AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


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Sheffield Doc/Fest: Ulysses in the Subway (2017)

Ulysses in the Subway was a three dimensional experience film, and that was probably the most exciting thing about the film. This experimental documentary introduces the audience to the sounds of the New York City Subway for sixty minutes as it traverses through its routes.

But here’s the kicker, there isn’t any narrative to it, nor actual visuals to accompany, but rather an abundance of soundwaves capturing the audio track we experience. Ulysses in the Subway reminded me of those tracks you can put on to help you relax, like a thunderstorm or the background noise to a coffee shop. But as Ulysses in the Subway drew to it’s close, I realised it was not something I would actively sit down and watch, or listen to.

As I mentioned, there isn’t really a narrative drive held within the film, but there could have been something more interesting to do. There is a sequence where we hear a busker playing steel drums and thanking the people who are donating money, this could have been a starting point and tour around the different buskers on the New York Subway. Not this audio experience of just listening to a train journey clunking its way around New York.

The 3D experience did not really work for me, and the visual representation of the sound began to hurt my eyes after a short while. It was interesting to watch the graphs bounce around to the audio, but it becomes quite monotonous after a short while. To try and keep it fresh, there was images of the old New York Subway spliced into it, but these were few and fair between and did not bring anything other than a change of pace to the visual.

Truthfully, I went into Ulysses in the Subway expecting little and my expectations were still shocked at what unfolded. When compared to the likes of The Bomb and DRIB in terms of experimental documentaries Ulysses is eating their dust. Unless I am missing something about this experience, but it just felt as though it was designed for someone who was missing the sounds of the New York City Subway and needed their comforts, something that I did not require.


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Sully (2016)

It’s not often a positive story can appear when it involves New York City and airliners, but there was such a case with the ‘Miracle On The Hudson’ when an airliner landed on the Hudson River back in 2009.

The nature of this story being a biographical retelling of a recent event, Clint Eastwood cleverly decides not to focus on the crash so to the speak, but the effect it had. Sully understandably had Captain Chesley Sullenberger take centre stage for this tale, as it recounts the flight of US Airways Flight 1549 and it’s famous landing.

As it recounts those fateful 208 seconds in the air, there is no better man to be cast for the cool, calm and collected persona of Sully than Tom Hanks. And he fits perfectly into this role as he takes command of the flight when a flock of Canadian Geese crash into both of the engines, causing them both to fail.

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As I mentioned Eastwood doesn’t focus on the flight per say, but rather the effect it had on the captain, as we see a restless Sully run the streets of New York in the freezing January weather. It’s not only this, but the effect it has on Sully’s marriage as his wife is hounded by the media whilst being sick with worry as their conversations become few and far between after the events of January 15th.

Eastwood also manages to excellently display these strains on Sully’s life in between Sully’s meetings with the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB). These meetings become a tense state of affairs as they grill Sully on his routine up to the flight in hope they can deem a ‘Pilot Error’.

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Although the events of this flight happened in recent memory, Eastwood managed to make the flight scenes a tense 3 minutes and 28 seconds, as they are suspended in the air. Eastwood recounts the flight on three occasions, making each as tense as the last as he explores new elements in the sequence.

Although the film lasts around 90 minutes, it does feel longer as it’s predominately undertaken by the ‘discussions’ between Sully and the NTSB and his sleepless nights. It becomes interesting as these sleepless nights begin to make Sully question what he did was right, even though he saved all of the passengers.

It’s an interesting film, but it also worked because due to the largely positive story that came out of it. As the film has this positive undertone the film becomes heart-warming, especially as you see the people of New York club together and save everyone on the Hudson. As it’s mentioned a few times, Sully manages to bring a positive story to New York involving airliners.

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The pairing of Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart worked tremendously for this film as they both bought along that cool and collected persona that was needed for the film. Tom Hanks portrayed the calmer of the two whilst Eckhart was the most obtrusive and abrasive character, especially towards the NTSB. But both characters in the cockpit were resilient in ensuring the safety of their passengers and crew.

In a year which has seemed to bring forth a bunch of bad news, Sully has tried to end it on a good note recounting the 2009 event. The way Eastwood fed the story throughout the 90 minutes worked, but it does become a laborious venture as it shoots the film using the backdrop of New York in January. Although it’s not exactly a groundbreaking spin on the autobiographical events, there are areas that work and areas that don’t, but on a whole it’s a positively heart-warming tale that was well thought-out. Eastwood is seemingly back to his better directing self with this film, just unfortunately the timings make the film drag.