Discussion Group — A Forum for Disagreement!

Posted 3 November 2017

American honey

At the very first meeting of the Showroom Film Discussion Group last November, Andrea Arnold's American Honey set the pace for the sometimes vociferous but always civilised debates we've had every month since. For most of those at the meeting, the British director's tale of a travelling band of young magazine subscription sellers in the American Midwest was a wonderful film, telling a great story. A small minority disliked it - quite intensely - referring to mumbled dialogue, some shaky camerawork and one of the film's explicit sex scenes.

Such a striking difference of opinions, never less than politely voiced, became the norm for the 70 odd films we've talked about over our first year of meetings. Just last month, Detroit - Kathryn Bigelow's blistering reconstruction of an incident during the race riots of 1967 in America's motor city - provoked another particularly wide range of comment. Most of those who had seen the film greatly admired it, all in fact bar two women of colour at the meeting, who spoke out against it, with some passion, primarily for its exploitation of black issues by white film makers.

A mere handful of films have been given unanimous verdicts. Most of them have been unanimously positive, including two that might be surprising: Hope Dickson Leach's remorselessly bleak but somehow beautiful tragedy The Levelling, about a dairy farming family on the Somerset Levels and the equally bleak but absolutely riveting, Danish/German post-war drama Land of Mine, about German PoWs forced to clear Denmark's beaches of mines. Another, not so surprisingly, was the delightful Swedish film A Man Called Ove, which was about all manner of issues, primarily the transformative power of friendships.

A unanimous thumbs-down was given to Victoria and Abdul at our most recent meeting. "It was Carry On Victoria and Abdul with every cliché in the book", was one comment, which some might think was rather hard on the Carry On films.

In discussing the films we've seen we often digress into talking about aspects of cinema in general. The ethics of showing explicit sex scenes cropped up again at a couple of meetings. Is it voyeuristic, pornographic even, and can it be exploitative of the actors involved, or is quite acceptable, just showing something that is a part of life? Mumbled dialogue is another subject we've talked about, rather more clearly than the offending actors. Is this common problem caused by an exaggerated attempt at naturalism or is it because the directors working with highly paid, big-ego film stars are scared to tell them to speak more clearly?

After agreeing that we all liked A Man Called Ove we talked about how such films should be described. 'Comedy, drama', as IMDb calls it, doesn't describe it very well, nor we agreed does 'feelgood movie' (there's some considerable sadness in the film) or 'dark comedy' or 'black comedy', all of which have been ascribed to the film. Someone suggested that films like this simply be called uplifting and that met with unanimous approval.

Our meetings are open to Showroom Members and MyShowroom members and are now held on the first Tuesday of every month, usually in Showroom 5, from 7.30pm to 9pm. To attend, simply pick up a free ticket at the box office, or online, preferably in advance. Details of meetings are emailed to Members at least three weeks in advance and can also be found on the Showroom website.

Try us out. There's no commitment to come regularly, and don't feel you have to have seen all the films listed for discussion; people often come to meetings after seeing only one or two of them, or even none, to enjoy the always lively debate.

Alex McMullen

Chair, Showroom Film Discussion GroupRead more posts by Alex McMullen

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