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A little something about 'Beasts of the Southern Wild

The mad man in the cinema or the weekend the gas ran out but we managed just fine

In his biography of the great man Vincent Lobrutto quotes Kubrick as saying

Control is…the essence of what filmmakers are about, they want to control the universe’. As an example of this idea Kubrick is perfect. When we think of him we think of control, filmmaking at its most exact, sophisticated, every angel, movement, line and thought meticulously planned, meaning upon meaning, concept upon concept, symmetry within symmetry. But of course it can be applied further, a cinematographer will tell you their art is the control of light, an editor will tell you they fashion order from raw materials no matter how complex the end result. The director, the centre of the machine, organises all these units, managing personnel, time and talent to compliment perfectly the aesthetic.

It is a vision of order.

So why then Beasts of the Southern Wild.

I think, after that period of assessment that those of us who think about film far too much go through, it is to give me hope. Not hope in the syrupy Hollywood sense, where I can lead a better life and change the world; it is the hope that chaos is a thing that can be befriended and we don’t all have to be Stanley Kubrick to make great art. It is a masterpiece in a different sense to say Barry Lyndon or 2001, it is not an untouchable, unachievable thing, it is very much within our reach. I didn’t leave the cinema crushed by a sense of intimidation; I came out reminded why I stupidly wanted to make films in the first place.

It seemed, to my eyes at least, fashioned from chaos. That kind of free flowing cinema which is either meticulously random or randomly meticulous, drawn together by an associative form of editing, creating narrative and character development by showing rather than telling, where brief snippets of events and dialogue speak oceans. Once we accept this rhythm the film flows over us, a cascading chaos of images that make perfect sense if we allow them too.

We see Bathtub, a community in the Louisiana bayou, fervently autonomous, poor, entranced by its own history and its place in a small corner of a large world. We see two of its residents six year old Hushpuppy and her father Wink. We see water sustaining life and taking it. We see the spirit of community and the destructive nature of alcohol. We see Wink coarsely teaching his daughter the harsh truths of the world, the fine balance of things. We see mans effect on nature tipping the balance. We see Wink get ill. We are left wondering whether he is ill because the balance has been tipped or the balance tipping because he is ill, after all he is Hushpuppies world, so close to orphanhood as she is, the spirit and knowledge of the Bathtub shaped into an unpredictable man. We see prehistoric beasts blurring the line between literal and metaphorical. We see the waters rise and the community washed away. We see them stand their ground against flood and forced evacuation. We see the threat of civilization. We see Hushpuppy searching for her mother. We see funeral pyres and hospitals. We see a hundred things within each ‘see’, a photomosiac of storytelling. You can lose yourself in pictures like this if you want too, or you can criticise the hell out of it…whimsical, sloppy, over-simplified, meandering, I can take that it isn’t a film for all tastes, it has a style and a feel I am particularly susceptible too.

One thing I take affront too is accusation of the glamorisation of poverty thrown at Beasts of the Southern Wild, like poor people can’t be the subject of fantasy, like we haven’t got enough ‘gritty’ and stereotypical depictions of poverty to ease our charitable souls, like even though it has obviously stylised production design and prehistoric beasts marching through the bayou it shows people below the bread-line laughing as well as losing, drinking and drowning…y’know the things middle class people do as well. Is it that we don’t have our fill of victims in the film? Wink, is a prime example, he is brave but he hits his daughter, he is caring but to modern parents also neglectful, he defends a community most of us would see as hellish to live in, we’re not happy with such contradictions. The standards by which we judge poverty have led us to be prejudice even if we do mean well. Dwight Henry who plays Wink, a baker before he took to acting, gives a performance of such raw life that it only seems possible by performers in his situation (think Q’orianka Kilcher in New World as well) free from the structures of previous roles he is able to construct a performance of such brilliance that its hard to think it could be repeated, it’s too good for awards. It again is like he has accepted that chaos isn’t a thing to be feared or removed. Acting is a raw, revealing and sometimes foolish profession, but if you are aware of this……

I get carried away sometimes. Certain films take hold of me like a beautiful suffocation. The symptoms are such. Firstly I begin to grin like the madness of the image has infected me (I recall, Aguirre, Apocalypse Now and There Will be Blood), then I’ll lean forward in my chair like if I got closer I could see round the image to catch a glimpse of the secret machinations of the thing….then, only occasionally I’ll lift my hands to the screen as if I am in some heated debate with the film….God knows what I’d do if I was standing up. It’s the chaos I reckon, only films that seem to have abandoned themselves possess me like this. My blood gets up and the images get to me to the point I can’t tell inside from outside….Aurochs, floodwater, stonewall cinemas, floating brothels, firesides, bookshops, bathtubs, icecaps, beautiful women and the river flows on by as it always has.

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