Outside, the fans scream for their spindly idol. Inside the Royal Festival Hall, we, the audience, wait for the preview of a movie that is meant to inspire screams of a very different sort.
On stage, Timothée Chalamet, slender in a white Alexander McQueen suit, radiating the impermeable cool of a malnourished James Dean, barely raises an eyebrow in recognition of the applause. Five years ago, such scenes were all very new for the rising star. But now? It’s all in a day’s work for the 26-year-old.
In Bones and All (general release, 23 November), he is reunited with Luca Guadagnino, who directed his breakthrough movie, the Oscar-nominated Call Me by Your Name (2017). Both films are set in the 1980s and explore the intersection of passionate love and social taboo. And there, the similarities most definitely end.
Based on the 2015 YA thriller of the same name by Camille DeAngelis, Bones and All follows Maren (Taylor Russell, excellent), a clever, ill-at-ease teen starting at a new school, who lives in Virginia with her father Frank (André Holland). Invited to a sleepover, she seems to be fitting in with her classmates – until a moment of intimacy goes horribly wrong and she bites off a girl’s finger and starts to eat it.
In this single jump scare, Maren’s entire future is capsized. Her father abandons her, leaving only some cash and a cassette tape – which reveals that this compulsion has afflicted her since she was an infant when she would sink her teeth into unsuspecting babysitters. In search of answers and her mother Janelle (Chloë Sevigny), she buys a Greyhound bus ticket and leaves behind all pretense of rootedness or belonging.
It is on the road, drifting in Reagan’s America, that the newly itinerant Maren finds her tribe: the “eaters” who, like her, must feast on human flesh. Mark Rylance is superb as Sully, a middle-aged cannibal-nomad, who wears a feathered hat and is reading James Joyce’s Dubliners. Though he postures initially as Maren’s protector, his predatory character reveals itself soon enough – with a quiet menace that recalls Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter (1955).
Yet it is her encounter with Lee (Chalamet) in an Ohio grocery store that presents her instead with the possibility that what looks like a life of damnation may be compatible with the experience of true love. With his lanky dyed hair, pink printed shirt and ripped jeans, he exudes a feckless charisma by which Maren is fast smitten. “I don’t want to hurt anybody,” she tells him. “Famous last words,” he replies, with rueful candour.
The power of Bones and All lies in the convergence of three cinematic genres, artfully interwoven in David Kajganich’s screenplay. First, and most obviously, it pays homage to the Great American Road Movie: Lee and Maren naturally invoke Martin Sheen’s Kit and Sissy Spacek’s Holly in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973); Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993); or Shia LaBeouf and Sasha Lane in Andrea Arnold’s masterly American Honey (2016). There are whispers, too, of the Wim Wenders road trilogy (see Creative Sensemaker, 28 July 2022).
As much as life on the lam turbocharges their romance, the couple’s tragedy is the deeper knowledge that it is no life at all. Maren craves something approaching domesticity with her lover. “Let’s be people,” she says. “Let’s be them for a while.” But such an idyll seems unlikely for this Gen Z Bonnie and Clyde.
Second, Bones and All takes the horror genre of cannibal movies – the midnight flicks of the Seventies and Eighties – and turns it, against the odds, into a cinematic frame in which to explore disenfranchisement, marginalisation and loneliness. As Maren’s mother declares, reading from a letter: “the world of love wants no monsters in it.”
The feeding frenzies are certainly not for the faint-hearted (Russell, Chalamet and Rylance were actually eating a special mix of maraschino cherries, dark chocolate, and Fruit Roll-Ups). And Guadagnino undoubtedly knows Italian horror inside out: films such as Umberto Lenzi’s Man from the Deep River (1972), Nightmare City (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981), and the American movies they helped to inspire, such as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno (2013).
Yet Bones and All has higher ambitions than such grindhouse fare (though it certainly seeks to shock and unnerve its audience). And the addictive urges of “eaters” such as Maren and Lee are also very far from the high camp and Grand Guignol aesthetic of the Hannibal Lecter movies and television series. Audaciously, Guadagnino invites us to feel pity for these doomed creatures; to present their macabre needs as a metaphor for the outsider’s identity.
As Kajganich has remarked of the original novel: “I thought, I can understand this on a deeply personal level, having grown up gay in the Midwest in the closet, fearing for my safety in the 80s and all of these things”. (Sidenote: Guadagnino was not helped in this artistic endeavour by the coincidental embarrassment that Chalamet’s co-star in Call Me by Your Name, Armie Hammer, has been accused of a variety of sexual improprieties, including a cannibalism fetish – allegations which Hammer vehemently denies.)
Third, and most intriguingly, Bones and All carries some of the DNA of the Italian giallo movie – a genre made famous by directors such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Sergio Martino that Guadagnino explored explicitly in his 2018 remake of Argento’s Suspiria (1977).
The precise definition of giallo is one that occupies cinéastes long into the winter nights and is not a rabbit hole to go down if you have any plans between now and Christmas (though if you are interested: try Federico Caddeo’s 2019 documentary All the Colors of Giallo or The Giallo Canvas: Art, Excess and Horror Cinema by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas).
Suffice to say: giallo, which takes its name from the yellow pages of Mondadori pulp novellas, is variously applied to suspenseful, violent movies, often involving particular weapons or modes of killing; operatic in their set piece style, dramatic use of music and creative oscillation between erotica and horror. Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth have both acknowledged their profound debt to the great gialli and their shared yearning to Americanise the genre in their own movies.
Though it is not a standard detective story or serial killer saga, Bones and All has many points of contact with the giallo style: not least in Arseni Khachaturan’s superb cinematography, the relentless kineticism of the plot, and the vivid use of music – notably, Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ and ‘Lick it Up’ by Kiss, to which Chalamet dances energetically.
Romantic road movie; cannibal flick reimagined for the age of identity politics; or Oscar-worthy American giallo? Guadagnino’s film is all this, and much more. Certainly one of the finest releases of 2022, and a modern myth that lingers long in the mind like a fugitive dream, it is, in the best sense of the word, a true feast.
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Here are this week’s recommendations:
Jews Don’t Count (Channel 4, 21 November)
Why did Whoopi Goldberg think it was acceptable to say in January that “the Holocaust isn’t about race”? Why did so many people claim that Rishi Sunak is the UK’s first ethnic minority prime minister (ignoring Disraeli)? Why are Jews so often left out of the inventory of vulnerable groups, even though anti-semitic attacks are rising in number horrifically?
In his book Jews Don’t Count, published in February 2021, the comedian and novelist David Baddiel raised such questions to devastating effect, producing an instant classic of political and social analysis. Now, in this fine documentary, he continues his exploration of the theme, with a formidable lineup of interviewees including Sarah Silverman, Miriam Margolyes, David Schwimmer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Patrick Marber, Howard Jacobson and Stephen Fry.
The heart of the matter is the confusion of race with religion: as Baddiel points out, the essence of the Nazi Nuremberg laws was ethnic purity, not theology. There is also the continued prejudice whereby Jews, in spite of centuries of persecution, are caricatured as wealthy, powerful and (essentially) white. To which Schwimmer responds: “I’ve never felt white… For me, white means safe.”
There is also the prejudicial supposition that all Jews are somehow responsible for the actions of Israel – and Baddiel’s disagreement with Margolyes on this point is especially interesting. He is cautiously optimistic that “the dial is shifting slightly” but believes that equality, when and if it arrives, will not be delivered in “an explosive, mass movement way.” For now, in Marber’s phrase, Jews remain “an unprotected species.” A must-see.
The Old Man (Disney+)
If you have already made your way through season five of The Crown, and are looking for a prestige television series to binge over the weekend, then try this gripping adaptation of Thomas Perry’s 2017 thriller.
Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges) is a former CIA operative who has been hiding from his past in Vermont for 30 years. He speaks to his concerned daughter, Emily, but only, it would seem, on the phone; mourns his late wife Abbey (Hiam Abbass); and walks his two dogs.
When he apprehends and shoots an intruder, he knows at once that his cover has been blown and that he must confront those who have hunted him down and want him dead. Amongst those chasing him is his former brother-in-arms at the agency, Harold Harper (John Lithgow), who is now an assistant director at the FBI, and has secrets of his own that he wants to keep buried.
The trope of the old spy or special forces soldier called back into action has become a cliché in countless movies starring Liam Neeson, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. What sets The Old Man apart is the fact that Bridges and Lithgow are not superhuman and, for all their expertise and ruthlessness, are visibly worn down by decades spent in the secret world.
It helps, of course, that they are both formidable actors: Bridges, in particular, is mesmerising as the grizzled Chase (not, as we soon learn, his real name), acting upon lethal muscle memory with muscles that have inevitably atrophied. Also terrific is Alia Shawkat, as Harper’s lieutenant Angela Adams; and you won’t want to miss Joel Grey, now aged 90 and never more quietly lethal, as CIA éminence grise Morgan Bote.
The Trial – 60th Anniversary Restoration (Blu-ray, DVD, video on demand, 21 November)
Orson Welles was only 25 when he directed and starred in Citizen Kane (1941), still regarded by many as the greatest film of all time. Yet few of his subsequent movies – with the possible exceptions of The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Touch of Evil (1958) – are now paid much attention.
This pin-sharp 60th anniversary restoration by StudioCanal of The Trial (1962) should help to revive interest in at least one of his other masterpieces. Freely adapted from Franz Kafka’s novel, published posthumously in 1925, Welles’s interpretation is a triumph of vivid performances, unsettling expressionist spectacle and nightmarish dialogue, which he considered to be “the best film I have ever made”.
The casting of Anthony Perkins as Josef K. was inspired, not least because the actor had so recently imprinted himself upon the public consciousness in Psycho (1960). After his arrest for unspecified crimes, K. – whose sexuality is never clear (Perkins was gay) – encounters a series of beautiful women, notably Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider, who flirt with or try to seduce him. Welles himself, who had wanted Jackie Gleason to play the part of Hastler the Advocate, ended up in the role himself. “To be in chains is sometimes safer than to be free,” he booms, as K. squirms in panic and exasperation.
Filmed in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Milan and Paris – where the director made miraculous use of the derelict Gare d’Orsay – The Trial preys upon humanity’s capacity for guilt. As Welles told Peter Boganovich: “I’ve had recurring nightmares of guilt all my life: I’m in prison and I don’t know why – going to be tried and I don’t know why. It’s very personal for me.” This welcome re-release features terrific extras, including an interview with actor and director Steven Berkoff whose own dramatisation of The Trial is justly revered.
Hellfire: Evelyn Waugh and the Hypocrites Club – David Fleming (The History Press)
Based in a ramshackle building at 131 St Aldate’s, south of Christ Church, the dissolute Hypocrites Club was a feature of Oxford’s social and aesthetic life for only three years, from 1921 and 1924. But it is precisely the brevity of its existence and the identity of those who were members – the future novelists Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, L.P. Hartley and Henry Green; the great travel writer Robert Byron; the journalist Claud Cockburn; the aesthetes Harold Acton and Brian Howard (inspirations of Antoine Blanche in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited); the scholar Lord David Cecil – that make the club and David Fleming’s book so fascinating.
The Hypocrites were notorious for their rowdiness, their drunken gatherings and the homosexuality of most of the club’s members. In Fleming’s words: “They were an awkward squad, certainly as young men, taking nothing at face value, impatient with the strictures of authority and outmoded social niceties.”
For Waugh, it was a portal into aristocratic society. Cockburn described it as “a noisy alcohol-soaked rat-warren by the river.” High seriousness was disdained by its members but, as Powell would later recall, its members were “a collection, most of them, of hard-headed and extremely ambitious young men”, many of whom went on to occupy leading roles in national culture and the republic of letters. Like Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead, they used Oxford as a playground and salon for debauched self-indulgence, before embarking upon the harder business of adult life.
The club was finally closed down after a riotous party at which its members dressed as Queen Victoria, choristers in lipstick, Madame de Pompadour and, fatally, a nun – who was in fact Arden Hilliard, the son of Balliol’s bursa, spotted by the porters trying to slip into the college on the evening of 8 March 1924. This was sufficient grounds for a ban. But the bonds formed at the club would linger long into the century; 40 years after its closure, Waugh recalled it as the “stamping ground of half my Oxford life and the source of friendships still warm today.”
The Only Woman in the Room: Golda Meir and Her Path to Power – Pnina Lahav (Princeton University Press)
‘[T]o be successful, a woman has to be much more capable than a man… When a woman does not want only to give birth, to raise children… when a woman also wants to work, to be somebody… well, it’s hard. Hard. Hard.”
So said Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth prime minister (1969 to 1974), and the only woman to have held that role, to the journalist and author Oriana Fallaci in an interview in Jerusalem in 1972. David Ben-Gurion, who had appointed her foreign minister in 1956, famously described her as “the only man in the cabinet” – a remark that, however well-intentioned, always rankled her.
There is no shortage of fine books about her life and career – notably Francine Klagsbrun’s magisterial Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel (2017) and her own 1975 memoir, My Life. But this very readable biography by Boston University professor Pnina Lahav is the first explicitly to survey her remarkable trajectory from 19th-century Ukraine to a seat at top table in the geopolitics of the 1970s “through the lens of gender”.
Born in Tsarist Kyiv in 1898 at a time when Jews were only allowed into the city if they had obtained a work permit, Golda Mabovitch experienced from her earliest years the perils of persecution and pogroms. Her family moved to Belarus and then to Milwaukee, allowing her very little education. As Lahav writes: “Golda was raised to become an object. She wilfully and deftly turned herself into a subject.”
Exposed to feminism in the US and then on a kibbutz in 1930s Palestine, she never formally espoused its core principles, and did not appoint a single woman to her cabinet. Yet, as Lahav shows, her politics was defined by a flinty pragmatism – in which respect, her determination to push through Israel’s Social Security Act and guaranteed maternity leave with pay spoke volumes. As a woman and a secular Jew, she faced the hostility of the Orthodox throughout her political career. The key, she believed, was to outmanoeuvre her opponents in strategy and action – an approach which enabled her to rise to a national status where she was hailed as “Mother Israel”.
Though she was blamed for Israel’s lack of preparedness for the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Lahav shows how important her steadfastness of character was during that conflict. Her book is an important addition to our knowledge of one of the most significant leaders of the last century.
Illuminations – Alan Moore (Bloomsbury)
On “an unusually pretty August day”, an estate agent in Bedford shows her client, Jez, a property that is much to his liking. The encounter would be perfectly normal, were it not for the fact that, outside in the street, looms what looks like “a huge locust, bigger than a bus” – and is actually something “much, much worse than that.”
Jez, it turns out, is the Messiah – a vaping man in his late 30s or early 40s – returning after the Rapture to oversee the prophecies of Revelation. His father, he reveals, died some years back; but was the sort of being who was always “going to assume that he’s immortal, even when he’s hemorrhaging stars and coughing up black matter. That last thousand years, no kidding, he could barely get up from the throne.”
The Son of God also tells Angie, the estate agent, that he knows about The Handmaid’s Tale (“only the first season… I haven’t read the book”) and is a fan of Killing Eve. As for Brexit: “Well, in my experience, you give the ballot to a mob of populists and nine times out of ten the vote goes to Barrabas.” Bedford, it emerges, is the original location of the Garden of Eden.
Such is the imaginative majesty of Alan Moore, who turns 69 tomorrow, revealed once more in this, his first collection of short stories. In a run of extraordinary comics (he dislike calling them “graphic novels”) – V for Vendetta, Miracleman, Watchmen, From Hell and The Killing Joke – he, along with Frank Miller, Art Spiegelman and a handful of others, transformed the genre and gave it global cultural status.
In these stories, he shape-shifts like one of his own creations: from describing the Apocalypse in an English market town, via a satire on beat poetry and a tale set in a brothel called the House Without Clocks that serves wizards who have seen “the depths of the oceans of chance in which people are but fishes”, to a weird story about a paranormal society.
Nestling among these gems is what amounts to a short novel – “What We Can Know About Thunderman” – which is a multi-layered, deeply absorbing fictional critique of the comics world. Moore is well-known to be deeply unhappy at the way his work has been treated by Marvel, DC and Warner Bros. It is doubtless a bleak irony for him that their billion-dollar cinematic universes would not have been possible without his own creativity and the ingenuity of a few others. The contemporary culture of the superhero, he believes, has been debased into a form of quasi-fascistic propaganda – which he savages with his full artistic power and compelling touch.
Redcar les adorables étoiles (prologue) – Christine and the Queens
Though it has never been part of the mission of Christine and the Queens to claim the throne of David Bowie, the creative metamorphosis of the artist born Héloïse Letissier has been a compelling one. Now using male pronouns – in August he announced “je me genre au masculin” (“I self-gender as male”) – he has also renamed himself Redcar.
But this is not just artistic dress-up. The emotional price he has paid is all too real and extensively chronicled in the 13 tracks of his third studio album, which were recorded in a two-week burst in Paris last year. They are intended to form the first chapter of a pop opera in the style of Tony Kushner’s mammoth two-part play, Angels in America.
Looming over the album is the sudden death of his mother in 2019 – to whom he prays in Heaven in “Les étoiles”. Sung mostly in French, Redcar recalls, at different moments, Serge Gainsbourg, Roxy Music, and the Europop of the 1980s (listen to the power of the synths on ‘La chanson du chevalier’). The astonishing, balletic physicality of his earlier performances is supplanted here by the louche atmosphere of Parisian heartbreak, smoky cabaret and midnight trysts in the subterranean clubs of an ancient city.
The sheer vulnerability at the heart of the album is sometimes breathtaking. In ‘Mémoire des ailes’, he sings “Je suis fait d’eau et de terre et mon cœur brille au milieu d’une cage” (“I’m made of water and earth, and my heart shines within a cage”). But there is still a spirit of hope embedded in the melancholy: “Depuis mes grandes ailes qui me mettent à genou il poussera une nouvelle terre” (“From my tall wings that weigh me to my knees, a new earth will grow”). A profoundly poetic musical creation that repays repeated listening and will leave you longing to hear the next chapter.
Rameau: Zoroastre 1749 – Jodie Devos; Les Ambassadeurs – La Grande Écurie; Alexis Kossenko
When the French baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) first unveiled his opera Zoroastre – the fourth of his tragédies en musique – at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1749 the response of Parisian society was one of revulsion. A radically revised score received its premiere seven years later and has been the basis of modern recordings.
Under the direction of the French conductor and flautist Alexis Kossenko, this bold, riveting interpretation by Les Ambassadeurs-La Grande Écurie restores the 1749 version, with all its Masonic symbolism and rich Persian mythology. Across five acts, battle is waged between good, the magus Zoroastre, and evil, the sorcerer, Abramane, in the ancient kingdom of Bactria. Abduction, magical rituals, quarrelling princesses, spirits summoned and a fiery chariot: there is no shortage of action.
All the principals are outstanding: Reinoud Van Mechelen in the title role; Jodie Devos as the presumptive heir Amélite; Tassis Christoyannis, as Abramane; and Véronique Gens as the devious Érinice. An operatic glory, retrieved from centuries of neglect.
Only the Strong Survive – Bruce Springsteen
One of my very favourite Springsteen albums is We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, his 2006 homage to Pete Seeger. When you are an artist as prolifically creative and eclectic in taste as the Boss, you are immune to the charge of dialling in a karaoke album.
Here, in 15 tracks, he pays tribute to the greats of soul and R&B, a project he undertook during the pandemic with producer Ron Aniello and engineer Rob Lebret and selective help from the E Street Band. From the opening title track – his version of the 1968 Jerry Butler classic – his deep respect for the genre shines through; so too does the infectious joy with which he performs songs as familiar as “Nightshift”, the Commodores’ 1985 tribute to Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson, and Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 Motown hit, ‘What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted’.
On ‘Soul Days’ and ‘I Forgot to be Your Lover’, he is joined by soul legend Sam Moore, now aged 87. The 73-year-old Springsteen sounds as though he cannot believe his good fortune.
Never idle, he has been especially industrious in recent years, triumphing on Broadway; publishing a best-selling memoir; and producing a hit podcast with Barack Obama. On this album, he strengthens his claim to be one of the great curators and laureates of modern American culture, a one-man, round-the-clock jukebox who refuses to slow down or stop smiling.
… and finally: RIP Keith Levene (18 July 1957 – 11 November 2022)
Few rock guitarists of the past half century have been as influential as Keith Levene, who died last Friday aged 65, having suffered from liver cancer. Though the headlines described him as a founder member of The Clash, his association with that band lasted only a matter of months, and it was with John Lydon (newly liberated from the Sex Pistols) and bassist Jah Wobble (AKA John Wardle) that he made his mark in the avant garde post-punk band, Public Image Ltd. His guitar work on ‘Theme’ the first track of PiL’s first album is an astonishing nine-minute sonic manifesto for change, and one that resonates to this day in the music that countless bands aspire to make. As Lydon remarked: “He made a guitar do things that were not supposed to be possible”. As a producer and musician, Levene carried on experimenting for the rest of his life; a singular, irreplaceable force in modern music.
Don’t forget to send in your own recommendations for Creative Sensemaker to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s all for now. Enjoy the weekend and take care of yourselves.
Editor and Partner
Photographs courtesy Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures, Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images, United Artists/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis, Lotus Films, Warner Bros, Worldview Entertainment, Seda Spettacoli, Channel 4, Disney+, Getty Images