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Michael Winterbottom

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Recently I’ve seen three more or less recent films by Michael Winterbottom, leaving different impressions, interesting ones but not overwhelmingly positive ones.

Code 46

To begin with, Code 46 is a film that looks cool. A film playing in the – supposedly near – future which doesn’t look all cold and slick but instead has a bit of grained blurriness in it, making it much more alive and less sterile than the similar looking Gattaca, say. In the film’s story there is what looks like a world-wide regime under which people live and which splits them into those who may live a comfortable life in cities and those who have to live in poverty outside – of course by rigourously controlling the ways of travel. It looks rather unfair.

They’re also quite fussy about genetic identities, do a lot of testing people and have a ‘Code 46’ which forbids people who are genetically closely related to have children together. The story quite simply follows from this – William, an investigator falls in love with a girl who is supposed to investigate in Asia. For some reason they are genetically quite identical and hence in trouble. Despite having a family on another continent, Michael doesn’t just dump her as intended but they flee together after he has to return to Asia.

And that’s about it. A short story, very slowly told to indulge in the visuals. Despite generally liking that concept, I found the story a bit lacking. Not much is said about the society they live in – for example how it came to exist or why the suppressed don’t just burn it down. And while touching interesting points about people from what are considered different cultures today living together (and even having massive genetic similarities), everything remains rather vague.

In short, the film looks interesting, but I didn’t find it convincing.

9 Songs

Last year’s 9 Songs got a lot of press when it was released as it was said, correctly, that this might be as close to porn as a regular film can get. In the film’s 70 minutes you get to see a generous amount of moving flesh. And while it doesn’t have the tacky look of porn, I couldn’t help finding the whole story around the sex scenes rather weak.

While the story is apparently about Matt and Lisa’s sexual encounters, it also features Matt in Antarctica, doing something that can be considered reflecting their relationship but which sounds like woffling and it also features various songs which the couple see performed live in London. Being a bit of a music fanatic, I thought those gigs, including Franz Ferdinand, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Dandy Warhols and a few more were brilliant and a cool reflection of how the film really plays today. They were also filmed in cool way – much better than the filming you get when music television films gigs as the camera rested much more in the crowd.

Unfortunately I completely missed how this related to the couple’s story in any other ways than them just being there and pointing out that we’re at the beginning of the 21st century. So it seemed a bit of a waste. Quite a shame perhaps, as each of the three aspects of sex, Antarctica and pop music could make a good film (and has made good films before). And just mixing all three together just because you don’t have to tell enough on each one on it’s own isn’t a particularly rewarding thing to do – in my opinion at least.

As there is a lot of sex to be seen, having a look at the film’s rating is quite interesting. According to IMDB it is rated 18 in most countries and ‘Not Rated’ in the U.S. – whatever that means. A comment I read on the film was that even with it not being a breakthrough in storytelling, it may serve people by creating a situation in which it’ll be pretty hard for authorities to block future films for nudity or sex.

In Iceland and Germany it’s even rated 16, which probably reflects that traditionally violence in films seems to be considered much more of a problem in films than nudity here. I still remember that I was in South Africa when Rain Man was published. I was in sixth grade then and we had just read a book in English class with an autistic child. So our teacher wanted to go and see the film with us. But you had to be 16 to be allowed to see it in South Africa (because there’s one scene with a bit of nudity). At the same time there was a new James Bond film, with the typical amount of violence for which 12 was the minimum age. IIRC when I got back to Germany, we found out that for those two films the age rating was exactly opposite.

24 Hour Party People

Seeing that Winterbottom’s weakness for music in 9 Songs and numbers in film titles, I decided to also have a look at 24 Hour Party People. It’s a film about Manchester’s music scene, documenting the rise and fall of Tony Wilson and his record label and club. Wilson starts off being a tacky TV presenter who – as he’s never tired to point out – a Cambridge graduate. (Fitting rather well into the opinion/prejudice I have formed of Cambridge graduates who seem to be either very smart and confident or not quite as smart but even more confident and capable of talking a lot, being ‘witty’ and getting all the jobs in British politics and media.)

But apart from that he sees history happening with the Sex Pistols and goes on to discover and publish Joy Division and some other bands. He also opens a club and hosts Manchester’s then-famous rave scene. While managing to get these things running, he doesn’t do so successfully in a business sense. Ecstasy dealers rather than his bars earn the money in his club and he doesn’t want to to force the bands to actually work for their money. That’s quite sweet but also makes the companies go bust.

While what is shown in the film isn’t my musical scene or time, while the protagonist isn’t exactly sympathetic and while I’ve never even been to Manchester, the film suggests that it did play a non-trivial role for music. Interesting for me. And potentially much more interesting for people who are into the film’s bands and can appreciate more of the film’s details.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

June 7, 2005, 2:16

Tagged as 24 hour party people, 9 songs, code 46, film, michael winterbottom.

Comments

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Sven, I could (and probably should) do a full entry on 24 Hour Party People, as that region and era were a huge influence on me musically… (I own most of those records on Factory vinyl) :)

June 7, 2005, 4:18

Comment by d.w.: User icon

A note about the 9 Songs rating… in the US, the most restrictive film rating is NC-17. However, that rating is the commercial kiss of death (most theatres have clauses in their leases that prevent them from showing NC-17 films, for example) What usually ends up happening, then, is that any “serious” (i.e. non pr0n) film that would receive a NC-17 from the film board simply declines to submit a print to the ratings board at all. That way, they can still be exhibited in art theatres and sold/rented in video shops.

June 7, 2005, 4:22

Comment by ssp: User icon

Cool. I’d certainly be interested to read some more info on the label and music at some stage. It’d be cool if you could write that. Perhaps it’ll help me to understand some connections.

As for the film rating… both interesting and confusing. I was under the impression that you need an age rating before a film can be shown in public. Why do people bother to submit films anyway if it isn’t necessary? And while I’m at it – what’s that NC-17 rating, and what’s the difference to an R rating?

June 7, 2005, 11:09

Comment by d.w.: User icon

NC-17 literally means “No Children under 17 admitted”, whereas R means (supposedly) “Restricted - no one under 17 admitted without a parent or guardian.” In practice, an NC-17 rating keeps a film out of general release, and not having a rating at all limits a film to small independent art theaters.

June 7, 2005, 12:12

Comment by d.w.: User icon

I’ll do a 24-Hour Party People entry, then, though I’ll want to make time to watch the film again (it’s been nearly 2 years since I last watched it) before I do so.

June 8, 2005, 15:02

Comment by ssp: User icon

That’s cool, Dave. No need to hurry.

June 9, 2005, 1:02

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