Movie City Indie

Friday Movies: ROCKETMAN, THE SOUVENIR, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD,THE BRINK

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.

RocketmanRocketman, the biopic-jukebox musical strung upon the outpouring of songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, is saved from its chock-a-block narrative impatience by the pure puppy-ness of Taron Egerton’s performance as Reg Dwight grown big and awful, rocketing toward his present twenty-eight years of sobriety. Camp is indicated more than embodied: the phantasm of Elton John’s feelings, both sad and flying high, plays as a deracinated version of a Baz Luhrmann canvas like Moulin Rouge than the Ken Russell bacchanal that would have incinerated the screen. (The script is by Lee Hall, who collaborated with John on the stage musical adaptation of his highly political Billy Elliot screenplay.) [More here.]

The-Souvenir-07.-By-Sandro-Kopp.-Courtesy-of-A24The Souvenir. Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is as mysterious as it is specific, tracing the drift of Julie, an intensely ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) who is distracted by a first true love affair, with Anthony (Tom Burke), a man who appears to take her seriously indeed. Set in the 1980s artistic era in which the writer-director grew up, Hogg’s fourth feature describes how a film narrative can flow around the range of thoughts and emotions that a shy young woman holds as she hopes to make art. Places and faces are equally expressive realms. Can imagination be mere delusion? What are her dreams? Hogg dreamt them, dreams them, again, as distanced onscreen memoir, and the dream is furthered by Byrne’s mesmerizing, fleeting performance. “Making the film, I’m allowing parts of my own biography to be re-imagined and expanded upon and changed,” Hogg has said. “I want it to become something else.” [More here.]

The-BRINK-2The Brink. Alison Klayman’s The Brink, an avatar of cinema-vérité observation, arrives in a hush and escalates with precision. Klayman records political consultant and purported intellectual powerhouse Stephen K. “Steve” Bannon after his dismissal from the arms of Trump power, and the rich result, captured by a filmmaker-cinematographer-sound recordist on their own, all on their own, is edited to a fierce ninety-minute form from day-after-day of close observation of a year in a life of wheeling and huffing and dealing and puffing. [More here.] iTunes, June 4.

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Last Year At Marienbad. [4k restoration; Criterion Blu upgrade.] Furiously beautiful and fatefully unforgettable, Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (L’année dernière à Marienbad), released in 1961 and written by Alain Robbe-Grillet in an absurdly detailed screenplay, is of its time. Its greatness lies in being a riotous puzzle box with silken and sheer and shiny surfaces that should dazzle, somewhat comforting in their concreteness as figures and objects, but discomfiture of memory and time and dream in its very form. A fantastic world of impossible wealth and improbable ennui and sculptured hair and Coco Chanel couture tacking through castle and courtyard in the shapeliest but least-definable of waking dreams: it is a thundercrack. (Robbe-Grillet said he was describing “a purely mental space and time—those of dreams, perhaps, or of memory, those of any affective life—without worrying too much about the traditional relations of cause and effect, or about an absolute time sequence in the narrative.”) [More here.]

 

 

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That Sirkian Someone: An Extended Anecdote About Art, Politics, Melodrama and Movies On His 119th Birthday

Sirk dark glasses[Douglas Sirk was born April 26, 1900. Here’s a review of the 2019 Blu-ray of Tarnished Angels.]

Douglas Sirk’s last interview may have been the one conducted by Kathryn Bigelow and Monty Montgomery for Interview magazine in the early 80s,  just before or just after the great director of melodramas went blind.

Kathryn Bigelow: You’ve been quoted as saying that you learned to trust your eyes more than words. That the angles are the director’s thoughts, the lighting is his philosophy.
Douglas Sirk: The director has to control everything. The movement of the camera is important because this is his style. Otherwise he just becomes a director of the people. With film, a director should be in on everything. Never give up and don’t let them tell you they are the spe- cialist. You don’t want any special kind of work, you want your kind of work. You see, a film is a visual thing. It’s not being told by words alone. Words are important, but almost to a minor degree. It’s the lighting, the angling, and it’s the cutting, too. I’ve always been from the first to the last minute, in the cutting room telling the cutter I want it this way and that way, because once in a while you take a whole sequence out of here and put it there and that makes a lot of difference. Believe me, maybe it will make the film.

There’s also an epic assay at Bright Lights Film Journal by Jane and Michael Stern, about a two-week visit they made in 1977 to Lugano, Switzerland to meet Sirk and his wife, Hilde. (“Sirk on Sirk” stands alongside “Melville on Melville” as a model of extended conversation between directors and well-prepared journalists.)

I treasure my years-ago memories of two of the three shorts he made late in life teaching film in Germany, the Fassbinder-starring Bourbon Street Blues (1978) and the serene, stunning Tennessee Williams adaptation, Talk to Me Like the Rain (Sprich zur mir wie der Regen, 1975) (based on Williams’ short play, “Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen”). Someday, these crisp shorts ought to resurface. For the moment, a couple of bits of scene-setting from the Sterns’ extended introduction, followed by one extended disquisition by Sirk on his experiences with art and commerce in his career as a European theater director, and then as an American studio hand. “Swooshing up the elevator shaft of Condominio Vall’Orba in a mirrored elevator to meet Sirk: He is still Sirk, never Douglas. Not yet anyway. You search your mind for an appropriate image of him. There are few to choose from: black and whites on the back of a book, a few auteurist articles with pictures decades-old, showing a man with a tweed jacket, piercing pale blue eyes and wavy hair. He is awesome-looking, aloof. Best forget these pictures… We eat at the Grotto, a favorite restaurant, a restaurant only Douglas Sirk would take you to, where Rock Hudson might take Jane Wyman.

“There is a warm Italian innkeeper, there are soft-hued walls, a special pasta, a flow of Chianti. Douglas impetuously drinks wine and eats roast pork. We know this is a special time for all of us. We have fallen in love with Douglas and Hilde… He is describing Lana Turner’s work in Imitation of Life. He describes their rapport. But one listens too casually, Sirk's imitationcredit.jpgrelaxed as with an old friend, and the mind wanders. But something strange starts to happen. You are off-guard. The old man starts to direct. He is showing you how he manipulated Lana Turner in her scenes. But instead of the Golden Goddess, he is doing it to you. The hooded blue eyes unfurl, revealing beneath the lids an unquenched intensity. They fix on you, the voice hypnotically cajoles and shames. “You like that, don’t you? You like that feeling,” he asks seductively. “Well, then, you are a fool!” Back and forth, changing your face, pulling the adrenalin to the surface. You aren’t an actor, so what is to explain these emotions shooting through you as he talks? You remain riveted, in confusion accepting the reality that you are now seated twelve inches away from Sirk the director on a couch somewhere far away from home. Douglas has vanished, and has been replaced by two ice-blue eyes and a commanding voice.

You sit stiffened, the bones in your spine locked together until a hoarse laugh and a cough end the game. Sirk has receded and there again is Douglas, leaning back into the cushions on the couch, offering you a piece of cake.”

In Magnificent Obsession, Rock Hudson has a line: “As far as I’m concerned, Art is just a guy’s name.”

SIRK: “Exactly! In Hollywood, the producers said, “Never say Art. Nobody wants to know about it.” Arty is okay, but Art is for crazy painters, or sculptors, or what-do-I-know. Now after the war, we were looking for something completely different. Artaud’s essay in ‘The Theater and Its Double’ describes a completely new era for the theater. It explains simply, “No more masterpieces,” for God’s sake, no more Art. We are really not interested. Together with Marxism, this was to be something populistic—this is different from the American term populism. It would be something the average man could understand, but with something additional—style. There arose a belief in writtenonthewindaffiche.jpgstyle—and in banality. Banality encompassed politics, too, because it was a common belief that politics were not worthy of art. As a theater man, I had to deal with high art. I would play farces and comedy to make money, and classics for the elite. But we were trying to escape the elitaire. So slowly in my mind formed the idea of melodrama, a form I found to perfection in American pictures. They were naive, they were that something completely different. They were completely Art-less. This tied in with my studies of the Elizabethan period, where you had both l’art pour I’art and you had Shakespeare. He was a melodramatist, infusing all those silly melodramas with style, with signs and meanings. There is a tremendous similarity between this and the Hollywood system—which then I knew from only far away. Shakespeare had to be a commercial producer. Probably his company or his producer came to him and said, “Now, look, Bill, there’s this crazy story—ghosts, murder, tearing the hair, what-do-I-know. Completely crazy. It’s called Magnificent Ob… no, Hamlet it was called. The audiences love this story, Bill, and you have to rewrite it. You’ve got two weeks, and you’ve got to hold the costs down. They’ll love it again.” So, my God! A director in Hollywood in my time couldn’t do what he wanted to do. But certainly, Shakespeare was even less free than we were. But let’s go deeper into drama. How was it with the ancient Greeks? I have studied pieces of the Periclean period, and all of them are crazy situations. But there is a difference there. The role that style plays today was then taken by religion. Take Oedipus, for instance. The Freudians don’t like this, but in reality Oedipus is a detective story, a mystery, nothing other than that. The mother thing, the complex, is bullshit, because he didn’t know. He’s not guilty, really. It’s sheer melodrama, for the masses. Now I talked with Brecht about this, and I told him that it was religion that made such crazy melodrama possible for the ancient Greeks. That, of course, is not possible any more. He agreed. But he was at a complete dead end. L’art pour I’art offered nothing, so finally he escaped into Marxism. There is no doubt that this is what made it possible for him to continue. It was politics that made his art possible, as religion did for the Greeks. Now my idea of the melodrama he carried into the “drink and smoke theater,” where there was nothing sacred. The idea was, Let’s forget, for God’s sake, the word Art. In this theater, there is really something going on. Beer is served; you meet a few whores. Of course, we were conjuring the Elizabethan theater. Slowly into my program in the theater I was sneaking in the melodrama—popular plays—and I discovered they were making lots of money. At the time I belonged to the socialist party, and Hitler came to power. The intellectuals were all saying, “Give him a year. Give him two years. It will all blow over. He’ll go away.” I wanted to escape. But what did I know? I knew Law, and I knew theater. I didn’t, of course, know American law, and in America the theater did not exist, except for Broadway. But America to us—especially to Brecht—was raw and rough. That was our idea of it—boxing, triviality, banality, killing, and the American melodrama, which was the American cinema. This goes for Stroheim, for Sternberg. All of it was melodrama; but in their hands, given a style. When Brecht was there he tried to sell his ideas as a literary man, which didn’t work. Not in America. And for movies he had no feeling. He was not a visual character. He didn’t see. In his movie scripts he didn’t catch movie style or technique. It was only theater. Furthermore, he insisted on his Marxist way of thinking. Of course, McCarthyism finished any possibility of that.”

SIRK ONCE REMARKED, “The angles are the director’s thoughts. The lighting is his philosophy” is very close to Murnau: “They say that I have a passion for ‘camera angles’… To me the camera represents the eye of a person, through whose mind one is watching the events on the screen. It must follow characters at times into difficult places, as it sirkonsirkonsirkonsirkonsirk.jpgcrashed through the reeds and pools in Sunrise at the heels of the Boy, rushing to keep his tryst with the Woman of the City. It must whirl and peep and move from place to place as swiftly as thought itself, when it is necessary to exaggerate for the audience the idea or emotion that is uppermost in the mind of the character. I think the films of the future will use more and more of these ‘camera angles,’ or as I prefer to call them these ‘dramatic angles’. They help to photograph thought.” This is what Sirk did in the boldest, most outrageously stylized moments of his commercial successes of the 1950s: how transparent can I make this and not condescend as a European intellectual to American life? (The cover of “Sirk on Sirk” comes from the last shot of Written on the Wind. Joseph H. Lewis placed daring sexual imagery in pictures like Gun Crazy and The Big Combo, but this takes the ache.)

Reid Rosefelt was at a screening Sirk attended long ago. “One of things that is so great about Sirk is how he has inspired so many filmmakers to adapt and shape his work to their own talents. During the Q&A, somebody asked him, “Mr. Sirk, what do you think makes a good director?” Sirk stopped to think and then answered quietly: “Making movies is very hard. Very hard. In my opinion anyone who makes a movie… is a good director.” I’ve always loved that he said that. It was so unexpected. If he had said the usual baloney I would never remember it today. Most people would find the idea crazy, ridiculous, filled with false humility, or even dangerous, but if you had been there, you would have known he was absolutely sincere.”

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Two valuable pieces from Senses of Cinema: one-and-a-two. (Ray Pride)

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Oscars-Netflix: Sean Baker

“i program an art house cinema in a small, midwestern town…”


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Oscars-Netflix: Paul Schrader

Via Facebook: “THE NETFLIX DEBATE. I have no animus against Netflix. Ted Sarandos is as smart about film as any studio exec I’ve ever met. Distribution models evolve. The notion of squeezing 200+ people into a dark unventilated space to see a flickering image was created by exhibition economics not any notion of the “theatrical experience.” Netflix allows many financially marginal films to have a platform and that’s a good thing. But here’s my query: it involves FIRST REFORMED. First Reformed was sold at a bargain price to A24 out of the Toronto FF. Netflix, which could have snapped it up as easily as it swats a fly on its ass, passed. As did Amazon. As did Sony Classics and Focus. But A24 saw a commercial path for this austere aesthetic film. As a result First Reformed found a life. A24 rolled it out through festivals and screenings from 2017 to 2018. And it survived. Not a big money maker but profitable for A24 and a jewel in their crown. Would First Reformed have found this public acceptance if Netflix and scooped it up (at say twice the price A24 payed) and dumped it into its larder? Perhaps Bird Box and Kissing Booth can fight their way through the vast sea of Netflix product to find popular acceptance, but First Reformed? Unlikely. Relegated to film esoterica. A different path? My proposal: For club cinemas (Alamo Draft House, Metrograph, Burns Center, Film Forum) to form an alliance with a two tiered streaming system (first tier: Criterion/Mubi, second tier: Netflix/Amazon).Distribution models are in flux. It’s not as simple as theatrical versus streaming.”

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Oscars-Netflix: Alfonso Cuarón

Variety’s morning-after-Oscar director exit interview of Alfonso Cuarón includes this sentence: “’I wanted to explore some family wounds,’ Cuarón says as he slices into a wedge of avocado toast.”

Of greater moment, to the Netflix-Oscar conversation: “The conversation about theatrical is super-important. I’m a filmmaker. I believe in the theatrical experience. But there has to be diversity. The multiplex theatrical experience is a very gentrified experience. You have one kind of product with few variations. It’s hard to see arthouse films. It’s hard to see foreign films. Most theaters play big Hollywood movies.

“There needs to be greater diversity in how we release our films. Distribution models need to be more flexible, depending on the film,” Cuarón continues. “You cannot impose the release strategy of a tentpole film on a smaller film. You may need fewer theaters and longer runs or models in which the so-called window is shorter. We’re thinking in one single paradigm. It’s a moment to start opening up paradigms. Right now it’s a confrontation between economic models. It’s not like one model benefits cinema, and the other does not.”

Oscars-Netflix: Spielberg

Oscars-Netflix: Aleš Kot

Trailering UNDER THE SILVER LAKE

2017 FYC (For Your Consideration) Screenplays Now Up To 36 Titles

PDF downloads, for the duration of the 2017 awards season. (Make a note in comments if a link doesn’t load.)

Battle of the Sexes, written by Simon Beaufoy

Beauty and the Beast, screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos; based on 1991 animated film written by Linda Woolvert

The Beguiled, Written by Sofia Coppola, based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan

The Big Sick, Written by Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon [secondary link]

Brad’s Status, Written by Mike White

Breathe, Written by William Nicholson

Brigsby Bear, Story by Kyle Mooney; Screenplay by Kevin Costello & Kyle Mooney

Coco, Original Story By Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich, Adrian Molina; Screenplay By Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich

Darkest Hour, Written By Anthony McCarten

The Disaster Artist, Written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber; Based on the book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Downsizing, Written by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

A Fantastic Woman,  Screenplay by Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza

First They Killed My Father, Screenplay by Loung Ung & Angelina Jolie; Based on the Book “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” by Loung Ung

The Florida Project, Written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch

Get Out, by Jordan Peele

Guardians of the Galaxy V. 2. Written by James Gunn

Happy End, Written By Michael Haneke

I, Tonya, Written by Steven Rogers

Lady Bird, Written by Greta Gerwig

Last Flag Flying, by Richard Linklater & Darryl Ponicsan

Logan, Story by James Mangold. Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green

The Lost City of Z, Screenplay by James Gray; Based on the Book by David Grann

Loveless, By Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev

The Man Who Invented Christmas, Screenplay by Susan Coyne; Based on the Book by Les Standiford

Mark Felt, Written by Peter Landesman

Maudie, Written by Sherrie White

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Written by Noah Baumbach

mother!, Written by Darren Aronofsky

Mudbound, Screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees; Based on the Novel by Hillary Jordan

Norman, By Joseph Cedar

Novitiate, By Maggie Betts

Okja, Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jon Ronson

The Shape of Water, Written by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Written by Martin McDonagh

Thor: Ragnarok, Written by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost

Victoria & Abdul, By Lee Hall

War For The Planet of the Apes, Written by Mark Bomback & Matt Reeves; Based on Characters Created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver

Wonderstruck, Written by Brian Selznick

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James Gunn And James Mangold On Politics At The End Of 2017

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Craft Summit 2017: The Art of Editing with Walter Murch (58 min)

19 For Your Consideration Screenplays Await

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PDF downloads, for at least the duration of the 2017 awards season.

Battle of the Sexes, written by Simon Beaufoy

Beauty and the Beast, screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos; based on 1991 animated film written by Linda Woolvert

The Beguiled, Written by Sofia Coppola, based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan

The Big Sick, Written by Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon

Brad’s Status, Written by Mike White

Breathe, Written by William Nicholson

First They Killed My Father, Screenplay by Loung Ung & Angelina Jolie; Based on the Book “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” by Loung Ung

Guardians of the Galaxy V. 2. Written by James Gunn.

I, Tonya, Written by Steven Rogers

Last Flag Flying, by Richard Linklater & Darryl Ponicsan

Logan, Story by James Mangold. Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green

The Lost City of Z, Screenplay by James Gray; Based on the Book by David Grann

The Man Who Invented Christmas, Screenplay by Susan Coyne; Based on the Book by Les Standiford

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Written by Noah Baumbach

mother!, Written by Darren Aronofsky

Mudbound, Screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees; Based on the Novel by Hillary Jordan

Okja, Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jon Ronson

The Shape of Water, Written by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor [withdrawn]

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Written by Martin McDonagh

Wonderstruck, Written by Brian Selznick

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Movie City Indie

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin