Sunday, 20 June 2010

Gumshoe / Winter's Bone

In two weeks I’ll be a married man.

I wish I could say that everything is in hand for the big day, but every time a box is ticked, there’s another needing attention.

Nowadays, free from all stimulants other than coffee, there’s little point me going out on the town in the traditional stag night fashion. I’d pretty much decided that I wasn’t going to bother.

Then along came my friend John, an architect and a gentleman, and arranged a day out at the Edinburgh Film Festival instead. It’s great to have friends like that.

He’d booked us in to see a bit of British film history in the form of Gumshoe and the contemporary American movie Winter’s Bone.

Gumshoe is a tale of Scouse-noir set in Liverpool and London and made back in 1971.

Albert Finney plays the main character (Eddie Ginley) a bingo caller who lives in the fantasy world of hardboiled detectives, of books and films and who thinks he’s Humphrey Bogart.

Deciding to set up as a Private Eye, he’s duped into taking a case of an unspecified nature.
The dialogue is sharp and sparklingly funny. Throughout the whole episode the actors ham things up as if they’ve no future in the celluloid world. It looks as though it’s done on a budget that’s tighter than a docker’s fist; on a couple of occasions where the cast practically burst into laughter, they either couldn’t afford a retake or didn’t see the need.

Took me back to a land of glass pint milk bottles, route-master buses, plaster falling from the walls of the London underground, a time when you could smoke where you wanted and when those scratchy blankets kept you warm instead of duvets.

It’s good fun, a land of farce and tribute. A fine way to spend a couple of hours.

And then the main event.

In recent months I’ve been reading a lot of gritty work. Donald Ray Pollock, Frank Bill and Scott Wolven. In many ways that helped prepare me for the movie ‘Winter’s Bone’.

I’m guessing that it’s what might be termed Hillbilly noir. Whatever it is, it certainly lit my Molatov.

Ree Jolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a teenage girl with a problem. As if looking after her mute mother and young brother and sister on a budget smaller than Frears had to work with on Gumshoe wasn’t difficult enough, her father is due to appear in court in a few days time. Nobody’s seen him for a while and if he doesn’t show he loses the bond he lay down against his freedom, a bond that consists of the family home.

Immediately the clock is ticking and she sets about trying to find him.

Her world is that of the Ozark Mountains and that’s just another problem. People there live by a very strong code. It’s a land of violence, family feud, secrecy, testosterone, drugs and guns. People live in shacks and cabins surrounded contrast – the beauty of nature and the garbage of the human race.

In such an environment, nobody seems willing to help. Every which way she turns she puts herself into danger. At these points the menace is palpable. The women are almost as frightening and intimidating as the men and, when she finally gets her beating, it’s the women that do it as if anything else would have been unacceptable.

As time moves on and she gets nowhere fast, desperate measures are called for. After accepting food from her neighbours she is also offered the opportunity of off-loading her little brother on them for them to bring them up as if he were their own. She’d do anything to avoid that and tries to enlist in the army for the signing on fee and even returns to see the granddaddy of the hill to try and get some answers – his chest is bigger than a barrel and his face is as hard as bonfire toffee. I wouldn’t have the guts to go there if you fed me a whole string of sausages and a barrel of tripe.

Ree’s a tough cookie though. She’s not going to stop at anything to find what she needs to find. A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do even if she has to die trying.

In the end it’s family that comes to her rescue. Teardrop, earlier an adversarial uncle, rescues her from ole granddaddy and takes her under his wing – it may well smell bad under there and he may well spend his life high on speed, but blood is thicker than water.

They still have a hell of a long way to go to solve their conundrum and the as the plot twists and turns my knuckles got whiter and whiter. If I had any nails to chew on, I’d have bitten them off by the end.

Filmed on location and without the use of manufactured sets, there is a strongly authentic feel to it all. It’s open and beautiful like the land itself and claustrophobic and dark like the community.

It’s not only the location that creates such a strong impression of Missouri. The cast are a mixture of actors and people from the area and the time spent getting to know the ins and outs of mountain life has clearly paid off.

Jennifer Lawrence and director Debra Grannik were there to introduce the film, and Grannik took questions afterwards.

She explained that she was drawn to the book immediately and had optioned it before it was published. It was the confined setting, the race against the clock and the strong female lead that attracted her.

It was also the ‘and’ factor. All of the people standing as obstacles between Ree and the truth are capable of great violence ‘and’ later on are able to display kindness and compassion. We see the counterpoint to the brutality in the innocence of the children, the rearing of baby animals and the banjo picking of the music. Like the shooting and gutting of squirrels, life is simply what it is.

I believe the book (by Daniel Woodrell) is superb and, having seen the film, I’m definitely going to look it out.

My stag day has been wonderful.

John, I can’t thank you enough. May I have another one next year?

1 comment:

  1. I love Gumshoe. That and Charlie Bubbles are may fave Albert Finney films. I deffo fancy that Winters Bones.