Saturday, 24 September 2016

Judgment at Nuremberg: worthy but dated

Jenny is unconvinced by Kramer’s classic courtroom drama

Last night, on Joe’s recommendation, I girded myself to watch Judgment at Nuremberg (Stanley Kramer’s 1961 fictional take on the trial of those responsible for implementing the judicial system of the Third Reich).

It struck me how relevant it is to today, fifty-five years on, but also how brave to make the film at that time, with the Cold War raising exactly the same issues of expediency versus fundamental moral values and what duty, if any, the citizen has to protest.

But oh dear I found it so unnecessarily long and ponderous, sagging under the weight of its own virtuousness. You could snip 30 minutes out of it easily by doing salami slicing-style editing. I also thought it was ludicrously over-directed. Directors, agents and others in the non-performing part of the business divide roughly into two. First, those who believe actors are terminally stupid and have to be told what to do in minute detail. Second, those who believe that if you get the casting right, the actors will do everything you want – and more. Kramer seems to have belonged to the former. I imagined the scene on set – Kramer instructing Maximilian Schnell in his role of Defence Attorney:

Kramer: Max, can you turn a bit more slowly to the Judge? I want it more, like meaningful.
Schnell: OK Mr Kramer, like this?
Kramer: No, no, give him more of a hard stare - see - watch me!
(Kramer can't act, so crew stifles laughter)

Terrible piece of casting with Montgomery Clift as a manual worker, sterilised under Nazi law. Poor guy, he was always chosen for his prettiness not because he could act - which he couldn't. I had to keep reminding myself that the film was made at a time when mannered acting and directing was only just emerging from the blight of that immediate post-war period (see the to my mind very over praised films of Pressburger and Powell).

I thought Spencer Tracy was wonderful and I guess he was far too eminent either to take any notice of Kramer's instructions or to have been offered them in the first place. Just a brilliant performance, intelligent and naturalistic, brought life to what could have been a very dry and dull part.

I have always been fascinated by the immediate post-war period in Germany and by how quickly the country was reinvented. It’s so clear that there were people in the US administration who understood this basic principle of systems thinking – that to succeed, you have to help your enemies. So different from today.

Joe's heckle

I can see the force of your criticisms, Jenny. Of course the film is dated. Look at the date. And of course I prefer the greater sophistication, ‘naturalism’ and pace of contemporary film-making -- the style of my own era. But I think you exaggerate this film’s faults and diminish its virtues.

Some of that sophistication comes from money. When I watched I Claudius (BBC 1976) immediately after Rome (HBO/BBC 2005), it seemed at first hopelessly cramped and stagy, before I adjusted to its more theatrical style. Our expectations of pace are also clearly quite different now. Our communal fluency in the language of film means that the narrative and moral signposting of earlier film and TV looks crude.

I put ‘naturalism’ in quotes because it's the holy grail that acting has been seeking since acting began. Every generation thinks it has it in its grasp, only for its actors to look absurdly mannered in retrospect or for its apparently naturalistic style to become formalized into a bag of tricks. Richard Burbage, Shakespeare's business partner and leading man, was lauded for his naturalism. Hamlet's advice to the players is all about holding a mirror up to nature, and he gets impatient with the melodramatic performance of the stage poisoner: ‘Begin, murderer! Pox, leave thy damnable faces and begin!’

We might want to say the same now to Montgomery Clift. No one in 2016 would play that part the way Clift does. But in its own way it's powerful.

Jenny's response 

I'm not against slowness. Far from it. Alexander Payne’s Nebraska moves at a snail’s pace: an old guy does a trip to collect an illusory lottery 'prize' that takes him through a series of abandoned towns where he encounters abandoned people. About Schmidt, an earlier Payne film which I thought was wonderful, has a similar quality. In fact a lot of American indie cinema is 'slow', eg one of my favourites, Wendy and Lucy, directed by Kelly Reichardt or All is Lost, starring Robert Redford in a film where only about 50 words were actually spoken. Or another very odd film (Greek) which I loved, Dogtooth, which is so slow it actually has fixed camera positions. I just thought that in Nuremberg there was something very false about the pace and style which was at odds with the noble intentions of the film and this grated on me and got in the way of absorbing the story.

But I take your point about acting styles and fashion. It's not always possible to see where and how contemporary views influence your own tastes. Also I agree that we have become more film literate and this makes a lot of difference. Just the amazing development of technology has a lot to answer for here.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Hockney at the Royal Academy

Jenny puzzles over David Hockney's 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life

There is no living artist I admire more than David Hockey. I love his blend of fine draughtsmanship, hectic colour and shrewd portraiture. I have stood many times in front of his double portraits, most notably the magisterial tribute to his parents which now hangs in Tate Britain. Looking at this portrait you feel you know everything about these two beloved people. This lean, naturalistic, sculptural style of painting was characteristic of his earlier work. And his stylized LA paintings will always have glamour, sensuality and sweetness for me.

Age, deafness, illness and personal tragedy seem to have made little difference to David Hockney’s productivity or to the quality of his work. His output is prodigious. He experiments enthusiastically with different media, embracing technology along with traditional materials.

So I had high hopes of 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life at the Royal Academy. But this exhibition left me puzzled. The 82 portraits, created in acrylic at a hectic pace in 2015 and 2016, each over no more than three days, are tightly hung on violently vermilion walls with the names of the sitters elegantly inscribed above each. All the subjects were placed on the same yellow chair against a giddying turquoise backcloth.

The attention to detail in the sitters’ clothing is touching and funny. His sister, Margaret Hockney, who has been his subject many times, is portrayed wearing voluminous navy spotted harem pants. I recognized this garment immediately as the refuge of a certain sort of older lady who has lost contact with her waist. Rita Pynoos dressed up for her sitting by wearing a sumptuous long red skirt which starts somewhat strangely under her breasts and pools out in front of her so that you barely look at her face. One of the youngest sitters looks as if he has been dressed by his mommy as a little man, complete with shirt, tie, waistcoat, nicely laced shoes and an important notebook.

One curious feature of the exhibition is that its curator, Edith Devaney, is also one of the sitters.

This is not a series of portraits where the artist was trying to flatter – or maybe even to suggest likenesses, except casually. So would I have recognized Barry Humphries without the red kipper tie, slouchy hat and pink trousers? Possibly not, though I loved the sitter’s roguish twinkle. The people all have oddly foreshortened legs, though in most cases their shoes have been conveyed in loving detail. The faces are hectically flushed or else bleached of colour.

I was especially puzzled by the portrait of his close friend Celia Birtwell, the young star of another wonderful double portrait painted in 1971, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, and a ‘muse’ he has painted many times. In the 2015 painting, Celia looks dumpy, has been given staring, wobbly turquoise eyes and a dab of bright green on the end of her nose. But why?

Taken together, which I assume is what we are meant to do, this is more like an installation than separate portraits. It is warm, it is humorous, but what else? After a few moments they all began to blend into one another. It was overwhelming. I was not tempted to linger. As I left, I did not feel their eyes following me.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Men! What are they like?

Jenny gives 4 laugh-out-loud, ego-bound stars to Athina Rachel Tsingare’s Chevalier

Some years ago I was part of a team facilitating a series of courses for a British organization that had become concerned about the somewhat lopsided behaviour of its most senior cohort. The top levels of this organization were populated by intellectually gifted people, mostly men, who had little idea about emotional intelligence or why it might matter. The organization felt that it needed to make a big cultural shift. The solution? Plonk these very senior people (fifteen at a time and for five days, no phones or emails allowed, no quitting) into a pleasant venue where their only task was to get on with each other. What invariably happened was a like a chamber-piece psychodrama since there was no escape. By the third day of every course, mayhem had broken out. Long-standing enemies vented their grudges, secrets were confessed, accusations hurled, there were tears, tantrums and threats, intense alliances and some love affairs. The masks slipped. It was impossible to prevent some aspect of the more vulnerable person becoming known, ideally to themselves, as well as to others. Our role was to keep all of this safe and to link it with what the organization needed.

Chevalier, an intriguing new Greek language film from Athina Rachel Tsangari, is in the long tradition of chamber-piece films, where you see what happens when there is no mechanism for keeping things safe, for instance Rope, Phone Booth, 12 Angry Men, Lord of the Flies, Moon – and Dogtooth, another unsettling Greek language film made by Tsingari’s friend and collaborator Yorgos Lanthinos.

Six middle aged men are on a comfortable yacht in the Aegean. It’s not the calm blue sea of the holiday websites but cool, grey and a little choppy. There are connections between them, some of which become clear, some remaining blurred. The yacht is owned by ‘The Doctor’, the oldest and apparently most powerful in the group. They have nothing to do but some sporadic fishing so they set up a game to decide ‘who is the best man in general’. The rules of this ‘game’ are never explained but each man has a little notebook into which his ratings of the others are silently entered. The tasks are wonderfully silly, for instance cleaning silver with toothpaste, assembling an IKEA bookcase, rating sleeping positions, snoring levels, skimming stones, dental hygiene, blood triglycerides and, naturally, penis size, all of these carried out with tremendous seriousness.

The veneer of courtesy is soon ripped away as the craziness of pointless bragging and unchecked male behaviour takes over.

Men, eh! Do they really get how strange they are? It would be easy for a woman director to mock these fragile egos but she does not. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, such as when the character who has been teased and who worries about his potency finally achieves a splendid erection and hammers on the others’ doors to come and admire it – but it’s late at night and they are all sound asleep. As the film goes on, the relentless competition reveals secret worries: Are my thighs too big? Does it matter that I’m losing my hair? What about my wobbling belly? Is it my fault that my wife hasn’t had a baby? Does she really love me?

My own prize for best performance goes to Makis Papadimitrou who brings beautifully calibrated childish humour and ill-founded hope to Dimitris, a woefully tubby idiot savant, still living with his mother, afraid of the dark, brought along by his resentful brother and not allowed to go into the water. His naïve inability to compete, except on his own limited terms, throws the absurdity of the rest into relief.

The cinematography combines bleached out colour with multiply-reflecting, cramped shots of the yacht interior, frequently giving us slices of the middle aged male body seen when the camera slyly peeps around corners or with bulkheads in the way.

Is it a satire on Greece and its dying economy? Possibly, as in an exquisite double bluff in the final reel, we see the ship’s crew drawn into the same daft competitiveness. I did find that the film lacked narrative drive: there is no big climax at the end, it all just drifts away. It is a film about men made by a woman and with a degree of merciless, bone-dry wit, with no visible female characters, but with no malice. And for certain it is a wholly understated and sublime comedy.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Tale of Two Weiners

Jenny gives Weiner 5 painful stars

Directors Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman open their film with a quote from Marshall McLuhan: ‘The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers’. When your name is also one of many slang words for the male member, what are you to do? Perhaps you are already doomed.

The well-researched theory of nominative determinism seems to apply here – that we can be drawn inexorably to behaviours or professions that resemble our name. I once knew a surgeon called Mr Hammer, a haulier called Mr Carter and a doctor called Dr Docktor, and the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales was Judge Judge. More pertinent to this film, in 2014 a Donald Popadick of Toronto was arraigned on a charge of indecent exposure.

So the title of this documentary film is already a joke. Its subject is Anthony Weiner, but the film is actually just as much about his penis and his inability to resist giving it a starring role in his life.

Congressman Weiner was forced to resign his seat in 2011 because he was exposed (sorry but I find myself inexorably drawn to the puns) for sexting DC groupies. He apologized in the usual way for the ‘hurt’ he had caused his wife, Huma Abedin, a close aide to Hillary Clinton. Then a few years later he decided to run for Mayor of New York.

During the course of filming the documentary on his campaign, he is caught once more, sending pictures of his erect penis to a woman calling herself Sydney Leathers and having phone sex with her up to five times a day. Sydney has subsequently created a career for herself as a porn star but Anthony’s career has plummeted. He came bottom of the poll for Mayor and his subsequent career as a lobbyist/consultant seems to have been characterised by abrupt departures.

This film is painful to watch, painful in every way: painful to see the humiliation of his beautiful and gifted wife, painfully funny that a man caught in this way can worry more about his emerging bald spot than about his wife’s feelings, painful to see yet another example of the overwhelming narcissism of career politicians, painful to see a clever man sabotage himself so stupidly.

At one point we see a chat show journalist yell at him, ‘What’s wrong with you? What IS wrong with you?’ He can’t answer this, any more than he can answer the question put to him by the film-makers, ‘Why are you letting us film this?’ Maybe the answer is that his need to be in the limelight is overwhelming – we see him leaping about at Gay Pride, riding floats at carnivals, manically hugging strangers, losing his temper with hecklers, obsessively replaying his own interviews, even the ones where he comes off worst. During his sexting career he gave himself the name Carlos Danger. I had a sudden image of the toddler Anthony strutting about, as small boys sometimes do, with his little button penis hanging out, an aren’t-I-naughty expression on his face, looking for reactions, any reactions. How pleasing it can be to see shock, horror and amusement on the faces of the adults. Funny in a two year old, puzzling and silly for a man in his forties.

Weiner is a brilliant case study in hubris, in how our greatest strengths are virtually always the trigger to catastrophe when we overuse them. A gifted orator, a hard worker, a demanding boss, a fearless interrogator… all of these became disastrous handicaps for Anthony when they turned into a sense of entitlement, a reckless belief that he would not be caught when indulging in behaviour that he must have known to be morally dubious.

At the same time, part of him just doesn’t get it. As he says mournfully, nobody died; he didn’t have sexual relations with those women. He doesn’t even seem to notice the blank despair on his wife’s face. He can say the words about being responsible but they seem empty.

Above all this film is about the media and its rapacious need for extremes, for courting and creating celebrity and then glorying in its ruin. The film-makers admit that they themselves are part of it. But they must have been hugging their cameras at their luck. They couldn’t hold back any more than could the rest of the pack. And for us, the viewers of the debacle, we may be watching through our fingers, or in disbelief, or guiltily experiencing schadenfreude, but we are complicit too.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Norma and John and why they voted for Brexit

We don’t usually stray into politics at Angel & Elephant unless led there by a film or other cultural event, but these are unusual times, and Jenny has been moved to reflect on last week’s vote. 

Norma and John live in a small Norfolk village. They voted Leave without a moment’s hesitation. The only language spoken in their village is British English and every face is white. Some distance away, in the pleasant regional city of Norwich, the same is largely true although the university brings a smattering of foreigners, some with brown faces.

Norma and John are literal Baby Boomers since they were both born in 1946, the year after their dads returned from fighting in Africa and Europe. They benefitted from the massive British post war reforms to health and to secondary education. However, both failed the harsh sheep/goats process that was the Eleven Plus, the route into social mobility through a grammar school. Neither they nor their parents were troubled by this; it saved the money that expensive uniforms and games equipment would have cost. It spared them the unease of entering a world of middle class assumptions and posh people. It liberated them to leave school at fifteen to earn good money, Norma as a shop assistant in Norwich and John for a local farmer. They met at seventeen and an unexpected pregnancy meant early marriage because then it was unthinkable to seek an abortion or to be a single parent.

A small social housing estate had been built in their village and they were pleased to have a nice house with a proper bathroom and kitchen. Later, feeling prosperous in the Thatcher years, they exercised their right to buy and now they are mortgage free, still in the same house. They are close to their daughter who followed their pattern of early pregnancy and marriage and one of this daughter’s daughters has done the same. So they are now great grandparents.

When you talk to Norma and John they are angry and upset. They say things like ‘I want my country back’; ‘There are too many people here already; what’s going to happen to jobs for our kids and their kids?’ The fact is that they are right to be dismayed. John’s job vanished twenty five years ago when farming changed beyond recognition and hedgerows that had been there for a thousand years disappeared to make the giant fields that you now see everywhere in Norfolk. He got seasonal work in boatyards but found himself exhausted by its intensely physical nature. He tried setting up a handyman business but it never took off. Norma did part time bar shifts, but the pub closed twelve years ago. She worked as a carer for a few years until she damaged her back when turning an elderly client.

The truth is that Norma and John are poor. Yes they have an asset in their house but it is small and shabby and in any case this does not help with their bills. They need a car as the only public transport is a once a day bus. They have no savings to speak of and live off the state pension. They are worried about the future of their local hospital, the James Paget in Lowestoft. Both are overweight and have Type 2 diabetes. Norma has had a double mastectomy and John is on medication for depression as well as recovering from bowel surgery. Their youngest son, a late baby, escaped the Eleven Plus trap and benefitted from the introduction of comprehensive schooling. He is a well-paid PhD research chemist in the pharmaceutical industry and funds their car and holidays but he lives in Singapore.

Norma and John have always voted Tory but that is irrelevant, as is anything to do with the EU. Their vote for Leave was a cry of rage and disappointment. They believed the lies about money for the NHS. They half-thought that they could be invaded by a million Turks. It would be easy to say that as classic Left Behinds they are responsible for their own plight by failing to update their skills, broaden their perspectives or to consider getting out of a dying economy. But the thought has never crossed their minds. Rooted in their rural life, they are liked by their neighbours, most of their family live close by – why would they damage all of that?

I am connected to Norma and John though they are unaware of it. For three decades until 2011 I had a second home in a small Norfolk village. To people like them I was, for sure, an ‘Incomer’, a word often spoken in Norfolk with lurking resentment, people too smart and affluent for their own good, raising house prices, bringing fancy London ideas with them and, sometimes, though I hope this was never true of me, remaining aloof from the community. I, too, benefited from post-war social reform.

I also married young by today’s standards. The difference is that I grew up as an only child in an urban area with parents who were desperate for me to have the chances that they missed. I passed the Eleven Plus, thanks to their constant coaching and encouragement. It was taken for granted that they would make enormous financial sacrifices and that I would go to university, though no one in the family had ever done so. I entered the jobs market, a confident young graduate, at a time of full employment. Getting a job and a mortgage was easy. I have been able to live by my wits rather than by poorly paid, insecure manual labour. I have been lucky.

Now I, too, can experience the anguish and disappointment of being one of the Left Behinds, my ideas and deeply-held values rejected. It pains me grievously to know that Norma and John will suffer more than I will from Brexit. They are decent people. They have been forgotten, let down, fooled. No one was listening to them and maybe no one will now, but for sure they have had their moment. 

Monday, 9 May 2016

Michael Moore hits his target

Joe enjoys Where to Invade Next for its dark undercurrents as well as its sunny surface

In this rose-tinted travelogue, Michael Moore goes in search of ideas he can steal and take back home to America. He visits half a dozen European countries, plus Tunisia, intending “to pick the flowers, not the weeds”. I watched a special screening at the University of California, Santa Barbara. During the discussion afterwards, an angry walk-out by one member of the audience and some audible groaning from another suggested that, in spite of its sunny demeanour, this is a film capable of raising passions.

Moore starts with the observation that, since World War Two, America’s foreign adventures have been uniformly disastrous. Called in by the Joint Chiefs of Staff desperate for his advice, he sets off on a one-man mission to invade some countries and purloin their best policies for American use.

On his travels, he discovers practices that, from an American perspective, look hopelessly utopian. He meets an idyllically happy working class couple in Italy who enjoy 8 weeks paid holiday a year and leisurely 2-hour lunchbreaks at home. French primary school children gather round tables, family-style, to share tasty and nutritious meals. University education in Slovenia is free. In Portugal possession of drugs for personal use hasn’t been a crime for 15 years. Finnish prisoners are treated with kindness and respect. And in Sweden 21 years is the longest sentence even for mass murderers. All this enlightenment increases productivity, reduces recidivism and makes people happy.

Skilful cutting and an artful soundtrack, together with Moore’s act of naïve bemusement, made me laugh out loud at some of these revelations – at least half the intended effect. The other half, I assume, is to provoke outrage that the richest nation in the world treats its own people so badly in comparison.   

Just when a visit to a model pencil factory in Nuremberg made me want to protest that this is all very nice, but Europe too has had its dark side, Moore tells us that the idea he wants to take home from Germany is that nations should confront their past crimes. For America, that would mean actively remembering its history of genocide and slavery (a lesson Britain could learn too, incidentally, where Nazi Germany looms far larger on the typical school curriculum than the slave trade or colonialism).  
Where to Invade Next showtimes and tickets
In a final feminist turn, Tunisia is revealed as a country where women have overcome the resistance of a conservative Islamic administration to pass advanced equal rights laws, and Iceland’s female leaders are credited with rebuilding the economy from ruin after a world recession brought on by an excess of testosterone. 

After the UCSB screening, a student who identified herself as Swedish complained that the film whitewashed countries, including her own, where neo-fascism is on the rise and borders are even now being closed to refugees. A mild expression of sympathy for Europe’s predicament, from the sociology professor chairing the discussion, prompted the Swedish student’s friend (an Iranian, I learnt when I caught up with him in the foyer) to stage his sudden exit. The groaner, an American woman of working class origins and impeccably progressive credentials, confided in me that she was bothered by the anti-American tenor of the film and even more distressed at the patronising tone of the discussion afterwards, with its focus on “stupid Americans”. So in this small audience, Moore managed to alienate people from three different continents.

I can see how the film might be offensive to Americans resistant to the idea that other countries manage things better, though Bernie Sanders has won substantial support with this very message. I also know that Europe is no utopia. But I felt that the two students had missed the point. This isn’t really a film about Italy or Finland or Tunisia. We see people in foreign countries benefitting from humane approaches to employment and education and law enforcement and these sunny images evoke the shadow, which is Moore’s true subject. America occupies only a fraction of his time, but in this fresh context the footage of police violence and the brutalitizing of prison inmates has a huge impact. A combination of savage sentencing, profit-driven prisons and a war on drugs that targets black America, Moore argues, has created a new slave class out of the descendants of the old. Meanwhile ordinary Americans, holding down two or three jobs to make ends meet, have been induced to accept their exploited condition as inevitable.

The film reminds us that there are better and worse ways of doing things and that it’s worth pushing for the better options. Its optimistic message made me want to cheer. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

What's so hilarious about humiliation?

Jenny gives Florence Foster Jenkins a queasy 3 stars

Is there currently a more reliable director of expertly-told stories than Stephen Frears? If so I can’t think of one: The Queen, Philomena, The Program, all movies I have enjoyed even while thinking the first two somewhat sentimental. As a director he seems to like looking at the not-so-attractive lives of people who, for whatever reason, position themselves as celebrities. The scripts are invariably well written, the casting is always spot on, the acting convincing, the production design faultless, the resulting film entertaining.

Florence Foster Jenkins is the story of a wealthy woman who can’t sing yet who hires the Carnegie Hall in 1944 to give a recital. Her records, recklessly made because she believed so firmly in her own talent, became best sellers, but for all the wrong reasons. Her personal and business partner, a former actor, St. Clair Bayfield, had been able to keep the proper critics away up until that point through a mixture of persuasion, bribery and threat, but this became impossible with a public concert in such an enormous place. Professional critics demolished her performance and she died shortly afterwards.

Technically everything about this film is wonderful. Meryl Streep does one of her usual immaculate impersonations as Florence, including finely judged bad singing. The real surprise is Hugh Grant who is just perfect as her kind-of husband, showing us that he is certainly in it for the money, including the flat for which Florence pays and which houses his girlfriend, yet he also loves Florence deeply and tenderly. His graceful and expertly nuanced performance is the best thing he has done for years. Maybe it is true that he was born 50 years too late for the handsome Cary Grant-style British schmoozer he plays so well in this film; trust his twinkly charm folks, but not too much.

But I watched this film in dismay. It is billed as a ‘comedy drama’ and the actors have repeatedly described it in interviews as ‘hilarious’. But how, exactly is it ‘hilarious’? Is it hilarious to laugh at the allegedly comical delusions of a very rich woman who could afford to hire weasely singing coaches tell her she was brilliant but ‘it needs a little more work’, and who is then exposed to the terrible humiliation of an audience at the Carnegie Hall (The Hammersmith Apollo filling in perfectly) literally falling about laughing as she screeches her way through arias that are way beyond her ability?

Self-delusion is one of the essential themes of comedy. It’s why we laugh at Malvolio in Twelfth Night, it’s why David Brent was excruciatingly funny in The Office. It’s why Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge is genuinely ‘hilarious’. These are ludicrous people who at some level know that who they are and who they purport to be are at odds.

What is wrong with this film is how clearly it shows that Florence Foster Jenkins does not know this. Her costumes are ridiculous and ugly. She is overweight. She is too old to prance about on a stage. She wears a wig to hide her baldness. She is a naïve, vulnerable woman, padded by money, damaged by poor health and by the sycophancy, cowardice and the well-meaning or corrupt care of those around her, who, for whatever reason, refuse to tell her the blunt truth: she can’t sing. Watching this film we are made complicit in this.

I did not like the moral dilemma this created for me. I did not find the film funny, though I did find it absorbing. Her death is horrible. This was a real woman who really did die in these circumstances. I heard no laughter around me in the Islington Vue. People stayed quietly to the end, watching the credits and then filed out silently. There was no feel-good chattery buzz or smiling. I left along with everyone else and plodded home. I had watched a tragedy not a comedy. I felt manipulated: not a good experience.