The Girl on the Train
I passed on the book, turned off by comparisons to Gone Girl (as puerile a depiction of marriage as fiction has produced). I’m glad I did, because this film has done nothing to endear me to its cult. The title would’ve caught Hitchock’s eye, it’s true. Trains? One of his favourite motifs. Girls? Even more so, particularly if they were blonde. And the opening proved promising, with Rachel (Emily Blunt) gazing out of the train’s window at a couple – Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett) – whom she considers ‘perfect’. It displays a Hitchockian recognition that the window itself is like a cinema screen, upon which the Girl projects her innermost desires of domesticated life, like James Stewart in Rear Window. But that film, and years of cinematic experience, have taught us to treat the idea of ‘perfection’, particularly in marriage, with scepticism. So the woman on the (window) screen disappears – has she eloped, is she pregnant, was she murdered? We’re shown that the marriage had been a turbulent one, as we might have guessed. Yet the plot is set in motion, with both Rachel and ourselves acting as detectives…
In the end, I think the comparisons to Gone Girl are more apt than to Hitchcock, because the film is so absorbed in its own structure, in its escalation towards a climactic twist, that it ignores the basic tenets of storytelling. The big twist refocuses our impression of where the protagonists lie on the good-evil spectrum, which is fine, but the spectrum is presented in binary terms so that the shifts are like pantomime rather than real life. Human relationships aren’t explored in much detail, simply because their confusion is necessary in order for the twist to surprise and make you gasp. The filmmaking too is ordered around the big reveal: the distanced camera angles, the blurred focussing, the obstructed shot placements, are of a singular purpose: to keep you guessing at the final twist, which marketing should’ve made you aware of. It’s a gimmicky move, and I suspect the film would grow quickly wearisome on repeat.
You see, the key to making a thriller is not just a twist, although it can’t hurt when it’s pulled off – Psycho, anyone? Hitchcock’s best films lodge inside your brain, disturb you, provoke fascinating insight into cinema and the sadism of the human soul. The Girl on the Train has only its twist, which is not enough. Upped a star for Emily Blunt’s performance, a great actress and very touching here in portraying the self-deluding, self-denying effects of alcoholism. Far too good for this daft confection.
Let Them Eat Chaos – Kate Tempest
An extraordinary talent, Kate Tempest shatters the illusive belief that performance art is a stuffy, elitist form of entertainment for the bourgeoisie. She grew up in the squats of South East London, born to a labourer father and one of five children. Her spoken poetry aspires to reflect the shitty reality of working-class life that she knows too well, albeit with an eye for detail, dope beats and a wacky sense of humour that remove it from the realms of poverty tourism. Both literary and anti-literary, two of her favourite artists are James Joyce and the Wu-Tang Clan, which should give you some idea as to her eclecticism and ambition.
Her debut Everybody Down was sublime; Let Them Eat Chaos is even more so. It is that elusive, exciting event: a concept album which actually does cohere thematically. The album cover should give you some idea as to Tempest’s pessimistic stance, with human industry tearing the planet asunder. She imagines seven inhabitants of a block of flats in London, all of them awake at 4:18am – sleep being a luxury they can’t afford, as they count not sheep but ‘sheepish mistakes’. There’s Esther, a carer working double time who worries that ‘Europe is Lost’ but oh well, never mind, there’s 2 for 1 at the local club and ‘no one likes a party pooping spoil sport’. There’s Bradley, who’s got a good job in PR and is ‘living the dream’ but can’t seem to shake the feeling that ‘life hasn’t started’. There’s Pious, a lesbian in a one-night fling with Rose but who is lovesick for her ‘thorn’. All of these people are self-absorbed, yet understandably so, because their lives are hollow and without meaning.
But a storm is coming. In one of the most alarming moments of lyrical empathy, Tempest takes the perspective of the apocalyptic, thunderous clouds rolling in, straight out of ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Bad Moon Rising’: ‘We are the raw waters/That caused the four horsemen’. I don’t think I need to spell out that this is an allusion to the effects of climate change. Yet instead of tearing these seven lonely people further apart, the storm acts as a unifying presence: they simultaneously open their doors and go outside to gaze up at the sky in wonder. The Tempest is coming, Kate Tempest realises, and she is hopeful that it will bring us together: ‘The myth of the individual has left us disconnected, lost and pitiful/I’m out in the rain, it’s a cold night in London/And I’m screaming at my loved ones to wake up and love more/I’m pleading with my loved ones to wake up and love more.’
Hats off to Kate, her poetry is both meaningful and direct, she raps with drama and an assured sense of the characters she portrays, and for someone whose background is far from musical she delivers enough dramatic hooks and intricate synthesised drum patterns to keep one aurally engaged. I salivate at the thought of her collaborating with more adventurous hip-hop producers, who could push her to even more transcendent heights (Birdman? West? Rubin?) – but she touches the exposed nerve of our country and planet with such dexterity that this will more than do for the moment.
Updated 05/12/16 (prev. 4.5 stars): It’s too easy to get overexcited when reviewing a new album. The rush of the new or the perfect encapsulation of a moment (in this case the post-Brexit shitstorm) can thrill beyond any legitimate claims to mastery. A few months on I now feel the lack of musical accomplishment hampers some of the verbal dexterity. But only some.