Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The ultimate protest

15 March, 2008

Directed by: 
Steve McQueen

Produced by:
Laura Hastings-Smith
Robin Gutch

Written by: 
Enda Walsh
Steve McQueen

Michael Fassbender
Liam Cunningham

Summary: ‘Hunger’ follows the lives of imprisoned members of the IRA, including Bobby Sands, as well as a guard at the Maze Prison in 1981 Belfast. The film leads to the hunger strike which brought the IRA head-to-head with Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and resulted in the death of ten IRA members.

My Favourite Scene: The main scene in ‘Hunger’ is a 15 minute conversation between Bobby Sands and a priest (Father Dominic Moran). In this scene, Sands tries to justify his decision to  call a second hunger strike and the priest attempts to make him change his mind.

This entire scene is shot from one angle. We only see the two figures, but not their facial expressions. This makes the scene focus on the words of the characters, which I found interesting. Rather than watching them, I found myself listening to the words and making a mental picture instead. This was the one scene that actually explained the motivations behind the actions in the film.

My Favourite Quotes: 
Bobby Sands: (referring to When you’re hung from a cross you’re gonna say anything. Jesus offers him (the thief being crucified next to Jesus) a seat next to his daddy in a place called paradise, you’re always gonna put your hands up and have a piece of that.
Father Dominic Moran: Aye. Even when it’s nailed to your cross.
Father Dominic Moran: (In reference to smoking pages of the Bible as cigarettes) Anyone work out which book is the best smoke?
Bobby Sands: We only smoke the Lamentations. A right miserable cigarette.

My Thoughts:  Having studied this period in history, I was interested to see how McQueen was going to present the IRA’s struggle. Watching ‘Hunger’ reminded me of the strife that took place but I also felt that it was quite lost as a film. I think unless one has some knowledge of the events in Northern Ireland, it would be quite difficult to understand what was happening!

‘Hunger’ raised the issue of prison conditions and the treatment of, debatably, prisoners of war. This problem is one that resurfaced recently with ‘Abu Graib’ prison in Iraq.  This film only proves the words of documentary-maker Michael Moore: “Immoral behaviour breeds immoral behaviour”.  ‘Hunger’ is most defiantly thought-provoking and shocking – with many scenes being extremely difficult to watch.

However I thought it lacked any sort of direction. With the exception of the 15 minute conversation between Bobby Sands and the priest, the film was more like an assortment of scenes with artistic angles. This did make the film interesting to watch and a change from the so many films that require no effort. However many scenes were far too long, and came across as pretentious. I spent much of the film wondering when the plot or structure was going to be made clear.

‘Hunger’ reveals a gruesome struggle for Irish independence that resurfaced in the late 1960s and continued until the signing of the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ in 1998 . The film brought to light many issues and provoked a debate amongst my family about hunger striking and Margaret Thatcher’s approach. Many of the scenes of how the prisoners were treated left me intrigued as to what the British government actually did. Although ‘Hunger’ was shocking and interesting, I was left confused about what McQueen was actually trying to say.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Breaking barriers in San Francisco

26 November, 2008

Directed by 
Gus Van Sant

Produced by:
Dan Jinks
Bruce Cohen 

Written by: 
Dustin Lance Black

Sean Penn
Emile Hirsch
Josh Brolin
Diegro Luna
James Franco

Summary: Milk’ tells the story of how Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in the US. The film illustrates his journey as a gay rights activist through the 1970s, as well as his battles against political activist Anita Bryant and politician John Briggs. ‘Milk’ incorporates Harvey Milk’s political and personal relationships – including those with his partners Scott Smith, Jack Lira, and his murderer and fellow City Supervisor, Dan White.

My Favourite Scene: A particularly thought-provoking scene in ‘Milk’ was the one in which Harvey is discussing the murder of a man he knew with a San Francisco police officer. The officer shows complete disinterest and is not concerned with the murder. He also disrespectfully calls his partner a prostitute. The scene ends with Milk saying ‘There’d be a dozen witnesses if they thought you boys had any real interest in protecting them.’ 

I felt that this scene illustrated the struggle gay men had to face at the time. The bigotry is actually seen in those who should be protecting them. The gay community in San Francisco face opposition from the police throughout the film. I thought this scene was very powerful in showing just how isolated many must have felt. The interesting camera angle added to this feeling, as the scene was shot in the reflection of a car wing-mirror.

My Favourite Quotes: 
Dan White: Society can’t exist without the family.
Harvey Milk: We’re not against that.
Dan White: Can two men reproduce?
Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.

Harvey Milk: Politics is theatre. It doesn’t matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, ‘I’m here, pay attention to me’.

Harvey Milk: Anita Bryant has already said that the Jews and the Muslims are going to hell, so you know she has a shopping list.

My Thoughts: Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to work shadow with the San Francisco Chronicle for a week. While I was in the city I stayed with my uncle in the Castro area. It was here that I saw the Harvey Milk Plaza. I hadn’t actually known about Harvey Milk until then, and so decided to watch ‘Milk’. I found this film really interesting and enjoyable. Sometimes when one lives in a country where issues such as gay rights have progressed so much, it is easy to forget how different it once was. However it alsoreminds us we still have a way to go.

Something I really liked about ‘Milk’ was the incorporation of real footage, from police storming bars in the Castro to Anita Bryant talking about her beliefs. I think that the use of footage in this way reminds the watcher that these events actually took place. I did think that the film was slightly structurally confused. I find that it’s usually the case when the majority of a person’s life has to be squeezed into a film that it’s difficult for each part or character to be fully developed. I felt that Harvey and Scott’s relationship, as well as his and Jack’s, were lacking. However as Gus Van Sant chose to tackle both political and personal issues, this is to be expected.

A thought-provoking element to the film was Milk’s relationship with his murderer Dan White. Throughout the film it is suggested that Milk believed White was gay himself. The film conveys White’s conflicting feelings of Dan’s friendship with Harvey but also of his jealousy at Harvey’s success and popularity. The film presented their relationship in a very interesting way. 

‘Milk’ displays the fight of one man to change lives and portrays that, although the fight is not always easy, it is necessary. Despite not standing out in the way it portrays Harvey Milk’s life, the incredible story alone makes this film very watchable and reinforces the importance of standing up to make a difference, even if one is alone.