boy’s been playing their 2008 offering Folie A Deux in the car a lot lately and honestly, I love it. I never know how to feel about their lyric-writing style – cramming in more words than the line strictly allows works less often than they seem to think it does – but you can’t deny their way with hooks. Singalong stormers with ridiculous titles are their chosen art form, and by God they’re committed to it.

Best tracks for reliving your teen years are: ‘Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes’, ‘I Don’t Care’ (the swaggering guitars and irresistable chorus lyrics “I don’t care what you think as long as it’s about me” make this an angst-ridden anthem) and ‘America’s Suitehearts’. But it’s ‘What A Catch, Donnie‘ that I’m obsessed with – for the work of a pop-punk band, it’s got a rich, sophisticated arrangement, features a range of guest vocalists – including Elvis fucking Costello – and owes more than a small debt to ‘Hey Jude’.

Desperate Journalist live at the Prince Albert, Brighton

It feels like ages ago that I saw Desperate Journalist but according to my calendar it’s only been a month. I remember it being a really great show – they’re a tight band, and lead singer Jo Bevan’s voice is as clear and pure as Waterford crystal. With her short blond hair and petite frame, Bevan has a look of Jean Seberg – who interestingly gets name-checked in the raw, tearjerking “Radiating”.

Highlight of the evening was ‘Why Are You So Boring?’ – dedicated by Bevan “to anyone who’s ever dated a tosser”. It’s a cutting kiss-off to those tedious types you run into at university house parties – you know, the creative writing student who thinks that “having read Finnegan’s Wake” = “being an interesting person”. There are so many great put-downs in this song it’s hard to isolate them; my personal favourites are “I could break your face, emancipate the human race, can one evening last so long?” and “I’ve done my time waiting in the fucking line, listening to you sneer”.  If you like your indie bands smart, articulate and drenched in melody, you need these guys in your life.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Channel 4/All 4

Have we talked about The Handmaid’s Tale yet? I don’t think we have. Elisabeth Moss deserves to win every acting award under the sun for her portrayal of Offred – she manages to do huge amounts with just her eyes without ever appearing melodramatic. (This profile of her from a couple of months back is a really interesting read.) Yvonne Strahovski, who plays the outwardly Arctic but inwardly seething-with-hellfire Serena Joy, is also fascinating to watch, and Ann Dowd as the mostly-heartless harridan Aunt Lydia is truly a Trunchbull for our times. The final episode of the first series  is one of the most breathtaking pieces of television I’ve seen in years. And the use of Tom Petty’s American Girl was utterly sublime.

It’s apparently been renewed for a second season but will have to depart from its source material. I think I speak for everyone who’s watched it when I say we need more of this, and soon.

Panorama: A Prescription For Murder

I’m not including this because I thought it was anything other than criminally under-researched, utterly sensationalised nonsense, but I had too many thoughts about it to not write them down somewhere. There’s only so much ranting on Twitter you can do before you start to haemorrhage followers and indeed, sanity (oh, the irony).

The programme purported to investigate a supposed link between the use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs, commonly prescribed to alleviate symptoms of depression and, you guessed it, anxiety) and episodes of psychotic violence, specifically examining the case of James Holmes, who used three guns to commit a mass shooting at a cinema in Colorado in 2012. Mental health professionals and writers expressed concern about the programme’s thesis before it even aired, not least because of its shamelessly “flickbaity” title*.

*I’ve no idea if “flickbait” is a term but it seems to fit. Flickbait, noun: television programmes with totally outrageous names that stop you flicking to other channels, at least briefly.

To fulfil the promise of the title, you’d need to do some proper empirical research – look at a sample of violent crimes and investigate how many of them were committed by people on prescription antidepressants. It would make for much more boring television, sure, but it would actually be investigating something. What this Panorama episode really did was simply present of timeline of an American mass shooting. Holmes had stopped taking the medication before he committed the atrocity, and it didn’t look like  was following a doctor-supervised withdrawal plan. He’d reportedly had murderous thoughts long before he started on meds, and medical professionals had expressed concern about his behaviour – but the American healthcare system being what it is, presumably hadn’t been able to simply call an ambulance and have him hospitalised. And then there’s the guns. There’s a reason mass shootings aren’t really a thing here in the UK, and it’s because it’s much more difficult to just walk into a shop and buy an assault rifle.

BBC, I love you – for Sherlock, for finally giving us a female Doctor, for your weekday breakfast show and for Have I Got News For You – but if you’re going to turn your attention to mental illness and medication, you need to do it more responsibly than this.

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