127 Hours

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Bloody hell! It made me squirm, grit my teeth and in the end it even made me cry. It was bloody brilliant!

One weekend Aaron Ralston (James Franco) sets out on a hiking, climbing trip, without telling anyone where he’s going.Whilst canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah  he becomes trapped under a boulder and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive his 127 hours ordeal.

I guess the obvious way to tackle this subject might be a documentary like Touching the Void (also brilliant and thematically very similar.)  But  Danny Boyle goes for a dramatic, totally immersive cinematic approach.

The film is kinetic from start to finish, a non stop ride, that reflects Ralston personality. Even in the potentially boring mid section of a guy stuck under a rock for fifty minutes, they have created such well planned, flowing scenes and brilliant original visual conceits, that the film never flags for a moment. They exploit every prop and angle and sound to make things continually move forward at an adrenaline inducing pace. The editing cleverly mixes the flashbacks and the present, and as Aaron become more and more disorientated sounds and people bleed from the past directly into the canyon around him. James Franco gives a stellar performance, on screen constantly for the whole movie he is totally real, engaging and believable.

(Spoilers)

Aaron realises how selfish he’s been and how he loves his life and family too much to give up. He decides he can’t die here alone in this canyon. So he cuts off his own arm in order to escape.

It’s a classic story of death and rebirth. In order to move on and survive you have to make the difficult choice to leave part of yourself behind. Although here that part has to be literally hacked off with a blunt penknife in gruesome bloody, bone crunching, nerve jangling detail.

In an uplifting ending he staggers into the light of the trail and is helped back to the world by people – friendly hikers and I bawled my eyes out when we saw him with his friends and family at the end, because he’d looked death and despair in the face and in the end (to quote another Danny Boyle film) ‘he chose life.’

Howl

This is the film I was most looking forward to at the London film festival and I was disappointed. In fairness we were sitting in the front row right up against the screen, so this may distort my experience of the film slightly.

I love James Franco, he’s a great actor and just gorgeous too. Although I don’t think he looks like Alan Ginsberg. I love Howl. I bought and read it about five or six years ago after reading On the Road by Kerouac. I read it again recently after doing some poetry classes.

It’s a stream of consciousness poem and in my mind I read it quickly. It has a fast syncopated rhythm, and the images flick quickly like jump cuts or a train journey. It also crackles with gay sexual energy.

So the worst thing about this movie was the tedious lumpen Disney Fantasia style animation, that illustrates literally every line of the poem as it’s read – very slowly. Impressionist painted skies and graphic phallic shaped buildings sit behind Poser style CGi characters. All having straight sex or blowing on saxophones or worse still, flying through the sky like Angels from What Dreams May Come.

It’s not avant- garde, or Gay or sexy, it doesn’t even have rhythm or reflect the look or feel of the era in which the poem is set. It just utterly shit.

The poetry is a smash of words and they could have used graphic design and film clips and fifties drawn animation to reflect this. They should have had someone like Jonathon Cauette to make these sequences. They should be a collision of Genet drawings, Warhol 16mm, period stock footage, graphics, Tom of Finland, porn movies, and National Film Board animation mashed together.

But really, the best solution would be not to make the film at all, because the rest of the story is just a few set pieces – James Franco as Ginsberg gives the first reading of the poem. The obscenity trial. A talking head interview two years later. Plus a few clips of him hanging out with the other beats.

All of these are based verbatim on transcipts and tapes that have been made into the script. So why do it? Why not use the material to make an avant garde documentary? These guys are documentary makers after all?

The end was good. A charge of emotion but it’s the end of the poem that creates this, not the movie. Maybe poetry is better as poems and films as films. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good mix of the two.