The composer Marc Blitzstein wrote his musical Cradle Will Rock in New York in 1936. It was about a young woman forced into prostitution through hunger, and some unhappy workers in a cruel place called Steel Town. The cast, I imagine he imagined, would stand with their feet set apart and solid, singing hard into the auditorium and (hopefully) spitting a little during the most plosive-pitted verses. Orson Welles said he'd direct the show, and the Federal Theatre Project - a government-funded low-cost national theatre scheme - offered to pay.
Tim Robbins's film of the strange disaster that hit the production is beautifully cluttered. The unemployed queue and queue; Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) commissions Mexican artist Diego Rivera to paint the lobby of his Centre; Mussolini's girlfriend Margherita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon) sells da Vincis to fund the fascists; the Federal Theatre is called to testify to the Dies Committee about the "un-American" themes in many of its productions; Welles (Angus Macfadyen) boozes; Blitzstein (Hank Azaria) panics.
This is a frequently funny film, although full of soul-searching and menace and energetic caricature. Robbins skips on, always restless, gaining depth without halving his speed, using fact and circumstance and contradiction and moral blasphemy and smouldering bitterness. And always a sense of embattlement. In this way, the film perfectly resembles the political conditions it describes.
It also stares, amazed, at the American tradition of theatre with a social conscience - see Arthur Miller, the High Priest, who abandoned writing novels in favour of plays because he felt theatre to be a democratic industry (everybody having their ebullient input) and besides, only as part of a team do you qualify as a working man. Robbins is smart enough to leave a question mark hanging over this position.
Sex: The Annabel Chong Story is a documentary that follows a 22-year-old undergraduate, born in Singapore, now resident in LA, who got "pissed off in a feminist-theory class" and set about making a career in pornography. The apex of this career was her starring role in "the world's largest gang bang", during which she had sex with 251 men in 10 hours, stopping only when the fingernail scratches in her vagina proved too painful. She saw the act as an artistic glorification of robust and rational "female sexuality". The documentary has since been denounced by Chong as "distorted", but it's hard to imagine her emerging as anything other than a woman whose desire for self-expression far exceeds her capacity for it - the antithesis, in fact, of an artist.
Physically, Chong is the lean flapper ideal. She has small hips and up-tipped breasts and a Louise Brooks fall of hair. With her paleness and lack of phenomenal mammaries, she seems more honestly erotic than those bouncing, confusing porn girls the colour of leather handbags with a roughed-up look in their eyes. So, watching Chong held down by naked strangers (her 251 co-stars in their batches of five), is a vile sight. And even more so is her obvious confusion. She is exhaustively over-educated in cultural theory, but she cannot speak. Everything sounds half-remembered. She almost talks about the notion of passive consent - that it is not simple, but often muddled and conditional - but does not finish. She seems unaware that her huge frustrations, her need for catharsis through a violent gesture, is hardly unusual, but that her chosen act is actually equivalent to an Uzi-wielding madman in a playground - this huge, tragic desire for attention.
But worse is the sex industry itself, which got all uppity after Chong's display, and started going on about demeanour and morals, as though this woman went a little too far and revealed some innate lechery or something, which of course simply will not do.
Rob Reiner's The Story of Us is a feeble film about an almost-divorce. It stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis as the married couple struggling with loathing and talking to the camera as though it were a therapist/brick wall (God, I hate that slovenly old trope). The chemistry is dull, but the hairdos are not.
To make Willis look younger in the flashback scenes they have given him a medieval mullet (think Mel Gibson in Braveheart). But even when he's playing his own age, Willis's hair is compelling. It looks like he's had a little jumper stitched through his crown, precisely the colour of smoker's eyelashes (singed). Pfeiffer (whose mouth is increasingly puckered, as though permanently preparing to kiss something small and unpleasant) runs the gamut from poodle perm to long and straight. I spent the entire film debating whether she should really be classified as a blonde.
Reiner (who, long ago, when he was thinner, came up with This Is Spinal Tap) is very fond of the those rat-tat-tat dialogues that give the impression that clichÃ©s are being subdivided and divided again, but if you rouse yourself for 10 seconds, you'll notice that nothing is being said. And marriage gets a very bad press. Pfeiffer and Willis spend lots of time under a patchwork quilt not letting their feet touch. Which means it's all, all over.
Kevin and Perry Go Large features Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke as TV's famous teenagers, who live to wear down Kevin's parents (Mr and Mrs Pa-u-sun) with their strenuous attempts to embrace all impulses. Here, they travel to Ibiza in search of no-strings-attached sex. The big gag is that Mr and Mrs Patterson are the only ones that get any. Snow Day is set in upstate New York over a couple of days when a freak blizzard keeps children home from school. It first abandons, and then suppresses any genuinely childish notions. Night Train, starring John Hurt and Brenda Blethyn, is a thriller set in suburban Dublin. The plot is humdrum (an ex-con keeps his head down), but director John Lynch retains a spirit, and the film has a lovely, gallant quality.Reuse content